The Civic District – also known as the Civic and Cultural District or Civic and Cultural District by the Bay – is where modern SG as you know it began.
Envisioned as a Master Plan by the Founder of the island, Sir Stamford Raffles, in 1822, it was an urban planning area marked out for the use of developing SG into a trading post. The area now extends along Connaught Drive and Stamford Road, toward the Asian Civilisations Museum on the fringe of the Central Business District (CBD) and along St. Andrews Road towards the Bras Basah district.
Peppering the Downtown Core of Singapore’s central area, are many of SG’s most iconic buildings and places of historical and cultural significance, such as the Raffles Hotel and the Esplanade Park, where you can find landmark structures dedicated to SG’s war heroes. So, yes, there’s lots to see, do and pin on your Google Map. Don’t worry – the City Hall MRT station is located in the heart of this place so getting to them is convenient.
Aside from the usual shopping and dining – check out Raffles City Shopping Centre and CHIJMES for options – culture and arts are the main areas of interest. Almost all the National museums are found within the district, as is The Padang, which is the Malay name for “field”, a traditional venue for SG’s National Day Parades since 1966. Here, are 12 of the must-know, must-visits in the Civic District.
How can anyone miss the monolithic “durians” (as Singaporeans endearing call them) in this area? Opened in 2002, it is one of SG’s largest performing arts centres, containing a state-of-the art concert hall, a horse-shoe shaped theatre, and smaller studio spaces. Also, having Singapore’s first public library devoted to the arts, a plethora of restaurants and bars, and free indoor and outdoor gigs and festivals, make this is a destination not just for arts lovers, but to hangout and chill.
1 Esplanade Dr, 038981
The grand dame of museums in SG (it opened in 1887 as Raffles Library and Museum) is a work in progress (like the island-nation itself). It re-opened its 15-metre glass rotunda in late 2016 (a modern design that was added to the main building in 2006), and frequently updates its programmes and exhibitions that focus on the history of Singapore. What else makes this a fun & educational fam outing? Its Children’s Season of activities for kids (held every June), and dining options such as Food For Thought that serves community-inspired and exhibition-related bistro food, and Janice Wong Singapore that showcases the inventive creations of Singaporean celeb pastry-chef Janice Wong (Jasmine Rice Sherbet anyone?).
93 Stamford Rd, 178897
Yes, you can find seafood in Central SG – and the origins of this resto can be traced to the island of Pulau Ubin itself! Having moved from the island to several other locations on the mainland, it has now an outlet in CHIJMES. Officially opened in February this year, it offers authentic Singaporean cuisine with a casual, family-friendly vibe. Steamed Live Bamboo Clams can be had here for $12 a piece or Live Mud Crabs (from $48 for 500 grams) cooked in any of 8 ways (with black pepper, classic chilli sauce, etc.). Or if you are brave enough, order a whole Teochew-Style Roasted Suckling Pig ($198)!
30 Victoria St, CHIJMES, #02-01B/01C, 187996
It may be one of the smaller national museums in the area, but it has its own unique flavour – Southeast Asian in particular, as it is devoted to presenting the arts and cultural heritage of SG and Asia in general. Opened in 1997, its signature programmes include an annual “ACM After Dark” where it opens late into the night and “Lunchtime Concerts”. Look out for “Saturdays @ ACM” series, where family-friendly activities are held on the last Saturday of every month.
1 Empress Pl, 179555
The newest kid – or rather museum – on the block (it opened in November 2015) holds the largest collection of modern art in SG and Southeast Asia (over 8,000 and counting). Plus, it tops the others in size: Housed in two national monuments – the former Supreme Court Building and City Hall – it has a floor area of 64, 000 square metres, making it the largest arts venue and museum as well. After you are done gaping at its historical and architectural design, and art exhibitions, take your pick from 9 chic & hip dining options (there’s a rooftop bar here, too) to relax at. Or, visit when it holds its next edition of its Children’s Biennale of arts-related activities for the kids (check the museum’s website for updates).
1 St Andrew’s Rd, 178957
Vinyl lovers should head straight to this modern take on the old record store. One of SG’s best record stores, it is the go-to shop for those looking for jazz, hip-hop, electronica, and indie music albums, available on both used and new record formats. At its The Analog Room retail and concept space, look out for a curated library of books to read, and listening sessions, workshops and sometimes, even whisky tasting events, to attend. Classy.
8 Raffles Ave, Esplanade Mall, #02-13/10, 039802
Yes, there is the larger Raffles City Shopping Centre a stone’s throw away, but this mall provides a more boutique experience. How so: local labels SABRINAGOH and Reckless Ericka have stores here, alongside an outlet of the world’s oldest barbershop, Truefitt & Hill, and blow-out specialist PREP Luxe salon. For food and drinks, try Japanese noodle and fried cutlet dishes at Ramen & Tonkatsu Ma Maison and 20 craft beers on tap from TAP Craft Beer Bar. Check out the recently renovated Capitol Singapore Theatre (the decor oozes old-world glamour), that plays host to star-studded events and even screens films too!
13 Stamford Rd, 178905
Classical music aficionados would love this heritage building. Built in 1862, it underwent a 4-year refurbishment in 2010, and now boasts a cleaned-up neo-classical facade, 614-seat theatre and 673-seat concert hall. The Singapore Symphony Orchestra regularly performs here, as do choirs, play companies and other smaller classical outfits. Look up its event calendar to see if your favourite classical piece is being performed here.
9 Empress Pl, 179556
Along Armenian Street where the Peranakan Museum (another worthwhile place to visit) is found, is the True Blue group of retail and dining spaces. If viewing cultural artifacts is not enough, get a taste of Peranakan Straits-born Chinese culture with True Blue Pantry’s selection with floral teas and Nyonya kueh-kuehs (Peranakan bite sized snacks and desserts) and bring home traditional sarongs (Peranakan fabric wear), antique jewellery, and knick-knacks from the True Blue Shoppe, both found within the museum. After, indulge in authentic recipes at the famous True Blue Cusine restaurant, located just two minutes down the street.
39 Armenian St, 179941; 47/49 Armenian St, 179937
Even if you aren’t religious, you can still pay a visit SG’s largest cathedral and oldest Anglican house of worship. Gazetted as a national monument in 1973, members of the public can appreciate the English Gothic design (and stained glass windows in the apse) on their own or sign up for a guided tour. After, take a break in the cathedral’s hipster cafe on the grounds.
11 St Andrew’s Rd, 178959
Your LO will love the rack of pretty girls clothes and preppy boys tops at bloomB’s outlet at Raffles City Shopping Centre. The homegrown label provides stylish and trendy outfits for infants and kids aged from 1-14 years old, with dresses starting from around $60 and boys shirts from $40. Or, you can always look up their website if you want more options.
252 North Bridge Rd, Raffles City Shopping Centre, #03-36, 179103
This iconic hilltop once sited 14th century palaces and the headquarters of the British Army Barracks back in the 1940s. Now, its verdant lawns play host to festivals, music concerts and even theatrical performances – ballet, Shakespearean plays and even metal gigs have all been held here – so you know there will always be an event to attend. If not, there are majestic Heritage Trees to view across the 18 hectares, the Battlebox war history centre and Fort Canning Arts Centre to visit, and regular walking trials and tours to sign up for – just check up the National Parks Board (NParks) site to find out more.
River Valley Rd, 179037
By Chris Ong, 20 June 2018.
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