Formerly the Supreme Court and City Hall, this behemoth of an art museum – it’s the largest of its kind in Singapore – focuses on South-East Asian art from the 19th century up until today. And with several kid-friendly exhibits and installations, the little ones have lots to check out, too.
Fusing art and science, the 21 gallery spaces here have hosted some of the most famous exhibitions in the world. Like those that feature the sets, costumes and props from blockbuster films such as Titanic and the Harry Potter franchise. And its current permanent exhibition, Future World, is a mind-bender: designed by Japanese arts collective teamLab, the show takes visitors on an interactive journey of lights, digital art and magic.
Previously known as the Singapore History Museum, the National Museum of Singapore is the largest local museum. It comprises two main galleries: the Singapore History Gallery, which traces the history of Singapore from its beginnings in the 14th century to the present day, and the Singapore Living Galleries, which focus on four themes: food, fashion, film and photography.
This former Catholic school for boys was revamped in the early ’90s when there was a policy of converting old colonial buildings into public museums. Because of its small, unusual and hidden gallery spaces, it has never held blockbuster shows. Instead, it specialises in smaller exhibitions, mostly 20th-century Asian visual art, often drawn from its own collection of South-East Asian ‘pioneer’ art.
The Asian Civilisations Museum is the first in the region to represent an integrated perspective of pan-Asian cultures and civilisations. It boasts 11 galleries showcasing more than 1,300 artefacts from the civilisations of China, South-East Asia, South Asia and West Asia.
We’ve been dreaming of our very own night at the museum ever since Ben Stiller tamed a T-Rex skeleton – don’t laugh, you know you did, too. But good things come to those who wait, and we rejoiced when the doors of South-East Asia’s first-ever natural history museum were finally flung open once again. Of course, no prehistoric creatures or ancient sculptures will be coming to life here (we think), but it’s still pretty darned cool.
Spread over two floors, 15 zones and 2,500 sq m, the exhibition gallery showcases over 2,000 specimens of South-East Asian plants and animals. But the highlight – for us, at least – is the chance to get up close and personal with three 150 million-year-old dinosaur fossils. Jurassic Park, anyone?
‘Peranakan’ describes both a rich culture and a unique ethnic group that arose from the meeting of Chinese and Malay peoples. This ten-gallery exhibition venue houses documents and artefacts of Peranakan culture, brought to life by interactive and multimedia displays spread over three floors.
The museum commemorates the brave defence of the vastly outnumbered soldiers of the Malay Regiment against the Japanese in the Battle of Pasir Panjang during WWII. Documentary material is gathered in display cases on the first floor, while the rooms upstairs recreate the building’s military past.
With a glowing glass façade inspired by stepwells commonly found in South Asia, the Indian Heritage Centre has a wealth of artefacts that are dotted around five galleries. They document and explore the history and culture of Indians, particularly in relation to Singapore, all the way from the 1st century to the present day.
A first of its kind in Singapore, Lion City Kitty is pretty much a one-stop destination for all things feline. Aptly situated within a quaint shophouse on ‘Purrvis’ Street, the space comprises a museum (of course) that depicts the history of cats around the world, an art space that serves as a platform for local artists to showcase cat-centric creative work, and the Mansion, a playground for kitties that’s flush with toys and scratch posts.
Located at the historic Istana Kampong Gelam, this museum traces the history of the Malay community from the days of the earliest settlers and the sea faring might of the Bugis villagers to the golden years of the Malay entertainment industry. Featuring six sub-galleries, exhibits include the history of Kampong Gelam and contributions made by various Malay pioneers.
This private museum is considered to be the largest collection of its kind in South-East Asia, showcasing a collection of over 50,000 pieces of vintage toys. With rare or one-of-a-kind pieces sourced from more than 40 countries – some of which date back to the mid-19th century – it’s easy to get caught up in the past in this five-storey temple to toys.
An institute built for the cultivation of everything scientific (yeah, science!), this kid-friendly institution features regular exhibitions that promote the physical, life, applied, technology and industry sciences. The centre also lays claim to Singapore’s only domed cinema, the Omni-Theatre, which is equipped with state-of-the-art IMAX technology.
Curating philatelic materials of Singapore from the 1830s to the present day, the Singapore Philatelic Museum also boasts an extensive collection of stamps from member countries of the Universal Postal Union. It’s also a working post office: where better to fire off a few postcards of your own?
No, it’s not on Kusu Island. Housed in the Chinese Garden, most of the specimens in this turtle and tortoise sanctuary started off as family pets of the owners, the father-daughter duo Danny and Connie Tan. Since its humble beginnings, the museum is now home to more than 1,000 critters from 58 species, including playful pig-nosed turtles, terrapins, large tortoises, and even feisty alligator snapping turtles.
Growing up in China, Bian Hui Bin was exposed to traditional Chinese opera from a young age. He has harboured a deep love for the artform ever since – and so when he came to Singapore, he hoped to introduce the different types of Chinese opera to locals and foreigners alike. And he did with this museum. Tucked away on the second floor of a Kampong Glam shophouse, it showcases the styles, costumes and props employed by the various types of Chinese opera in Singapore.
Even though the museum is housed in a purpose-built venue, and the chapel is a reconstruction (the original was shipped to Australia after the war), this is the most iconic of the WWII sites in Singapore.
The main interest lies in the stories of industry and ingenuity within POW camps here. The civilian and military internees essentially established an alternative, if somewhat surreal, society, catering for everything from entertainment to the manufacture of thousands of everyday items. Contact with the outside world was maintained through handmade and carefully disguised radios.
The chapel, located in the courtyard of the museum, encourages quiet reflection. It also houses copies of the kitschy but affecting Changi murals, recreated by the original artist, Stanley Warren, after a widely publicised international effort to find him. The $8 audio guide is pricey, but it is comprehensive and complements the displays well.
Here's another optical illusion museum from South Korea that has landed on our shores. Though smaller than Trick Eye – currently there are 70 pieces in the darker, maze-like Suntec space – Alive benefits from a more central location in the city and features a few unique pieces, such as an exhibit that makes it look as though you’re doing the gravity-defying lean next to Michael Jackson in ‘Smooth Criminal’, a full-length mirror that messes with your bodily proportions, and one that turns you into a breakdancing pro (with the help of a trampoline).
Aside from the usual army of international superstars, visitors can take selfies with some of our local heroes and celebs, including Jack Neo and Gurmit Singh, at the A-List Party section. Another feature to look out for is the indoor boat ride, Spirit of Singapore, which is unique to the Singapore outpost. It features some of our native plants, models of sightseeing attractions, and glimpses into local culture, such as a re-enactment of a traditional Chinese opera.
Check out these exhibitions
Have a glimpse of humanity's fascination with the universe at this exhibition, jointly curated and organised by Mori Art Museum and ArtScience Museum, which features artefacts from the Asian Civilisations Museum. Divided into four sections, you'll get to peruse historical religious texts on the cosmos and learn about the birth of astronomy. Then, explore new astronomical advances, black holes and dark matter, as well as questions about alien life, robotics and the future of mankind through artworks. Finally, view and ponder about art pieces that are specifically designed to be flown and exhibited in space. There's also a host of activities including guided tours, workshops and a screening of Look at the Earth from the Universe – a compilation of videos that looks at humanity from the viewpoint of the cosmos, as interpreted by artists.
Wax, crystal, chicken, marble, reindeer horn and ostrich: if you’re wondering what these have in common, they're all part of an exhibition featuring 148 one-of-a-kind eggs. And not just any eggs, but ornate and delicate pieces – some of which were even hand-carried – from the Liechtenstein National Museum. Admire a glass egg containing ashes from the Mt Helena volcanic eruption of 1980; a chicken egg with tiny horseshoes nailed onto its surface; and a pair of imperial porcelain factory eggs from 1914 that survived the civil revolutions and World War I.
Studio Ghibli fans, get excited: a selection of original celluloids from director Hayao Miyazaki are on permanent display at Polar Bear Gallery, including scenes from My Neighbour Totoro, Princess Mononoke and Laputa: Castle in the Sky. Admire them alongside works by Japanese fantasy artist, Naohisa Inoue, who’s behind the surrealist background art for Whisper of the Heart, a Studio Ghibli film. If you’ve got some money to spare, prices start from around $6,000 for a Miyazaki film celluloid or an Inoue artwork.