Singapore is arguably the best Asian city for kids: safe, clean, mainly pedestrian-friendly and offering a host of diversions ranging from theme parks to museums and jungle walks. By Chris Wright.
Sentosa is one enormous playground, with Universal Studios its flagship. But don’t miss the SEA Aquarium, which spreads its mesmerising attractions across 49 habitats. The biggest tank, the Open Ocean exhibit, has a vast viewing window. An hour rushes by just watching the tranquil rays and the tunnel beneath the shark exhibit is a thrill for awe-struck, if occasionally terrified, kids. The aquarium is linked with The Maritime Experiential Museum, an interactive history museum built around a full-sized indoor replica of the bow of Chinese Admiral Zheng He’s 15th-century treasure ship.
Singapore builds new attractions all the time but Science Centre Singapore has been a fail-safe rainy-day wonder since 1977. A hands-on museum, even before tactile displays were fashionable, it has more than 1000 exhibits, often linked to popular culture to make them accessible. An example is Avengers STATION, an immersive facility in which you download an app on a mobile device then use it to play games and interact with heroes from the Marvel universe. Science-minded kids rave about the earthquake, tornado and tsunami simulations.
A free dip
Gardens by the Bay should be on every family’s list of things to see in Singapore but while you’re admiring the Supertrees, don’t miss the Children’s Garden, between the Cloud Forest dome and the hawker centre not far from Marina Barrage (itself a fascinating attraction). On a hot day, the best thing is the watery play area with hundreds of fountains and sprinklers. There’s a separate toddler play zone and admission is free.
Though not as famous as the zoo, Jurong Bird Park has been a local hit since the 1970s. Like the zoo, it’s well designed to bring you close to the wildlife with feeding sessions and entertaining shows curated by experts and keepers, plus aviaries where birds may land on you if you stay still. The Kings of the Skies raptor show demonstrates the skill, power and accuracy of these predators.
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Art versus science
The lotus flower-shaped building beside the Marina Bay Sands towers is the ArtScience Museum, known for exceptional attention to detail in its exhibits. It’s currently hosting NASA: A Human Adventure, which, despite the title, charts both American and Soviet pioneers of space travel. As well as mighty hardware such as rocket engines, there’s a simulator to replicate the g-forces that astronauts feel at launch.
A good place for children to get a handle on Singapore’s wartime history under Japanese occupation without graphic and upsetting imagery is Fort Canning Battlebox. Now a museum, the former British command centre was where the army decided to surrender to the Japanese, believing (probably erroneously) their cause was lost.
One of Singapore’s finest and least demanding walks is the Southern Ridges track. It covers 10 kilometres from Mount Faber Park to Labrador Nature Reserve, with several shorter segments possible. The hike showcases Singapore’s greenery but perhaps its high point is a graceful curving bridge called Henderson Waves.
Water park fun
Singapore’s newest water park is Sentosa’s Adventure Cove but Wild Wild Wet, in the Downtown East complex not far from the airport, is bigger and usually less crowded. Its knuckle-whitening attractions include a rafting ride and the Torpedo, where you freefall 18 metres from a capsule down into a flume. It also has shallow pools for toddlers and a lazy river for the, well, lazy.
Picnic in the park
Since 1859, the Botanic Gardens has provided a refuge for Singapore’s citizens and visitors. It remains the perfect spot for a picnic among the orchids, trees and sculptures. Time it right and catch a musical performance at Symphony Lake. The gardens also have a children’s section with a playground, water features and interactive educational exhibits.