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 of modern-day Singapore, 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 landmarks 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. Several museums are found within the district, as is The Padang, which is Malay for “field”. It’s 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, housing Singapore’s first public library devoted to the arts, a plethora of restaurants and bars, and hosting free indoor and outdoor gigs and festivals!
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 and educational fam-bam 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.
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 the mainland, it has several outlets here including one in CHIJMES offering authentic Singaporean cuisine with a casual, family-friendly vibe. Try the Bamboo Clams, Live Mud Crabs cooked in any of nine ways (with black pepper, classic chilli sauce, salted egg and more), or if you are brave enough, order a whole Suckling Pig!
CHIJMES, #02-01B/01C, 30 Victoria St, 187996
The ACM is devoted to presenting the arts and cultural heritage of SG and Asia, particularly Southeast Asia. Opened in 1997, its signature programmes include an annual “ACM After Dark” where it opens late into the night and informative lectures by esteemed speakers. Look out for the “Saturdays @ ACM” series for family-friendly activities.
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 ten chic and hip dining options (there’s a rooftop bar here, too) to relax at. Or visit when it holds its next edition of its Gallery 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.
Esplanade Mall, #02-10, 8 Raffles Ave, 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? Carmina Shoemaker and Takumi Artisans have stores here, alongside blow-out specialist PREP Luxe salon. For food and drinks, try omakase and sushi at Katachi Style or spicy cuisine at Spicy Rock. 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 four-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, theatre 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 (currently closed for a revamp) is found, is the True Blue group of retail and dining spaces. Get a taste of Peranakan (Straits-born) Chinese culture with True Blue Space‘s selection of Nyonya 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. After, indulge in authentic recipes at the famous True Blue Cusine restaurant, located on the same street.
51 Armenian St, 179939; 47/49 Armenian St, 179937
Even if you aren’t religious, you can still pay SG’s largest cathedral and oldest Anglican house of worship a visit. 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 all that walking, take a break in the cathedral’s cool 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 one to 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.
Raffles City Shopping Centre, #03-36, 252 North Bridge Rd, 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 host festivals, music concerts and even theatrical performances — ballet, Shakespearean plays and even metal gigs have all been held here. Look out for the majestic Heritage Trees across the 18 hectares site, and visit the Battlebox war history centre and Fort Canning Arts Centre. Regular walking trials and guided tours are available too.
River Valley Rd, 179037
By Chris Ong, June 2018 / Updated by Muneerah Bee, January 2020
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