7 places to discover Singapore's unique history and culture
Get a dose of Singapore’s multi-ethnic heritage at these top local attractions.
It’s easy to get lost in the modern metropolis of Singapore, but nestled in the heart of the city are historical landmarks, museums and sites that showcase the myriad of ethnicities that make up the country’s cosmopolitan framework.
This small white church may be sitting quietly among the concrete skyscrapers of Singapore’s city center, but the restored national monument is the oldest Christian place of worship here. Built in 1835, it was designed by Irish architect George D. Coleman (also known for his work like the former Parliament House and Caldwell House) and is considered to be his masterpiece. Visitors exploring the grounds of the church might come across the tombstones of prominent Armenians like Agnes Joaquim in the Garden of Memories, which were moved from exhumed cemeteries at Fort Canning Hill and Bukit Timah. 60 Hill St., 6334-0141, S(179366). MRT: City Hall.
One of the smallest but earliest communities here, Eurasians of mixed European and Asian descent have roots spanning the region’s oldest colonial settlements like Malacca, Penang, Goa, Macau and Ceylon. This museum located at the Eurasian Community House takes visitors through the community’s history, with a spotlight on prominent personalities ranging from sports, to music and politics. After the tour, make a stop at Quentin’s, the place’s in-house restaurant for traditional Eurasian cuisine like devil’s curry, keluak (black nut) curry chicken or sugee cake. 139 Ceylon Rd., 6447-1578, S(429744). MRT: Paya Lebar.
This 192-year-old temple-turned-museum, originally a shrine for the Chinese deity Tua Pek Kong, was established between 1820 to 1824 by early Cantonese and Hakka immigrants. The museum has over 200 donated artifacts documenting the life of early immigrants in Singapore, who would stop by to give thanks for their safe journey here. Once closed for a makeover by architectural firm DP Architects following a termite infestation, carefully restored details like dragons and phoenixes, which were repaired and repainted by a team of Chinese craftsmen, can be admired by visitors. 76 Telok Ayer St., 6532- 7868, S(048464). MRT: Tanjong Pagar.
Built in 1937 by the Aw brothers of medical ointment brand Tiger Balm, the 80-year-old theme park is known for its macabre and graphic exhibits featuring the Chinese 10 Courts of Hell. Besides its depiction of the Chinese afterlife, there are interesting and outlandish dioramas of Chinese folklore and legends such as Madame White Snake and Journey to the West. Join their guided tours, available at $38 for adults and held every Friday from 9:30am-12pm. 262 Pasir Panjang Rd., S(118628). MRT: Haw Par Villa.
This four-story building is a modern architectural landmark with a sleek facade inspired by the baoli (Indian stepped well). It has five permanent galleries dedicated to the history of early Indians in Singapore and Malaya going back to the 1st century CE. There are guided tours of the museum, which has interesting artifacts displayed among touch screens and interactive exhibits. 5 Campbell Ln., 6291-1633, S(209924). MRT: Little India.
Gazetted as a national monument in 1975, the grand mosque, also known as Masjid Sultan, overlooking Kampong Glam was built in 1824 for Sultan Hussein Shah of Johor. It has since undergone various restoration works over the years. The base of the mosque’s iconic gold domes are decorated with glass bottle ends donated by Muslims during its construction, and the prayer room, with sculpted high ceilings, can house 5,000 worshippers. Come Ramadan, the area surrounding the mosque buzzes with night markets and food stalls. 3 Muscat St., 6293-4405, S(198833). MRT: Bugis.
Offering a more personal walk through Peranakan heritage, owner and antique collector Alvin Yapp conducts personalized and private tours in this museum and shophouse located in Joo Chiat. His house is peppered with Peranakan artifacts comprising furniture, ceramic ware, traditional garb, decorative items and more acquired from places like Singapore, Malacca, Penang, India, China and England. The hour-long tour, which costs $45 per person for a minimum group of six, includes tea. Larger groups of fifteen can choose the lunch or dinner tour with an authentic Peranakan meal for an additional $135 per person and there are tours for smaller groups too, which are subject to availability. Book ahead, as visits are strictly by appointment only. 69 Joo Chiat Terrace, 6440- 1148, S(427231). MRT: Eunos.