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Esplanade Theatres On The Bay - Things To Do

Esplanade – Theatres On The Bay: Singapore’s Iconic “Durian” With Free Shows & Skyline Views

Esplanade – Theatres On The Bay

Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay is an iconic building almost every Singaporean is familiar with – we even affectionately refer to it as the “durian”. Coined as Asia’s equivalent of the Sydney Opera House by many, the structure is home to a 2,000-seat theatre, concert hall, an outdoor theatre, a shopping centre, and performance spaces. 

Whether you’re a traveller waiting for your chance to visit, or a local looking for things to do during the holidays, here’s what the Esplanade has in store. 

Esplanade’s beginnings and architecture

Esplanade Theatres On The Bay Singapore
Image credit:
Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay

Having officially opened its doors over 2 decades ago in 2002, the performing arts centre has since hosted more than 49,000 performances and events to an audience of over 32 million. In addition to that, over 112 million – and counting – people have visited the venue. 

Operating as a not-for-profit arts centre, many of the events and exhibitions held at the Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay are free for all to enjoy. 

But the most recognisable thing about the Esplanade has got to be its architecture. In fact, there’s been a longstanding confusion on what the building was actually modelled after. Could it be 2 microphones, durians, or the eyes of a fly? No one can tell for sure.

Esplanade Theatres On The Bay - Facade
Image credit:
@myarchitag via Instagram

Consisting of 2 large, spiky domes, the original design was to feature glass all around without any form of shade. This, however, received criticism due to not considering Singapore’s tropical climate, where glass structures would attract way too much heat.

Esplanade Theatres On The Bay - Durian StructureImage credit: DP Architects

The design was then changed to the one we know today, with more than 7,000 aluminium panels acting as sunshades placed all around the 2 domes. These are what make up the Esplanade’s durian-like appearance, though it wasn’t intended by the architects.

Things to do at the Esplanade

Catch free performances & art exhibitions

Esplanade Theatres On The Bay - Live Music Performance
Annual Singapore Symphony Orchestra Christmas concert.
Image credit: @yuehantheotter via Instagram

The Esplanade has hosted a variety of shows over the years, ranging from dramatic circus acts to international ballet performances. With an emphasis on making the arts more accessible for all, there are plenty of free rotating events for the public to attend.

Esplanade Theatres On The Bay - Concourse
Image credit: Esplanade

The Esplanade Concourse is located at the main entrance area, where the steps are. Grab a spot and get cosy, as this is where musical performances – from indie bands to rousing instrumental symphonies – take place.

Esplanade Theatres On The Bay - Outdoor Theatre
The Outdoor Theatre often holds fun performances like dance shows.

You might have strolled past the DBS Foundation Outdoor Theatre, which features a dome shelter over a stage that’s flanked by the Singapore River itself – talk about vibes.

The open-air venue can seat up to 450 pax, and accommodate an additional 600 or so in the standing crowd, so fret not about getting a spot for even the most popular performances. Seats are available on a first-come-first-serve basis though, so head down earlier to get an up-close view.

Jendela Visual Arts Space
Besides housing art exhibits, the Jendela Visual Arts Space is a minimalist treat for the eyes in itself.
Image credit: Esplanade

In addition to the many museums in Singapore, you can also peruse art installations free of charge at various spots within Esplanade. These include the iconic Esplanade Tunnel – leading from the carpark to the main building and the site of many a romantic stroll, the Jendela Visual Arts Space on Level 2, and the Community Wall found at Esplanade Mall, Level 3.

Go on a behind-the-scenes tour of Esplanade’s concert halls & domes

Esplanade Garden
Esplanade Garden Tour comprises a scenic stroll and insights into the many sculptures and nature displays around the compound.
Image credit: Esplanade

If you have a penchant to go behind the scenes where most people don’t get the chance to, Esplanade has a wide array to satisfy your curious cat within.

Sign up for their guided tours which include a backstage glimpse of the theatre sets – including a sneak peek into the Green Room where fabulous performers have once prepped to take the stage, and an Esplanade Night Tour which takes you through the history, architecture, and design notes of the theatre and concert hall.

Do note that guided tours are chargeable at varying rates, from $12/pax.

Shop & eat at Esplanade Mall

Esplanade Alter Ego
Alter Ego is known for their hearty pastas and wholesome poke bowls.

There’s also a wide array of art-related shops situated in the shopping area such as a wind instrument shop, a makers’ market, and a vinyl store. And if you’re hungry, pick and choose from restaurants such as Alter Ego, Harry’s, and Makansutra Gluttons Bay nearby.

Visit Esplanade for free performances, city views & dining by the bay

Merlion Singapore
Pro tip: Head over to Merlion Park for a shot of the Merlion and the Esplanade.
Image credit: @macainmhire via Instagram

If you’re planning on making a visit to Esplanade, make sure to check out the Esplanade activity guide online for ongoing performances, workshops, and activities that you can participate in.

Singapore City Skyline
Stroll along the waterfront at night for twinkling views of Marina Bay
Image credit: @lloadingl via Instagram

Even if you’re not swinging by to catch a show, there are plenty of things to do, and places to eat or shop at. The city skylines and bayfront location also make it a prime spot for you to clock some steps, or as a fun cycling route if you’d like a change of scenery.

Address: 1 Esplanade Drive, Singapore 038981
Opening hours: 8am-11.30pm, Daily
Contact: 6828 8377

Esplanade – Theatres On The Bay
1 Esplanade Dr, Singapore 038981
Contact Information

Check out more activity ideas in Singapore here: 

Cover image adapted from: @myarchitag via Instagram, DP Architects
Originally published on 30th December 2021. Last updated by Renae Cheng on 17th May 2023.