Who knew you could eat fiery South Indian curries and go sari shopping just a couple metro stops away from hookah bars and the gleaming Sultan mosque? That a night out could have you eating mee goreng to mandopop, downing pints at a Scottish pub, drinking mojitos at Cuba Libra, snatching at Turkish ice cream, or savoring sangria and snacks at a Spanish Tapas bar along a riverfront? Visit Singapore, where you can travel the world without leaving the city limits of this small but mighty city-state. Hunt down the best of Lion City with this list of essential, insider attractions.
Who needs to leave the Changi Airport when it has butterfly gardens, a rooftop bar and swimming pool, movie theaters, and a four-story slide? If you’re just passing through with a 5+ hour layover and get bored with all the world’s best airport has to offer, take advantage of the free two-hour bus tours.
At the Singapore Zoo, open-air enclosures showcase over a thousand animals in their natural environments, creating the illusion that you can go nose-to-nose with endangered creatures. Return after sunset to find fire dancers and tribal drumming at The Night Safari and explore the world’s first wildlife park for nocturnal animals.
As in real India, brace yourself for a sensory overload as you enter the cloud of curry, blaring Bollywood beats, and brightly-colored buildings that is Little India. Explore the many temples and shrines along Serangood Road, and pick up a sari before visiting the 24-hour shopping mecca, Mustafa. At this gigantic department store, find everything from cheap electronics to Peranakan trinkets.
If the mysterious Orient captures your imagination, head to the Arab Quarter for hookah, baklava, and belly dancing. This part of town has a hippie, exotic feel with plenty to see and do. Visit the golden-domed Sultan Mosque, shop hip boutiques on Haji Lane, and listen to live music at Blu Jaz.
Night on the Town
If you’re running on European time, find the city that never sleeps at Clarke Quay. Giant multicolored mushroom-like umbrellas welcome you to an otherworldly nightlife experience. Illuminated riverside restaurants, bars, and clubs vie for your attention with drink specials and live entertainment. Bar hop around the world with handcrafted beers and American food at Brewerkz, Aussie fare and Jive Talking’s infectious beats at the Pump Room, and the Scottish pub-scene at The Highlander.
Find Singapore’s own slice of Sin City at Marina Bay Sands, the gigantic “integrated resort” with the city’s biggest casino and shopping mall, equipped with canals offering gondola rides. This boat-like structure perched atop three skyscrapers houses the world’s highest rooftop infinity pool and Ku De Ta on the 57th floor, where you can dine with dizzying views or dance the night away.
Climb even higher at 1-Altitude, the world’s “highest multi-experience lifestyle joint in the world.” Enjoy 360-degree panoramic views of Singapore’s 20 most significant landmarks at the rooftop bar while tapping your toes to live bands or guest DJs. If you prefer a different kind of action, tee off with a world championship golf simulator at the sports bar two floors below.
Enjoy the Outdoors
If you need a break from city streets, enjoy an oasis of calm at Singapore’s Botanic Gardens. The National Orchid Garden may be the star attraction, but check out the Evolution Garden to see how plant life began and the Healing Garden to learn about medicinal herbs. The gardens are open from 5am until midnight every day of the year, free of charge, so you have no excuse to miss this.
You’ll know why Singapore is Garden City after seeing over 250,000 thousand rare plants at the waterfront Gardens By the Bay. Check out the Supertree Grove, where 16-story-tall vertical gardens collect rainwater, generate solar power, and act as venting ducts for the park’s conservatories. Visit at night to experience the futuristic light and music show, or walk the suspended path between Supertrees for a bird’s eye view of the Marina Bay.
Tired of Singapore’s uber-modern metropolis? Take a day to escape with a bumboat ride to Pulau Ubin, the country’s last village or “kampong.” Traveling to this wilderness island feels like a time warp back to the simple life of the 1960s. Rent a mountain bike to explore the abandoned stone quarries that earned this area the name “Granite Island” or the unique flora and fauna in the Chek Jawa Wetlands.
Don’t Leave Singapore Without…
…drinking a Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel. Enjoy the colonial architecture of the Raffles hotel as you walk the Long Bar. Inspired by the Malay plantations of 1920s, listen to live bands as you litter the floor with peanut shells at this simultaneously classy and low-key hangout. Pucker up at the birthplace of the Singapore Sling, a cocktail of gin, lemon juice, and cherry brandy.
…eating at a Hawker Center. Singapore can be expensive, but these neighborhood food courts serve authentic and bargain meals. For less than 5 dollars per dish, chose from the widest selection of Asian food anywhere on the planet. Try local favorites, like Hainanese chicken rice or fried hokkien mee, or indulge in Chinese Chili crab, Cantonese dim sum, Indian prata, and Korean BBQ. For one of the biggest selections, head to octagonal cast-iron Lau Pa Sat downtown where you can enjoy a live band during weekend evenings.
…taking flight on the Singapore Flyer. Cuddle up in a capsule aboard the world’s largest observation wheel. Yes, S$29.50 is a lot of money to fork over for 30-minute ride above the island city, but you’ll rarely have to wait in line. If you feel like splurging, indulge in a Sky Dining experience with a 4-course dinner and a personalized butler at your service.
Singapore may only be 274 square miles, but it’s filled with a world of sightseeing possibilities.
All photos courtesy of the author.