Break up a busy day of sightseeing in Singapore and check out some of the best museums and cultural institutions in the city-state. Often housed in well-preserved heritage buildings, these venues – in true Singaporean fashion – go all out when it comes to innovating public education.
The National Museum of Singapore is the city’s oldest museum at over a century old, first opening in 1887 along Stamford Road as Raffles Library and Museum. Within the walls of this stately 19th century Neo-Palladium architecture are cutting-edge galleries that tell the story of Singapore’s development through immersive and interactive exhibitions. Explore the Singapore History Gallery for a fun introduction to the city-state’s history, from as early as the 13th century before the arrival of the British.
The Singapore Art Museum along Bras Basah Road hosts a rotating collection of local and Southeast Asian contemporary artwork. Its well-maintained grounds and buildings once hosted Singapore’s first Catholic school: St Joseph’s Institution. The adjacent extension building, 8Q at SAM on Queen Street, was the former Catholic High school that’s now been completely renovated for the 21st century and equipped for film screenings. Check your calendar to see if you’re around for the Singapore Biennale, which showcases the very best contemporary artworks and installations from around the region.
The National Gallery Singapore is home to over 8,000 modern Southeast Asian artworks, making it one of the world’s largest public collections. This venue specialises in highlighting the key works of pioneer Singaporean artists such as Georgette Chen, Cheong Soo Pieng, and Liu Kang, known for being forerunners of the Nanyang art style, which is rooted in traditional Chinese materials but influenced by Western styles of oil painting. The museum is located in two key historical buildings: the former City Hall and Supreme Court, a sprawling conservation space that is an architectural masterpiece in its own right.
Shaped like a half-unfurled white lotus flower, the ArtScience Museum has a prominent position overlooking Marina Bay next to the Helix Bridge. The ArtScience Museum hosts internationally acclaimed exhibitions that explore the fusion of technology and culture, working with a diverse range of partners from Dreamworks Animation to the Smithsonian Institute. Their permanent exhibit, FutureWorld: The intersection of Art and Science, is designed by Japanese collective teamlab, an interactive multimedia extravaganza that has proven very popular with the Instagram generation.
The Asian Civilisations Museum holds an impressive collection of artefacts, shining a spotlight on Singapore’s multicultural roots. Discover how the many ethnicities we know in the city-state today relate to cultures from around the continent. The museum sits at the mouth of the Singapore River, a fitting location that was once the centre of trade with the rest of the world.
Design lovers will delight in a visit to the National Design Centre in the Bras Basah-Bugis arts and culture district. Housed in the former St. Anthony’s convent, they have retained most of the art deco exterior while transforming the interior into a space that sees a rotating lineup of events promoting Singapore’s design scene. The permanent exhibit, 50 Years of Singapore Design, is a quick history lesson on the evolution of Singaporean design, while lifestyle boutique Kapok on the first level is the perfect place to pick up a curated range of fashion and household accessories from local and regional designers.
The Peranakan Museum spotlights the hybrid culture unique to Singapore and the Malayan region. Peranakan culture resulted from the intermarrying of indigenous Malay communities and immigrant Chinese traders hundreds of years ago – a community that is also widely famous for their delicious cuisine. The museum is home to one of the best collections of Peranakan artefacts in the world. Visitors can learn about the culture’s unique practices and see stories of prominent Peranakans in Singapore’s history come to life through interactive multimedia exhibits.
Singapore’s natural history museum houses an impressive collection of flora and fauna from around the Southeast Asian region, with some specimens dating as far back as the late 1800s. These days it is notable for the three towering diplodocid sauropod dinosaur skeletons in its main atrium, nicknamed ‘Prince’, ‘Apollonia’ and ‘Twinky’; as well as ‘Jubilee’, the skeleton of a sperm whale that caused a stir when it washed up on Singapore shores in 2015. The rock-like facade of the building is like a living museum covered with plants that are typically found on Singapore’s coastal cliffs.
The National Library is Singapore’s key knowledge archive, the perfect place for history buffs keen for a deep dive into Singapore’s history, with over 600,000 publicly accessible items in the main Lee Kong Chian Reference Library. The library is housed in a shiny modern structure in the arts and culture district, and offers a panoramic view of downtown Singapore from its three glass lifts – plus a 10th-floor, open-air garden called The Retreat that even has its own pebbled foot reflexology path.
The Singapore Science Centre is popular with school groups and families as it hosts over 1,000 interactive science exhibits spread over 14 galleries, a fun and educational way to entertain children for an entire day. The Science Centre is also home to the Omni-Theatre, Singapore’s only domed IMAX theatre that makes watching nature documentaries a rather surreal experience. For those who can’t bear the tropical heat check out Snow City, the only place in Singapore where you can frolic in the snow in sub-zero temperatures.