Insider Guide: Best of Singapore
What Singapore lacks in size, it goes out of its way to make up for in everything else.
The global traveler is hard pressed to find a cleaner, more welcoming city.
But everyone knows that.
Far more exciting is that Singapore (population 5.31 million) has cast off its reputation as "Asia Lite" to become one of the region's top destinations for eating, shopping and entertainment.
Got a few days? This handy guide will show you the way to the best of Singapore.
Marina Bay Sands
Not even three years old, Marina Bay Sands (MBS) is arguably the most famous landmark in Singapore. (Don't tell the Merlion.)
Featuring three towers with a connecting, boat-shaped rooftop that houses one of Singapore's hottest bars (Ku Dé Ta) and one of the world's most photographed pools (57 stories high), MBS is not your average luxury hotel.
Nor is it a place for those who like their hotels small and quaint. The integrated resort has 2,561 rooms, broken down into nine different sizes and styles.
On the ground floor down there's a shopping center, Singapore’s biggest theater and moderate and expensive restaurants, including several celeb-helmed eateries. For local food, there's a food court in the lower basement, which also has gondolas, a mini-ice rink and that Sands must-have, a casino.
10 Bayfront Ave.; +65 6688 8868; from S$380 (US$311) per night; www.marinabaysands.com
W Singapore Sentosa Cove
The new W Singapore Sentosa Cove is a luxury hotel with a resort feel.
Set in a massive glass structure that's lit up at night with purple lights, this 240-key property has 10 sizes of rooms and suites.
The best of Singapore property is giving travelers a reason to head back to Sentosa Island, which is celebrating its 45th year as one of Singapore's top tourist draws.
W Sentosa Cove is a bit of a hike from the city center, so it's a good thing the food and beverage outlets shine. For great cuts of beef there's Skirt, while The Kitchen Table serves a range of Asian and international dishes.
W Singapore's Woobar draws in partiers, locals included, with fantastic cocktails and international DJs.
Klapsons has just 17 rooms, but it might be the most interesting accommodation option in Singapore.
Everything about this boutique property has been ingeniously thought out -- from the dome around the reception desk that amplifies your voice to the showers in the middle of the bedroom.
The view might be mediocre, but onsite bar Fabrika serves some of the best drinks in the city -- the Ice Sphere cocktail is highly recommended.
Klapsons is a short walk from the metro (and only one stop from the central business district), a five-minute taxi to Chinatown and even closer to Club Street, which has some of the trendiest bars and cafés in Singapore.
Matchbox Concept Hostel
Singapore has plenty of cheap hostels. For those who want to forget they're staying in a hostel, there's Matchbox.
This place has one of the comfiest common rooms in the city, stocked with beanbag chairs, a TV, games and even a pair of swings.
Given that Matchbox is within walking distance of bars, museums, cafés and Chinatown, you probably won't spend much time hanging around the property. But when you do finally stumble back in, you'll find the staff remember your name and are genuinely interested in your stay.
The facilities are spotless and there's free breakfast on offer all day (make it yourself -- toast and cereal).
Matchbox does have private rooms, but the pod-like dormitories are so cool they might change your mind about sharing a space with strangers. Great value and very convenient.
39 Ann Siang Road; +65 6423 0237; from S$38 per night; www.matchbox.sg
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Lau Pa Sat
Lau Pa Sat is the place to go for Singapore's famed hawker-style dining. Lined with stalls, each selling different cuisine, the food court's prices are cheap. For a standard meal you shouldn’t pay more than S$5 (about US$4).
Particularly famous for its satay, Lau Pa Sat offers outdoor seating as well. It ain't fancy -- just plastic chairs -- but it's a nice way to enjoy the energetic buzz of Singapore's streets.
18 Raffles Quay, Lau Pa Sat Festival Market; +65 6220 2138; budget; www.laupasat.biz
Maxwell Food Court
A great option for cheap eats if you’re near Chinatown is Maxwell Food Court, which is famous for its Hainanese chicken rice.
It's open 24 hours a day.
Best of all, the stalls and restaurants don’t charge "tourist" prices; a meal will cost around S$2-$5.
1 Kadayanallur St.; budget
Cocotte hasn't been around for long, but it's already one of the city's best places for French cuisine.
Set in Singapore's Wanderlust boutique hotel near Little India, Cocotte promotes communal dining -- that is to say you'll be sharing very large portions.
The roast chicken is a standout; marinated for two days the meat barely even needs the gravy -- the thickness and flavor is measured best by the levels of guilt you'll feel for eating so much of it.
2 Dickson Road; +65 6298 1188; moderate; restaurantcocotte.com
Jumbo Seafood Restaurant
Engage any Singaporean in a conversation about food and two things will happen. First, they'll talk your ear off (food is the conversation topic of choice in the city).
Then they’ll ask if you’ve tried chili crab.
One of the top places to order this best of Singapore dish is Jumbo Seafood Restaurant. As the name suggests, the menu includes plenty of other seafood dishes.
There are six Jumbo Seafood outlets in Singapore, but Riverside Point probably has the best view and setting -- outdoors, riverside.
30 Merchant Road, #01-01/02 Riverside Point; +65 6532 3435; moderate; www.jumboseafood.com.sg
Keisuke Tonkotsu King
Near the Tanjong Pagar MRT -- a neighborhood filled with museums and Korean barbecue eateries -- Keisuke Tonkotsu serves some of the best ramen in Singapore.
The line is often long -- a classic Singapore sign that the food is special.
This small restaurant serves customizable ramen of different styles. Customers can choose how strong they want the flavor -- first timers might want to consider going with the "medium" option, as Keisuke's ramen really has a kick.
1 Tras Link, #01-19 Orchid Hotel; +65 6636 0855; moderate
Red House Seafood Restaurant
Located in attractive Robertson Quay, Red House serves some of the best seafood in the area.
Next to the river, Red House offers Chinese-style dining at round tables -- great for group meals but not necessarily for intimate moments.
For seaside dining, there's also a Red House branch at East Coast.
#01-14 The Quayside, 60 Robertson Quay; moderate; +65 6735 7666; www.redhouseseafood.com
Pollen isn't your average fine dining experience.
This new Singapore restaurant sits in a climate-controlled environment in one of the world's coolest venues -- Gardens by the Bay. In fact, it's the only restaurant in the spectacular dome.
Pollen serves Mediterranean-inspired modern European cuisine.
The setting is ace; diners are surrounded by olive trees, herbs and vegetation, complete with a sub-20 C temperature, allowing diners to escape the Singapore heat and humidity.
This is chef Jason Atherton’s second venture in Singapore -- he also has a tapas bas, Esquina -- and offers classics from his acclaimed flagship Pollen Street Social in London.
18 Marina Gardens Drive #01-09; +65 6604 9988; expensive; www.pollen.com.sg
After a two-year break from the culinary scene, local celebrity chef Sam Leong, has made a comeback by way of Forest, a Thai-accented modern Chinese restaurant on the ground level of the Equarius Hotel.
Open for dinner only, Leong’s Discovery Menu wows with haute Chinese creations such as pan-seared foie gras with smoked duck breast on homemade crispy bean curd skin.
Equarius Hotel, 16 Sentosa Gateway ; +65 6577 7788; expensive; www.rwsentosa.com
The food at Stellar is top-notch and well presented, but you're mainly paying for the incredible view and atmosphere. The food is described as "modern cuisine focusing on artisnal methods of preparation."
Window seats are a hot ticket so reservations are recommended.
At 282 meters, adjoining 1-Altitude is the world’s highest al fresco bar -- for now, at least.
1 Raffles Place; +65 6438 0410; expensive; www.1-altitude.com
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Zouk is Singapore's most famous and popular club. Definitely a best of Singapore attraction.
Consisting of three rooms offering different club experiences, Zouk tries to offer something for everyone. For the most part, it succeeds.
The main room, Zouk, has a dance floor with an upbeat party scene.
Velvet Underground is more chilled out.
Phuture is a more avant garde-style club.
7 Jiak Kim St.; +65 6738 2988; moderate; www.zoukclub.com
The 23rd best bar in the world according to the 2011 "World's 50 best bars" annual rankings, Tippling Club's drinks are among the city’s most unusual.
Many of its drinks are based on the elements of molecular gastronomy. The trademarked Juniper Sling is a good example -- it's based on the scent of Penhaligon’s Juniper Sling fragrance.
Served in a Penhaligon’s bottle, the aromatic concoction of Grand Marnier, gin, cassis, homemade cherry bitters, juniper and cinnamon syrup took four months to formulate.
8D Dempsey Road; +65 6475 2217; moderate; www.tipplingclub.com
Sitting atop of one of the most luxurious hotels in Singapore (The Fullerton), Lantern offers good cocktails, a swimming pool, a great view and comfortable seating.
For added privacy, there are even some sofa-beds to lie back on and draw the curtains.
Drinks are expensive, but it's a great place to start the night, or have a romantic interlude over exotic drinks.
80 Collyer Quay; +65 6333 8388; expensive; Fullertonbayhotel.com
Ku Dé Ta
Sitting 200 meters atop the Marina Bay Sands, Ku Dé Ta has spectacular views of the city, as well as the hotel's famous infinity pool.
To get the full experience it's best to arrive at sunset.
You can stave off hunger with a platter of five Wagyu mini-burgers or chopped tuna tartare with flatbread while enjoying the nightly laser show.
Marina Bay Sands SkyPark, 1 Bayfront Ave.; +65 6688 7688; expensive; www.kudeta.com.sg
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Shopping and attractions
Singapore's main shopping hub, Orchard Road is a 2,200-meter strip crammed full of retail madness -- 22 shopping malls and six department stores, to be exact.
Many venues, like Takashimaya or Paragon, specialize in high-end brands. There are also high street brands in Ion, while retail complexes such as Far East Plaza sell lots of cheap goods.
There are metro stations all the way down the road, which has cinemas, restaurants and bars. It's pretty easy to get lost; many of the malls are connected in a confusing underground labyrinth.
For vintage duds, Haji Lane is the place. Here you’ll find rows of adorable boutiques brimming with local finds, many at great prices.
Haji Lane is located near Singapore's Bugis MRT Station in the Kampong Glam neighborhood.
Sungei Road Thieves' Market
If you’re hunting for all things worn, torn and retro, the Sungei Road Thieves’ Market won’t disappoint.
While not quite as swashbuckling as the name suggests (in this case the "thieves" hark back to the 1930s), Singapore’s oldest flea market stretches between Kelantan Road and Weld Road and offers a hot and cheerily disorienting shopping experience.
Located along Jalan Besar near Sungei Road, between Kelantan Road and Weld Road. Open daily, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Messy, loud but alluringly vibrant, Singapore’s Little India draws everyone from thirsty backpackers to locals on a last minute shopping dash.
With art galleries, authentic Indian restaurants and vegetable stalls all crammed into a few hundred square meters, Little India is worth at least a few hours of exploration.
Take the northeast MRT line to Little India Station and exit at Racecourse Road.
Popular with kids, Singapore's Wildlife Reserves is the parent company of four separate attractions: the Jurong Bird Park, Night Safari, Singapore Zoo and soon-to-open River Safari, which will be the home of those already world famous pandas, Kai Kai and Jia Jia.
With a diverse range of species in clean, easy-to-navigate environments, all of the attractions are top-notch.
After dark, zoo visitors can head to Night Safari and explore the park by tram or a foot trail through eight geographical areas.
There are various shows and tours to enjoy –- great for a family outing.
Singapore Zoo and Night Safari: Mandai Lake Road; +65 6269 3411; S$20 adult, children S$13; www.wrs.com.sg
Now 45 years old, Sentosa Island was built on reclaimed land specifically for tourists. And, man, has it come a long way.
There are two main beach areas, although many locals discourage actually swimming in the water, claiming it's dirty. Given the constant presence of hundreds of tankers and ships about a mile offshore, few disagree.
In addition to many bars by the beach, attractions on Sentosa include a zip line, flow boarding wave pool, cable car and indoor skydiving experience.
The grand dame of the island is Resorts World Sentosa, Singapore's other integrated resort. Here you'll find Universal Studios, the just-opened Marine Life Park, a water park, casino, hotels and plenty of high-end restaurants and bars.
40 Imbiah Road; +65 1800 736 8672; www.sentosa.com.sg
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Perhaps the world's most orderly Chinatown, Singapore's version features plenty of shops selling Chinese souvenirs and sculptures, most of which are overpriced.
It's still a beautiful area and nice escape from the usual steel and glass high-rises that dominate most of the city.
Though touristy, the restaurants are fantastic and serve cheap, Chinese dishes that are difficult to find anywhere else in Singapore. There are also some Chinese temples worth checking out.
MRT: China Town, Pagoda Street; www.chinatown.sg
The world's largest observation wheel at 65 meters high, the Singapore Flyer opened in 2008.
It's obviously all about the view here.
Riders can take in Marina Bay Sands, the central business district and the F1 track, on which the Flyer is situated. No worries about missing out on anything as it's a pretty slow ride; the Singapore Flyer takes 30 minutes to make a full revolution.
The Flyer also accepts dinner bookings for those who want to eat while they ride.
30 Raffles Avenue; +65 6333 3311; adults S$29.50; www.singaporeflyer.com
Gardens by the Bay
Marina Bay Singapore's most popular attraction is Gardens by the Bay, a cutting-edge horticultural mega-project featuring 50-meter high solar-powered "Supertrees" and climate-controlled biomes.
Bay South Garden is the largest of the 101-hectare venue's three gardens and features, which include cooled flower domes, multiple heritage-themed outdoor gardens and two lakes.
But the real highlight are the Supertrees. Ranging in height from 25 to 50 meters, the Gardens' 18 Supertrees are basically vertical gardens covered in bromeliads, ferns and tropical flowering climbers.
The structures mimic the ecological functions of real trees through their environmentally sustainable features.
MRT: Bayfront station. Entrance to the cooled conservatories is S$28 per adult, $15 per child (three-12 years old). Entrance to the Aerial Walkway is S$5 per adult, $3 per child. www.gardensbythebay.com.sg
One of Singapore's most interesting pieces of architecture, the ArtScience Museum is a lotus-shaped building that’s become a popular backdrop for tourist photos.
Inside are some of Singapore's top exhibitions, which change regularly. Artists that have been featured include Dalí and Van Gogh.
The science portion of the museum provides interesting exhibitions for families and interactive games to keep children entertained.
10 Bayfront Ave.; adults S$30; www.marinabaysands.com/Singapore-Museum
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