Time to shine a spotlight on the world’s most dazzling cities. From recreations of the Egyptian Pyramids to Space Needles, this is as illuminating as after-dark travelling gets…
Las Vegas is so bright, the Strip shines like a runway welcoming travelers. NASA photography shows the infamous procession of casinos and hotels as one continuous splash of neon. Of course, that’s something to do with context: it’s set within the black expanse of the Nevada desert. But not all the lights shine up – Fremont Street’s overhead light show is designed to be seen from below. It houses a 12,000,000 LED display light show – the largest on Earth. Elsewhere, the dancing fountains of the Bellagio hotel are a 1,000-foot-long illuminated diversion from the ever-flashing lights of the town’s 103 casinos, and the idiosyncratic Neon Museum – neonmuseum.org is where those wonderful old neon hotel and casinos go to die (well, not die, live on in a blaze of glory!) But it’s the hotels that really put on the best show in town: from the rather elegant and restrained glamour of the Venetian’s dazzling white canal bridges, to the Luxor’s Sky Beam – the strongest beam of light in the world, 43 billion times as bright as a candle!
Best vantage point: Top of the World restaurant at Stratosphere offers the ultimate bird’s-eye view of The Strip, and its Level 107 lounge does a mean Manhattan (which you can see, in miniature, at the New York New York Hotel.)
Singapore doesn’t do things by halves. For many, Singapore is Orchard Road – that glitzy procession of designer malls, gleaming skyscrapers and millionaires’ condos. After a recent makeover, the city’s cable cars, suspended 120m above sea level, can whisk you from here to the top of Mount Faber for a brilliant panorama. Then you can take it back to Sentosa Island to enjoy a son-et-lumiere extravaganza – Wings of Time. This multimedia show of sound, light, fire and Southeast Asian culture simply dazzles. But then, so does the city itself – try Chinatown and Little India, with their warren of neon-bathed streets and great food. Or sample any of the growing number of sleek rooftop bars for the ultimate after-dark.
Best vantage point: 1-Altitude, 63 storeys above One Raffles Place is both the highest place to drink in town, as well as one of the swankiest. And the views, from the three towers of the iconic Marina Bay Sands hotel, are sensational.
Dubai at night is at its best. The temperatures are cooler, the desert dust settles a little, and the city’s attractions positively burst into life. You can try floodlit golfing at the Emirates stadium, shopping at any number of open-til-late malls or enjoy the traditional sights and sounds (and smells) of the souk, at the Medina Bazaar (Al Hisn Street). And what do all these things require? Light. Dubai positively glows as the sun goes down. From the soaring Burj Khalifa tower to the majestic Atlantis hotel, via the cluster of downtown skyscrapers, this is a sizzling vision of 21st century living. Take a Big Bus Night Tour and you’ll stop off at the Wafi Light and Sound Show, at the Wafi mall: one of the Emirates’ most spectacular light shows, set in an Egyptian-themed courtyard. You will love it.
Best vantage point: The Dubai Marina is where the glitzy set go for dinner and drinks, but drinking in the view of the illuminated waterfront is by far the best attraction here.
Close your eyes and try to imagine the city of tomorrow. Chances are, it looks a lot like Shanghai. China’s economic tiger, Shanghai is also (outside of Hong Kong) the country’s most illuminated (and illuminating) city, and a showcase for the nation’s global ambitions. Recently hosting the World Expo, Shanghai is a city on the move, with its skyline constantly shape-shifting, and squeezing in yet another skyscraper.
Downtown Pudong, where most of the city’s hotels, shops, and nightlife is centered, is a buzzy neighborhood of pedestrianized streets, elegant colonial mansions, glitzy fashion malls, and neon cocktail lounges. You’ll keep having to remind yourself – this is China! Incongruously, the city’s fleet of distinctive London red busses offer a hop-on, hop-off tour of the sights at night. The waterfront, the Bund, is a joy – all Venetian-styled banking halls, incongruously set amid the sea of aggressive, soaring towers. The second tallest building in China, the Jin Mao Tower represents the accord between the USA and the country, fusing elements of western and oriental design.
Best vantage point: Climb the Oriental Pearl Tower for a view over the growing city. The tower has fifteen observatory levels. The highest (known as the Space Module) is at 350 m (1148 ft.), with an outside area complete with a (terrifying) glass floor.
In the 1850’s, Seattle was just a tiny fishing settlement hunkered down on the shore of Elliot Bay. Look at it now! In fact, look at it from Elliot Bay and you’ll be amazed at how far this Pacific Northwestern city has come. A good way to see how it all started is to take a trip inland to the historic town of Newhalem, where Seattle City Light and the National Park Service have recreated the illumination of three sets of rushing waterfalls falls, each illuminated by multi-colored lights: when electricity first came to the northwest, this was a major attraction. Back in the city, it’s the waterfront that impresses – with the iconic Space Needle, the huge Great Wheel on Pier 57, and the cluster of downtown skyscrapers, such as the Columbia Center (the 20th tallest in the US and the second tallest on the west coast). Take a stroll. The waterfront looks out towards West Seattle and the Puget Sound. It’s an enjoyable procession of bars, restaurants, souvenir stalls and fluorescent-hued arcades.
Best vantage point: The sky view observatory at the Columbia Center is a must. You’ll enjoy a panorama of the entire city, the waterfront and the mountains beyond.
Every spring, Frankfurt hosts the lighting industry’s mega expo, Light + Building. In the evenings, Luminale creates a river of light between the city’s impressive, skyscraper-etched business district and the exhibition center. Up to 200 lighting events transform Frankfurt into an international showcase of the world’s best lighting designers. But something of that magic rubs off throughout the year, because Frankfurt does urban lighting very thoughtfully. It’s not about blasting everything with uplighting and neon. More thought, more fun and more drama is encouraged. So expect to see light installations, rather than banks of over-exposed spotlights. Look for Catherine’s church (Katharinenkirche) on the Hauptwache, the Mousonturm theatre, the city’s public art and statuary glowing against the darkness. Interestingly, Frankfurt doesn’t just illuminate its monster towers, like the Deutsche bank HQ, but shines the spotlight (literally) on the galleries, the Opera House, museums, churches, fountains and parks.
Best vantage point: Take a 50-minute boat trip and soak in the most impressive skyline in Germany. Boat cruises along the Main River offer the best views of the stunning cluster of towers and old riverside merchants’ houses, beautifully lit up at night (frankfurt-tourismus.de).