From food to architecture, Singapore celebrates its melting pot of cultures, giving it a spark that makes it one of Asia's top destinations.
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These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Singapore.
Singapore's 21st-century botanical garden is a S$1 billion, 101-hectare fantasy land of space-age biodomes, high-tech Supertrees and whimsical sculptures. The Flower Dome replicates the dry Mediterranean climates found across the world, while the astounding Cloud Forest is a tropical montane affair. The blooming Floral Fantasy, opened in 2019, interweaves floral artistry and technology magically, complete with a 4D ride. Connecting two of the Supertrees is the OCBC Skyway, offering knockout views. At 7.45pm and 8.45pm, the Supertrees burst into light for the Garden Rhapsody show. OCBC Skyway tickets can be purchased at the Ticketing Hub and at the Supertree Grove. Bundle tickets to all the attractions are available and it's suggested to purchase Floral Fantasy tickets a few days in advance to nab your preferred entry time. Directly west of Supertree Grove are the Heritage Gardens, four themed spaces inspired by the cultures of Singapore's three main ethnic groups – Chinese, Malay and Indian – as well as its former colonial ruler. South of the Supertree Grove is British artist Marc Quinn's extraordinary sculpture, Planet, a 7-tonne infant seemingly floating above the lawn. It's one of several artworks gracing the grounds. If you have kids in tow, head to the Children's Garden, which features a water playground (with shower and changing facilities), as well as a huge tree house and adventure playground. The Visitor Centres offer stroller hire (S$2), lockers (S$2 to S$6 depending on size) and audio guides (S$4), or if you prefer, jump on the outdoor gardens tour shuttle bus (adult/child under 13 years S$8/3) for a whiz around the garden to an audio commentary. Regular shuttle buses (9am to 9pm; unlimited rides S$3) run between Bayfront Plaza and the conservatories.
Connected by a striking aluminium and glass canopy, Singapore's historic City Hall and Old Supreme Court buildings now form the city's breathtaking National Gallery. Its world-class collection of 19th-century and modern Southeast Asian art is housed in two major spaces, the DBS Singapore Gallery and the UOB Southeast Asia Gallery. The former delivers a comprehensive overview of Singaporean art from the 19th century to today, while the latter focuses on the greater Southeast Asian region. Beyond them, the Singtel Special Exhibition Gallery is the setting for temporary exhibitions, which include major collaborations with some of the world's highest-profile art museums. Young culture vultures shouldn't miss the National Gallery's Keppel Centre for Art Education, which delivers innovative, multisensory art experiences for kids. The S$530 million National Gallery is a befitting home for what is one of the world's most important surveys of colonial and post-colonial Southeast Asian art. Among its many treasures are pieces by Singaporean greats Cheong Soo Pieng, Liu Kang, Chua Mia Tee and Georgette Chen, as well as works from luminaries such as Indonesia's Raden Saleh, the Philippines' Fernando Cueto Amorsolo and Imelda Cajipe-Endaya, and Myanmar's U Ba Nyan. Home to a string of good eateries and a gift shop stocked with specially commissioned art books, design pieces and prints, the complex also runs daily guided tours, artist talks, lectures and workshops.
Singapore's 74-hectare botanic wonderland is a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the city's most arresting attractions. Established in 1860, it's a tropical Valhalla peppered with glassy lakes, rolling lawns and themed gardens. The site is home to the National Orchid Garden, as well as a rare patch of dense primeval rainforest, the latter home to over 300 species of vegetation, over half of which are now (sadly) considered rare in Singapore. Look up to see trees reaching 50m high, growing here even before the modern founding of Singapore. The National Orchid Garden itself is the legacy of an orchid-breeding program that began in 1928, and its 3 hectares house over 1000 species and 2000 hybrids. Of these, around 600 are on display – the largest showcase of tropical orchids on Earth. Located next to the National Orchid Garden is the 1-hectare Ginger Garden, with over 250 members of the Zingiberaceae family. The garden's newest addition, the 8-hectare Gallop Extension, includes the OCBC Arboretum that showcases a living library of trees and the ridge-top trail culminating at the garden's highest point (approximately 40m above sea level). More Gallop Extension attractions are slated to open in 2020, including a 200m barrier-free canopy link to join the extension to the Learning Forest. Children will love exploring the interactive Jacob Ballas Children's Garden, complete with water-play feature and forest adventure playground. Enjoy swan spotting at Swan Lake, where along with the large bronze swan sculpture you might also see the real mute white swans imported all the way from the Netherlands. Free, themed guided tours of the Botanic Gardens run on Saturday, while the Symphony Lake makes a romantic setting for seasonal opera performances – check the website.
Made up of a series of parks and hills connecting Kent Ridge Park to Mt Faber and the Labrador Nature Reserve, the Southern Ridges will have you trekking through the jungle without ever really leaving the city. The entire route spans 10km; the best stretch is from Kent Ridge Park to Mt Faber. Not only is it relatively easy, this 4km section offers forest-canopy walkways, lofty skyline vistas and the chance to cross the spectacular Henderson Waves, an undulating pedestrian bridge suspended 36m above the ground. Alight from the MRT at Pasir Panjang station, from where Kent Ridge Park is a steep but manageable 800m walk up Pepys Rd. At the top of the hill is the small yet fascinating Reflections at Bukit Chandu war museum. Directly beyond is Kent Ridge Park and its short forest-canopy walk. The idyllic leafy shade of Kent Ridge quickly gives way to the themed gardens and prototype glasshouses of HortPark. The park is especially family-friendly with its playground, drinking fountains and nursery-cafe. Cross the leaf-like Alexander Arch bridge from HortPark to the impressive Forest Walk, offering eye-level views of the jungle canopy covering Telok Blangah Hill. The walkway eventually leads to Telok Blangah Hill Park, with its beautiful floral displays, and further along to the sculptural Henderson Waves bridge. The pointed towers you can see rising above the forest canopy form part of the Daniel Libeskind-designed luxury residential complex, Reflections at Keppel Bay. It's a short but rather steep climb up the final 550m to the summit of Mt Faber, with fine city views awaiting (skip the average restaurants). The cable car connecting Mt Faber to HarbourFront mall and MRT, and on to Sentosa Island is exorbitantly priced (adult/child return S$33/22) – consider grabbing a taxi instead (expect to pay around S$7 to HarbourFront).
Baba House is one of Singapore's best-preserved Peranakan heritage homes. Built in the 1890s, this beautiful blue three-storey building was donated to the National University of Singapore (NUS) by a member of the family that used to live here. The NUS then set about renovating it so that it best matched how it would have looked in 1928 when, according to the family, Baba House was at its most resplendent. The only way in is on a guided or self-guided tour; bookings are essential. Step inside and marvel at the meticulously maintained period furniture and antiques, as well as the building's intricate architectural details. Learn the stories of the house and its former occupants, whose original family photos still grace the walls. The elaborate bedrooms on the 2nd floor are a sight to behold; keep your eyes peeled for the tenong, a wedding gift box, which takes pride of place. Tours take place daily Tuesday to Friday; self-guided tours are possible on Saturday.
This remarkable museum houses the region's most comprehensive collection of pan-Asian treasures. Its galleries explore the history, cultures, textiles and religions of Southeast Asia, China, the Asian subcontinent and Islamic west Asia. The galleries are curated to emphasise the cross-cultural connections developed through Singapore's history as a port city. The Tang Shipwreck exhibition showcases over 500 pieces of recovered booty – look out for the Chinese bronze mirrors, one of which is over 2000 years old. The museum occupies the stately Empress Place Building. Designed by British architect John Frederick Adolphus McNair and built using Indian convict labour in 1865, it originally housed the colonial government offices. Note the elegant fusion of Palladian classicism and tropical touches, among them timber louvered shutters and a wide, shaded porch.
Delve into Chinatown's gritty, cacophonous backstory at the immersive Chinatown Heritage Centre. Occupying several levels of a converted shophouse, its interactive exhibitions shed light on numerous historical chapters, from the treacherous journey of Singapore's early Chinese immigrants to the development of local clan associations to the district's notorious opium dens. It's an evocative place, digging well beneath modern Chinatown's touristy veneer. The museum is physically very small, so aim to arrive just after opening to beat the crowds. Guided tours are offered daily (for an additional adult/child S$7/6), with either a Samsui woman or a trishaw rider, and are well worth it for the hosts' entertaining stories. Tours begin at the ticket counter at 11.30am, 1.30pm and 4.30pm.
Seemingly pulled from the pages of the Arabian Nights, Singapore's largest mosque is nothing short of enchanting, designed in the Saracenic style and topped by a golden dome. It was originally built in 1825 with the aid of a grant from Raffles and the East India Company, after Raffles' treaty with the sultan of Singapore allowed the Malay leader to retain sovereignty over the area. In 1928 the original mosque was replaced by the present building, designed by an Irish architect. Non-Muslims are asked to refrain from entering the prayer hall at any time, and all visitors are expected to be dressed suitably (cloaks are available at the entrance). Entry is via Gate 5 and 6, facing Bussorah Street.
Imaginative and immersive, Singapore's National Museum is good enough to warrant two visits. At once cutting edge and classical, the space ditches staid exhibits for lively multimedia galleries that bring Singapore's jam-packed biography to vivid life. It's a colourful, intimate journey, spanning ancient Malay royalty, wartime occupation, nation-building, food and fashion. Look out for interactive artwork GoHead/GoStan: Panorama Singapura, which offers an audiovisual trip through the city-state's many periods. Free guided tours are offered daily; check online for times. The museum's neoclassical wing, graced by a stained-glass rotunda, once housed the Raffles Museum and Library.
Secret Marvels: Haw Par Villa, Singapore
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