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Beyond its delicious street food and urban jungle appeal, Singapore is steeped in history and culture, with a young but thriving arts scene. From museums dedicated to telling the rich stories of Southeast Asia to the ones that dive deep into the wonders of modernity, this cosmopolitan city is not short of museums for culture vultures to take on. While many of these museums charge a small fee, it’s definitely a small price to pay for a wealth of knowledge! So, if you’re looking for things to do in Singapore this weekend or places to visit, here’s our recommended list of museums that are worth checking out for a culturally immersive adventure.
1. Immerse yourself in the fascinating world of art and technology at the ArtScience Museum
Ever wondered what the world would be like 200 years from now? Or how technological innovation has shifted the way we view and appreciate art? All the answers to these questions can be found in the ArtScience Museum. Home to many exhibitions, it pushes the boundaries of science and technology while using art as the medium.
The museum has housed many world-renowned exhibitions and artists’ collaborations since it opened in 2011. This includes specimens from the Natural History Museum in London to works by Leonardo da Vinci, Salvador Dalí and Andy Warhol. The museum has also seen its fair share of exhibitions that delve into big data, particle physics and even space exploration, adding to its ever-growing repertoire. Apart from housing technology-centred exhibits, the ArtScience Museum is unique in that it adheres to its ethos of having interactive exhibitions where possible, in an attempt to captivate and provide visitors with a multi-sensory journey like no other. This is why many of their exhibits make use of projections, audio-visual displays and other interactive pieces to bring their stories to life.
While you’re there, don’t forget to stop and marvel at the amazing architecture of the museum too. Known as “The Welcoming Hand of Singapore”, the building is designed with 10 ‘fingers’ with skylights at the top, allowing natural light to enter and add depth to the different exhibits.
After visiting the museum, head over to The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands located right next to the museum to recharge at one of the many cafes and restaurants. Maybe even indulge in a round of shopping if you like? You could even soak up the breathtaking view from the Sands SkyPark at Marina Bay Sands Hotel.
Address: 6 Bayfront Ave, Singapore 018974
Nearest MRT: Bayfront MRT
Opening Hours: Open daily from 10:00am – 7:00pm; last admission 6:00pm
Fees: Prices vary according to the exhibition. Visit website for more details.
2. Uncover Asia’s rich history at the National Gallery
The National Gallery is one of the free museums locals can go to if they are looking for free places to visit in Singapore. The National Gallery Singapore might be one of the latest additions to the burgeoning arts and culture scene in Singapore, but it has already been heralded for having the largest public collection of Singapore and Southeast Asian modern art. Opened in 2015, the Gallery is housed in two national monuments — the former Supreme Court and City Hall buildings, both of which have borne witness to many milestones in Singapore’s journey towards independence, making the very building an exhibit in itself.
Inside the gallery, you will find a wide range of exhibits including, permanent ones like Between Declarations and Dreams and Siapa Nama Kamu? (What is your name?), both of which offer a comprehensive look into the art history of Southeast Asia starting from the mid-19th century. Presented almost chronologically, viewers will be treated to an intimate take on the social and political history of the region, and how it has influenced artists’ works through time.
After a long day at the gallery, what better way than to spend time doing what we all do best in Singapore? Stop for a quick bite or drink at one of the 11 restaurants and bars in the building. From Peranakan flavours at the National Kitchen by Violet Oon, to unique rooftop cocktail bars with a stunning view of the cityscape like Smoke & Mirrors, expect a taste of unique flavours that pay homage to the Southeast Asian culture, one way or another.
Address: 1 St. Andrew’s Road, Singapore 178957
Nearest MRT: City Hall MRT
Opening Hours: Open daily from 10:00am – 7:00pm; admission and ticket sales end 30 minutes before closing time. Opening hours of bars and restaurants may vary.
Fees: S$20 including a free guided tour, admission is free for locals
3. Discover Singapore’s beginnings at the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM)
Singapore is undoubtedly a melting pot of cultures — from the wide array of dialects spoken, right down to the local food available at affordable prices. There is so much history behind this unique cultural mix, and the Asian Civilisations Museum is devoted to shedding light on this – beginning with the ancestral origins of Singapore, and how the different cultures came together to form our unique Singaporean identity today.
The museum is organised into three different sections on each level of the 3-storey building. On the first, you’ll find the history behind Trade, one of the building blocks of society and modern-day globalisation as we know it. The exhibit showcases the origins of trade and evidence of how maritime trade shaped our culture over the centuries. Over to the second, you’ll find Faith and Belief, which tells the stories of the rise and fall of religions, with a strong emphasis on the prevalence of Christianity and Islam through art. Lastly, you’ll find the theme of Materials and Design, the latest addition to the museum. Here, you’ll have the chance to explore the different textiles and fashion traditions, jewellery, and ceramics. From Chinese embroideries to Southeast Asian batiks to Chinese ceramics, the galleries and attractions pose as hidden gems within the museum that will leave all in awe.
ACM also hosts a wide range of programmes, such as Happy Hour at ACM: Wonderlust, which explores themes of lifestyle, art, culture, and more. If you are looking for free things to do in Singapore from the comforts of your own home, they also offer Audio Description Tours, a permanent feature that delves into their marvellous collection. So be sure to check out their website to get the latest information if you’re planning your family activities for the weekend!
If you manage to work up an appetite while exploring the museum, don’t worry! There are plenty of food options within the grounds, and also along the Singapore River. Simply walk across the Anderson Bridge, and you’ll be greeted by rows of bars and restaurants in the area for you to choose from. Enjoy classic American fare at OverEasy Bar and Restaurant, or take on local seafood dishes at Palm Beach Seafood – get ready to be spoilt for choice!
Address: 1 Empress Place, Singapore 179555
Nearest MRT: Raffles Place MRT
Opening Hours: Saturday - Thursday, 10:00am – 7:00pm, Friday, 10:00am – 9:00pm
4. Explore Singapore’s contemporary arts scene at Gillman Barracks
What was once a British military camp, Gillman Barracks is now the contemporary arts precinct of Singapore, occupied by a wide array of art galleries and organisations, as well as dining establishments.
Hidden from the hustle and bustle of the city against a very fitting backdrop of tranquil and lush greenery, the Barracks still maintains its charming colonial architecture from the 20th century, and is home to international art galleries like the Mizuma Gallery and Sundaram Tagore Gallery. The works of famous art contemporaries like Ai Weiwei, Yayoi Kusama, as well as Annie Leibovitz and Frank Stella can be found in some of these galleries too, making for quite a line-up. The Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore is also located at the Barracks, and offers public programmes, residencies and research programmes, making this area a thriving cultural hub.
As you visit the art galleries, don’t forget to stop by the various restaurants and cafes for a quick refuel. For a cold afternoon snack, head down to Creamier, a homegrown ice cream parlour that sells artisanal ice cream with unique flavours. If you’re craving for something a little heavier, Masons is the place to be for a French-Singaporean culinary experience, with a beautifully decorated interior to go along.
Gillman Barracks also hosts a late-night open house event on a bi-monthly basis at the appropriately named Art After Dark, usually held on a Friday night. Keep an eye out for when the event will be hosted once again and dance along to DJ sets and local musicians while you eat and drink your heart out with the wide array of pop-up food trucks, and wander through the enclave to marvel at the exhibits up on display.
Address: 9 Lock Road, Singapore 108937
Nearest MRT: Labrador Park MRT
Fees: Free guided tours are available
5. Hear all about the history of musical boxes at the Singapore Musical Box Museum
Are you an audiophile who always has their headphones plugged in, listening to the latest tunes you’ve downloaded onto your phone? For something a little more unique and off-beat, why not pay a visit to the Singapore Musical Box Museum? At first, it might seem rather peculiar, but this cosy museum tucked away in a gorgeous pagoda along Telok Ayer offers visitors a unique look into the history of musical boxes in Singaporean context.
First popularised in Europe in the 19th century, musical boxes eventually made its way to Southeast Asia, with Singapore playing a pivotal role in the development of musical boxes here. Home to over 40 antique musical boxes dating back to the 19th and 20th century, the museum offers guided tours, providing visitors with a unique and comprehensive look into its history, allowing for a greater appreciation of the craft that goes behind each box.
While you’re in the area, take a stroll around the Telok Ayer area and you’ll find that there are several independent restaurants and cafes worth visiting. For instance, the famed Dumpling Darlings is just a short 5-minute walk from the museum, and serves up generous portions of homemade dumplings and noodles, while Free the Robot and Sarnies offer perfectly brewed coffee for a little perk-me-up! If you’re not sure where to go in Singapore, this is the ultimate place to be where you and your family can revel in the plethora of activities and food places.
Address: 168 Telok Ayer Street, Singapore 068619 (Next to Thian Hock Keng temple)
Nearest MRT: Telok Ayer MRT
Opening Hours: Monday, Wednesday - Saturday, 10:00am – 5:00pm. Last admission is 4:00pm. Closed on Tuesdays, Sundays and Public holidays.
Fees: S$12 (Adults), S$6 (Student / NSF & Elderly above 60 years old), S$8 (Group tour with min. 8 people), Children below six enter for free.
With its impact often far-reaching and long-lasting, the dynamism of the arts and culture scene in Singapore cannot be ignored. Many of the museums host various exhibitions throughout the year, giving everyone of all ages a chance to broaden their horizons and appreciation for art through experiencing different cultures, viewpoints and interests. There is so much beauty and wonder to be found, so the next time you find yourself searching for free family activities in Singapore or unique attractions to visit over the weekend, consider any of these museums. Get your mind ready to absorb all the amazing knowledge you can pick up!
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