24 May 2019 by Tim Tan
With Singapore commemorating its bicentennial this year, it’s staging a full calendar year of celebrations across the city, marking the 200th anniversary of Sir Stamford Raffles’ – the nation’s founder – arrival. This is your guide to the events, interactive trails and unique exhibitions that chart the country’s fascinating past over everything from dramatic light shows to augmented reality walks. What’s more, most of it is free.
i Light Singapore (28 Jan–24 Feb)
Although already famed for its surfboard-capped towers and lotus-shaped ArtScience Museum, each year the ultra-modern Marina Bay is made that that bit more impressive by a magnificent lights festival. The Bicentennial is no exception, bringing the sustainable concept across the city, illuminating the likes of the riverside and Civic District. Expect everything from neon tunnels to giant octopuses that light up to drumming.
i Light over Marina Bay
River Hongbao (3–10 Feb)
Ushering in the Chinese New Year, this year’s extra-special celebration will be held on the world’s largest floating stage. It’s the chance for tourists and Singaporeans to enjoy everything from acrobatic performances and amusement rides to calligraphy and paper cutting demonstrations.
River Hongbao parade
Chingay Parade (15–16 Feb)
A colourful celebration of the Lunar New Year, Chingay is the largest street performance and float parade in Asia. It promises to showcase the rich variety of Singapore’s multicultural society across the likes of dragon dances, acrobatic acts and, yes, colourful floats.
Dancer at Singapore's 2015 Chingay Parade
Singapore Heritage Festival (15 Mar–7 Apr)
Singapore’s annual Heritage Festival aims to make the country’s history more accessible. This year, a special Bicentennial edition will focus on the likes of the Kampong Glam Malay-Muslim quarter and the fishing-village history of Bedok. The festival will shed light on their lesser-known stories across heritage trails, performances and open houses.
The Bicentennial Experience at Fort Canning (1 Jun–15 Sep)
The small hill in Singapore’s southeast hides a rich history, from the kings of ancient Singapura to the colonial fortifications of the 19th century. And, to showcase this diverse past, the Bicentennial will be marked by a multisensory and cinematic display, highlighting the contributions of Singapore’s early settlers across multiple galleries and installations. The food village promises to be a further highlight, offering local fare that maps the city’s culinary history.
Singapore Night Festival (16–24 Aug)
Singapore’s largest outdoor performing arts festival spreads across live music, dance performances and art exhibits. The signature, however, is the interactive light installations projected onto some of Singapore’s most iconic buildings, including the Art Museum and National Museum of Singapore. This year promises to be extra special.
Lantern and souvenirs shop
MHC Malay CultureFest (11–27 Oct)
With the group comprising 15% of Singapore’s ethnic makeup, this is a celebration of all things Malaysian. Drawing inspiration from across the archipelago, historic traditions are showcased across everything from performances and talks to trails, movie screenings and workshops.
BalikSG: Reflections on Singapore
Bring Singapore’s heritage to life with a pair of augmented reality tours. Simply download the free app and head to the riverside or Fort Canning to watch as 3D history overlays on modern-day Singapore. With the chance to meet the city’s early settlers, expect the likes of key historical figures and even grand tall ships to chart the Singapore’s varied past. You’ll be able to interact with Raffles and watch as historic sites morph into their original state.
Singapore old and new
Find Your Place in History Trails (15 Mar to 7 Aug)
Aimed at shedding light on Singapore’s lesser-known stories, these self-guided trails will take place island-wide. The first will launch in the city centre, focusing around light installations at its key historic sites. Staged over four weekends, it offers the opportunity to understand the country’s very beginnings, from opium dens to convict labourers.
Tion Bahru lion dance
Singaporean Architectural Tours (Date TBC)
From neo-Palladian to futuristic, these tours are set to trace the changing face of Singapore over the last 200 years. Pulling in contextual influences, it examines how the city’s architecture has followed the country’s very development and history. Expect to contrast the glass-and-steel beauty of Marina Bay with the majestic dome of the Old Supreme Court.
Raffles in Southeast Asia: Revising the Scholar and Statesman (1 Feb–Apr)
Born out of a co-curation between the British Museum and Singapore’s Asian Civilisations Museum, this unique exhibition charts a wider picture of Sir Stamford Raffles as an academic and collector. You’ll learn how he authored The History of Java, founded London Zoo and sourced unique artefacts from across the Orient.
Statue of Sir Stamford Raffles
An Old New World: From the East Indies to the Founding of Singapore (Sep 2019–Feb 2020)
Learn how a nation is born with this unique exhibition at Singapore’s National Museum. It charts the networks of trade, knowledge and communities that sprung up around the rivalry between the East India Company and its competitor, the Dutch East India Company. Through unique artefacts and exhibits, it provides a larger context to the founding of Singapore.
The National Museum
Early Singapore (Aug 2019–Jan 2020)
Come face to face with maps, manuscripts and paintings that trace Singapore’s history in maritime trade before the British. They provide a privileged glimpse into the island’s early life, with artefacts from the National Library and Archives joined by important loans from overseas collections.
Chinatown at New Year
City Hall: A Place for the People (Aug 2019–Aug 2021)
Since its early-20th-century construction, the grand, colonnaded City Hall has led a rich and varied life. This fascinating exhibition will chart its various guises, from British rule and Japanese occupation all the way through to self-governance.
Singapore's city hall is currently the National Gallery
Reflecting and Refracting Singapura (11 Oct 19–June 2020)
As part of the Malay CultureFest, the Malay Heritage Centre’s special exhibition explores the interactions between Sir Stamford Raffles and Southeast Asia’s Rulers. There are perspectives on Sultan Hussein of Johor, the temenggong nobleman Abdul Rahman and the great writer Munsyi Abdullah.
The Malay Heritage Centre"
From the Coromandel – Tamils in Southeast Asia and Singapore (Nov 2019–June 2020)
Focusing on another of Singapore’s great cultural histories and presents, this unique exhibition from the Indian Heritage Centre focuses on the two-way cultural exchange across the Bay of Bengal. It highlights the trade, religious and political contact between Southeast Asia and the central east coast of India.
Diwali, Little India
Capturing the Chinese Community in Singapore (Nov 2019)
The last signature event of the calendar year, this nine-year festival showcases Singapore’s Chinese heritage across live music, cultural workshops and storytelling sessions. It’s all held by the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall – an early-20th-century villa that played a key role in the Chinese Revolution.
Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall
Inspired? Take a look at our Singapore itineraries below, or get in contact with one of our experts to start designing your perfect trip: