Singapore is a fascinating metropolis where peaceful patches of green weave their way through the bustling hyper-modern cityscape. Famous for its gleaming skyscrapers and squeaky clean image as a neat and orderly city, a rarity in Asia, this popular destination is also nicknamed the 'Garden City'. Over 50 per cent of the city limits are parks and gardens, and its location at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, including 63 islands, only adds to its natural allure. But don’t be fooled by the beauty of trees and sea views. Singapore is a sprawling city home to over 5 million people. It’s a cosmopolitan playground, a world-leader in foreign trade and finance, and a multicultural hub that can proudly boast four official languages: English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil.
Despite the blend of garden and city, it’s the cosmopolitan qualities that draw many travellers to these shiny shores and towering skyscrapers. A sophisticated shopping mecca, the potential ranges from quirky antiques in one-off stores to high-end designer items in luxury-clad malls. The dining is also world-class and the flavours global, thanks to the city’s forward-thinking attitude and the cultural blend stemming from various corners of Asia. It’s not all modernity that dominates here though. Historic sites and heritage trails offer unique insight into the story of Singapore, as do museums, monuments and galleries. Monasteries and temples can also be found dotted across the city, from Hindu to Buddhist and Chinese, and hubs like the Arab Quarter, Chinatown and Little India are a fantastic way to immerse yourself in this metropolis’s multifaceted existence.
Things to do
There’s an endless list of things to do in Singapore, so the best tactic is to plan ahead so you can make the most of it all. The Riverside area, with its museums, statues and theatres, is a great starting point for your adventures, including the fascinating Asian Civilisations Museum and the 100-year-old Hong San See Temple. But also don’t miss the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, the original Merlion statue at Merlion Park, and the Sri Mariamman Temple, which is the city’s oldest Hindu temple. Shopaholic or not, a stop by Orchard Road is a must, and history-lovers will revel in the halls of the National Museum of Singapore. To glimpse the soaring skyline from the water, catch a scenic cruise from Marina Bay. While you’re there, browse the Bay Market and explore Gardens by the Bay, a massive and colourful futuristic park touting waterfront gardens, a waterfall, flower dome, cloud forest and an awesome aerial walkway.
For more fun, thrills and excitement, Singapore will keep you more than amused. Both young and old will love a ride on the Singapore Flyer, a night safari through Singapore Zoo and the worlds of creativity on display at the ArtScience Museum. Sentosa Island is also jam-packed with family friendly activities, from the rides, attractions and entertainment of Universal Studios to the marine wonders of Underwater World. It’s also home to stacks of great adventure parks, a cable car ride and numerous beaches. When you’ve had enough of rushing from sight to sight, it’s never hard to find a green oasis to escape the city buzz. Traditional favourites are the fantastic Singapore Botanic Gardens, home to the world’s largest orchard display, and Fort Canning Park. From waterskiing on the Kallang River to wiling away the nights in slick cocktail bars, cosmopolitan delights, historic sights and peaceful escapes abound.
Food & restaurants
Gastronomy never tasted better. Singapore is laden with colourful and flavoursome dishes hailing from all over Asia, particularly Chinese, Indian, Malay and Indonesian. While there is no national dish or cuisine, it is certainly the Singaporean way to indulge and revel in the pleasure of eating. Popular menu items include Satay kebabs, fish head curry stew, Hainanese chicken rice, chilli crab and bowls of delicious laksa. But you’ll also find plenty of stir-fried noodles and fried rice. A particularly special hybrid flavour to try is Nonya, a mix of Chinese and Malay, but the fussy eaters will also find plenty of Western meals to keep those tastebuds happy, from burgers to KFC, and all the way up to delicious fine dining international fare.
Thanks to the amazing multicultural feast on offer, Singapore is a fabulous place to eat out, whether it’s a quick bite at a hawker stand or a three-course meal at a five-star restaurant. At every turn it’s possible to find a cheap restaurant or food stall. Hawker markets are particularly great to feast on the classics while soaking up the buzzing atmosphere. A number of iconic fast food chains can also be found around the city for fussy eaters. But much more glamorous options are also abundant, with a wide variety of incredible restaurants. Some feature in five-star hotels, some tout Michelin stars, and others offer spectacular city views or green settings. The plethora of pedigree restaurants on offer is incredibly diverse and revered – this is, after all, the culinary capital of Asia.
Finding a great place to stay is easy. There’s a wide range of choice, from hostels to five-star stunners, so you can always find something to suit your budget and travel style. At the lower end of the scale, budget inns and guesthouses provide the basics, while standard mid-range hotels and apartments offer that bit extra, from Wi-Fi to breakfast. Most travellers will find location will be the main factor dominating their choice though. If you prefer the sound of an international chain that you know and trust, the Hilton, Raffles, Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental and the Marriott are just a few of the many reputable chains to choose from, but the list goes on.
For a taste of Singapore’s finest, there’s plenty of glamour and elegance for travellers looking to splash out. Five-star resorts, luxurious boutique hotels and super stylish inns tout impeccable rooms, facilities and service. While there’s a cluster of top-notch choices around Marina Bay, many offering superb views out to sea, you’ll discover many highlights across the city, from futuristic lobbies to famous art and a pool on the 55th level. Chinatown is also flourishing with an emerging boutique hotel scene, the Colonial District is brimming with old-world charm, and Sentosa Island has some fabulous beach resorts. If you’re looking to visit during a big international event, such as the Formula 1 Grand Prix, be sure to book far in advance.
As any shopaholic would know, Singapore is the shopping capital of Asia. Many travellers come here purely for the chance to browse the racks, which could take up any number of days. From low-key market buys to international brands and luxury designer pieces, the range certainly won’t disappoint. The island’s strong currency means prices are generally equal to Western buys though, so it’s not like shopping in other parts of Asia where you’re guaranteed bargains. The Great Singapore Sale is a fantastic time to drop by, which runs from late May to late July, when the prices drop and good deals are much easier to find. So you can either save some extra dollars or simply buy more for your bucks!
Wondering where these shopping havens are exactly? Your first stop has to be the famous shopping malls, boutiques and factory outlets of Orchard Road. Famous for its high-class standards and designer labels, you’ll find a bit of everything here, all the way up to Louis Vuitton and Gucci standards. Other great shops can be found at Haji Lane, brimming with vintage boutiques, and Parco Marina Bay, a massive complex full of fashion, beauty products and top-floor dining. For something different, browse the quirky antique shops and traditional medicine stalls of Chinatown, or the colourful enclave of Little India. As well as the art, food stalls and fresh produce stands, Little India is home to the Mustafa Centre, a late-night one-stop-shop kind of shopping centre. But all over Singapore, you’ll stumble across independent stores, bookshops and jewellers for unique mementos.
Getting around Singapore is easy with the efficient and reliable local transport network. You can travel across the island with the MRT train system, catch buses from sight to sight, or easily hail a taxi from one of the many taxi stands around the city. Walking is also a great way to get around the downtown area if you don’t mind the muggy heat. Another thing to keep in mind as you travel is the fusion of four official languages here, though English is the main language. Despite this, you may encounter some Singlish on your travels – a fascinating and entertaining fusion of English with bits of grammar and vocabulary from Chinese and Malaysian. But there are many other languages you’ll hear along the way.
If you’re interested in the local entertainment scene and nightlife, Singapore is vibrant in its darkest hours. Considered the Broadway of Asia, cultural entertainment plays out in the form of world-class acts, incredible theatre and creative plays in a number of languages. For a taste of the party scene, there are stacks of dance clubs, sophisticated bars, relaxed lounges and wine bars to either wind up or wind down. Of course, the iconic drink of choice would have to be the world-famous Singapore Sling – a pink mix of pineapple juice, gin, Cointreau and other decadent flavours. Invented in the city’s Raffles Hotel, it’s a must-try. So be sure to head to Raffles’ Long Bar to sample the now famous cocktail, originally inspired by the Malayan plantations of the 1920s.