The Esplanade, also known as the Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, is one of Singapore’s most recognisable landmarks. It is an impressive complex that comprises two main theatres, a concert hall, a recital studio, and a black box theatre, as well as several smaller venues. The complex was designed by the renowned architectural firm DP Architects and Michael Wilford and Partners, and its distinctive spiky exterior has made it an instantly recognisable feature of Singapore’s skyline.
The concept for the Esplanade was first conceived in the 1970s, as a centralised location for Singaporeans to engage with and appreciate the local arts and culture scene. The project was initially met with mixed reactions, with some concerned about the cost and feasibility of such an ambitious project. Nevertheless, the idea persisted, and the government eventually committed to building the performing arts centre in 1992.
Construction on the Esplanade began in 1996 and was completed in 2002, at a cost of around $600 million. The complex was officially opened by then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong on 12 October 2002, and since then, it has become a vibrant and essential part of Singapore’s cultural landscape.
The Esplanade’s mission is to inspire and enrich the lives of Singaporeans and visitors through the arts. To that end, it presents a wide range of local and international performances, from classical music to dance, theatre, and more. The centre’s two main theatres, the 1,600-seat Concert Hall and the 2,000-seat Theatre, are renowned for their exceptional acoustics, making them popular venues for orchestral concerts, operas, and other large-scale productions.
In addition to its main theatres, the Esplanade also houses a Recital Studio, a Black Box Theatre, and several smaller performance spaces, including the Outdoor Theatre and the Concourse. These venues host a wide range of performances throughout the year, ranging from free shows held by the bay to annual festivals like Baybeats, da:ns festival, and Huayi – Chinese Festival of Arts.
The Esplanade’s commitment to supporting and showcasing local talent is one of its defining features. The centre regularly hosts events that highlight Singapore’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, such as the Pesta Raya Malay Festival of Arts and the Mosaic Music Festival. It also provides a platform for emerging local artists to showcase their work through initiatives like the Esplanade’s annual Fresh Fringe festival.
But the Esplanade is not just a performing arts centre. It is also a destination for dining, shopping, and entertainment. The complex’s retail mall features a wide range of shops, restaurants, and cafes, making it a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. The Esplanade’s rooftop garden, which boasts stunning views of Marina Bay, is another must-visit attraction.
In recent years, the Esplanade has also been at the forefront of efforts to make the arts more accessible and inclusive. The centre has implemented a range of programmes and initiatives aimed at engaging new audiences and promoting greater understanding and appreciation of the arts. These include free performances, workshops, and talks, as well as programmes targeted at children, families, and seniors.
Our verdict: the Esplanade is a truly remarkable institution that has transformed the arts landscape in Singapore. From its iconic architecture to its diverse programming and commitment to supporting local talent, the centre has become a cultural hub that inspires and enriches the lives of Singaporeans and visitors alike. Whether you are a lover of the arts, a tourist, a foodie, or just looking for a fun night out, the Esplanade has something for everyone.
1 Esplanade Drive, Singapore 038981, Singapore
12pm – 6pm daily