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Nights in Singapore: A Photo Tour of the Lion City

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Ced earned a bachelor's degree in communication studies in 1999. His interests include history, traveling, and mythology.

Fireworks on August 9 to celebrate the birthday of Singapore, the Lion City.

Fireworks on August 9 to celebrate the birthday of Singapore, the Lion City.

12 Gorgeous Nighttime Sights in Singapore

For most people, the name of the ultramodern city-state is synonymous with cleanliness, efficiency, and economic prosperity. Those familiar with the demographics of the metropolis would also highlight that Singapore, a mere 730 square kilometres, is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, renowned for its multi-cultural harmony and food.

For photographers, Singapore is furthermore a melting pot of the past and the present, the East and the West. The city-state is especially enchanting after dark.

Exploring Lion City at Night

Indeed, Singapore shines like a magical citadel each night after the sun goes to sleep. With the country’s many ethnic celebrations, there are also exotic festive light-ups aplenty for photography enthusiasts to swoon over throughout the year.

These opportunities, in turn, offer a hint of what the Lion City is. Through twinkling lights, they tell the story of Singapore with visual splendor and dazzlement. Look closer, and you’d see many sights depict the country’s history and social fabric too.

The iconic control tower of Changi Airport is a beacon that welcomes international visitors to Singapore.

The iconic control tower of Changi Airport is a beacon that welcomes international visitors to Singapore.

1. Changi Airport Control Tower

The iconic control tower of Changi Airport is the first major Singaporean landmark most visitors encounter on arrival. Synonymous with the airport itself, the tower is a popular motif used in numerous murals and paintings within the country. It is also a symbol of pride for many Singaporeans.

More importantly, Changi Airport was officially opened in December 1981. While Singapore was already a regional transportation hub in the preceding decade, the 80s and Changi Airport marked the Lion City’s first step in becoming an international air transportation hub. In a role befitting its structure, the control tower now acts as a futuristic beacon, welcoming visitors from all over the world.

Jewel Changi Airport breathtakingly showcases Singapore’s reputation as a tropical garden city.

Jewel Changi Airport breathtakingly showcases Singapore’s reputation as a tropical garden city.

2. Jewel Changi Airport HSBC Rain Vortex

Opened in April 2019 amid much fanfare, the toroidal Jewel Changi Airport is essentially a conservatory at the heart of the Changi Airport complex. One that’s home to a verdant indoor forest valley and a man-made waterfall.

An architectural wonder that’s absolutely spectacular to behold, especially at night, the abundant greenery is a celebration of the country’s decades-long reputation as a “garden city.” Simply put, no matter where you head to in Singapore, you wouldn’t be far from a garden or a park, or a leafy stretch of tropical green.

Like the lush indoor forest valley, the Lion City is itself a metropolis built as a picturesque garden.

The Singapore River at night and the many skyscrapers beside it.

The Singapore River at night and the many skyscrapers beside it.

3. The Singapore River

Previously a chaotic spread of godowns, warehouses, and bumboats, the Southern bank of the Singapore River is nowadays home to an assortment of F&B and commercial establishments, the area having been completely modernized in the 90s.

Historically, this stretch was once also, the economic lifeline of Singapore. Here was the heart of Singapore’s entrepot trade in the 1800s. Till today, the country’s most important historical, civil, and financial landmarks still stand beside the river.

In other words, the Singapore River is the symbolic birthplace of modern Singapore. Without a doubt, it is the historical source of Singapore’s prosperity too.

“Raffles Landing Spot” at the Singapore River.

“Raffles Landing Spot” at the Singapore River.

4. Thomas Stamford Raffles Statue at the Singapore River

Singapore’s journey to being a modern nation began in 1819 when Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles of the British East India Company stepped onto the island.

Though the man only stayed for ten days, Raffles successfully negotiated a treaty with local Malay chiefs, one that allowed for a British establishment in Singapore. A subsequent treaty in 1824 then permitted the entire island to be used by the British Empire.

Raffles’ choice of location for a strategic base in Southeast Asia quickly proved to be immaculate. By 1836, a mere 12 years later, Singapore was the regional capital of the British Empire, eventually, part of the Straits Settlements. By the end of the 19th century, the colony had also transformed from a small fishing village to a bustling port city with an international population.

Today, Raffles’ landing spot is marked by a polymarble statue at the northern bank of the Singapore River. Though there has also been modern criticism of Raffles’ true intentions, such as his desire to challenge the then Dutch Empire, his name remains synonymous with the best in the country. For example, the top pre-university institution in Singapore is named after him.

The illuminated façade of Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, built in 1862 as a town hall.

The illuminated façade of Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, built in 1862 as a town hall.

5. Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall

By the arrival of the 20th century, Singapore was the most important “possession” of the British Empire in Southeast Asia. The British had also built several monumental buildings in Southern Singapore to celebrate their colonization success. Many such buildings, such as the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, are meticulously preserved and remain in use today.

In modern times, these preserved landmarks are illuminated several times each year for festivals or national celebrations. Travelers who visit these monuments during any of these light-ups will furthermore be treated to a wide variety of art exhibitions and performances.

The Parliament of Singapore with financial district skyscrapers in the background.

The Parliament of Singapore with financial district skyscrapers in the background.

6. Parliament of Singapore

Famously, or notoriously, Singapore has been under the rule of the same political party, i.e., the People’s Action Party (PAP), since independence in 1965.

While lamented by some local activists as a symptom of authoritarian, socio-political suppression, it is undeniable that the PAP has mostly done a superior job since 1965, especially in the area of economic development. Since 2011, opposition parties have also been gaining foothold in parliament. For example, in 2020, the opposition Workers’ Party won ten seats, an unprecedented victory since the independence of the Lion City.

It remains to be seen how Singaporean politics will develop down the road. Whether it will remain the one-party state it currently still is.

Within Singapore, public housing blocks are commonly referred to as “HDB blocks.”

Within Singapore, public housing blocks are commonly referred to as “HDB blocks.”

7. Singaporean Public Housing

The phrase “public housing” often brings to mind images of crowded and squalid slums. This is not at all the case for Singapore, though.

Singaporean public housing estates, of which over 80 percent of locals reside, are clean, well maintained, and serviced by many recreational facilities. Many estates also have sprawling parks, with the estates themselves all well-connected by the subway (MRT) system.

For travel photographers, a night shot of "HDB blocks" could thus be considered a must for any photographic portfolio featuring nights in Singapore. On another note, the overall affordability and quality of such homes contributed much to the political popularity of the PAP among Singaporeans. One could go to the extent of saying successful public housing is a cornerstone of the PAP’s sustained victories at the polls.

Southern Singapore viewed from atop the Ion Orchard Complex.

Southern Singapore viewed from atop the Ion Orchard Complex.

8. Downtown Residences

As mentioned above, Singapore counts among the most densely populated cities in the world. At most parts of the island, urban build-ups extend as far as the eye can see. As dreary as this might sound, at night, the city-state transforms into a sea of light. One that is mesmerizing at the right vantage spots.

Ethnic celebrations in the Lion City. Clockwise from top left: Chinatown Lunar New Year Light-Up, Little India Deepavali Light-Up, Geylang Serai Hari Raya Puasa Light-Up, and Orchard Road Christmas Light-Up.

Ethnic celebrations in the Lion City. Clockwise from top left: Chinatown Lunar New Year Light-Up, Little India Deepavali Light-Up, Geylang Serai Hari Raya Puasa Light-Up, and Orchard Road Christmas Light-Up.

9. Singapore Festive Lights

With four official ethnic groups and a plethora of tourism events, the Singaporean calendar is filled to the brim with festive events. Many such events also involve light-ups at traditional ethnic enclaves. For local night photography enthusiasts, such illuminations are widely considered “must-attends.”

To give some examples, in the weeks before the Lunar New Year, the Chinatown district comes alive with festive lights. In September, the same district is again adorned with elaborate lanterns to welcome the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, i.e., the Mooncake Festival.

Elsewhere, the Geylang Serai District and the Little India Serangoon District are annually decorated with lights to welcome Eid al Fitr and Diwali respectively. (These festivals are locally known as Hari Raya Puasa and Deepavali)

Most famously, the entire downtown Orchard Road shopping stretch becomes a Christmas paradise every year-end.

Celebrations aside, these festive light-ups reflect the importance of ethnic and religious harmony in Singaporean culture. A merchant city since British colonial days, one that was a haven for migrants from all over Asia, the success of the Lion City has always depended on the willingness of residents to live and work together.

To put it in another way, these beautiful night illuminations are not just for pretty photos or tourism. They are also part of Singapore’s constant emphasis on social harmony. In local culture, there is no sin worse than ethnic or religious disrespect.

An open-air Singaporean eatery during early evening.

An open-air Singaporean eatery during early evening.

10. A Singaporean Eatery at Early Evening

Food has long occupied an esteemed place in Singaporean culture. For travelers, sampling the Lion City’s many ethnic cuisines is a delight that’s not to be missed.

With the country’s affluence, there are naturally many high-end establishments that offer the best of luxury and fine dining. However, if one is seeking local ambiance, the best places to head to are instead the hawker centers and “coffee shops” in residential districts.

In short, these open-air eateries do not just offer budget dining options. They are a glimpse into the social fabric of the country too. The sight of different races enjoying colorful ethnic food together is a visual summary of the cultural harmony that Singapore deeply cherishes.

From top to bottom: Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort, Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay, and the Singapore ArtScience Museum.

From top to bottom: Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort, Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay, and the Singapore ArtScience Museum.

11. Marina Bay Landmarks

Despite its economic prosperity since the 1970s, or perhaps because of it, Singapore was once described as a “cultural desert.” A place where one can easily become materially rich, but is a drag to live in.

In response, the Singaporean government launched a series of initiatives aimed at improving the overall quality of life for residents. Many such initiatives then involved the building of arts and performance venues, particularly in the downtown Marina Bay district. (Now also frequently called the Civic District).

Jump forth to today, many of these venues have become the foremost travel attractions of the Lion City. The most photographed landmarks too.

At night, they illuminate the southern tip of Singapore like glowing gems. Whether or not they fulfill their original purposes, these landmarks have come to define the country. This is especially so for visiting travelers.

Festive fireworks over Marina Bay.

Festive fireworks over Marina Bay.

12. Fireworks at Marina Bay

To end, a picture of stunning fireworks over Singapore’s Marina Bay during Lunar New Year celebrations. Would you like to visit the glittering Southeast Asian metropolis that is the Lion City?

© 2021 Ced Yong

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