Singapore See And Do
1 Empress Place
Tel: 65 6332 2982
Singapore's confluence of Chinese, Indian, and Malay cultures makes it the ideal place to learn about these civilizations and their historic interactions, and this museum near the mouth of the Singapore River is the best place to start. Occupying a noble Palladian pile, the museum has 11 exhibit halls filled with more than 1,300 superb works of art, rare antiques, and cultural artifacts illuminating such subjects as Singapore's maritime history and the impact of Hinduism and Buddhism on the nation's culture. There are temporary exhibits—on, say, Singaporean mosques or Chinese brush painting—and an ongoing series of lectures by international scholars. A second outpost—located in the restored Tao Nan School, built in 1910—focuses on Peranakan culture, the unique outgrowth of unions between Chinese settlers and local Malay women (39 Armenian St.; 65-6332-7591; peranakanmuseum.sg).
Open Mondays 1 to 7 pm, Tuesdays through Thursdays 9 am to 7 pm, Fridays 9 am to 9 pm, and Saturdays and Sundays 9 am to 7 pm.
177 Hindhede Drive
Mid-island, 7 miles from city center
Tel: 65 6468 5736
In botanical terms, this 400-acre nature preserve is fabulously rich: Scientists estimate that there is a greater diversity of plant life here than in all of North America. Centered around the high hill of Bukit Timah in the center of the island, the rain forest also retains nearly half the island's original native bird species and many small mammals. Anyone interested in exploring the rain forest is welcome; there's a visitors' center, and tours by well-informed guides are offered daily. Beware of the monkeys at Bukit Timah: They're cute and frolicsome, yes, but they'll swipe cameras and eyeglasses in an eye-blink.
One of the best ways to get your bearings in Singapore is to take a river cruise in a bumboat. These sturdy, low-slung vessels were once the main transport for commercial goods in Singapore; now they're floating tour buses. The cruises, which wind along the Singapore River past skyscrapers, colonial landmarks, and traditional Chinese shophouses, last just over an hour. The boats depart from Boat Quay in Marina Bay, a major shipping center 50 years ago that's now lined with restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. Take your bumboat cruise in the evening, and then pop by Harry's Bar, at number 28, for sundowners and live jazz (65-6538-3029; www.harrys.com.sg/boatquay.htm).
1 Esplanade Drive
Tel: 65 6828 8222
Set right on the Marina Bay waterfront, this magnificent performing-arts center comprises a 1,600-seat concert hall (home to the Singapore Symphony Orchestra), a 2,000-seat theater, and several smaller venues. The program of events includes everything from Chinese opera to jazz festivals, classical Indian dance to Russian ballet; big-name performers like Yo-Yo Ma and Rickie Lee Jones make frequent appearances. This being Singapore, the theaters are attached to a shopping mall, with a wide array of quick-bite joints; for a multi-course pre-theater dinner, try the elegant (and inaccurately named) Chinese restaurant My Humble House (65-6423-1881).
93 Stamford Road
Tel: 65 6332 3659
The museum's neo-Palladian facade in central Singapore sparkles since its much-needed whitewashing in 2006, but what's inside is infinitely more awe-inspiring. Singaporean architect Mok Wei Wei created 52-foot-high glass and steel gallery additions, allowing this century-old institution to mount cutting-edge exhibitions on topics somewhat unexpected for this conservative city-state. Now avant-garde photography has a place amid excellent permanent historical displays covering subjects like antique ethnic costumes. The museum also has a rotating calendar of lectures and cultural events.
Open daily 10 am to 8 pm.
28 Maxwell Road
Tel: 65 6327 8027
In 2005, the former Singapore Traffic Police Headquarters was transformed into a creative hub dubbed the Red Dot Traffic building. Its main attraction is this intimate, funky museum showcasing excellence in commercial design from around the globe. Interactive installations and exhibitions will engage design geeks and neophytes alike. Every first Saturday and Sunday of the month, the museum hosts MAAD (Market for Artists & Designers), a festive marketplace for original wares.
Open Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays 11 am to 6 pm, Saturdays and Sundays 11 am to 8 pm.
1 Cluny Road
Tel: 65 6471 7361
Originally developed in 1869 for the scientific study of cash crops like cocoa and nutmeg, this beautiful 166-acre property is an oasis in the otherwise urban landscape of the city. Although parts of the gardens are still used for research and off-limits to visitors, the rest has become a popular place for Singaporean family outings. Don't miss the exquisite National Orchid Garden, with some 700 species of flower (180 of them native to Singapore). One of the city's best restaurants, Au Jardin les Amis, is located on the grounds, in the former groundskeeper's cottage.
30 Raffles Avenue
Tel: 65 6333 3311
Towering over even the London Eye, the world's largest observation wheel carries intrepid riders 540 feet off the ground (about 100 feet higher than you'll rise above the Thames). Those fearless enough to keep their eyes open will take in views past the city and busy harbor to the surrounding islands, some of which belong to neighboring Indonesia and Malaysia. Each of the 28 UV-protected capsules holds up to 28 people, and the all-glass encasement makes it possible for everyone to enjoy the panorama throughout the 30-minute ride.
Open daily 8:30 am to 10:30 pm.
41 Robertson Quay
Tel: 65 6336 3663
The largest print workshop in Asia contains an eye-popping collection of artworks on paper. Established in 2002 by American master printer Kenneth E. Tyler, who has published major works by David Hockney, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, and others (many of which are in the collection), the institute invites foreign artists like China's Zhu Wei and American Donald Sultan to collaborate in residence. The program has lifted Singapore's art scene to a whole new level, and much of the resulting work is available for sale.
Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 10 am to 6 pm.
80 Mandai Lake Road
Mid-island, 10 miles from city center
Tel: 65 6269 3411
Most Asian zoos are squalid, depressing animal prisons, but the Singapore Zoo, on the northern side of the island, is one of the best in the world—home to more than 2,500 wild creatures, most in open settings where they can roam free. Among the must-sees here are the world's largest social colony of orangutans and the ten-foot-long, prehistoric-looking Komodo dragons from Indonesia. Since most tropical animals doze during the heat of the day, the best time to come is late afternoon, when you can wander around and then head to the trails of the Night Safari Zoo next door, open 6 p.m. to midnight. The first of its kind when it opened in 1994, this twilight zoo is as close to a real jungle adventure as most of us will ever want to experience. Walking tracks and tramways crisscross a 100-acre park, giving an intimate glimpse of more than 100 species in a wild rain-forest habitat. You can trek on your own or join a guided walking or tram tour; either way, you're sure to have up-close encounters with wildlife—from Malayan tigers, rhinos, and zebras to timid mouse deer and slow lorises (www.nightsafari.com.sg).
45 Armenian Street
Tel: 65 6337 7535
Those who know Singapore for its sometimes repressive government will be delightfully surprised by this boundary-pushing, multidisciplinary arts center. The small downstairs gallery mounts innovative visual exhibitions, though it was forced to take down antigovernment images a few years back. Beyond that sits a theater for live performances and often obscure art-house flicks. The café with outdoor seating is a magnet for young Singaporean artistic and activist types.
Open daily 11 am to 6 pm.