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Singapore: Lion City Culture

Museums of Ancient History and Modern Culture
Singapore: Lion City Culture
Top-notch museums and galleries, nature trails and award-winning parks, and chic spas on a nearby resort island: There’s something for every type of traveler in Singapore.

By Heidi Sarna, AFAR Local Expert
Photo Courtesy of Asian Civilisations Museum
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    Museums of Ancient History and Modern Culture
    Museums of Ancient History and Modern Culture
    The lotus-shaped ArtScience Museum hosts prominent touring exhibitions and recently unveiled a new permanent gallery, the interactive Future World: Where Art Meets Science. Visit the Asian Civilisations Museum for a historical look at the many cultures that shaped Singapore. For a culture-filled day, start at the Singapore Art Museum to see modern works from Southeast Asia, and then hop over to the National Museum, which celebrates Singapore’s heritage, creativity, and ethnic groups. Afterward, browse the world’s largest public collection of Southeast Asian art at the beautiful new National Gallery. Make sure you squeeze in a stop at the Peranakan Museum, a lovely collection of Malay-Chinese Peranakan artifacts and textiles housed in a gorgeous building from 1912 that is as much a reason to go as what’s on display inside.
    Photo Courtesy of Asian Civilisations Museum
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    It’s a Jungle Out There
    It’s a Jungle Out There
    In Singapore, nature lovers will find green spaces as diverse as the local flora. Covering some 250 acres of reclaimed land, Gardens by the Bay is the newest addition to the city’s leafy offerings. The lauded tropical space draws visitors with its Supertree Grove, Flower Dome, and Cloud Forest. A more historic option is the Singapore Botanic Gardens, founded in 1859. The site was recently named a UNESCO World Heritage site and is home to the National Orchid Garden and the Halia, a lovely weekend brunch spot. For a bit of exercise, stroll through the paradisiacal Labrador Nature Reserve and along the mangrove-lined boardwalk that eventually winds past the Marina at Keppel Bay. Not far from there, you can cross the pedestrian bridge to Sentosa, a resort island and theme park. If you prefer pedaling your way through the greenery, head for East Coast Park, and bicycle along the shore and as far as Changi Airport if you’re feeling especially spry. Bicyclists may also want to weave around some of Singapore’s park connectors—bike (and pedestrian) paths that crisscross the island. True jungle lovers should beeline it to the MacRitchie Reservoir park in central Singapore for some great trail walking (or running). Carry lots of water with you, but no food—the cheeky monkeys can smell it a mile away.
    Photo Courtesy of Gardens by the Bay
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    Colorful and Diverse Neighborhoods
    Colorful and Diverse Neighborhoods
    Visit four distinct neighborhoods in central Singapore to get a feel for the cultures that contribute to the city’s pan-Asian identity. Start in Chinatown, where the central business district’s high-rises give way to reflexology spas, a night market, and souvenir stalls. Then head north to Little India, a district dominated by Hindu temples—including the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple—as well as goldsmiths and fruit stalls blaring music of the Subcontinent. Finally, swing east into Kampong Glam, near Arab Street, where fabric shops are flanked by cafés selling falafel and mint tea. Pull up a chair at one of the many outdoor eateries near pedestrian-only Haji Lane and settle in for some prime people-watching. In Tiong Bahru, soak up the art deco style of this now-trendy area’s apartment blocks while sipping a latte or a cocktail at one of the many coffee shops and bars.
    Photo by Danny Santos / Courtesy of Singapore Tourism Board
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    Sentosa Island: A Playground for All Ages
    Sentosa Island: A Playground for All Ages
    Located just south of Singapore, Sentosa Island is a wonderland that can be easily reached by car, light rail, covered walkway, and cable car. Young explorers will love the Universal Studios theme park, Adventure Cove Waterpark, and Southeast Asia’s largest aquarium, while grown ones will marvel at the myriad resort, spa, and dining options. Find respite from the city on one of the island’s sandy, palm-tree-studded beaches. Or join the party crowd on Sunday afternoons at Tanjong Beach Club, where you can swim in the infinity pool or lounge in one of the chic cabanas on a cushy daybed.
    Photo by Marklin Ang / Courtesy of Singapore Tourism Board
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    Classical and Contemporary Performing Arts
    Classical and Contemporary Performing Arts
    Singapore attracts world-class international and regional talent to stages and venues across the island. Live-performance offerings run the gamut from beloved Broadway musicals at Marina Bay Sands’ theater to children’s plays at the Singapore Repertory Theatre and classical ballet performances by the Singapore Dance Theatre. Musicians of all genres put on concerts in the durian-shaped Esplanade–Theatres on the Bay. And those who love to laugh shouldn’t miss Comedy Masala, which features local comics every Tuesday night at Hero’s on Circular Road.
    Photo Courtesy of Singapore Tourism Board
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    Rooftop Bars
    Rooftop Bars
    In a city with abundant skyscrapers and year-round heat, it’s no wonder that rooftops have become a popular place to hang out. It seems that every high-rise in the city has turned its roof into a bar, restaurant, or swimming pool—or all three. Hotel guests at the Fullerton Bay or Marina Bay Sands can do laps far above the hustle and bustle of the financial district below. If you aren’t staying at either, go up to the Fullerton Bay’s Lantern bar or the MBS SkyPark for a sunset cocktail. Other lofty locations for a tipple include Level33 in the Marina Bay Financial Centre, Kinki’s rooftop bar in Customs House, the Screening Room on Ann Siang Road, and—the highest of them all, on the 63rd floor of One Raffles Place—the celebrated nightclub 1-Altitude.
    Photo Courtesy of Fullerton Hotel / Preferred Hotel Group
  • 7 / 10
    High-End Spas and Skin-Nibbling Beauty Fish
    High-End Spas and Skin-Nibbling Beauty Fish
    Massages and other pampering options range from high-end spas in five-star hotels to inexpensive and friendly reflexology rooms. For a decadent experience, reserve a beauty treatment, couple’s massage, or spa package at Capella’s Auriga wellness center on Sentosa Island. If you want to take care of yourself after a long flight or a busy day of sightseeing, head to one of the many reflexology outlets at People’s Park Complex in Chinatown, or check out My Foot, where excellent foot rubs are doled out by the visually impaired. For something quirkier, you can book an appointment at a “fish spa,” such as Kenko Wellness on Orchard Road, where you plunge your toes into a tank filled with nibbling fish that leave your skin smooth.
    Photo by Bialasiewicz / age fotostock
  • 8 / 10
    Let Your Hair Down at Night
    Let Your Hair Down at Night
    By day Singapore can feel a bit buttoned-up, but by night its diverse party scene comes alive. The young and beautiful with cash to splurge congregate in such bass-pumping clubs as Bang Bang, Empire Lounge, and 1-Altimate. For inventive cocktails and creative vibes, check out Singapore’s burgeoning speakeasy scene, exemplified by Operation Dagger on Ann Siang Hill. For a more laid-back evening, you can hop among the bars and bistros on Club Street, Duxton Hill, or Robertson Quay, or try the chilled Blu Jaz Cafe on the edge of the Muslim Quarter. And no nightlife guide would be complete without mentioning Clarke Quay, a Disney World–style district with wine bars and drink specials along the Singapore River.
    Photo by Andrew JK Tan / Courtesy of Singapore Tourism Board
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    A Burgeoning Street Art Scene
    A Burgeoning Street Art Scene
    In most of Singapore, street art is still considered vandalism. But the city has started to sanction some street art projects that are adding a lively new dimension to the urban landscape. In Kampong Glam, cheeky and colorful murals are becoming more commonplace and are a sign of the changing times. Near Boat Quay by the Fullerton Hotel, you can spot statues of a giant bird and children jumping into the river. And as you walk down the river toward Robertson Quay, the walls and bridge trusses have been painted by street artists, making the bridges crossing the water as aesthetically pleasing as they are utilitarian.
    Photo Courtesy of Singapore Tourism Board
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    Shop Till You Drop
    Shop Till You Drop
    There are some 150 malls in Singapore, the majority of which have become gleaming symbols of the city’s modernity. But what Singapore lacks in knockoff outlets, it makes up for in quality and convenience. Every year between May and August, retailers participate in the Great Singapore Sale to offer deep discounts. Foreign shoppers will recognize many of the high-end fashion houses selling their goods at the ION Orchard and Paragon retail centers, but you can also find the Japanese emporium Takashimaya on Orchard Road and various Southeast Asian designers in malls like the Cathay and Plaza Singapura. For something more local, head to Yue Hwa, a department store in Chinatown specializing in Chinese silk and cheongsam dresses. In some independent dress shops, clothes can be “one size fits all” (but keep in mind that Singaporeans tend to be small).
    Photo by Novastock / age fotostock
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