Want to experience the real Singapore with your family? Here's our list of the best things to do that are big on fun and culture!
Singapore is a culturally rich city, filled to the brim with amazing sights, sounds and tastes. Whether you’re visiting Singapore, an expat keen to expose your kids to authentic Singapore experiences, or are a proud local eager to revisit your own childhood haunts, we’ve pulled together a list of quintessentially Singaporean activities for kids that give you a real taste of Singapore culture.
From feasting on hawker food and local treats, going on a trishaw ride or spending a day out in Singapore prawning or wandering through a local museum, here are the adventures that really embrace quintessential Singapore – the fun and authentic experiences that capture the true culture of this fascinating place we call home!
Singapore culture: 25 things to do and experience
1. Go on a trishaw ride
For a ride your kids will remember, jump aboard a traditional trishaw and let an uncle pedal you around Bugis and Little India. The trishaw was the preferred mode of transport back in the fishing village days, so it holds a distinctly Singaporean charm. The slow pace will give Uncle plenty of time to regale you with stories about the good old days, and to point out local points of interest.
2. Go prawning and longkang fishing
Singaporeans love fresh seafood, so it stands to reason that prawning is a popular weekend pursuit. Rent a rod, hook on your bait, and try your luck! The kids will love the thrill of the chase, and you’ll love barbecuing (and devouring) your catch at the end of the day. There are a handful of prawning spots in Singapore, but our favourite is [email protected]+, as the kids can try their little hands at longkang fishing at the same time. Kids re-enact Singapore of old catching small fish in nets in a purpose-built longkang pond. Fun for all the family – check out our guide to prawning in Singapore with kids for more fishing spots!
3. Feast on local food at a hawker centre
If shopping is officially Singapore’s national pastime, then eating comes in a very close second. Local custom demands that between the hours of 12pm and 2pm, all conversations must begin with the question ‘Have you taken your lunch?’. There’s a good reason for Singapore’s food obsession: local delicacies are ridiculously tasty, easily available and cheap!
There’s a lot to love about the food court experience. First up, make sure to ‘chope’ (reserve) your table with a packet of tissues before heading off to check out the food stalls. Our kids are fussy eaters so we stick to crowd-pleasers like Hainanese chicken rice, prawn steamed dumplings and chicken satay. If in need of some hot tips on where to go for amazing hawker food, check out our guide to the best fam-friendly hawker centres all around the island.
4. Check out a Fire Station
Fancy shooting a fire hose, climbing aboard a red fire truck or scrambling up a rescue ladder? Take your kids to a Fire Station Open House and not only will you do all of the above, but you’ll also learn all about what it takes to be a brave Singaporean Fire Fighter. The Singapore Civil Defence Force run open houses every Saturday at Fire Stations island-wide. Our pick (for wow factor) is the oldest remaining Fire Station on Hill Street where you can make a day of it and also visit the Heritage Museum. When living in a country so fiercely proud of its defence force (think compulsory national service), it’s important to witness it in action. We had a very happy morning checking out Changi Fire Station.
5. Explore Little India
Little India represents a vital part of the cultural melting pot of Singapore, so a visit to this neighbourhood is an absolute must. First up, while your smalls have fresh legs, give them a real insight into spectacular Hindu culture with a visit to a temple or two.
6. Wander around Gardens by the Bay
Singapore is a city synonymous with lush tropical growth, and Gardens by the Bay is one of its finest examples. Start your trip at the Visitors’ Centre, and take time to enjoy the impressive Super Trees en route to the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest. The conservatories are a testament to Singapore’s ingenuity and engineering prowess. The gardens are truly incredible both in terms of the range of flora and their immaculate presentation. Check our guide to a fun-filled day at Gardens by the Bay.
7. Browse exhibits at Asian Civilisations Museum
Head to the Asian Civilisations Museum and you’ll be rewarded with an awesome display of pan-Asian art and culture. Expect to walk away with a head full of knowledge about the intriguing history of vibrant, multicultural Singapore. The clever exhibits appeal to all ages, which make it a staple for school excursions. Check out the brilliant Saturday programs for families, which include storytelling, art and craft. The kids will be busy learning while having fun!
8. Visit Haw Par Villa
Delve into the fascinating (and sometimes bizarre) world of Chinese mythology and history at Haw Par Villa. It was originally built in 1937 by the Burmese Tiger Balm brothers Boon Haw and Boon Par as a way to give back to the community.
Your kids will have a ball exploring over 1000 larger-than-life statues and tableaux, feeding the turtles and learning legendary lessons. Beware, the gruesome ’10 Courts of Hell’ features some nightmare-inducing scenes of tortured sinners, so you’ll want to exercise parental discretion with younger kids. Shade is hard to find, so come armed with hats, sunscreen and plenty of water.
9. Visit the Peranakan Museum (currently closed for a revamp)
Learn all about the customs of Peranakan communities in Southeast Asia at the super kid-friendly Peranakan Museum. If you’re the organised type, plan to go on the second Sunday of the month to make the most of the Straits Family Sundays programme. The folks at the Peranakan Museum run fantastic four-hour workshops which include a guided tour, art and craft, and dancing! The themes vary from month to month, so no two workshops are the same.
10. Go on a Singapore River Cruise
Tour the Singapore River the traditional way: on board a quintessentially Singaporean bumboat. Your guide will give you a brief history of the Singapore skyline as you cruise along the lively restaurant hotspot of Clarke Quay, pass the colourful shophouses of Boat Quay, wave at the Merlion, and ogle the super-sleek Marina Bay Sands. It will be smiles all ‘round on the 40-minute journey. Our tip is to go in the early morning or evening to avoid the heat of the day. Families with older kids should catch the Marina Bay light show trip at 7.45pm.
11. Take a trip to Kusu Island
Discover a little local folklore at Kusu (tortoise) Island, where legend has it a turtle turned itself into an island to rescue two sailors, one Chinese and one Malay. The Chinese consider the turtle a sacred animal, and today the island has a sanctuary that is home to hundreds of cute critters. Make sure to visit the famous Da Bo Gong Chinese temple and three Malay shrines, all of which you can explore against a scenic backdrop of sand, sea and lush tropical greenery.
How to get there: Take a round-trip ferry ride from Marina South Pier ($18 for adults and $12 for kids age one to 12 years) to St John’s and then a 15-minute onward ferry ride from there.
12. Conquer Fort Canning
For a real glimpse into Singapore’s history, head over to Fort Canning Park and set the kids free to run on the hills that were once the site of 14th Century Malay palaces. Visit the Battlebox, a British command centre located underground, for a World War II history lesson, before heading to Flutes for one of the best brunches in town! Dive into our full guide to Fort Canning Hill before beginning your adventures.
13. Jet over to Paya Lebar Airbase
Jet over to Paya Lebar Airbase and get up close and personal to fighter planes and helicopters at The Air Force Museum. You’ll find out all there is to know about the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) through interactive displays and activities.
14. Time travel to Kampong Lorong Buangkok
Visit Singapore’s last remaining ‘village’, Kampong Lorong Buangkok to show the kids a slice of real Singapore history. You’ll be transported to another time, as you walk around this kampong, nestled amongst high-rise HDBs. Originally a swamp, the land was purchased by a traditional medicine seller, Sng Teow Koon, in 1956. Small plots were then rented out to Malay and Chinese families for them to settle down and build houses. With less than 30 families residing on a 1.22ha piece of land, the community remains tight-knit where everyone knows everyone.
“Kampong spirit” is something you’ll hear often around Singapore to denote camaraderie, solidarity and closeness that was part of living in the kampong community, so it’s nice to see first-hand what they’re talking about.
15. Spot dragons at Thow Kang Pottery Jungle
Discover Thow Kang Pottery Jungle where you’ll find one of the last two dragon kilns in Singapore! Apart from the fascinating and humungous dragon kiln itself, we say spend an afternoon rummaging through its vast collection of pottery or sign up for a pottery workshop.
16. Surrender at Fort Siloso
Head over to Sentosa and find out what life was like for a soldier from times of old over at Fort Siloso. A visit to the Surrender Chambers lets you witness the historic surrender moment that changed life in Singapore during WWII.
17. Run amok in the Chinese Gardens
Head west to the beautiful Chinese Garden and Jurong Lake Gardens for gorgeous architecture and landscaping. There’s a ton of space for busy little legs to run, run and then run some more! Expect to be snapping a lot of photos, too…
18. Join a Chinese Tea Party
We stumbled across this truly lovely antique shop purely by chance on a lunchtime stroll, and can’t wait to go back to experience one of its Chinese Tea Parties. All teas at East Inspirations are served as part of a personal collection belonging to the owner, Mr Cheong. He and his friendly staff will happily share tea, stories and hospitality: all they ask in return is your time and sincerity by way of payment. Kids welcome!
19. Head over to Pulau Ubin
It’s always a hip hip hooray kinda day when we wake up and find the sun shining. It’s the perfect excuse to hop on a bumboat for a family adventure in Pulau Ubin, for us to discover Singapore culture in days of old: kampong style! Don’t forget to check out our guide to Pulau Ubin with kids before heading over!
20. Walk the tracks of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station
Every public holiday, the former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, which took travellers between Singapore and Malaysia from 1932 to 2011, throws its doors open. Let your children clamber all over the platforms and run across railway tracks while you take in the Art Deco glory of this historic gem. The letters ‘FMSR’ (for Federated Malay States Railway) on its facade proudly remind visitors of how intertwined Singapore and Malaysia used to be.
Inside, the station has been lovingly restored, including several grand murals depicting the history of trade and transport. Outside, the tracks are slowly being overgrown by grass, and the former coffee shops and hawker stalls are all closed. Don’t forget your camera! The lush greenery and the clean lines of the Art Deco building are the perfect backdrops for a lovely family photo. If you love hiking and have older children, there is a trail along the former railway line to explore. The railway corridor, also known as the Green Corridor, runs all the way from the CBDistrict via Bukit Timah to Woodlands. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to access the trail from the railway station. To get on you’ll need to take the bus a few stops down and enter from there.
21. Learn more about the different cultures
We know the four major races of Singapore, but did you know the stories behind each ethnic group? Look back into the past and learn more about the country’s ancestors by visiting the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre, Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall, and the Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Eurasian heritage centres. You can even go a step further by picking up some uniquely Singaporean skills. These include Yixing Zisha ceramic art (Chinese pottery), Peranakan cooking classes, and even Singapore-style coffee making!
22. Discover Club Street’s secret societies
Sometimes fascinating history hides in plain view. Once your children know what really went down on Club Street, they’ll happily put down that computer game to explore some real-life skullduggery! The ‘clubs’ that used to line this street were nothing like today’s cosy cafes and breezy rooftop bars. These were the houses of the clan organisations, better known as the secret societies. Any new immigrant from mainland China would first search out his clan organisation, which would help him find a home and work in Singapore. Many never learned to speak any other language than the tongue of their clans, such as Teochew, Hakka or Hokkien. This also meant that the colonial government had no way of knowing what went on behind the closed doors of these clubs – although they suspected not all of it was above board!
Wander around Club Street and Ann Siang Hill, then make your way down to Telok Ayer Street, where new migrants first set foot on Singaporean land. If your children’s imagination (or your own!) has been sparked, head over to the National Museum of Singapore where the whole cloak-and-dagger story of these secret societies in Singapore is told in fascinating detail.
23. Bask in the greenery at the Botanic Gardens
Singapore is famously known as a clean and green city, with its vast green spaces and thriving trees dotting the whole country. The Singapore Botanic Gardens, a UNESCO Heritage Site, is the best place to spend a family day out. Have a picnic, spot some swans, sniff flowers at the National Orchid Garden, take photos at the waterfall in the Ginger Garden… If the kiddos get restless, take them to the Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden and the COMO Adventure Cove. Psst, even the adults can have fun at the latter playground!
24. Go on a heritage trail
Explore this tiny red dot and uncover interesting things about this country that you wouldn’t have known otherwise. There are plenty of heritage trails to choose from, so just select one that’d be fun for you and the kids. Learn more about Bukit Timah, the green spaces of Tampines, or the history behind Orchard Road. It’ll definitely be a sweaty affair, so remember to dress light and pack a full water bottle.
25. Pick up some Singlish
For the expats that are new to Singapore, you may have noticed that the locals have a… peculiar way when they converse among themselves. But what is that language that they speak? It’s Singlish, a mish-mash of English and the various local dialects. Need a crash course? We’ve listed down some basic and popular phrases that you can use the next time you’re getting food at the hawker centre. Psst, it may even get you some extra ingredients at no additional cost!
Happy exploring, folks!
Top image: Kate Dimarco