The complete guide to Singapore
Shaped like a diamond, Singapore is the world's only island city-state. Until 1819, it was home to only a thousand indigenous Malays and Chinese settlers but the establishment of the East India Company’s trading post by Sir Stamford Raffles changed everything. Part of the British Straits Settlements, it gained independence in 1963 and became part of Malaysia, until it broke away as a sovereign nation two years later. Singapore juggles its colonial heritage and multi-culturalism with élan, blending Tamil, Chinese, Peranakan (Chinese Straits settlers) and Malay influences, best seen in its dynamic cuisine.
What to See and Do in Singapore
There are many things to do and places to visit in Singapore, so plan your itinerary judiciously. A Singapore map is most recommended while you tour through the city. A good place to start is the massive Singapore Botanic Gardens, with heliconia-lined walkways, herbariums and brilliant Orchid Gardens (several hybrids are named after visiting celebrities). Continue on the nature trail to Jurong Bird Park and catch the free High Flyer show or feed birds at Lory Loft. The tour can be combined with an all-access pass to the troika of parks Singapore Zoo, River Safari and Singapore Night Safari. A short boat ride with Singapore River Cruise from the iconic Merlion statue along the riverfront retraces the evolution of this erstwhile fishing village into a world-class city as you watch landmarks like Stamford Raffles’ landing site, the integrated resort and casino Marina Bay Sands and Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay, a waterfront venue for cultural entertainment and performing arts. Another popular attraction is Gardens by the Bay with a giant Supertree Grove, the colourful Flower Dome and a Cloud Forest with intermittent sprays of mist to recreate a rainforest.
Singapore points of interest include excellent museums and galleries. Start at the National Gallery Singapore, housed in two national monuments – the former Supreme Court Building and City Hall – to see artworks of South Asian artists. There’s also the impressive National Museum of Singapore, Changi Museum, ArtScience Museum and the quaint Philately Museum. The new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum has twenty zones spread across two floors housing over 5,00,000 animal and plant specimens ranging from the world's largest to the smallest crab, three dinosaurs, a sperm whale and a Heritage Gallery with taxidermy kits, stuffed birds and Cabinets of Curiosity. Several community-specific museums offer insights into Singapore’s multi-cultural ethos. Visit the Peranakan Museum to learn about the customs of local Chinese Strait settlers. Drop by at the Chinatown Heritage Center, Sri Mariamman Temple (Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple) Thian Hock Keng Temple (Singapore’s oldest Hokkien Chinese shrine) and the Tang-style Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum. The Malay Heritage Centre offers a peep into Malay traditions and the Indian Heritage Centre in Little India features exhibits about the Indian community, brought to life with augmented reality and interactive displays.
For all-round entertainment, head to Sentosa Island, which is packed with tourist attractions like Universal Studios Singapore and its amazing 4D Transformer and Battlestar Galactica rides, Madame Tussauds, S.E.A. Aquarium and Resorts World. Singapore has a busy event calendar with big-ticket events like Singapore Grand Prix held every September. World Gourmet Summit around April every year, sees Michelin star chefs competing with local chefs. The Singapore Food Festival is held in July with pop-up kitchens and food promotions while a separate gourmet food festival Savour is held at Marina Bay.
Where to Eat
Lau Pa Sat, Boon Tat StreetA Victorian-era market transformed into a buzzing street food centre, you’ll find various stalls strung around a central clock tower. Try mutton, chicken, beef and prawn satays, soupy black mussels, fried stingray, crayfish, scallops, squid, octopus, oysters or prawns with baby kailan (Chinese broccoli). The unique thing is, you pay the moment your order arrives.
Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice, Maxwell Road Food CentreCelebrity chef Gordon Ramsay lost to this tiny eatery’s chicken rice in a Street Food Challenge. Anthony Bourdain swears that you can have it even without the chilli-shallots-ginger-garlic condiment and sliced red chilli in soya! The secret lies in the rice cooked in chicken broth with steamed or roasted chicken breast sliced and served on top. There’s always a queue.
Jumbo Seafood, Clarke QuayGo there for their award-winning Singapore chilli crab and other seafood. It’s hard to get a table at the original, but luckily they've opened multiple outlets across Singapore.
Song Fa, multiple locationsFrom a tiny pushcart in Chinatown’s Johor Road in 1969 to a chain of restaurants, their specialty is juicy pork ribs and bak kut teh (peppery pork rib soup) served with rice, garlic chilli paste and sliced red chilli in soya sauce.
Din Tai Fung, multiple locationsMichelin starred and ranked among the world’s Top Ten Best Restaurants by The New York Times, Din Tai Fung started in Taiwan 40 years ago. Today, it has 19 franchise outlets in Singapore alone serving signature xiao long baos (steamed pork dumplings) and steamed chicken soup, among others.
ChoPSuey and PS Cafe, Dempsey HillEarlier a British cantonment and barracks, Dempsey Hill is an upscale dining location. Sister establishments ChoPSuey and PS Cafe have the best rib eye steaks, pastas and wine in this city state.
Lolla, Ann Siang HillOnce a spice plantation and now a buzzing foodie precinct crammed with rooftop bars and restaurants, Lolla is the pick of the lot at Ann Siang Hill. Their tapas-sized portions of house specials – like toasted sourdough with kombu butter, cured meat platter, Iberico pork collar and lamb rack – are highly recommended.
El Mero Mero, CHIJMESLiterally, ‘the go-to-guy’, this Mexican restaurant in a renovated church complex serves excellent bluefin tuna tostada, wild fish ceviche, grilled wild fish tacos and signature cocktails like Habanero Mango Martini and El Mero Mero (which is made with orange-infused mescal, fresh lime and agave).
Pollen, Gardens by the BayThis is a plush indoor restaurant inside the Flower Dome with a wonderful seven-course degustation menu. Head to the dessert counter for sensational hand-plated delights. Our favourite is the pumpkin ice-cream with caramelized pumpkin seeds, fresh blueberry, white chocolate parfait, garnished with pumpkin seed oil.
Halia, Botanic GardensInside the National Orchid Garden overlooking the Ginger Garden, Halia (Malay for ‘ginger’) does a great chilli crab spaghettini and paper bag fish. Also try their version of the Singapore sling that uses Hendrick’s gin.
Places to Party
Singapore has a buzzing nightlife and the party epicentre is undoubtedly Clarke Quay, a riverside precinct packed with bars, restaurants and nightclubs. It is also one of the best places to visit in Singapore. The number one club in town is Zouk, which has a slew of discos attached to it. Velvet Underground (after the velvet walls adorned with original modern art) attracts an older crowd and plays soul and garage in a sophisticated, futuristic ambience. If you’re musically adventurous, head to the adjoining Phuture for an eclectic mix of trip hop, drum and bass, nu-jazz and downtempo music. The space-age décor blends steel, liquids-in-glass-vials and snazzy lighting. At most clubs, the action starts at midnight, till then the Zouk Wine Bar is a great place to hang out between dinner and dance. For mainstream dance music, head straight to Attica that plays the latest EDM. While in Clarke Quay, go party hopping to Canvas Nightclub, which switches from art gallery by day to underground music club by night.
Trace Lounge on Magazine Road next to Central Mall plays great EDM and hip-hop, with accompanying lights and lasers. Following the trend of many big clubs in Singapore, Trace is only open for three nights of the week: Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Following a similar schedule is the 700-capacity Club Dream with Singapore’s first ever ‘video music matching’ technology in town and equally impressive drink promotions. Kyo, housed in a former bank vault in the basement of Keck Seng Tower, boasts Japanese, minimalistic decor and plays the best house, tech and minimal music. On weekends, escape to Sentosa Island to party at Tanjong Beach Club with their famous Smack My Beach Up Parties every Sunday and thrice a year Full Steam Ahead full moon parties.
Where to Stay
Shangri-La’s Rasa Sentosa, Siloso BeachA luxury resort at the western end of Sentosa overlooking the beach and close to the Fort Siloso walkway.
Naumi Liora Hotel, Keong Saik RoadA tastefully restored residence in Chinatown, this boutique heritage hotel comes alive at night with unusual light projections.
Wink Hostel, Mosque StreetGreat budget option located in the heart of Chinatown with neat pods for independent travellers.
Where to shop
For some top quality retail therapy, be at Singapore’s main shopping district Orchard Road where the 2km long avenue is lined with shops and plush malls like ION Orchard and Paragon housing top designer brands. For a good bargain on fashion and food, try Far East Asia and Lucky Plaza. Clarke Quay too has its fair share of malls – Central, Riverside Point and Great World City. Raffles City Shopping Centre is conveniently located in the middle of the Civic District, a short walk from Clarke Quay and Marina Bay. For more atmospheric markets instead of the sterile comfort of malls, visit Little India, Arab Street and Chinatown. Trawl the shops around Pagoda Street, Trengganu Street, Sago Lane, Smith Street and Temple Street and buy comic books, toys and retro artefacts at China Square Central Flea Market. Chinatown Street Market has everything from herbal tea, Chinese medicine shops to traditional candles while Chinatown Point has over 200 shops across six levels, including a Handicraft Centre for souvenirs, lacquer ware, shoes, cosmetics, clothes and travel bags. The massive Mustafa Centre in Little India is a legendary 24/7 mall known for its low prices. Tucked away between Little India and Marina Bay, Bugis Street Market is the largest street market in town with more than 800 stalls under a giant canvas roof. If you still have fuel in your tank, get lost in the duty-free shops at Changi International Airport or Vivo City, the largest mall in town.
6E and Cheeky
Singapore is a dream destination for the adventurous. At Sentosa, try indoor skydiving at iFly Singapore or flowboarding at the Wave House. There’s also the option to go zip lining with MegaZip or zoom down a slope in a Sky Luge. Whether it is café hopping in Tiong Bahru or club-hopping in Clarke Quay, there’s lots of action to be found. Catch eye-popping laser shows, be it Wings of Time at Sentosa or WonderFull at Marina Bay Sands and Garden Rhapsody at the SuperTree grove in Gardens by the Bay; both free to public. A great perch to see the city by night is the 165m high Singapore Flyer, where you can also pilot the 737-800 flight simulator. To experience Singapore’s offbeat and irreverent side, take an Original Singapore Walks tour. Choose from thematic trails – Dhobis, Saris and a Spot of Curry through Little India, The Time of Empire around the colonial district and Secrets of the Red Lantern that unlocks the city’s seamier side at Geylang and Chinatown, once known as Bu Ye Tian or The Place of Nightless Days. War buffs may like Battlebox tour at Canning Hill or chase the legacy of Tiger Balm at the quirky Haw Par Villa. For all the walking, don’t forget to order the iconic Singapore Sling invented in 1912 at The Long Bar of the Raffles Hotel. And in a time-honoured tradition, feel free to throw peanut shells on the ground – it’s the only place you can litter in Singapore without being fined! Besides exotic street food, try bizarre local innovations like Roti John, an Asian version of a Philly Cheese Steak sandwich! Make time and space for Janice Wong's 2am dessert bar in Orchard. Paired with sake and exotic cocktails, their signature desserts like Tsujirehei Green tea tart, Kyoto Garden and Blackforest Cornet are offered in a degustation menu classified as Zen, Playful and Natural with presentation to match.
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