Singapore: Why this tropical island should be part of your Far East itinerary
Singapore is one of Asia’s best-kept secrets - and too often it’s considered as a mere stopover on a trip to the Far East. In fact, it’s a city of contrasts with enough to keep you gripped for more than a few days.
Ornate temples sit in the shadow of towering skyscrapers; swanky restaurants vie for attention next to Michelin-starred street-food stalls. Start your day in a futuristic shopping mall, spend the afternoon in the rainforest, watch the sun set over the city at a rooftop bar, then slurp chilli-spiked crab at a hawker market. How’s that for eclectic?
No wonder Lonely Planet named it one of the world's hot-list destinations. The secret’s out.
Singapore at a Glance
Capital: Singapore – as a microstate, Singapore is both a city and a country
Official language: English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil
Currency: Singapore dollar
Flying time from the UK: 13 hours
Visas: No visa required for British citizens
Tipping: Not expected, but a gratuity of 10% will often be added to restaurant bills
Singapore is a firm favourite among Travelzoo’s Deal Experts – we’ve put our heads together and come up with our top tips for a trip to this exciting destination…
Raffles… No guide to Singapore would be complete without mention of this iconic hotel. It’s crammed full of features that hark back to colonial society, while its 40-year-old frangipani trees greet you as they would have greeted Ava Gardner, Charlie Chaplin and Noël Coward when they stayed. Head to the peanut shell-littered Long Bar for a Singapore Sling – a cliché that’s impossible to avoid.
Sentosa… dedicated to pure, unabashed fun – and the journey there (by cable car) is pretty impressive, too. The island (pictured above) has a waterpark, a treetop skywalk, Universal Studios and three beaches, not to mention a 37-metre-tall statue of a Merlion.
Orchard Road… Singapore’s answer to Oxford Street. The nutmeg and pepper plantations that once lined it in the 1800s have been replaced with futuristic malls and shopping plazas. This is your go-to place for retail therapy.
Chinatown… The city’s mixed heritage is most apparent here -- Hindu temples and mosques sit next to Chinese temples, while family-run goldsmiths and teahouses sell their wares alongside raucous hawker stalls. We recommend visiting the Heritage Centre, which is housed within three beautifully-restored buildings.
Night Safari… The world’s first safari park for nocturnal animals is home to 2,500 animals that roam amongst the lush rainforest. We think it’s best to explore on foot, but there’s also a 40-minute tram ride with commentary. The Leopard Trail is particularly exciting after dark.
Off the beaten track
Pulau Ubin… This little island is considered to be the last kampong (village) in Singapore. Take a 10-minute bumboat from the Changi Point Ferry Terminal and spend the day exploring rubber plantations, mangrove groves and marine life at Chek Jawa.
Tiong Bahru… Head just 10 minutes in a cab from Chinatown and you’ll lose the towering skyscrapers in favour of the characterful low-rise buildings that make up this quirky neighbourhood. You can easily while away an afternoon in its trendy cafes, boutique shops, bakeries and Art Deco market, which is full to the rafters with hawkers and street food stalls. We also recommend the area of Katong/Joo Chiat (pictured below), which offers a tantalising glimpse into the unique culture and heritage of Peranakans.
Activities & attractions
ArtScience Museum… Shaped like a lotus flower (or some say an outreached hand) and with a beautiful lily pond outside, the museum is definitely Instagram-worthy. The current exhibition features 16 art installations that visitors can interact with to create a digital menagerie.
MacRitchie Reservoir Park… This is where you’ll get your jungle experience. Walking trails skirt the water's edge and lead into the rainforest, where you’re likely to spot long-tailed macaques. For panoramic views, follow the trail to the TreeTop Walk, suspended above the tree canopy.
Gardens by the Bay… Walk among Singapore’s futuristic “supertrees” that stretch 50 metres into the sky, connected by a 128-metre-long aerial walkway. Dusk is the best time to visit to see them both in daylight and spectacularly lit up in the dark.
Food & drink
Fancy restaurants… Singapore got its first Michelin Guide this year, with 29 vendors making the cut – including two street food stalls and Joël Robuchon's restaurant, which has three Michelin stars. We also love the Tippling Club, which was listed as one of Asia's 50 best restaurants 2016. The cocktails are extra special – you’re asked to smell lots of different scents (grass, jasmine, leather etc) and they pick a drink to suit.
Hawker markets… Singapore has these in abundance, with a whole range of cuisines covered, from steaming bowls of noodles in Chinatown to stuffed pancakes in Little India. Try ice kachang (shaved ice with red beans, syrups, coconut milk and fluorescent colourings) and chilli crab or stingray – an absolute must.
Fabulous views… At OverEasy at Fullerton Bay you can watch the laser light show from Marina Bay Sands (the food’s pretty good, too).
And finally… Selfie coffee in the hip area of Haji Lane. Yes, it’s a thing – who wouldn’t want to drink a coffee with their own face printed in the foam?
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Deal Experts Krystina Mitchell, Stuart Barrett, Sonja Haas, Nicholas Cooper, Christina Bracewell, Jack Tonkin, Matthew Jones, Nick Hurley and Ashley Yeo contributed to this post.