As the Lion City turns 58 this month, there are many reasons to celebrate – the most recent being the Singapore passport being crowned the world’s most powerful. For the rest, the SilverKris team has put together a comprehensive list of all the things to love about Singapore – from its vibrant arts and cultural scene and world-class dining experiences to its wide variety of entertainment offerings.
In this first part, dive into the city-state’s captivating arts and cultural scene. Bursting with creativity and diversity, Singapore’s dynamic creative community presents a tapestry of performances, exhibitions and festivals that showcase the nation’s unique heritage.
1. Arts festivals galore
Singapore is a city with a firm appreciation for all facets of the arts. For film buffs, the Singapore International Film Festival – taking place from 30 November to 10 December this year – is an annual celebration of international film and of Singaporean filmmakers on the up and coming. Meanwhile, bibliophiles will love the annual Singapore Writers Festival (17 to 26 November).
The newest addition to the city-state’s festival lineup is the much anticipated Sunda Festival – Singapore’s first multi-day camping festival celebrating music and the arts. It’s organised by local party collective Ice Cream Sundays and will see local and international acts like Amanda Ling, Batavia Collective and Bottlesmoker take to the decks at the northern fringes of the island.
2. A prime destination for legendary musical acts
Singapore’s status as a hub for global travel naturally makes it an attractive location for some of the world’s biggest bands. This past month, Taylor Swift and Coldplay dominated the headlines as tickets for their upcoming tours in Singapore sold out within hours. If you missed boyband legends Westlife and Backstreet Boys earlier this year, another iconic group is also due to rock bodies in the Lion City. On 7 October, A1 will celebrate their 25th anniversary with Twenty Five Live in Singapore.
3. A quietly flourishing music scene
Festivals and concerts aren’t the only places you can enjoy good music in Singapore. At bars like Offtrack, you’ll find a community of music lovers that come together to celebrate live alternative electronic music alongside stellar cocktails. With its lineup of resident DJs and international guests, there’s always new tunes to discover. “Offtrack is the social space that Singapore always needed,” declares Dean Chew, co-founder of Offtrack. “We wanted an environment that was imbued with a thoughtful design, diverse music programming and a welcoming atmosphere.
If your tastes lean more towards techno, Headquarters at Boat Quay regularly hosts up-and-coming local DJs along with established names from abroad. For a laid-back evening of jazz and tipples, BluJaz is a longstanding stalwart that’s a favourite among fans of the genre.
4. Fascinating neighbourhoods rich with history
Explore Singapore’s nooks and crannies via these self-guided trails by the National Heritage Board. Not all are ideal for first-timers – the 8km Jubilee Walk and the 50-stop World War II trail will test your perseverance – but many offer a good introduction to the heartlands. The Toa Payoh trail, for instance, features the famous 1979 dragon playground. A compact route for the time-strapped is the Tiong Bahru trail: discover the hidden grave of 19th-century philanthropist Tan Tock Seng, a temple to the Chinese Monkey God and charming 1930s Art Deco flats.
5. Fresh reads from promising local authors
The Singaporean literature scene (or Sing Lit as it’s fondly called) grows from strength to strength each year, and residents and visitors alike ought to scoop up some homegrown titles. Kyla Zhao’s frothy debut novel The Fraud Squad riffs off Crazy Rich Asians, but features a young working-class woman determined to fake it till she makes it among Singapore’s elite. Short story collection Eternal Summer Of My Homeland, by the 2023 Commonwealth Short Story Prize (Asia) winner Agnes Chew, ranks highly on local bestseller lists. Out later this year is The Campbell Gardens Ladies’ Swimming Class by Vrushali Junnarkar, which won the most recent edition of the Epigram Books Fiction Prize.
6. And loads of new independent bookstores
Where better to browse the latest in Sing Lit than in the various independent bookstores scattered across the island? To borrow from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “Though they be little, they be fierce.” Epigram Bookshop at Tanjong Pagar Distripark stocks Sing Lit from floor to ceiling. For parents looking to get little ones reading, there’s the charming Woods in the Books in Tiong Bahru. The new kid on the block is Book Bar, which opened in July 2023 in Duxton – here you can read over coffee in the day or a tipple at night.
7. Independent theatre is back with a vengeance
Singapore’s theatre scene suffered during the Covid-19 pandemic, but has since bounced back with a vengeance. Catch the latest shows at national arts centre Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay’s brand new mid-sized venue, the Singtel Waterfront Theatre, ranging from family drama Three Years in the Life and Death of Land (The Necessary Stage, 5 to 13 Aug) to musical Into The Woods (Pangdemonium, 27 Oct to 12 Nov). Four Horse Road (The Theatre Practice, 4 Aug to 3 Sept), an outdoor theatre blockbuster scuppered by the pandemic in 2020, stages a much-anticipated return in the streets of Bras Basah.
Plays by women also shine bright this season, with productions like Session Zero (Checkpoint Theatre, 19 to 29 Oct) by Jo Tan. Tan says, “The world’s cultures, trends and philosophies collide in our immigrant port city, and our theatre-makers love zooming in on the resulting chemical reactions. Drag shows versus Asian femininity, Dungeons and Dragons versus post-pandemic marriages – our plays are up-close-and-personal experiences of how unexpected elements combine in surprising Singapore.”
8. Engrossing exhibitions in historic buildings
You may have glimpsed the latest in technology upon arriving at Singapore’s gleaming Changi Airport, but travel back in time at the National Museum of Singapore’s exhibition “Now Boarding”, which looks at how this nation-state has evolved as a travel destination from the 1800s to the 2000s. In pride of place is the iconic analogue flip board that once defined the Changi Airport experience. Elsewhere, learn about the fascinating history of the local Peranakan community at the newly revamped Peranakan Museum, which features artefacts such as elaborately carved furniture and exquisite kerosang jewellery (decorative traditional brooches); or explore the early days of video installation art in Southeast Asia at the “See Me, See You” exhibition at National Gallery Singapore.
9. Free art trails in and around the city
The Little Red Dot may draw its fair share of blockbuster exhibitions, but there’s also plenty of art to see around the island for free. Singapore Art Museum has just launched two new public art trails, one scattered around the museum’s new home in the port area of Tanjong Pagar Distripark, and the other along the Rail Corridor, a former colonial railway that is now a nature walking route. Among the Rail Corridor works is award-winning film-maker Tan Pin Pin’s walk walk (Singapore Deviation version), a 27-minute video and installation on the theme of walking which can be found at Kampong Bahru bus terminal. Both trails run until 9 March 2025.
10. A cinephile’s vintage paradise
Located in a vintage cinema atop the historic Golden Mile Tower is The Projector, which since 2014 has been screening indie, arthouse and foreign films for the alternative cinema-goer in its atmospheric halls. Upcoming film festivals include the Mexican Film Showcase in August, the Nordic Film Festival in September and the German Film Festival in October. In December, it will be collaborating with the Golden Village multiplex franchise on a joint venture at youth mall Cineleisure in Orchard Road, which will offer not just cinema screenings but also destination dining, a café and a bar. The Projector’s plans for its three ticket halls here include live music, comedy nights and a potential Stanley Kubrick film retrospective.
11. Emerging indie arts spaces
Discover the city-state’s edgy underground art spaces that even some locals might not have heard of. Located in a former locksmith store at Golden Mile Tower, Shrub is a haven for zines, prints, tees and other tchotchkes. A short distance away in Rochor, you can find Knuckles & Notch, a Risograph publishing and print studio in Singapore known for their striking pop-culture prints of Wong Kar Wai films. Get your fill of art, dining pop-ups and AI art-making workshops at events space Eat Snake, or seek out unusual experiences like butoh dance workshops and candle-making at SainouSpace, an intimate art, music, design and wellness space.
12. A spook-tastic theme park dedicated to Chinese folklore
At over 80 years old, Haw Par Villa remains one of the most fascinating attractions in Singapore. The park is home to over 1,000 (sometimes bizarre) sculptures that offer a glimpse into Asian culture and philosophy. Visitors are free to explore on their own, or sign up for the “Journeys To Hell” tour on Friday nights. The revamped Hell’s Museum provides an especially eye-opening education on how different belief systems around the world view death, and concludes at the Ten Courts of Hell exhibition. The stuff of nightmares? Yes. Worth a visit? Hell yes.
13. Unique classes that help you connect with local culture
Travelling is all about broadening horizons, so why not experience Singapore culture in a more hands-on way at a workshop? For example, Mahjonglah offers introductory classes on mahjong, a popular Chinese tile-based game. If you prefer something artistic, fashion designer Raymond Wong teaches the basics of traditional Peranakan beading at Kim Choo. And for those who like their food with a side of adventure, learn how to make a variety of local delicacies at Cookery Magic – classes are held at a 100-year-old house on stilts located on the quaint offshore island of Pulau Ubin, a short bumboat ride from Changi Jetty.
14. A varied contemporary art scene
The best way to get a taste of Singapore’s contemporary visual art scene is probably by visiting Gillman Barracks’ cluster of galleries. Here, stalwarts such as FOST Gallery and Yeo Workshop put out a strong roster of rising and established local stars such as Priyageetha Dia and Heman Chong. True devotees might consider venturing farther afield towards the industrial estates of the north, where artist-run spaces such as Supper House, starch and Comma Space provide much-needed incubatory opportunities for artists, and are known to host the occasional evening event.
15. A curator who lets you have your art and eat it
Whether it’s combining art with travel or art with food, The Itinerant Curator Tan Siuli is always cooking up something exciting for art enthusiasts. Most recently, she’s laid down roots at chic multi-disciplinary space Appetite, where she curates a revolving line-up of art shows and programmes – including her signature regional art tours. “I started my art tours to offer people a taste of the region’s dynamic art scenes, and a chance to appreciate contemporary culture outside of the white cube,” Tan shares. “Appetite brings together everything I’m interested in – food, art, travel, conversations and the exchange of ideas.”
Comprising an art lounge, a listening room and a kitchen, this convivial space founded by chef-owner Ivan Brehm of Michelin-starred Nouri is a fun find for those who enjoy the good life. Keep up with Tan’s adventures at Appetite here.
16. Heritage and hipsterdom rub shoulders in Little India
Perhaps Singapore’s least gentrified neighbourhood, Serangoon Road and its offshoot streets (collectively comprising Little India) are a testament to some of the best things about the city. Here, you’ll find fishmongers, butchers and fruit sellers at Tekka Centre, prayer accessory sellers along Buffalo Road, Tamil lunch rooms such as Komala Vilas and Madras New Woodlands, houses of worship such as Abdul Gafoor Mosque and Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, as well as the gleaming Indian Heritage Centre on Campbell Lane. Other parts of the subcontinent are also represented in Little India, at Pakistani restaurants Bar B Q Tonight and Bismillah Biryani, Bangladeshi eateries New Shapla and Mohammadi and even Bib Gourmand-recognised Sri Lankan hotspot Kotuwa.
That’s it for the arts and culture edition of “58 reasons to love Singapore”, a National Day-themed series brought to you by SilverKris. Check out the other stories in this series that highlight the city’s hottest tables and trendiest nightlife spots, as well as the best places to take the whole family:
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