Commonly known as the “garden city” for its tree-lined streets and greening efforts, Singapore offers a refreshing break from Hong Kong’s urban jungle, and lies only a short four-hour flight away. But aside from the flourishing green urban landscapes, the city is home to several districts which carry their own unique identity, as well as a plethora of attractions to keep curious travellers occupied. From Chinatown to Little India, and Kampong Glam (known as the Arab area) to everything in between, we share our top 10 must-do things to see and do in the emerald city.
1. Wander in The Botanical Gardens
Proudly regarded as the first UNESCO Heritage Site in Singapore, The Botanical Gardens is every green thumb’s dream, and boasts a rainforest, ginger garden, national orchid garden, and Ethnobotany Garden with over 300 species of plants that are rooted in the traditional cultures of Southeast Asia. There is also a beautiful Eco-Garden filled with trees, shrubs, and herbs which produce spices, dyes, resins, and fruits, as well as a peaceful Eco-Lake where black swans and other plants and animals can be spotted. This is the perfect place to wind down after a long day exploring the city, and little ones will no doubt enjoy the Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden which aims to educate and instil a love for nature in children. Young adventure seekers can also climb inside the tree houses and walk along the suspension bridge for fun.
2. Explore Gardens by the Bay
One of the most iconic attractions in the city, the futuristic Gardens by the Bay are a must-see in Singapore. Conveniently located in Marina Bay, the dazzling urban jungle features two giant greenhouses – the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest – in which you will find some of the most unusual and exotic plants in the world as well as the world’s tallest indoor waterfall. The gardens are also home to the stunning Supertree Grove (pictured) which resembles something from Avatar and played host to the elaborate wedding reception in the hit movie, Crazy Rich Asians. Come nightfall, this solar panel forest of eighteen 160-foot-tall “superstrees”, which are connected by a 419-foot-long aerial walkway that offers jaw-dropping views of the gardens and Marina Bay, light up and twinkle in time to classical music and movie scores at 7.45pm and 8.45pm, which is truly a magical experience. While it’s free to walk around the outdoor gardens, admission to the two domes costs SGD28 and SGD8 for the walkway, and it totally worth it.
3. Drink on Top of Marina Bay Sands
Only a stone’s throw away from Gardens by the Bay, the futuristic Marina Bay Sands Skypark boasts some epic views of Singapore which can only be enjoyed with a chilled cocktail in hand. Perched on the 57th floor atop the building, the Sky Deck and Club Lounge at CÉ LA VI (pictured) offers 360 degree views and a buzzing atmosphere fulled by funky DJ beats and a menu of classic and signature cocktails – including the must-order Singapore Sling. Alternatively, head to the other end of the Skypark and pull up a chair at the Spago terrace bar and enjoy a glass or two as you overlook the hotel’s famous infinity pool and take in the panoramic views of the city. Keep your eyes peeled on the happy hour drink offers during “Social Time” every Tuesday night too.
4. Eat Satay at Lau Pa Sat
Think you’ve tasted the best satay in the world? Think again. Head to the bustling Lau Pa Sat food market in the Central Business District after 7pm and watch the tables outside fill up with ravenous locals and tourists who come to feast on as many chicken, lamb, beef, and pork skewers as they can handle from the self-proclaimed Best Stay #7 and #8. Originally built as a wet market in the 19th century, Lau Pa Sat has evolved into a hawker centre which serves every type of Asian cuisine under the sun, but the true beauty here lies in the outdoor area and the satay street which offers a fantastic, bustling atmosphere. Are they really the best satay? Well, we managed to polish off three plates so we won’t argue with that. If you have room after, grab a frozen ice dessert with mango syrup and enjoy the refreshing sensation as it melts in your mouth!
5. Have Dinner and People Watch at Chijmes
Also featured in Crazy Rich Asians, as the setting for the totally over-the-top wedding scene, Chijmes is a colonial-era compound which was once a convent and a school, and is now home to a scattering of popular bars and restaurants which are filled to the brim at the weekend. In the heart of the compound sits a 19th-century gothic chapel (renamed Chijmes Hall), which boasts high ceilings, detailed stained glass windows, and columns and corridors bearing elegant motifs of flowers and birds. Surrounding the chapel, the plethora of eateries offer food from all corners of the globe, from Brazilian to Japanese, and Italian to Indian. There are several bars and cafes serving up delicious cocktails too, as well as The Single Cask which offers a variety of bespoke whiskies. A perfect place to enjoy dinner and drinks while lapping up the buzzing atmosphere, this is one people watching spot you shouldn’t leave off your Singapore bucket list.
6. Shop and Drink in Kampong Glam
From the Avatar-like trees of Gardens by the Bay to the Aladdin-esque streets of Kampong Glam (also known as the Arab area), Singapore certainly offers some cultural contrasts. This popular eating and shopping district boasts an eclectic blend of history, culture, and a super-trendy lifestyle scene, with the stunning Sultan Mosque providing the perfect backdrop. In 1822, Sir Stamford Raffles allocated the area to the Malay, Arab, and Bugis communities, so you can expect to find a wealth of spicy culinary delights here, as well as quirky boutiques, hip bars and cafes, and a lot of Turkish lamp shops! Be sure to swing by Going Om, the quirky and “harmonious” cafe inspired by the Himalaya mountains, on Haji Lane (the Chakra fruit smoothies are to die for!) And if you appreciate a good speakeasy, head to Bar Stories along the same lane and let the clever mixologists create your very own dreamy cocktail based on your favourite spirits and flavours. It’s worth noting that there is no menu here and it’s a really small venue, so you may have to wait a while to be served. One or two cocktails later, and you might be walking away with a Turkish lamp from Arab Street (just make sure you haggle for it first), and be sure to end your night with some tasty Middle Eastern street food.
7. Stroll Around Chinatown
Okay, so we appreciate the fact that you’ve likely flown in from Hong Kong, but the ornate Chinese, Buddhist, and Hindu temples in Singapore’s Chinatown are definitely worth a visit. This bustling district offers a stark contrast to the rest of the city, with low-rise buildings and striking red and gold tones running through the streets. Celebrating all things Chinese, the area offers countless street food vendors, market stalls, and old shophouses. Be sure to check out the vibrantly coloured Sri Mariamman Temple, which is the oldest shrine in Singapore and a place of worship for Tamil Hindus, as well as the stunning four-storey-high Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, which is based on the Tang dynasty architectural style and features a bell tower, drum tower, and gold stupa containing the precious relic.
8. Get Lost in Little India
Another of Singapore’s vibrant cultural districts is Little India, which offers a mix of Hindu and Chinese temples, mosques, and churches, as well as numerous Indian restaurants and a 24-hour shopping mall called the Mustafa Centre which sells electronics and groceries. Make sure to check out the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple (pictured), which is one of Singapore’s oldest Hindu temples and was built in the mid-19th century. The Tekka Centre on the corner of Bukit Timah Road and Serangoon Road is the place to go for amazing Indian cuisine such as roti prata and dosai, while 3 Little India Arcade offers a cluster of stalls selling souvenirs, trinkets, and tapestries. The laid-back, bohemian vibe of Little India has attracted many artists who now call it home, hence the presence of several budding art spaces and galleries.
9. Spend the Day at Universal Studios
If you’ve had your culture fix and fancy letting loose, then head to Universal Studios theme park on the island of Sentosa. Located within Resorts World Sentosa, which includes hotels, an aquarium, and water park, the park features 24 rides, shows, and attractions based on well-known movies, in seven themed zones. Rides such as the Sesame Street Spaghetti Space Chase and the Jurassic Park Dino-Soarin are ideal for young ones, while Battlestar Galactica: Human vs Cylon and Revenge of the Mummy will keep thrill-seekers white-knuckled until the end. Aside for having breakfast with Cookie Monster, Abby Cadabby, Elmo, and Oscar the Grouch, other experiences here include the Boop’n Around tap dance show and the Hollywood Dreams Parade which sees your favourite Madagascar, Revenge of the Mummy, Jurassic Park, and Shrek characters come to life. Magic!
10. Have a Singapore Sling at Raffles Hotel (in 2019!)
Now a trip to Singapore wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Raffles Hotel, the world-famous colonial-style luxury establishment which was named after British statesman Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles – the founder of Singapore. Unfortunately, the hotel is now fully closed and undergoing a complete renovation, so mark your diaries for the reopening at the start of 2019 when you will once again be able to enjoy the original Singapore Sling cocktail in its birth place (instead of the temporary pop-up Long Bar located at 3 Seah Street, next to the Raffles Gift Shop). Is it worth the wait? We think so.
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