Lion City Culture

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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.

With additional copy by Heidi Sarna.
By Arwen Joyce, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Massimo Pizzotti/age fotostock
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    Museums of Ancient History and Modern Culture
    The lotus-shaped ArtScience Museum hosts prominent touring exhibits and recently unveiled a new permanent exhibition, the interactive Future World: Where Art Meets Science. Visit the Asian Civilizations 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 art, history, and culture. Afterward, browse the world's largest collection of Southeast Asian art at the beautiful new National Gallery.
    Photo by Massimo Pizzotti/age fotostock
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    It’s a Jungle Out There
    In Singapore, nature lovers will find green spaces as diverse as the local flora. Covering more than 100 hectares 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 Halia, a lovely weekend brunch spot. For a bit of exercise, stroll through the paradisiacal Labrador Nature Reserve and along the mangrove-lined boardwalk past the Marina at Keppel Bay. Then, cross the pedestrian bridge to Sentosa, a resort island and theme park.
    Photo by Rosemarie and Joseph
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    Colorful and Diverse Neighborhoods
    Visit three 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 high rises give way to foot reflexology spas, night markets, and souvenir stalls. Then head north to Little India, a neighborhood dominated by Hindu temples, goldsmiths, and fruit stalls blaring Hindi music. Finally, swing east into Kampong Glam near Arab Street where fabric shops are flanked by cafes 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.
    Photo by Arwen Joyce
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    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 day bed.
    Photo by Arwen Joyce
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    Classical and Contemporary Performing Arts
    Singapore attracts world-class international and local talent to stages and venues across the island. Theater offerings run the gamut from beloved Broadway musicals at Marina Bay Sands’ theater to open-air Shakespearean productions by 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 comedy fans shouldn't miss Comedy Masala, which features local comedians every Tuesday night at Hero’s on Circular Road.
    Photo by Arwen Joyce
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    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, 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 hotel, go up to the Fullerton Bay’s Lantern bar or the MBS SkyPark for a sunset cocktail. Other sky-high locations for a tipple include Level33 in 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—1-Altitude.
    Photo by Juergen Stumpe/age fotostock
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    High-End Spas and Skin-Nibbling Beauty Fish
    Massage and beauty treatment experiences 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 Spa & Wellness center on Sentosa Island. If you want to treat 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. For something a little more quirky, you can book an appointment at a “fish spa,” such as Kenko on Orchard Road, where you plunge your toes into a tank filled with nibbling fish that leave your skin smooth.
    Photo by Barbara Chennault
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    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, and Altimate. For inventive cocktails and creative vibes, check out Singapore’s burgeoning speakeasy scene exemplified at the Library, 28 Hong Kong Street, and Operation Dagger on Ann Siang Road. For a more laid-back evening, you can hop between the bars and bistros on Club Street, Duxton Hill, or Robertson Quay, or try the chilled BluJaz Cafė on the edge of the Arab Quarter. And no nightlife guide would be complete without mentioning Clarke Quay, a Disney World-like district with wine bars and drink specials along the Singapore River.
    Photo by Arwen Joyce
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    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 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 of the underpasses have been painted by street artists, and the bridges crossing the river are as aesthetically pleasing as they are utilitarian.
    Photo by Zhang Bo
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    Shop Till You Drop
    There are nearly 100 malls in Singapore, the majority of which have become gleaming symbols of the city’s modernity. But what Singapore lacks in knock-off outlets, it makes up for in quality and convenience. Every year between May and July, retailers participate in the Great Singapore Sale to offer deep discounts. Western shoppers will recognize many of the high-end designers at the ION Orchard and Paragon shopping centers, but you can also find the Japanese department store Takashimaya on Orchard Road and various Southeast Asian designers in malls like The Cathay and Plaza Singapura. In some independent dress shops, clothes can be “one size fits all” (but keep in mind that Singaporeans tend to be small).
    Photo by Massimo Pizzotti/age fotostock