Some attractions at Disneyland are better at night. Actually, just about all of the ones that take place at least partially outdoors are better after the sun goes down. This list ranks the 10 best nighttime rides at Disneyland in California. (Updated November 21, 2023.)
Disneyland having so many rides that are great at night is probably because the park, as a whole, is better at night. During the evening, Disneyland comes alive with vibrant color from the show lighting, fireworks, and other nighttime entertainment that just seems to give the park a jolt of energy.
Not only that, and maybe it’s just me, but it seems like aspects of the Disneyland experience are “heightened.” The background music is louder, the scents are more fragrant, and Disneyland simultaneously feels more tranquil yet somehow more alive. In short, Disneyland is just flat out better at night.
There are literally entire lands that are superior after sunset. The top of my list would be Fantasyland, which feels more magical (especially in the last two hours of the evening when the crowds have cleared out). Followed closely behind that would be both New Orleans Square and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
While I can’t entirely put my finger on why the whole experience is just better at night, there are some specific attractions I can point to as being better at night, along with reasons why they are better at night. Here’s the list of the top 10 Disneyland attractions that are better at night…
BONUS: Tiana’s Bayou Adventure
Opening in 2024, Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is the Princess and the Frog reimagined ride that replaces Splash Mountain at Disneyland. While the indoor show scenes will be dramatically different and it’s currently impossible to say whether those will be better or worse (it’s a high bar, but we’re hoping better!), we already know that the outside sections will be substantially the same.
My favorite parts of this attraction at night are at the leisurely beginning of the attraction, and the end after the drop when you are in a lower area passing through Frontierland. If you can keep your eyes open, the top of the drop also affords a stunning view of Disneyland as a whole.
BONUS: Mark Twain Riverboat
This doesn’t make the official list because it’s incredibly elusive. There are basically two times when you can ride the Mark Twain Riverboat at night. The first is during the winter, when sunset happens earlier and the schedule is such that the final cruises end around dusk.
The other is when Fantasmic is not being performed for whatever reason. Regardless, if you’re able to do a sunset/dusk/nighttime cruise aboard the Mark Twain Riverboat (or Sailing Ship Columbia, for that matter), we highly recommend doing it. Pure magic that’s easily a top 5 entry on this list.
10. Haunted Mansion
Given that Haunted Mansion is an attraction that takes place entirely indoors, this choice might seem a bit suspect. Okay, really suspect. But hear me out. The Haunted Mansion’s queue has much spookier ambiance at night, and general whole ‘aura of foreboding’ thing just seems to be stronger then.
However, that’s not the main reason that Haunted Mansion is better at night. It’s because you can see more detail in the Haunted Mansion, especially in the dark graveyard scenes, because your eyes have adjusted to darkness in advance. Why does this happen? Probably science or some other dark art.
If this list had 15 entries, I’d be inclined to include Pirates of the Caribbean for the exact same reason. Along with pretty much all of Fantasyland, and the new-look Adventureland Treehouse. (Not technically a ride, but an amazing attraction at night!)
9. Alice in Wonderland
Here’s another “hear me out” entry. Sure, it would be easy to give this to King Arthur Carrousel, a quintessential ride located dead-center in Fantasyland behind Sleeping Beauty Castle. And I’m not here to tell you not to do that at night. You should!
However, there is something that is pure magic about emerging from the indoor portion of the Alice in Wonderland dark ride to those few seconds descending down the outside path to the grand finale. You have a brief bird’s eye view of this corner of Fantasyland and it just puts a smile on your face. It’s impossible to explain, but once you experience it, you know exactly what makes this so special.
8. Disneyland Monorail
The Disneyland Monorail makes the list because of the great, elevated view it offers of other locations throughout both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure (and because the backstage views are more palatable at night when you can’t see as much). The best of these views occur throughout Tomorrowland and bits of Fantasyland as the monorail weaves in and out of tree-covered areas and over the submarine lagoon.
The split-second view of the Pan Pacific turnstiles at Disney California Adventure with Carthay Theater and the Cadillac Mountain Range of Cars Land lined up perfectly is another great nighttime view. Feeling the evening California air of an open monorail window really makes this whole experience feel like the perfect ‘highway in the sky’ ride.
7. ‘it’s a small world’
‘It’s a small world’ is an attraction that is predominantly indoors, but it still makes it into a high slot. Pretty much the sole reason for that is ‘it’s a small world’ holiday, when the facade of the attraction is decked out in thousands of beautiful lights.
You’re only floating through these lights for a couple of minutes, but seeing the lights reflect off the water and being so close to so many bright lights (you might want to put in your sunglasses!) is a really great experience, and is one of my favorite holiday “moments” at Disneyland. The rest of the year, the outdoor portions of ‘it’s a small world’ are nice at night, but they’re not impressive enough to even land the attraction a spot on this top 10. It’s all about the Christmas lights!
6. Mad Tea Party
Mad Tea Party at nighttime is a Disneyland rite of passage. Sorry to those with motion sickness, but I don’t make the rules. You must do this if you’re going to be an “official” Disneyland fan.
Okay okay, you can just stand in this spot and watch from the outside. That’s arguably the better experience at night, as you have views of the teacups, monorail, and Matterhorn all at once. Disneyland’s kinetic energy remains undefeated.
5. Astro Orbitor or Dumbo
Astro Orbitor is just a simple spinner attraction, but thanks to its location at the edge of Tomorrowland offering views of both Sleeping Beauty Castle and the neon of Tomorrowland, it makes the list.
It would score even higher if it were still on its elevated platform within Tomorrowland, which would offer an even better view of the whole park. Bonus points if you ride during the fireworks.
Ditto Dumbo, for pretty much all of that. Similarly great views, albeit from a different angle and with Fantasyland and Sleeping Beauty Castle instead of Tomorrowland. Otherwise, there’s no material difference between the two.
4. Storybook Land Canal Boats
Storybook Land Canal Boats is one of my favorite Disneyland attractions any time of the day, but the ambiance is even better at night. It might seem curious that the Canal Boats are #5 while the very similar Casey Jr. Circus Train Ride just misses the list.
Canal Boats just have more charm at night and superior lighting with all of the little twinkle lights really kicking it up a notch. I’m probably also probably biased because “A Whole New World” the first dance song at our wedding, and passing under the lit-up archways at night while that song plays takes me back to our wedding night.
3. Jungle Cruise
Jungle Cruise is great at night because you really feel like you’re in an exotic and mysterious jungle rather than in a cheeky theme park ride. Part of this is because it’s actually more difficult to see in Jungle Cruise at night.
Unlike other attractions on this list that get mentioned because of great artificial show lighting, Jungle Cruise is mentioned because of its lousy artificial lighting, which actually adds to its authenticity (which is otherwise intentionally very low). It’s an especially big bonus if you get a skipper at night who will go for slightly edgier (by Disney standards) jokes if there aren’t many kids in the boat.
2. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Big Thunder Mountain is a great experience at night. This is one attraction that perfectly embodies the “tranquil yet alive” ambiance found throughout Disneyland at night. On the one hand, the frontier feels more desolate and peaceful at night, but on the other hand, you can see more detail of the mountain and other aspects of the attraction that don’t stand out during the daytime.
It’s difficult to fully articulate, but Big Thunder Mountain Railroad just feels like an attraction that was designed to be experienced at night. Experiencing it during daytime after riding at night is just sort of like riding Space Mountain with the lights on. (Okay, maybe not that extreme, but you get the idea.)
The Matterhorn is #1 because it combines a few of the strongest elements of other top experiences into one. Like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, the ambiance is better at night with cool lighting. Like Splash Mountain, it offers some great nighttime views of the park.
Like Haunted Mansion (the queue at least), it’s just spookier at night, with dark caves and ominous sounds. In addition to all of that, it’s more intense at night. Or, at least it feels that way because it’s not as easy to see and predict where you’re going next–sort of like why Space Mountain feels more intense than it would if it were an outdoor coaster. All of this makes the Matterhorn our top pick!
Which Disneyland attractions do you think get better at night? Any you think are worse at night? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!