As Singapore builds itself up as a major retail hub in Southeast Asia, it has also been nurturing a strong arts and culture scene on the side — and among many of Singapore’s offerings in art sites is the Civic District.
At the risk of sounding like a sore millennial, it simply must be said: online media and signs of creeping gentrification, especially around our parts in Southeast Asia, pose a real threat to tradition. The rate of art and cultural exhibitions has fallen dramatically over the years, and there is a glut of shopping malls while heritage sites are neglected. And in a region that has as much culture to preserve as ours, it is a little gloomy to think about. The Civic District, a thriving lifestyle precinct, is Singapore’s effort to mend this, by marrying the traditional with the contemporary.
Picture Singapore’s Civic District as a modern-day town square: you have your marketplace on one side, and cultural happenings on the other. Stretching from Fort Canning to the Singapore River and the seafront beyond the Padang, the Civic District is the birthplace of modern Singapore. Today, historic landmarks of the country’s past have been restored. Set against brand-new retail malls, the Civic District paints itself as an ‘all-in-one’ destination for culture vultures, art aficionados and shoppers alike.
Take a trip back in time and soak up the Singaporean culture
What was once the Supreme Court and City Hall is now the National Gallery Singapore, which houses the world’s largest public collection of Singapore and Southeast Asian modern art. It stands now as the centrepiece of the Civic District, but its surrounding museums offer much in the way of art and history: Asian Civilisations Museum, the Red Dot Design Museum and the ArtScience Museum.
Brush up on your knowledge of Singapore’s origins in all its aspects, breathe in the sights of art unique to the country, and gather up unconventional finds and memorable souvenirs along the way. At The Gallery Store by ABRY, you’ll find National Gallery merchandise and Singaporean products. SUPERMAMA The Museum Store offers a range of locally designed homeware, both classically crafted and contemporary tableware. Within the unique lotus-shaped structure of the ArtScience Museum — which holds some of the world’s most iconic exhibitions — the shop sells exhibition-inspired memorabilia.
For those who prefer a more aural stimulation, the Civic District is home to The Analog Vault, where you’ll find a collection of vinyls, turntables and other music merchandise, as well as indie hardback and paperback titles. At The Adelphi, one of the first ever audiophile malls in Singapore, you can get an assortment of top-quality audio tech such as speakers and theatre systems, all under one roof.
Are you a vacationing shutterbug looking to score niche products and merchandise? At the Civic District, you can make your way to Objectifs, a non-profit visual arts centre that’s dedicated to film and photography. With a gallery shop chock-full of local and regional underground and cult films, artists’ prints, and quirky merch, you will be spoilt for choice. Photography beginners should also visit Peninsula Shopping Centre and Excelsior Shopping Centre, where popular brands such as Nikon, Canon and Sony are available. Meanwhile, malls’ boutique stores such as Benphoto, The Camera Workshop and Ruby Photo are where you’ll get the real good, niche stuff — and also second-hand digital and film equipment or darkroom development tools.
Get a glimpse of the future through unique retail experiences
Juxtaposed with the Singaporean historical conventions within the Civic District is a large, vibrant and heterogenous retail scene. Here is where Singapore’s position as a global shopping city shines: through high-tech stores and bespoke concepts, led by both homegrown and internationally recognised designers. The stores also constantly evolve to keep relevant and appealing to today’s modern customers.
Funan sets itself up as a ‘phygital’ mall (meaning both physical and digital), offering you a smooth online-to-offline shopping experience. Enjoy omnichannel shopping through click-and-collect services and other tech-integrated retail concepts as you traverse through various stores. Running through Funan is also a 200m indoor cycling path where cyclists can ride through the mall. How fitting then that on the mall’s ground floor is the foldable bike maker Brompton Junction’s Southeast Asian flagship store, so you can immediately take your new Brompton out of the shop for a spin after purchasing.
To add to the ‘phygital’ concept in Funan, the local fashion brand Love, Bonito’s store features plenty of Instagram-worthy elements such as an AR runway with an infinity mirror room, an express counter for e-commerce order collections, and value-added services like alterations and personal stylists on demand. At Funan, you’ll also find POP MART — the largest pop-toy maker in China — its first ever store in Southeast Asia. Razer’s first pop-up in Asia can also be found on the mall’s ground floor, as well as Dyson’s first beauty-centric store, complete with a demo space and styling stations. It’s clear that Funan has positioned itself as a pioneering mall when it comes to both modern technology and showcasing the best of Singapore’s retail scene.
Home(grown) brands is where the heart is
Singapore’s status as a shopping haven across the world has long been attributed to the bulk of internationally renowned brands that have set up shop. And while they take up space in the Civic District, too, these brands coexist alongside homegrown labels, niche retailers and budget options that can be found in both malls and standalone stores peppered across the precinct.
Capitol Piazza, which is co-located with the legendary Capitol Theatre Singapore, offers a pretty good mix of luxury brands and flagship stores, among which includes the local bespoke tailor CYC Made to Measure and luxurious modern jade jewellery brand, Gen.K Jewelry. When visiting The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands — which boasts luxury duplex stores with brands such as Tiffany & Co., Chanel and Prada — you’ll also find the hidden gem, In Good Company, for apparel with languid layers and curious cutouts. As one of the largest shopping malls in Singapore, Suntec City Mall’s directory includes global brands such as Superdry and Aesop, but the mall also proudly holds homegrown retailers such as heritage handicraft model maker ARCH Singapore.
Besides luxury and mass market retail, the Civic District is home to a broad range of budget shopping options for bargain hunters on the chase, looking to acquire apparel, accessories, and lifestyle products for less. The ever-bustling Bugis Street Market is where you’ll find everything from homeware and street snacks to fashion garments and accessories. Bugis+, which is located beside Bugis Street, houses numerous affordable pieces from mass market brands such as Bershka, The Editor’s Market and Uniqlo. Across the street, Bugis Junction to the younger crowd is the stuff of dreams, with its line-up of The Closet Lover, Lovisa and Typo. Singapore-based design studio and label wheniwasfour, located at Bras Basah Complex is also youth-adjacent in that it offers local-themed accessories such as tote bags, phone cases and socks.
With the Civic District, Singapore shines as a destination where art meets commerce, crafting a concept where collectors and customers, both young and young-at-heart can connect with the local culture as well as discover hidden treasure troves of the region. Art lovers and avid shoppers alike can certainly find something that speaks to them in this historic heart of Singapore.
To learn more about the Civic District in Singapore, visit Singapore Tourism Board for more guides.