There are plenty of things to do in Singapore so we understand that you might've overlooked a couple of lesser-known attractions. Sure you've stepped foot into Gardens by the Bay or Sentosa at least once, but have you been to a museum filled with musical boxes or a gallery featuring a collection of vintage cameras? Or what about a park that houses more than 3,000 species of creepy crawlies? Did you even know that Singapore has a natural history museum? If you haven't checked the following attractions off your list yet then it's time to play tourist and pay them a visit.
A dinosaur fossil, a sperm whale skeleton, the only specimen of the largest species of turtle ever recorded, and an Asian Brown Flycatcher specimen collected by the famed British naturalist Alfred Wallace himself – these are just some of the highlights you’ll see at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. The gallery is perfect for anyone interested in wildlife – but not the legwork it involves. Sixteen zones display specimens that run the gamut of plants, fungi, mammals, dinosaurs and more. Surrounding the museum are four gardens such as the Phylogenetic garden, which charts the evolution of plants and habitats. The other gardens – themed after mangroves, swamps and dryland forests – feature plants that are unique to these habitats. Bonus: entry to the gardens is free.
Scooch on down to the back alleys of Muscat Street for a rad hidden gem, an outdoor art gallery. Two parallel walls burst with a kaleidoscope of colour thanks to over 30 Instagram-worthy works by artists from the region and beyond. Admire the pop culture-dominated creation by multi-disciplinary artist PrettyFreakyFantasy or take a snap of a bold, terrestrial piece by graphic designer Liyana Farzana before exiting to Baghdad Street.
Lace up and surround yourself with the flora and fauna in the west. Deemed as the largest nature wonderland in the heartlands, Jurong Lake Gardens is Singapore's latest national garden, spanning a whopping 90 hectares. The gardens include Lakeside Garden, Chinese and Japanese Gardens and Garden Promenade – previously known as Jurong Lake Gardens West, Jurong Lake Gardens Central and Garden Promenade respectively. The grounds are specially landscaped and designed for families and the community to come together to play, learn and bond.
Though open to the public, making your way to this end of Singapore is quite an adventure already. Good thing you don't even need a ferry to get to the island, just a pair of good walking shoes will do. This ecologically sustainable park also uses timber from fallen trees for all the signage in the park, benches and the boardwalk over the mangrove swamp. Everything on the island is kept rustic so you can expect to find hidden beaches and some wildlife like snakes and macaques out and about.
Thought to be one of Singapore’s most authentic remaining Peranakan residential properties, this is not a traditional museum but a heritage house with a mission to provide education about Straits Chinese culture. Run by the National University of Singapore’s Centre for the Arts, it was restored and reopened in 2007 as the home to Singapore’s Peranakan Association.
Opened in 1937, this weird and wonderful park was named after its owners, Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, the brothers who made their fortune from the acclaimed cure-all ointment Tiger Balm (it’s also known as Tiger Balm Gardens). Multicoloured statues and tableaux – some looking rather neglected– depict scenes from Chinese history and mythology. The highlight is the Ten Courts of Hell (responsible for childhood nightmares for generations of Singaporeans) where small-scale tableaux show human sinners being punished in a variety of hideous and bloodthirsty ways – in extremely gory and graphic detail. It’s a safe bet that you will never see anything like it anywhere else.
Our version of the White House, Istana is where the President of Singapore resides in and it often opens its grounds for free to the public on special occasions including National Day, Chinese New Year and Hari Raya Puasa. So come bring your picnic basket and mats and spread across its manicured lawn or participate in various arts and cultural events (like dances, brass bands and martial arts demonstrations) that usually take place. The main Istana building itself was completed in 1869 and the gardens – which make for a lovely walk – contain an old Japanese artillery gun, lily ponds, the burial grounds of the Bencoolen Muslims and even a nine-hole golf course. Another popular public attraction is the changing of the guard, which happens the first Sunday of the month and starts at 6pm.
What began in 2000 as the brainchild of Ivy Singh and her husband Lim Ho Seng has since grown (pun intended) to one of the most beloved farms on the island. Known for more than just its organic produce, Bollywood Veggies has, over the years, expanded to include a culinary school and a museum. There’s even a bistro that uses fertiliser- and pesticide-free ingredients harvested from the backyard. It doesn’t get fresher than this.
Housing over 1000 vintage cameras, this museum located at the end of the Kampong Glam district is the first gallery in Singapore dedicated to a massive collection of the analog instrument. On display are a range of old-school spy cameras, pigeon cameras and 3D cameras. Besides equipment, the museum also showcases rare old photographs, interesting nuggets on photography and an authentic replica of the first ever picture taken on a camera.
Escape the hot and humid Singapore weather to experience the cold and snow at Snow City. You get to dress up in the whole winter gear get up – don't worry, these are available for rent – and stomp around in the snow. Slide down a 60m snow slope, take photos with life-sized snow sculptures in the artic playground or get toasty in an igloo home.
Marina Bay's giant, 42-storey, 165-metre observation wheel continues to pull a mix of tourists who come for the breathtaking, 360-degree views of the city available from one of 28 air-conditioned, UV-protected capsules. Each flight lasts 30 minutes, and on a clear day, the panorama from the top of the wheel stretches into neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia. For an unconventional experience, there are also dining and cocktail packages available.
Renowned waxwork museum Madame Tussauds finally sets up camp in Singapore. Key themes at the attraction include World Leaders, History, Film, Sport, Music and TV; there's also an A-List Party section, where the figures of Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp and friends are placed. Aside from international superstars such as Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee, visitors can take selfies with some of our local heroes and celebs too, including Jack Neo and Gurmit Singh.
Another feature to look out for when you head on over is the indoor boat ride, called Spirit of Singapore, which is unique to its Singapore outpost. It features some of our native plants, models of attractions and glimpses of local culture, such as a re-enactment of a traditional Chinese opera.
Next time you're on Pulau Ubin, make sure to cycle your way through Ketam Mountain Bike Park and pay this shrine a visit. It’s a yellow hut located next to an Asam tree in the south-western open area of the island. The shrine commemorates the Roman Catholic daughter of a German coffee plantation manager. Lore has it that when the British rushed into the house at the end of WWI, the girl escaped through the back door, slipped and fell to her death in a quarry behind the plantation.
Local labourers found the corpse, covered it in sand and offered prayers, flowers and incense. After she was given a proper burial at the present site, the German girl became a deity of sorts – worshippers from as far as Thailand have come to offer joss sticks and girly offerings, like makeup and dolls, at the shrine.
Nestled in the Chinese Garden is The Live Turtle and Tortoise Museum – that’s right, live. It’s a sanctuary for more than 200 turtles and tortoises of over 60 species, including a host of rare reptiles. Be wowed by the weird and wondrous mata-mata, fearsome alligator snapping turtles, and one 60-year-old Asian pond turtle. There’s even a double-headed, six-legged amphibian that the museum owners claimed to have found in their courtyard and nursed back to health. Kids can head to the petting corner, where they’ll get up-close and personal with some of the gentler critters. Look out for the tiny terrapins and soft shell tortoises roaming freely through the park – you can give them a pat on the shell or feed them.
Be enchanted by tinkling musical boxes in a museum dedicated to these delightful trinkets. Though only recently opened to the public, in 2015, through the museum’s doors lies centuries worth of history. Here, you can learn about the popularity of musical boxes throughout the years, how they first came to Singapore, and how Singapore played a pivotal role in bringing musical boxes to South-East Asia in the 19th and 20th centuries. Most of the musical boxes here are antiques that are centuries old, each telling a unique story of the craftsmanship of yesteryears. The museum aims to upkeep the preservation of these artefacts, and its collections hail mainly from Switzerland, Germany and the US.
Featuring specimens of more than 3,000 species of butterflies and rare insects, this living organism museum is a real eye-opener. The highlight is the netted conservatory where 1,500 beautiful butterflies flutter freely around you in a tropical rainforest setting. Learn about the life cycle of butterflies at the pupa house, where the entire metamorphosis from pupa to butterfly is displayed through live specimens. Next, head to the bird and animal aviary, which is filled with colourful macaws, iguanas and more before entering into the dark cave that houses creepy-crawlies like tarantulas, beetles, millipedes and scorpions (in Butterfly Park & Insect Kingdom containers, of course). After that, everything else is preserved behind glass in the indoor Insect Kingdom Museum, which exhibits rare insects and some of the world’s largest, heaviest beetles, as well as creatures of all kinds from Singapore and around the region.
More than 8m tall and spouting water into the bay around the clock, this central figure of many postcards and souvenirs was fashioned by a local craftsman, but relocated in 2002 to its current – and more scenic – location. A 70-tonne sculpture that draws tourists all day long, the statue at Merlion Park is one of seven commissioned Merlions around Singapore, which include other statues of different sizes in Mount Faber and Sentosa.