New arrivals quickly discover that Singapore offers much more than just shopping malls. If you are looking for cultural things to do Singapore – you will be spoilt for choice! Across the island, you’ll find museums and galleries filled with world-class artworks and exhibitions, amazing shows and centres of worship (from tiny shrines to towering temples). Here’s a list of twenty to visit.
01. National Gallery Singapore
The National Gallery opened its doors to the public on 24 November 2015. Home for the National Collection, as well as other South-east Asian works from the 19th century to the present day. Located in the Civic District, it occupies the former City Hall and Supreme Court heritage buildings, making it the largest visual arts venue in Singapore, and in the region – matching established museums like the Musée d’Orsay (France) and Tate Modern (UK) in size. nationalgallery.sg
Psst! If you happen to be more “foodie” than “arty”, a visit to the National Gallery is still a must. At last count, there were eight places to wine and dine in the complex, from modern French at Odette to spectacular skyline views from Aura Sky Lounge.
02. Masjid Sultan
Malay for “Sultan Mosque”, this remarkable structure is located in Kampong Glam, or the Arab Quarter. Masjid Sultan was built in 1928 . The mosque offers services as well as classes, and religious and legal counselling. sultanmosque.org.sg
03. Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay
The Esplanade sits on prime waterfront land by Marina Bay, and offers a complete lifestyle experience – dining, shopping, and the performing arts. It houses multiple venues including a concert hall, theatre and several more intimate recital studios and performance spaces. The structure itself is a sight to see – its unique architectural design is thought to resemble a durian, the region’s beloved tropical fruit. esplanade.com
04. Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum
Opened in April 2015, this is Singapore’s only museum dedicated to showcasing Southeast Asian biodiversity. Be amazed at the extensive variety of plants and animals in 16 different thematic zones. Don’t forget to visit the museum’s three famous dinosaurs, Prince, Apollonia and Twinky. lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg
05. Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
This Tang Dynasty-style temple was constructed in 2002 to house the tooth relic of the historical Buddha and serve as a Chinese Buddhist cultural centre. It holds regular services and provides educational opportunities and welfare services. The complex also includes a museum with ancient artefacts. btrts.org.sg
Editors’ tip: Evening performances at outdoor venues such as Fort Canning and the Botanic Gardens can be particularly pleasant, and they’re often free. Bring a picnic blanket, a bottle of wine and a can of mozzie spray, and you’re all set!
06. Asian Civilisations Museum
Situated directly across the river from Boat Quay and the Fullerton Hotel, the Asian Civilisations Museum has 11 galleries, showcasing over 1,300 artefacts from China, Southeast Asia and West Asia. The museum has an action-packed event schedule to suit all ages, cultures and tastes. acm.org.sg
Editors’ tip: More museums to explore: MINT is the world’s first museum built solely for toys, presenting a wide range of vintage toys including Tintin collectables, exclusive teddy bear collections and Astroboy figurines. MINT goers can finish off their visit with cocktails and a splendid view of the skyline at the museum’s rooftop bar, Mr. Punch. Elsewhere, stamp collectors will love the Singapore Philatelic Museum, whose collection dates back to the Straits Settlements.
07. The Indoor Stadium
Also part of the Sports Hub complex, this 12,000-seater has hosted a wide array of entertainment events, and a heap of big-name acts, from Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga to Bruno Mars and Eric Clapton. Situated on the outskirts of the city centre in Kallang, the venue is easily accessible by the Stadium MRT stop. sportshub.com.sg
08. Thian Hock Keng
The “Temple of Heavenly Happiness” on Telok Ayer Street is the oldest Hokkien temple in Singapore. It was built between 1839 and 1842 to serve as a temple, school and community centre. Truly impressive, is the fact that the entire structure was assembled without nails – a masterpiece of stone, tiles and wood, dragons, phoenixes, carvings and columns. thianhockkeng.com.sg
09. ArtScience Museum
Featuring 21 galleries, this iconic, lotus-inspired building is a leading venue for major international touring exhibitions, recently hosting exhibits about everything from dinosaurs to photographer Annie Leibovitz; at the time of this guide’s publication, the current exhibition was HUMAN+: The Future of the Species. The museum sits in front of The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, near the Double Helix Bridge. marinabaysands.com/artsciencemuseum
10. Armenian Church
While it isn’t the largest Christian church in Singapore, it was completed in 1835, making it the oldest. It’s in a charming and peaceful setting near Fort Canning Park. Services are rarely held. armeniansinasia.org
11. MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands
The theatres are located in The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands . The MasterCard Theatres are made up of the Grand Theatre and Sands Theatre. Both of which stage numerous concerts, musicals and other performances year-round. The Theatres have hosted Broadway productions including The Phantom of the Opera, My Fair Lady, Grease and Wicked. marinabaysands.com/entertainment
12. Peranakan Museum
Peranakans are part Chinese, part Malay, and part descendants of the original, non-Malay inhabitants of Singapore. This museum, located around the corner from the National Museum, consists of 10 permanent galleries, each of which explores various aspects of Peranakan life including the elaborate 12-day Peranakan wedding, the role of nonyas (Peranakan women) and traditional foods. peranakanmuseum.sg
13. Maghain Aboth Synagogue
Hebrew for “Shield of Our Fathers”, Maghain Aboth was completed in 1878. It’s the oldest Jewish synagogue in Southeast Asia. Attached to the synagogue – located on Waterloo Street – is the Jacob Ballas Centre, built in 2007, which includes a full-service kosher restaurant, kosher market and a social hall for festive meals and functions. singaporejews.com
14. National Museum of Singapore
Currently the country’s largest museum, the National Museum of Singapore is housed in a stunning 130-year-old neoclassical building on Stamford Road near Fort Canning Park. The museum features a 2,800-square-metre Singapore History Gallery and four galleries called Life in Singapore: The Past 100 Years that explore personal stories of Singaporeans over different phases of Singapore’s history. They are titled Modern Colony Gallery, Surviving Syonan Gallery, Growing Up Gallery and the Voices of Singapore Gallery. nationalmuseum.sg
Editors’ tip: Visual and performing art groups offer an array of entertaining performances by local and international arts groups such as orchestras, dance troupes and theatre companies. These include the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Singapore Chinese Orchestra, Singapore Dance Theatre, Singapore Lyric Opera, Singapore Repertory Theatre, Wild Rice and Pangdemonium.
15. Sri Mariamman Temple
Built in 1827 for worship by immigrants from South India, this is the island’s oldest Hindu temple. Located in the heart of Chinatown, the temple boasts an ornamental tower entrance that’s a true Singapore landmark. Services and major festivals are regularly held at the temple. heb.gov.sg/temples
16. The National Stadium
Opened in 2014 as part of the newly revamped Sports Hub centre, it has already become one of Singapore’s most exciting venues for large-scale sports and entertainment events. The arena boasts a massive, retractable domed roof, along with an innovative air-cooling system across all 55,000 seats to ensure spectator comfort. sportshub.com.sg
17. Singapore Art Museum (SAM)
SAM is home to the national art collection of Singapore and boasts the largest collection of 20th-century Southeast Asian art. Due to space limitations, only 200 of the 8,000 works can be exhibited at any one time. In addition, SAM’s fantastic Art Garden is an interactive contemporary exhibition for children, held annually. nhb.gov.sg/sam
18. The Star Theatre
This 5,000-seat auditorium, one of Singapore’s newest, is part of The Star Performing Arts Centre in Buona Vista. With plenty of pre-theatre dining options to choose from in the downstairs Star Vista shopping centre. It’s also near the Buona Vista MRT lines, what’s not to love? thestar.sg/the-star-theatre
19. The Meadow
With a standing capacity of up to 30,000 people, The Meadow, located at Gardens by the Bay, is one of Singapore’s largest outdoor event spaces. With a panoramic view of the Garden’s iconic conservatory domes and super-trees, and the city’s downtown cityscape, it’s a fantastic setting to experience all sorts of performances. gardensbythebay.com.sg
20. National Library
The main campus of the National Library (nlb.gov.sg) at 100 Victoria Street houses an impressive collection of books, DVDs, magazines and newspapers, and a seven-storey reference section. Libraries in Singapore regularly offer fun and educational activities for children including storytelling, movie screenings and live performances.
Psst! There are 26 libraries across the island, and joining is simple. For expats, there’s an annual fee of $42.80 and a one-off registration fee of $10.50. For PRs (permanent residents), annual membership is free. The online catalogue is an easy way to search for a book, reserve and even extend a loan. Also, if you sign up for an email reminder, they’ll let you know that your books are due five days beforehand! Visit pl.sg and click on “Library Guide”.
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This article first appeared in the City guide 2017. Grab your free copy here