Singapore may look small, and geographically speaking it is, but this tiny island city-state is jam packed with a myriad of things to do, see, buy and devour. The sleek and efficient public transport system makes zipping around a breeze, allowing you more time to dip your toes into this melting pot of cultures, religions, food and architecture. With just 48 hours on your clock, here’s an itinerary to make sure you experience the best that the Lion City has to offer.
Begin your Singapore adventure with an early morning trip to one of the city’s wet markets. At the Chinatown Wet Market, ensconced in the basement of the Chinatown Complex, you’ll be greeted by the raucous sounds of enthusiastic home cooks and high-end restaurant chefs haggling for the finest and freshest produce. There’s a mind-boggling array of colourful fruits, vegetables and seafood, plus more exotic offerings that include black chickens and bullfrogs. To take a taste of Singapore home with you, visit Anthony the Spice Maker – his meat rendang blend is a showstopper.
Recover from the sensory overload with a traditional Singaporean breakfast at nearby Nanyang Old Coffee. The ‘breakfast set’ comes with two runny eggs, kaya (coconut jam) toast and a cup of caramel-noted kopi (coffee). Mix the eggs with a swirl of soy sauce and dash of white pepper, and use the toast to scoop up the creamy goodness.
Finish off the morning by delving into the area’s colourful history at the interactive Chinatown Heritage Centre, then go temple hopping down South Bridge Road. Must-stops include the imposing Tang-styled Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, the colourful and ornately decorated Hindu Sri Mariamman Temple and the mint green Jamae Mosque.
If you’re feeling peckish after a full morning, make your way to Maxwell Food Centre and join the queues for lip-smacking hawker grub. Worthy mentions include Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice and Rojak, Popiah & Cockle. Make sure to chope (save) your seat before ordering by laying a packet of tissues on the table in front of a vacant spot. As is the case at all hawker centres, it is customary to share tables, which also gives you an opportunity to mingle with locals.
Once refuelled, spend the afternoon wandering through the Colonial District, dipping in and out of some of Singapore’s best museums, including the Asian Civilisations Museum, National Museum of Singapore and the Peranakan Museum. Take a moment to stand at the landing spot of Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore, and ponder the view over the Singapore River. Here, the towering skyscrapers dwarf the line of riverside heritage shophouses, a testament to the Lion City’s incredible journey from fishing village to world-renowned financial powerhouse.
After freshening up from your day of exploring (Singapore is notoriously hot and humid), pull up a seat at one of the city’s chic rooftop bars. For a sky-high view, head to trendy CÉ LA VI perched atop Marina Bay Sands Hotel, or the microbrewery Level33, which lays claim to being the world’s highest craft brewery. For a lower vantage point, but no less spectacular view, Lantern at swanky Fullerton Bay Hotel, and sophisticated cocktail bar Smoke and Mirrors located above the acclaimed National Gallery of Singapore fit the bill. From each of these locations, you'll get a knockout view of the nightly Marina Bay Sands' light and laser show, Spectra.
Cocktails downed, it’s time for dinner. Singapore’s iconic chilli crab cannot be missed, and Jumbo Seafood at Riverside Point serves up one of the city’s best versions. Don the complimentary bib and don’t be afraid to use your fingers. Order a side of mantou (fried buns) to mop up every last bit of the sublime sauce.
If you’ve still got fuel in the tank, the DJs and dance floors of mega-club Zouk are just steps away. Otherwise, a wander along the Quays of the river will help you digest your dinner before falling into bed after a full day in Singapore.
On your second day, leave the buzz of the city behind and spend the morning at the spectacular Unesco World Heritage Site, the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Here, hours can easily slip away as you discover themed gardens, sprawling lawns and dense rainforests. When you’ve finished ambling through the greenery, head for a coffee at local expat favourite, Cluny Court, opposite the Botanic Garden MRT.
Take the MRT a few stops to frenetic Little India. Armed with an empty stomach, slip into the Tekka Centre and order buttery roti prata (dough-flour pancake) and murtabak (savoury stuffed pancake). Happily sated, head to the second level of the Tekka Centre for a bird’s-eye view of row upon row of brightly coloured saris on display. Then, head out into the surrounding lanes to discover the area’s aromatic spice stores, colourful temples and burgeoning street art scene.
Move on from your morning in Little India and hurtle at full pelt into the future at space-age Gardens by the Bay. The two cooled bio-dome conservatories offer both tropical and dry environments to explore, as well as a welcome respite from the midday heat. Together with the towering high-tech Supertrees and surrounding art-studded gardens, this urban planning masterpiece is an awe-inspiring sight to behold.
If you’ve got time and energy to spare, spend the latter part of the afternoon exploring the brightly painted laneways of Kampong Glam. Here, hip boutiques share the scene with traditional oriental carpet and textile shops, with many live music venues and cocktail dens hidden along the way.
If you’re looking to splash out, Singapore is not short on world-class fine dining restaurants. Among the most renowned are Waku Ghin, Odette and Whitegrass. Slightly easier on the wallet are trendy hotspots Ding Dong, Neon Pigeon, Artichoke and Cheek by Jowl. For budget-friendly chow, head to smoky Satay Street, where the melt-in-your-mouth satay pairs perfectly with a jug of ice-cold Tiger beer.
Cocktail connoisseurs can spend the rest of the evening ducking in and out of the hidden drinking dens of Amoy Street, or seek out the neon pink ‘Psychic’ sign that marks the entrance to Employees Only, or go bar hopping along trendy Club Street.
If the nightlife scene isn’t your thing, instead get up close and personal with nocturnal critters at Night Safari, next door to the acclaimed Singapore Zoo. Enjoy being whisked around in an open-sided shuttle tram through what feels like a wild, animal-filled jungle. Don’t worry, there are hidden barriers between you and the more dangerous beasts.
Finally, if you’ve got room for one last meal on the island, head to late-night institution Swee Choon, where delectable dim sum has been dished up for over 40 years.
Lonely Planet has produced this article for Singapore Airlines. All editorial views are those of Lonely Planet alone and reflect our policy of editorial independence and impartiality.