What with the endless imposing, glass skyscrapers stretching up into the sky and the hustle and bustle of frenetic business people, scurrying about their bases, it’s easy to forget that this first world city-state had, and still has, such a rich culture to experience.
There are museums aplenty and some of these cultural institutions are actually found in well-preserved heritage buildings.
That’s not to say that the museums in Singapore are old fashioned. Far from it. In true modern Singaporean style there are some exciting innovations to behold.
Here is a selection of some of the best museums in Singapore. The list is quite extensive, renting serviced apartments in Singapore and staying for a few days might be the only way to appreciate them all.
National Museum of Singapore
Opening in 1887 this is the oldest museum to be found in Singapore, having been first established as the Raffles Library and Museum.
Immersive and interactive displays tell the story of Singapore from as far back as the thirteenth century, to its existence as a colony under the British and finally how it ended up in its modern-day position in the business world.
Ode to Art
Easily missed as it is hidden away in the huge Raffles shopping complex, this classic art gallery specializes in pieces from Singapore and Malaysia. Though it does feature some big artists from across the world.
This is a gallery that must be sought out by anyone with even a passing interest in contemporary art.
National Gallery in Singapore
An amazing building that houses the largest collection of southeast Asian art in the world, it’s not surprising that it took ten years to build, collate and open.
It’s not just an art gallery either, there are fantastic restaurants and bars to sample here too.
Singapore Art Museum
This beautiful building started out in life as the first Catholic school in Singapore, the St Joseph’s Institution.
Nowadays it is an ever-changing collection of some of the best in southeast Asian contemporary art.
Red Dot Design Museum in Singapore
This museum can trace its roots back to Germany where it was founded, in Essen, in the 1950s. Its flagship museum is still there.
This is a completely modern, glass and steel museum, whose main focus is on contemporary design.
As the name suggests, this museum combines art and science, but it also has collections dedicated to technology, architecture, media, and design.
Some of its most prominent works are from behemoths of the art and design world like Leonardo da Vinci, Andy Warhol, and Salvatore Dali.
Asian Civilisations Museum
Singapore is a melting pot of civilizations whose origins are throughout the Asian world and much further. This museum explores the multicultural roots of Singapore and traces how society there has been formed.
The museum’s location is the mouth of the Singapore River, a point that first made the country a trading center for the rest of the world.
Lee Kong Chiang Natural History Museum
This is not on the same scale as the Natural History Museum in London, it is also fairly expensive, but it is no less impressive.
The LKC Natural History Museum focuses on biodiversity and scientific research that is related specifically to Singapore or Southeast Asia.
Mint Museum of Toys
Mint does not mean ‘immaculate’, as it does in London slang. It actually stands for Moment of Imagination and Nostalgia with Toys.
There are over 50,000 toys on display, some from before WWII.
National Design Centre
It’s difficult to believe from the art deco exterior that this building used to be the home of a convent. It’s even more difficult to believe from the ultra-modern inside.
Though this is the center of Singapore’s thriving design scene so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.
Another museum housed inside a building that used to serve another purpose. This time, a Chinese school.
Now the interior is dedicated to everything Peranakan, including culture, history and the visual arts.
It’s worth avoiding the tour groups here as space is limited and can be cramped.
Singapore Musical Box Museum
Any amateur inventors will find themselves in their own mini paradise here, especially those interested in the obscure device that is the musical box.
There are over 40 on display, some dating from the nineteenth century.
National Library of Singapore
The national library of a country is generally its knowledge archive and the key to its past. Singapore’s version is no exception.
There are over 600,000 books and records that can be accessed here. It also boasts a pretty good view of downtown Singapore too.
Museum of Contemporary Art
Bit of a cheat including this as it’s not really a museum, more like a warehouse that displays work by contemporary artists. Usually one artist at a time.
It’s worth looking up who they’re displaying at the time, rather than arriving to find it’s not an artist that anyone in the group has an interest in!
Indian Heritage Centre
This is a fairly new addition to the Singapore museum scene. It can be found, as you would expect, in the Little India district and celebrates the history of the country’s Indian community.
Singapore Science Centre
Great for families with young children who like to push buttons and generally interact and ‘fiddle’ with exhibits.
The country’s only domed IMAX theatre is also here, showing nature documentaries in startling clarity.
It’s also where to find Snow City, where people can play in the snow despite the tropical temperatures outside.
Singapore Philatelic Museum
This museum turns what can be seen as a quirky, specialist hobby, into an interesting day out.
Stamps are revered here in the old colonial building. The collection is displayed so as to give a history of the country, politically, naturally and in terms of modern culture, all told by stamps.
Malay Heritage Centre
As you would expect, this museum is located at an important location for Malayans, formerly the seat of the Malay Sultans.
For anyone wanting to learn about the history and the rich culture of the Singapore Malayans, this is the place to go.
Singapore City Gallery
This one is easily missed, located in the offices of the URA, the Urban Redevelopment Authority.
For anyone who wants to understand how Singapore could have possibly risen from a backwater, tropical island to first-world business behemoth this is the place to find out.
It also reveals the plans for the future of the country.
Chinese Heritage Centre
As the name suggests, this museum explores the origins of another of Singapore’s most prominent communities, the Chinese.
Specifically, it looks into the spread of Chinese communities throughout the world and the ethnic identities these communities feel.
Fort Canning Battlebox
This is the underground bunker from WWII from which the Malaya Command operated against the Japanese.
This is the location for one of the most famous capitulations in the history of conflict, the surrendering of the British to the Japanese in 1942.
Parkview Museum Singapore
This is located in a building that is worth visiting just to see why it’s locally known as Gotham City.
The focus in the newly opened gallery is contemporary art and the collections change frequently and often follow specific themes.
Tanjong Pagar Distripark
This is a collection of art galleries located in and around warehouses at the Tanjong Pagar Distripark.
Half the fun is actually spotting the galleries, some of which are displaying work from highly regarded, modern artists such as Sherman Ong.
Vintage Cameras Museum Singapore
Even people who have no interest in photography seem to love looking through classic photographic equipment.
Founded by a businessman and an artist, this is a collection that contains over a thousand vintage cameras.
If that’s not impressive enough, it also boasts the largest camera-shaped building in the world.
Modern Singapore is heavily influenced by what happened to the country during the war and there are dedications and memories to that time spread throughout the city.
The Changi Museum is a poignant dedication to those that suffered and died during the Japanese occupation and documents events leading up, during and after this time.
The Maritime Experiential Museum
Even if this place has been seen on previous visits it’s well worth another look, thanks to a huge makeover that it has enjoyed at an equally huge cost.
Where it used to be just admiring ship replicas, now the displays are much more interactive. Watch out for pirates!
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum
If all the museums are to be believed, Buddha would have had a lot of teeth.
This is another museum that claims to have the authentic article, housed within its Brains, Blood, Muscle and Flesh Relics of Buddha department.
Singapore Discovery Centre
A great way to experience the story of Singapore.
All five of the galleries tell the tale with interactive exhibits and other sensory tools.
The Visionarium, an interactive 360-degree screen, is a particular favorite.
Tells the story of how Japan achieved victory over Singapore during WWII as well as the fort itself being an interesting place to wander around.
There are gun emplacements to explore as well as tunnels and lookout points. Another great one for the kids.