Published on January 22, 2024
The future and the past blend together seamlessly in Singapore, a Southeast Asian nation known for its high-tech infrastructure, fascinating history, and melting pot of cultures. This tropical city-state is the perfect destination for those who want a mix of greenery and urbanity; Singapore is full of unparalleled natural and cultural wonders. Thanks to its marvellous city planning, getting around Singapore is incredibly simple, allowing visitors easy access to its attractions.
Singapore’s unique cultural heritage is also evident throughout the country. From the ancient Kingdom of Singapura to British colonization to its modern-day republic, Singapore’s many iterations — along with its ethnic and linguistic diversity — have created an indescribably unique culture that will enchant any visitor. This culture is clear in various attractions, from the Istana, Singapore’s presidential palace, to Lau Pa Sat, where many of Singapore’s traditional street food dishes are sold.
Here are five of Singapore’s most important cultural attractions:
Singapore Botanic Gardens
An attraction famed for its natural and cultural value, the 164-year-old Singapore Botanic Gardens is one of only three gardens in the world to have earned a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. Since it was created in 1859, these gardens have become a site for scientific research, tourism, horticultural experimentation, historic preservation, and more.
Located at the heart of Singapore, this must-visit destination boasts a range of smaller attractions, including the National Orchid Garden, home to more than 1,000 species of orchids. Other attractions within the Gardens include Burkill Hall, a 19th-century bungalow that now serves as an exhibition hall, the Rainforest, six hectares of ancient rainforest, the Children’s Garden, and three lakes.
The Singapore Botanic Gardens also played an essential role in the Malay peninsula’s rubber trade — it was the site of necessary rubber plant cultivation and extraction, and techniques that were developed at the Gardens are still in use today. Its part in the growth of the Malay rubber trade, the scientific advances made at the gardens, and its past as a traditional English’ Pleasure Garden’ have all contributed to its designation as a World Heritage Site.
The Singapore Botanic Gardens are open daily from 5am to 12am, and admission is free. It’s a must-visit destination for anyone coming to Singapore for the first time for its spectacular sights and exciting history.
Haw Par Villa
Formerly known as the Tiger Balm Garden, Haw Par Villa is like nothing you’ve ever seen. This historic, religious, and cultural treasure is home to over 1,000 statues and over 100 dioramas displaying scenes and figures from Chinese folklore. Chinese people have been immigrating to Singapore since as early as the 10th century; three-quarters of Singaporean citizens identify as Chinese Singaporeans, so Chinese culture is a large part of the unique medley of Singaporean heritage.
Haw Par Villa was first turned into a park in 1954 and has since become a major tourist attraction. The park’s most famous exhibition is the Ten Courts of Hell, which explores concepts of hell in Chinese faith and Buddhism. Other dioramas displayed at Haw Par Villa include scenes from Chinese epics like Journey to the West and Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
For an engaging immersion into traditional Chinese folklore and culture, stroll through the exciting scenes on the grounds of Haw Par Villa. Located on Pasir Panjang Road, this park is open daily from 8am to 9pm.
The Istana — literally “the Palace” in English — is the official residence of the President of Singapore. This Palladian mansion was completed in 1869, and it was originally built to house the British governor of the colony until Singapore became its own republic. It is a unique combination of English and Malay influences, from the layout to the architecture to the grounds. The Istana is only open to visitors on five days of the year (coinciding with public holidays). More information on these dates can be found here.
If you are visiting Singapore during one of these days, the Istana is a must-see for its cultural importance and gorgeous grounds.
Singapore is known for its Peranakan culture; an ethnic group descended from the first Southern Chinese immigrants to the Malay Peninsula; it is a hybrid of Chinese and local cultures. Opened in 2008, the Peranakan Museum highlights the history of Peranakan culture and people in Singapore and the rest of Southeast Asia. The museum is a visual and educational feast featuring ten main galleries, which explore the origins of Peranakan culture, Peranakan wedding traditions, traditional food and more. The museum also has a floor dedicated to special exhibits, which show everything from important Peranakans to batik fabrics.
The Peranakan Museum is a one-of-a-kind exploration of an important Singaporean heritage. It is open daily from 10am to 7pm, with extended hours until 9pm on Fridays. Tickets are $12 for foreign visitors. Located right next to Fort Canning Park, the Peranakan Museum is the perfect way to start or end a day of sightseeing in Singapore.
Lau Pa Sat
Get an authentic taste of Singapore when you stop by Lau Pa Sat, a hawker centre (food hall) located in one of the oldest Victorian buildings in Southeast Asia. This iconic food court offers a variety of traditional street food dishes that highlight the best of Singapore’s unique food culture. Built in 1824, the market was originally Singapore’s first fish market, though it was transformed into a hawker centre in 1972.
Here, you can try dishes such as Hainanese Chicken Rice, Hokkien mee, satay, and more from across Asia, representing Singapore’s diverse cultures. This foodie paradise should be on everyone’s Singapore bucket list.
Singapore’s cultural wonders are many, from pioneering botanic gardens to the world’s only Peranakan museum to a must-try hawker centre. The country is the perfect destination for those seeking a mix of culture, history, tradition, and high-tech excitement.
Plan your trip to Singapore today with the help of Visit Southeast Asia.