Singapore is one of those places that doesn’t quite have a winter. In fact, plenty of people would say that Singapore doesn’t really have seasons at all – lying only one degree north of the equator, it’s warm and rainy all through the year. At this time of year, which is what usually counts as winter in the northern hemisphere, average temperatures in Singapore are just about a degree cooler than in “summer”.In fact, the period from around November to February is usually described as Singapore’s monsoon, a time when it rains even more than usual.
By the end of January however, the worst of the rain is usually past, and you can start going out a lot more. This is also when Chinese New Year is celebrated, and there are a lot of related festivities and activities to enjoy. The first new moon between January 21 and February 20 is the first day of the new year, and celebrations begin on the evening of the previous day, lasting for 15 days afterwards. The festival is also known as the “Spring Festival”, another reminder that Singapore doesn’t really have a winter.
Nonetheless, here are ten fun things to do in Singapore this winter. You can probably do a couple of these things at any other time of the year too – after all, the weather never changes much at all. However, some things, like migratory birds and seasonal festivals, come and go.
Birdwatching at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve
The Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve contains one of the last remaining mangroves in Singapore, and also includes forests, mudflats, and ponds, covering a total of 202 hectares. The area was given the status of a nature park in 1989, was gazetted in 2002, and recognized as an ASEAN Heritage Park in 2003. The reserve has free guided tours on Saturdays, and is a great place to see a variety of animals and aquatic life all through the year, including monkeys, crabs, mudskippers, mud lobsters, monitor lizards, and sometimes even crocodiles.
It’s also a delight for birdwatchers, with a number of resident species including kingfishers, herons, sunbirds, sandpipers, plovers, and bitterns. The winter is when you can also see many migratory birds as they make their way from places as far away as Siberia and stop here for a while. The migratory season begins in September and lasts through to March, with early morning being the ideal time for birdwatching. The official website of the reserve even has a helpful and downloadable list of birds that you can see, specifying which ones are migrants and which are residents. The Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve is around 15 minutes away from the Kranji MRT Station, where there are regular bus services to the reserve.
Attend Huayi – Chinese Festival of Arts
Huayi – Chinese Festival of Arts is one of four annual festivals that take place at Esplanade: Theatres on the Bay, a beautiful performing arts center at the waterfront in downtown Singapore. Huayi was launched in 2003, so it’s now more than ten years old. The festival celebrates Singapore’s rich multicultural heritage, and features a great variety of artists, whether modern or traditional, underground or mainstream, including dance, music, theatre, and visual arts. Huayi usually spans two weekends around the time of the Chinese New Year, and the dates for 2016 are from February 12 to February 21.
Among the most exciting and promising shows at Huayi 2016 are a performance by Taiwanese drumming group U-Theatre, a satirical performance of Macbeth directed by Huang Ying, and an orchestral concert inspired by Chinese literature’s four classic novels – Dream of the Red Chamber, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Journey to the West, and Water Margin. Another performance that’s worth adding to that list is Huang Yi and KUKA, a fascinating mix of art and technology, where Taiwanese dancer Yi performs with his own robotic creation KUKA.
Attend the Chinese New Year Celebrations in Chinatown
The Chinese New Year celebrations are quite certainly the biggest and most important celebrations of the year in Singapore, and you don’t need to be Chinese in order to enjoy the festive atmosphere, the great food, and the spectacular performances and processions that take place all over the city. The mood starts building up a couple of weeks before New Year’s Day, which this year falls on February 8.
There are plenty of spots in Singapore where you can watch or participate in the festivities, but our recommendation is Chinatown, where the charming little streets are beautifully lit up for the season. The annual Festive Street Bazaar has over 400 stalls selling a mind-boggling range of items, from decorations to traditional delicacies, and you can pop into any of the numerous restaurants and bars in the area to get away from the crowds for a while. There are musical and other performances every night, but the eve of the New Year celebrations is when the celebrations really reach their peak, and when you’ll also be able to see the spectacular fireworks display.
Attend a “Monthly Mewsic” session at The Company of Cats
The Company of Cats is a cat café, a concept that’s been gaining popularity all over the world in recent years. One of the great things about The Company of Cats is that all their cats are adopted, not bought. You can get an introduction to the cats on their charming website – all the cats have names of course, but they also have designations that include IT Support, Meowketing Director, and Corporate Communications, although, being cats, it’s unlikely that they get much work done apart from purring and cuddling. If your idea of a good time is a cup of coffee and a cuddly cat, this is the perfect place to spend your time. If you also love music, even better – the café recently started their Monthly Mewsic sessions with a performance by actress and singer-songwriter Ethel Yap, and we’re quite excited to see what the coming months will bring.
Visit the recently renovated National Gallery Singapore
The National Gallery Singapore opened only recently, in November of 2015, and it’s already been greatly appreciated both by locals and by people from the international art world. Two of Singapore’s most beautiful and iconic colonial era structures, the former City Hall and Supreme Court buildings, were renovated and repurposed in order to provide a home for what has been described as the largest visual arts institution in Asia and the first museum in the world to focus on South-East Asian art.
Many people see Singapore as a rather sterile place dominated by commerce rather than culture, and the National Gallery is part of the government’s efforts to change that perception. The buildings themselves are gorgeous, and there’s an incredible range of work on display, from 19th century paintings and lithographs to modern photographs and installations. In addition to the displays, the gallery also has various activities and workshops, and boasts some great food. To top it all off, you also have some amazing views of the city, over Padang and Esplanade Park.
Take a ride on the Singapore Flyer
The Singapore Flyer has been described as the country’s answer to the London Eye – it’s a 165 meter tall Ferris wheel that opened at the Marina Promenade in 2008, at which time it was the world’s largest observation wheel. Since then it has been overtaken twice – first by China’s Star of Nanchang, and then by Las Vegas’ High Roller. However, it’s still a pretty remarkable structure, and it offers a breathtaking view of the city. Somehow, locals haven’t been very enthusiastic about it, complaining that it’s too derivative, inaccessible, or expensive. Nonetheless, we highly recommend a ride on it, especially since the fact that it isn’t very popular means that, unlike the London Eye, you don’t need to wait in endless lines for it. Sunset is probably the best time for a ride, and if you want to splurge a bit, you can even have high tea, dinner, or cocktails in your capsule.
Attend the Lunar Year Festive Market at ION Orchard
This is one more Chinese New Year celebration – the Lunar Year Festive Market at ION Orchard, put on by Free Folk, a group of Singapore-based designers. The market has around 40 booths, where you can explore and buy all kinds of trinkets, foods, and other items in a fun, festive atmosphere. There are also a Great Wall of China backdrop and a God of Fortune wandering through the venue, both of which should be a good setting for a few selfies. The coming year is the Year of the Monkey, so we expect plenty of monkey-themed items at the market too.
Visit the Singapore Botanic Gardens
Like we said, Singapore is usually perceived as a rather sterile place, full of skyscrapers and malls, without a lot of culture or greenery. While this might be true in relative terms, the government has done a lot to change it in the past few years, and for anyone who’s really interested, there’s a fair amount of culture and greenery around. If greenery is what you’re looking for, the Singapore Botanic Gardens are one more place that you can visit, apart from the wetland reserve. You can wander through the orchid garden with its incredible collection of thousands of species, take a tour through the Rain Forest or the Healing Garden, or even buy your own orchids at the periodic orchid sales. There’s a bandstand in the gardens, and the February 13 and 14 performances for Valentine’s Day are worth considering. One particularly great thing about the gardens is that they’re open from 5am to midnight, which means you can still wander around safely and peacefully either early in the morning or late at night.
Visit the floral display at Gardens by the Bay
Journey to the West is one of the four great Chinese classical novels we mentioned earlier, and it’s clearly very much alive even today, as an influence and inspiration in Chinese culture everywhere. The novel tells the story of a Buddhist monk who makes a pilgrimage to Central Asia and India in search of sacred sutras, and details his struggles along the way. Gardens by the Bay, a 101-hectare nature park, has put on New Year display inspired by the novel, with dahlias, begonias, and other flowers used to recreate elements and scenes from it. A flower display inspired by classical novel might not sound very exciting to many people, but it’s impossible to not be bowled over by the inventiveness, beauty, and scale of the display.
Explore Dempsey Hill
Because of how multicultural it is, Singapore is a great place to eat, with easy access to all kinds of cuisines. In recent years, the historic Dempsey Hill area, which was once home to army barracks, has become a particularly great location for cuisine, with some of the best eating and drinking establishments in Singapore.
The area also has some great shopping and culture, so you can wander around exploring the architecture, antique shops, and art galleries, and periodically pop into one of the restaurants, cafes, or bars to refuel. The three-course set lunch at Au Petit Salut is said to be one of the best set lunches in Singapore, and in addition, there are places that specialize in amazing all-day breakfasts (CM-PB Contemporary Melting Pot & Bar), fondue (La Fondue), sea food (Jumbo Seafood), Indian food (Sam’s Curry Restaurant), and more.
If you’re into beer, there are also several craft breweries in the area, including Brewerkz Taphouse and RedDot Brewhouse, and if you prefer wine, you can head to The Wine Company. To wrap up, you can head to Ben & Jerry’s for some of their fabulous ice cream, and possibly some live music too.