There’s a reason why Singapore has long been a must-stop destination for visitors to Southeast Asia – well actually, there are plenty of reasons as the city-state has enough sights and attractions to keep visitors busy for weeks.
Singapore is jam-packed with things to do, from atmospheric enclaves like Chinatown and Little India with their temples and fabulous markets, colonial relics such as Raffles Hotel, outdoor attractions such as the Botanic Gardens and Sentosa Island, plus the more recent arrival of one of Asia’s best theme parks.
Singapore is, of course, mostly famed for its shopping and the nightlife is also fantastic, from fine-dining restaurants to lively hawker stalls and funky bars. The ethnic blend of Chinese, Indians and Malays means that there is always a festival to celebrate, making Singapore a great cultural destination, too.
Singapore is also a tourists’ dream to navigate – taxis are cheap, and the public transportation system will whizz you to your destination for a few dollars. As everyone speaks English, there are no communication barriers for English speakers, and the tourist board is one of the world’s best, with more free maps, tours and information than you can imagine. Even the airport runs free short city tours for people on a stop over who have a few hours to kill.
Colonial attractions in Singapore
Easily the most famous hotel in the city-state, the colonial-era Raffles Hotel is one of Singapore’s don’t miss attractions. Named after Singapore’s founder Sir Stamford Raffles, the elegant white building has seen guests such as Noel Coward and Charlie Chaplin, The hotel still attracts the elite, but even if you’re not staying, it’s worth wandering around the hotel’s calm walkways and gardens and trying its famous Singapore Sling cocktail in the Long Bar.
Around The Padang
This is the heart of Singapore’s colonial core, and in the 19th century, the Padang or square was used for sporting and ceremonial purposes. Don’t miss a walk around the green space as it is flanked by icons of colonial Singapore, such as Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, Old Parliament House which was built in 1827, and the Supreme Court and elegant City Hall. (Connaught Drive and surrounds)
Cultural districts of Singapore
The heart of Singapore’s Chinese community is a colourful mix of old and new, where people come to eat, shop and pray at one of the area’s bustling temples. Based around Temple Street, there’s everything from goldsmiths and traditional Chinese medicine shops to great restaurants and tea houses. Visitors can also go to the Chinatown Heritage Centre to learn about the area’s vibrant history.
Little India is a spicy blend of restaurants, sari stores, Indian supermarkets and noisy Bollywood record shops based around Serangoon Road. Since the 19th century, this enclave has been home to Singapore’s large Indian community and elements of its past remain, with fortune tellers, flower sellers and spice merchants still plying their wares. Don’t miss the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, a Hindu temple dedicated to the goddess Kali. (Open: 09:00-22:00 (daily); 48 Serangoon Road, tel: +65 6295 5998, fax: +65 6295 5993).
The home of Singapore’s Muslim community, this area was once the seat of Malay royalty in the 1800s. A great place for people watching, it is full of traditional stores selling carpets and textiles as well as some good Arabic and Malay restaurants. The Sultan Mosque sits in the heart of the area and is open to all visitors, as is the nearby Malay Heritage Centre. Spend some time wandering through the narrow souk-like streets and breathing in all the exotic fragrancies and tastes. and indulge in authentic Malay speciality food. (Sultan Gate and surrounds).
Outdoor Singapore attractions
Singapore Botanic Gardens
Escape the crowds in Singapore and head to its natural lung, the idyllic Botanic Gardens, for some peace and quiet. This green space, spread over 130 acres, is dotted with lakes and fountains and there is also a world-famous orchid garden to wander through. (website: www.sbg.org.sg).
Singapore’s playground, Sentosa, which means ‘peace’ in Malay, is an island just 10 minutes drive from the centre of the city, but a world away in feel thanks to its sandy beaches, relaxing walking trails and family-friendly attractions. As well as these pleasures, the newest attraction is Resorts World Sentosa, an integrated resort which opened this year with a casino, Universal Studios, a water park and a collection of hotels and restaurants to keep visitors busy.
Man-made Singapore attractions
Marina Bay Sands
Opened in summer 2010, Marina Bay Sands is an integrated resort billed as the world’s most expensive standalone casino which also has a 2,560-room hotel, mall, theatres and museum as part of the package. The striking building which dominated the waterfront at Marina Bay is topped by a 340m-long Sky Park on top of the world’s largest public cantilevered platform. (website:www.marinabaysands.com).
Both a tourist attraction and a prime shopping destination, Orchard Road features highly on most visitors’ to-do list in Singapore. Busy night and day, seven days a week, the strip of malls, restaurants and hotels with the first department store of note, the famous Tang’s, opening in the 1930s. ION Orchard is the latest upmarket mall to open, but there’s plenty of competition, including The Centerpoint, Paragon and DFS Galleria.
Museums in Singapore
National Museum of Singapore
With its striking stained-glass dome and imposing exterior, this, the oldest museum in Singapore dates back to 1849 and moved to its current site at Stamford Road in 1887.The museum focuses on exhibits related to the history of Singapore, and its highlights include a Peranakan house exhibit, 14th century golden ornaments excavated in the territory and displays on the history and peoples of the city-state. (website:www.nationalmuseum.sg).
Specialising in the culture of descendants of Chinese traders who settled in Malaysia, this museum, located in a beautiful converted school building, is the first of its kind in the world. It explores Peranakan cultures in Singapore and other former Straits Settlements in Malacca and Penang, and other Peranakan communities in Southeast Asia. (www.peranakanmuseum.sg).