Opened in November 2015, Singapore’s National Gallery joins the ranks of the Asian Civilisations Museum and Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum as absolute must-sees in the city state. Boasting a growing art scene and spectacular architecture matched by the impressive views from the rooftop, the museum is well worth a few hours of your time.
What is today the National Gallery was previously the Municipal Building (opened in 1929) and the Supreme Court (opened in 1939). Each of these buildings have their own colourful histories. It was within these walls that the invading Japanese surrendered on 12 September 1945 and a number of heads of state and Chief Justices were sworn in. The foundation stone of the Supreme Court was laid in 1937 and below it is a time capsule containing newspapers dated 31 March 1937. The plan is for the capsule to be opened in the year 3000.
In 2005, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the two buildings would be converted into the National Gallery. An international competition was held to select the design and a French architectural firm won. The construction and restoration began in 2012.
Today the gallery is comprised of five floors and a basement level holding the various exhibitions along with two connected rooftop deck areas. The rooftop — named the Padang Deck and Coleman Deck — house a fancy bar and offer spectacular views, especially over the Padang, the hoity toity Cricket Club and on to Marina Bay beyond — bring your camera! There are a number of other restaurants on site, but they are at the decidedly fancier end of the scale.
In a throwback to the old roles these buildings once played, a couple of holding cells have been kept in-situ (save the cement-filled squat toilet) on level one. They are worth a look if you’d like a photo of yourself in a cell in Singapore.
While we’d say it is worth coming here just for the building — and the magnificent treatment of the Supreme Court Terrace on the Roof Garden Gallery on level five — there is also some art on display. Permanent exhibits include Between Declarations & Dreams which covers art in Southeast Asia since the 19th century, and Siapa Nama Kamu? focusing on art in Singapore across the same period.
These are accompanied by rotating exhibitions through the other galleries. General admission is free but exhibition galleries and the Keppel Centre for Art Education require a paid ticket of $20 for adult foreigners (Singaporeans and PRs are free).
It isn’t always clear which galleries are free and which are paid for, so keep an eye on where you are. Don’t expect any cell time should you transgress, but we were politely ask to leave one gallery having wandered through without realising it was a paid for one — there was no signage at the entrance saying so.
Even for the not-particularly-art-enthused, the National Gallery is well worth a visit. Allow at least a couple of hours for a full wander through the place and longer if you plan to take in all the galleries. And do be sure to head up to the top floor for the views — they’re fabulous.
The closest SMRT is City Hall, a 10-minute walk away. The National Gallery is just a short walk from Peninsula Plaza, ideal for grabbing some Shan noodles at the Burmese food centre on the basement floor.
Address: 1 St Andrew's Road
T: 6271 7000;
Coordinates (for GPS): 103º51'6.07" E, 1º17'24.54" N
See position in Apple or Google Maps: Apple Maps | Google Maps
Admission: $20, 7-12 $15, 6 & under free. Singaporeans & PR Free
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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