Singapore’s melting-pot culture, colonial heritage, economic prosperity and collective ambition combine to give the city a truly unique flavour. From the colourful facades of Peranakan shophouses and the grandiose neoclassical civil buildings of colonial times, to bold and visionary architectural flourishes such as the lotus-flower-inspired ArtScience Museum, Singapore’s skyline is as eclectic as the nation itself.
With mouth-watering cuisine, world-class cultural offerings, a fascinating history and soul-stirring natural parks and scenery, Singapore is a richly rewarding destination for travellers.
Ask any traveller what they love most about Singapore and they’ll wax lyrical about the dramatic contrasts found on the island. Colourful Peranakan shuttered buildings nestle at the feet of soaring skyscrapers. World-class museums, architecturally ambitious music venues and impeccably grand art galleries have rainforest as their back garden. Crumbling 19th-century shophouses have been lovingly restored to house vintage boutiques, artisan coffee shops and speakeasy-style cocktail dens.
Singapore’s fascinating history tells a tale of how a sleepy fishing village transformed into an economic powerhouse and cultural heavyweight. Much of its past is visible in the museums and monumental architecture of the city, but for a deep dive into the backstory it’s well worth taking a walking tour to see the historic highlights. An independent city state since 1965, Singapore is justly proud of its heritage and its people renowned for their kindness, generosity and openness.
Food is central to Singaporean culture; nothing distresses a Singaporean more than a wasted mealtime. Chilli-spiked crab, fragrant spiced laksa, Hokkien Mee, Nyonya dumplings and biryani; food is truly a Singaporean obsession, and you’ll find it steaming, sizzling and simmering on almost every street corner. In Singapore, eating out is a gloriously democratic affair where everyone will cheerfully name a no-frills hawker centre stall as their favourite place to eat in town. For most locals, life is a quest for the best street-food stall for a specific dish, and every food-loving visitor is welcome to join the hunt. With over a 100 open-air hawker centres and 6,000 stalls selling dishes from various Malay, Indian, Chinese and European culinary traditions, this city is a food lover’s paradise.
If food is the primary national obsession of Singapore, culture comes a close second. By nature, Singaporeans are culturally curious, creatively inclined and collectively supportive of talent and innovation. Accordingly, Singapore has a thriving arts scene that spans outdoor concerts and Broadway shows to local bands and edgy public art. As Sydney has its Opera House, Singapore has the Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, 60,000 square metres of beautifully designed performing arts space including a concert hall seating about 1,800 and a 1,950-capacity theatre. Meanwhile the theatres at Marina Bay Sands are drawing Broadway and West End hits such as Phantom Of The Opera, Wicked and Les Misérables. More grassroots entertainment can be found at Timbre’s portfolio of venues, where homecooked food is served alongside homegrown musical and performance talent.
Meanwhile within the visual arts, the past five years have seen Singapore cement its reputation as an international art hub. The recently opened, much-lauded ArtScience Museum unites art and science exhibitions, while the National Gallery Singapore comprises the world’s largest public collection of Singaporean and Southeast Asian art, totalling more than 8,000 artworks. Bringing together international and home-grown art galleries, Gillman Barracks visual arts cluster welcomes art lovers, collectors and the artistically curious in a buzzing centre with a packed calendar of exhibitions and events. “Culture” is a broad term in Singapore, and visitors will discover a passionate, creative community engaged in cultural efforts large and small.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the Peranakan district of Joo Chiat, where at the historic Kim Choo dumpling shophouse, travellers can learn about the Peranakan culture of the early Chinese settlers to Singapore. Meanwhile, across town, Tiong Bahru, a 1930s housing estate that Vogue named one of the world’s hippest neighbourhoods, is all quirky bookstores, record stores and buzzy cafés. But the island’s green spaces are nurtured as carefully as its cultural enclaves. Even avowed garden devotees and horticulture buffs have their minds blown by the spectacular Gardens by the Bay, a space-age triptych of stunning gardens and biodomes with a shared vision of environmental sustainability – a must visit in Singapore. Pulau Ubin, meanwhile, is one of the city’s best-kept secrets, a largely undeveloped island that gives travellers a taste of the Singapore of fifty years ago, a living, breathing museum of distinctly Singaporean island life.
Singapore enables travellers to experience numerous colourful cultures and cuisines without ever leaving the island. One important local tradition is the many festivals celebrating this cultural diversity. An unmissable spectacle, if you are lucky enough to be there at the right time, is the Chinese New Year extravaganza: the highlight is Singapore’s equivalent of carnival – the Chingay Parade, featuring dancing dragons and lions, fire eaters and elaborate floats. There are plenty of enticing experiences to enjoy throughout the year, though. In Chinatown, for example, the smell of sweet cured pork intermingles with the smoke from the Hindu temples at neighbouring Little India, whose Tekka Market is one of the most vibrant and colourful (and frequently Instagrammed) sights on the island. Meanwhile, in Kampong Glam, the Arab quarter, Haji Lane is lined with independent boutiques, retro barbershops and even a Tokyobike store, a hipster accolade positioning Singapore alongside Copenhagen, Berlin, Melbourne and London.
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