Here’s how to make the most of your time in the Lion City.
Singapore is many things to many people. An ostentatious modern metropolis on one hand, a down-to-earth haven of vivid culture and sublime street food on the other. A truly global city, it’s come a long way since Sir Stamford Raffles first set foot on its warm shores over 200 years ago. A small place packing a mighty punch, Singapore will cater for any taste. Just be prepared for the humidity.
Singapore’s most remarkable new development is the one thing you must see before leaving. Never a city to shy from its green credentials, the Gardens by the Bay is a stunning 250-acre nature park dominated by the strange and spectacular 50-meter high Supertrees of Supertree Grove. While the Cloud Forest and Flower Dome are great, make sure to lie back and enjoy the majestic light and music show that takes place between 7:45 pm and 8:45 pm every night. It’s one of the city’s most exhilarating experiences.
Only a short walk from the gardens, the rooftop view from Singapore’s famous Marina Bay Sands Hotel is the place to see the city in all its glory. Offering epic panoramas from its lofty and luxurious infinity pool, the Marina Bay Sands has become something of an icon since its construction in 2010. Downstairs is a mall, a museum, and a casino, but it’s the roof where the magic happens.
If the daytime heat gets too much, then you can always take refuge in one of Asia’s finest museums. Home to the largest public collection (9,000+ works) of modern art in Southeast Asia, National Gallery Singapore is spread across two ornate buildings – City Hall and the former Supreme Court. Covering Singaporean and Southeast Asian art from the 19th century to the present day, it’s unsurprisingly popular so you’re best to book tickets in advance.
Replete with street art, quirky boutiques, and relaxed bistros, the colorful Kampong Glam district is full of eclectic delights that’s miles from Singapore’s corporate image. It’s also home to the stunning Sultan Mosque, a beautiful 200-year-old place of worship that’s an icon of the city’s Muslim heritage and is happy to welcome visitors (remove shoes and take one of the long sleeve tops on offer before entering).
With its global outlook and smorgasbord of nationalities forming a rich cultural melting pot, it’s no surprise that Singapore has turned into something of a foodie paradise. Head to the hawker haven of Lau Pa Sat in the business district for a taste of the city’s vibrant street food life. Open 24-hours a day, look out for Hainanese chicken rice (widely considered to be Singapore’s national dish), Char Kway Teow (flat rice noodles served with dark soya sauce, blood cockles, bean sprouts, and Chinese sausage slices), and Wanton Mee (springy egg noodles served with dry barbecued pork and greens).
The world’s first Peranakan restaurant to earn a Michelin star, Candlenut offers contemporary interpretations of classic Straits Chinese dishes. Located amid the lush foliage of Dempsey Hill away from the hum of downtown, its stylish airy interior with hanging lamps is a soothing setting. Helmed by Singaporean chef/owner Malcolm Lee, check out the bakwan kepiting, a heartening chicken broth swimming with crab and pork balls and sliced bamboo shoots.
Back in the bustle of downtown lies Meta, a glorious East-meets-West reflection of chef Sun Kim’s influences while learning and traveling. Mixing his Korean heritage, Japanese culinary impressions, and Western culinary training, the ever-changing menu is light and elegant. Try the signature oyster alongside one of their fine white wines.
Located in a beautiful 1910 house amid the swaying palm trees and dense hedgerows of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Corner House is alluring for its setting alone. The food is sublime too, with executive chef David Thien’s original French-Asian interpretations paired with some exceptional world wines including a Clos de la Roche Grand Cru from new Burgundy star Jerome Castagnier.
Freshly refurbished and restored, a stay in Singapore wouldn’t be complete without a night at the historic Raffles Hotel. Opened in 1887, its old-world charm stands in stark contrast to the gleaming towers of the nearby business district while also maintaining its high standards of luxury. And don’t forget to sample a Singapore Sling while flinging away peanut shells at the famous Long Bar.
Not as famous but arguably more elegant than Raffles, the Fullerton’s stately Doric columns and riverside location give it an air of class few can match. A luxury 5-star hotel dating back to 1928, it offers 400 rooms including a host of stunning suites featuring Italian marble floors and sweeping skyline views.
Speaking of stunning views, few are better than those on offer from the exceptional 5-star Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore. With its wood-finished suites and marble bathrooms bringing sophistication inside, it’s the sweeping panoramic views across Marina Bay that really impress here. And just when you thought things couldn’t get much better, the hotel also houses a 4,200-piece modern art collection featuring work by Andy Warhol and David Hockney.
Unassuming from the outside, the Warehouse Hotel has been transformed from an old oil mill into a stylish 37-room boutique hotel. Set in a historic 1895 spice warehouse on the Singapore River just north of Clarke Quay, the lobby’s sleek industrial design hits all the right notes with its hanging custom lights and plush leather sofas. Each room has a unique individual layout with a distinctly Singapore flavor – many of the products found inside are locally crafted and curated. On-site restaurant Po explores classic Singapore cuisine in a refined and beautifully presented fashion.
While taking the cable car is a novel experience and the views are nice, Sentosa Island is very much a part of Singapore that’s been crafted with tourists in mind (anywhere with a Madame Tussauds should set the warning bells ringing). Dotted with theme parks, resorts, and casinos, Sentosa isn’t a place to come if you want a true flavor of Singapore. For a relaxing escape to nature, head instead to the tourist-free Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve – an 87-hectare ecological site on the north of the island.
Travel writer | Photographer | Words: BBC, Washington Post, Condé Nast Traveller, Lonely Planet, The Telegraph.