Celebrating its melting pot of cultures, Singapore has that spark, and it's fast becoming one of Asia’s hit-list destinations.
Here, There, Everywhere
Whizzing around Singapore can take a matter of minutes, thanks to one of the world’s most efficient and widespread public transport systems. Hankering for breakfast in Little India, but want to visit the temples in Chinatown before lunch? No problem, you’ll be there in a jiffy using the sparkling MRT system – and why not stop at Marina Bay for a spot of shopping on your way? Plus, with new metro lines opening practically every two years, this island just keeps on becoming easier to explore.
The Island of Feasting
Food in Singapore is taken very seriously. From cheap hawker fare to Michelin-starred fine dining, food-enamored Singaporeans will line up for it, Instagram the hell out of it and passionately debate whether it is up to the hype. Don’t fret about finding a place to chow down, as each neighborhood is home to local hawker centers and coffeeshops dishing up some of the island’s best meals for just a couple of bucks. Simply follow your nose or join the longest queue – whatever morsels lie at the end, they are almost guaranteed to be scrumptious.
A Green City
The concrete jungles that once dominated Singapore’s skyline are slowly giving way to green skyscrapers, which look more like living ecosystems than business hubs. Fervently working towards its "City in a Garden" dream, the nation is ploughing money into becoming more sustainable and, well, green. Head out of town a little and you’ll find plenty of walking trails, treetop jungle bridges, wildlife galore and the city's green jewel, the Unesco World Heritage–listed Singapore Botanic Gardens: these are the lungs of Singapore.
When the sweltering outdoor heat gets too much, Singaporeans love ducking inside for a spot of retail therapy and a good dose of air-conditioning. Orchard Rd is the queen of shopping malls: with all the high-street brands, plenty of high-fashion houses, and a few discount outlets thrown into the mix, everyone’s needs (and more often wants) are catered for here. If you prefer your shopping a little less mass-market, head out to local neighborhoods for independent designers, quirky art galleries, bustling markets, Chinese medicines, Persian carpets and a sari or two.
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The line between zoo and botanic oasis blurs at this pulse-slowing sweep of spacious, naturalistic enclosures and interactive attractions. Get up close to orangutans, dodge Malaysian flying foxes, even snoop around a replica African village. Then there's that setting: 26 soothing hectares on a lush peninsula jutting out into the waters of the Upper Seletar Reservoir. Taxi (S$30 from the CBD) is the easiest way to get here or alternatively catch bus 138 from the Ang Mo Kio MRT station.
Singapore's 21st-century botanical garden is a S$1 billion, 101-hectare fantasy land of space-age biodomes, high-tech Supertrees and whimsical sculptures. The Flower Dome replicates the dry Mediterranean climates found across the world, while the astounding Cloud Forest is a tropical montane affair. The blooming Floral Fantasy, opened in 2019, interweaves floral artistry and technology magically, complete with a 4D ride. Connecting two of the Supertrees is the OCBC Skyway, offering knockout views. At 7.45pm and 8.45pm, the Supertrees burst into light for the Garden Rhapsody show.
Connected by a striking aluminium and glass canopy, Singapore's historic City Hall and Old Supreme Court buildings now form the city's breathtaking National Gallery. Its world-class collection of 19th-century and modern Southeast Asian art is housed in two major spaces, the DBS Singapore Gallery and the UOB Southeast Asia Gallery. The former delivers a comprehensive overview of Singaporean art from the 19th century to today, while the latter focuses on the greater Southeast Asian region.
Singapore's 74-hectare botanic wonderland is a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the city's most arresting attractions. Established in 1860, it's a tropical Valhalla peppered with glassy lakes, rolling lawns and themed gardens. The site is home to the National Orchid Garden, as well as a rare patch of dense primeval rainforest, the latter home to over 300 species of vegetation, over half of which are now (sadly) considered rare in Singapore. Look up to see trees reaching 50m high, growing here even before the modern founding of Singapore.
Made up of a series of parks and hills connecting Kent Ridge Park to Mt Faber and the Labrador Nature Reserve, the Southern Ridges will have you trekking through the jungle without ever really leaving the city. The entire route spans 10km; the best stretch is from Kent Ridge Park to Mt Faber. Not only is it relatively easy, this 4km section offers forest-canopy walkways, lofty skyline vistas and the chance to cross the spectacular Henderson Waves, an undulating pedestrian bridge suspended 36m above the ground.
Although its resplendent lobby is only accessible to hotel and restaurant guests, Singapore's most iconic slumber palace is worth a quick visit for its magnificent ivory frontage, famous Sikh doorman and lush, hushed tropical grounds. The hotel started life in 1887 as a modest 10-room bungalow fronting the beach (long gone thanks to land reclamation) and unveiled a new chapter in August 2019, when it reopened after nearly two years of significant renovations (the cost of which is a tightly held secret).
Electric trams glide past close to 100 species, including tigers and elephants, with more docile creatures often passing within centimetres of the trams. Walking trails lead to enclosures inaccessible by tram, though sighting the animals can be a little hit-and-miss. (In truth, many are better seen at neighbouring Singapore Zoo.) If you've got kids, the 25-minute Creatures of the Night show will thrill. Admission is timed and later slots are less crowded. Restaurants, shops and ticket counter open at 5.30pm.
MacRitchie Reservoir makes for a calming, evocative jungle escape. Walking trails skirt the water's edge and snake through the mature secondary rainforest spotted with long-tailed macaques and huge monitor lizards. You can rent kayaks at the Paddle Lodge, but the highlight is the excellent 11km walking trail and its various well-signposted offshoots. Aim for the TreeTop Walk, the highlight of which is traversing a 250m-long suspension bridge, perched 25m up in the forest canopy.
Baba House is one of Singapore's best-preserved Peranakan heritage homes. Built in the 1890s, this beautiful blue three-storey building was donated to the National University of Singapore (NUS) by a member of the family that used to live here. The NUS then set about renovating it so that it best matched how it would have looked in 1928 when, according to the family, Baba House was at its most resplendent. The only way in is on a guided or self-guided tour; bookings are essential.
Secret Marvels: Haw Par Villa, Singapore
Just back from: Singapore