A culture buff’s guide to Singapore

Steeped in history and tradition, Singapore is brimming with unique sights, monuments and galleries. From visionary and immersive urban art to historic treasure troves housing priceless artefacts, culture lovers will be spoilt for choice in Singapore.

Joo Chiat Road

Diversity lies at the heart of this thriving and characterful island, so begin your cultural adventure by touring Singapore’s varied districts. Every district tells its own story and has a vibrant character, cuisine, art scene and culture to enjoy. Declared Singapore’s first Heritage Town, Joo Chiat Road is a historic Perankan neighbourhood packed full of charm. Its pastel-coloured terraces are a haven for food and culture lovers alike; the neighbourhood’s colourful shops sell traditional Nyonya clothing and crafts. Visit the cool new boutiques and modern cafés and traditional coffee shops, where you can sample the famous Katong ‘laksa‘, ‘kueh chang‘ (dumplings) and other Nyonya delicacies.

Chinatown

Across town, discover a world of red lanterns, incense-scented alleyways, street food and temples in Chinatown. A whirlwind of old meets new; street hawkers and traditional tearooms sit alongside some of the hippest and trendiest bars in the city. Take a walking tour and chart this district’s fascinating and humble beginnings as an enclave for Chinese immigrants, then pay a visit to the Chinatown Heritage Centre for an insight into the lives of the earliest settlers. In the heart of Chinatown, the Tang-dynasty inspired Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum is a striking piece of architecture, with a rooftop garden, prayer wheel, teahouse and theatre. Most importantly, it’s believed to house the sacred tooth of Buddha.

China Heritage Centre: 48 Pagoda Street, Singapore 059207

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple: 288, South Bridge Road, Singapore 058840

National Museum of Singapore

If museums and galleries are on your tick list, you won’t be disappointed. The National Museum of Singapore spans the city-state’s 700-year history and houses relics such as the Singapore Stone, a 13th-century slab that once stood at the mouth of Singapore River. The museum’s Gallery10 was opened in 2017: Singapore’s first digital gallery is indicative of the nation’s progressive views for immersive and experimental art. In the heartland of the Civic District, the National Gallery occupies the site of two magnificent national monuments – the former Supreme Court and City Hall – and is home to the world’s largest public display of modern Southeast Asian art, with more than 8,000 pieces.

National Museum: 93, Stamford Road, Singapore 178897

National Gallery: 1 St Andrew’s Road, Singapore 178957

Gillman Barracks

When it comes to modern art, Singapore is positively blooming. A former British military encampment, Gillman Barracks on Lock Road is the fulcrum of Singapore’s contemporary arts scene, home to 13 galleries. Easy to explore on foot, this artsy haven has restaurants, cafés, bars and galleries and is surrounded by tranquil tropical gardens. Local musicians sometimes perform during the evening – check the site for upcoming events.

Urban Installations

You don’t have to visit galleries to enjoy art in Singapore, though – it’s everywhere! Keep your eye out for vivid murals around Little India’s Hindoo Road and along Banda Street and Amoy Street in Chinatown. An increasing number of cafes and venues are fusing art into their mix as well. Gallery-café, Artistry displays local art on its walls, exhibits furniture and has tableware from local potters for sale. Meanwhile Kult Kafe, set in a colonial house on Emily Hill, serves cracking cocktails and hosts regular screenings of local and foreign films, performances by musicians and artists’ exhibitions. Another urban installation to electrify the Singapore arts scene is Deck: a communal arts space inhabiting 19 shipping containers, dedicated to photography. Wander the two galleries, leaf through photobooks and enjoy the vibe – there’s also a café and craft beer pop-up.

Deck: 120A Prinsep Street. Gallery hours: Tues–Sat, noon–7pm; Sunday, noon–5pm. Library hours: Weds & Sat, noon–7pm. Closed on Mondays and public holidays.

The Best Ways To Explore

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