Insider Guide: Best of Singapore

Insider Guide: Best of Singapore

Dull reputation? Not our Singapore. From super shopping to super cocktails, here's how to do the world's most up-to-date city
Singapore is all about the new -- like Gardens by the Bay's 18 "Supertrees," vertical gardens covered in bromeliads, ferns and tropical flowering climbers.

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. 

Print and go -- Our traveler-friendly one-page guide here: Best of Singapore

Hotels

Luxury

Marina Bay Sands

With 2,560 rooms and more than 10,000 staff, Marina Bay Sands is one of the world's largest and most profitable casino resorts. 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. 

Marina Bay Sands, 10 Bayfront Ave.; +65 6688 8868; from S$380 ($302) per night

W Singapore Sentosa Cove

One of W Sentosa Cove's "Fabulous" rooms. Not to be confused with its "Wonderful" or "Spectacular" counterparts. 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 gives travelers a reason to head back to Sentosa Island, one of Singapore's top tourist draws. 

W Sentosa Cove is a bit of a hike from the city center -- 15 minutes by car is considered far for Singaporeans -- 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, as well as the occasional Sunday pool party thrown in to cement its rock star image.

W Singapore Sentosa Cove, 21 Ocean Way, Sentosa Island; +65 6808 7288; from S$388 ($310) per night

Capella Singapore

Courtyard at Capella.The romanticism of the British colonial era lives on at the six-star Capella Singapore resort designed by Lord Norman Foster.

Sprawling 30 acres, the 112-room property lives up to its luxe reputation with extras like a personal butler per guest, a three-tiered swimming pool overlooking the South China Sea and rooms that feature Jacuzzis and slick interiors by designer Jaya Ibrahim.

For the guest who can't live without man’s best friend/accessory, the Capella's also a dog-friendly hotel (within size restrictions).

Home to one of the best weekend brunches on Sentosa Island, The Knolls has a buffet table of Spanish-style suckling pig, roasted leg of lamb and an array of desserts good for lazing away a Sunday.

Afterward, an afternoon of drinking at the windy Bob’s Bar makes for a sublime capper as a live band makes its way around the day beds.

Capella Singapore, 1 The Knolls, Sentosa; +65 63778888; from S$550 ($438) per night

Mid-range

The Westin Singapore

Just because this 305-room hotel is located in the middle of the CBD -- it’s above Google's Singapore office -- doesn’t mean it's lacking in pizzazz.

All rooms come with glass-to-ceiling windows and the 32nd-floor lobby is (currently) the highest in Singapore. But  the Westin's crown is the 35th-floor infinity pool that goes neck-and-neck with the pool at the Marina Bay Sands for the title of best in Singapore.

The heavenly pillow menu hasn't been forgotten.

Outside the room, the gastro pub Cook & Brew, with good drink deals, sees the suits congregate when the workday is over.

The Westin Singapore, 12 Marina View, Asia Square Tower 2; +65 6922 6888; from S$310 ($247) per night

Klapsons Hotel

Funky, compact Klapsons is the antithesis of Singapore's big brand hotels. Klapsons has just 17 rooms, but it might be the most interesting accommodations 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 Singapore -- the Ice Sphere cocktail is recommended -- and has a one-for-one happy hour from 10 p.m. to midnight, Monday through Thursday.

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.

Klapsons Hotel, 15 Hoe Chiang Road; +65 6521 9000; from S$300 ($239) per night

Budget

Matchbox Concept Hostel

Matchbox might be the world's coolest hostel. Singapore has plenty of cheap hostels.

For those who want to forget they're staying in one, 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 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 convenient.

Matchbox Concept Hostel, 39 Ann Siang Road; +65 6423 0237; from S$38 ($30) per night

More on CNN: 7 best family-friendly hotels in Singapore

Dining

Pollen

Don't forget your sweater at cool Pollen. Pollen isn't a typical fine dining experience.

This new Singapore restaurant by Gordon Ramsay protégé Jason Atherton 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 one of Atherton’s four ventures in Singapore -- he also has a tapas bar, Esquina, British-inspired snack bar Keong Saik Snacks and its neighbor, password-only cocktail bar The Library -- and offers classics from his acclaimed flagship Pollen Street Social in London. 

Pollen, 18 Marina Gardens Drive #01-09; +65 6604 9988; expensive

Maxwell Food Center

Newly renovated, Maxwell is a great option for cheap eats if you’re near Chinatown or want to squeeze in a quick meal before heading to the nearby bars.

Maxwell is famous for several stalls, chiefly Tian Tian Chicken Rice (#01-10/111), which is among the best Hainanese style chicken rice found in Singapore.

Other stalls to try are Jin Hua Sliced Fish Beehoon (#01-77), serving a soupy sliced fish noodle dish in milk broth, and the Amoy Food Centre Fried Kway Teow Stall (#01-01) famed for its "wok hei."

The center is open 24 hours a day, but after 10 p.m. only select stalls remain open.

Best of all, the stalls and restaurants don’t charge "tourist" prices; a meal will cost around S$2-$5.

Maxwell Food Court, 1 Kadayanallur St.; budget

Cocotte

Cocotte promotes communal dining. Problem is, you're not going to want to share. 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 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 by the levels of guilt you'll feel for eating so much of it.

Cocotte, 2 Dickson Road; +65 6298 1188; moderate 

 

Jumbo Seafood Restaurant

Jumbo Seafood's chili crab is a best of Singapore experience. 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, the island’s unofficial national dish.

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. 

Also highly recommended are the razor clams and cereal prawns.

There are six Jumbo Seafood outlets in Singapore, but Riverside Point probably has the best view and setting -- outdoors, riverside.

Jumbo Seafood Restaurant, 30 Merchant Road, #01-01/02 Riverside Point; +65 6532 3435; moderate


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.

Keisuke Tonkotsu King, 1 Tras Link, #01-19 Orchid Hotel; +65 6636 0855; moderate 

Red House Seafood Restaurant

Red House's creamy custard prawns. Lightly battered, then deep-fried and coated in a blend of milk, butter and kaffir leaves. Located in upscale 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.

Red House Seafood Restaurant, #01-14 The Quayside, 60 Robertson Quay; moderate; +65 6735 7666; moderate

 

Forest

After a 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.

Forest, Equarius Hotel, 16 Sentosa Gateway ; +65 6577 7788; expensive

 

Stellar/1-Altitude

The view from Stellar takes in Marina Bay Sands, the Singapore Flyer and East Coast Park.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.

Stellar/1-Altitude, 1 Raffles Place; +65 6438 0410; expensive

 

Nox – Dine in the Dark

Presentation seems like kind of a waste here, but appreciated nonetheless.One of the island’s more creative culinary concepts, not only do you eat in the dark, you’re also prevented from bringing to the table anything that emits light (i.e., no mobile phone).

If you’re already beset by separation anxiety, don’t be. The novel concept housed in the Arab Quarter is a dining experience you won’t forget.

We won’t spoil the surprise for you (too much), but just know that the menu is modern European and it’s a three-course set meal -- and no, they don’t feed you anything too strange.

Nox – Dine in the Dark, 269 Beach Road; +65 6298 0708; expensive

The Black Swan

Happy hour at The Black Swan is all about liquor and oysters.Old becomes new again, so goes the current restaurant trend of new dining concepts taking over old environs.

This art deco style restaurant is housed in the former Kwangtung Provincial Bank Building, erected in the 1930s. 

Serving modern European classics, recommendations include the happy hour oysters, baked bone marrow and the signature Black Swan Burger, served with a sunny-side up egg and a generous side of bacon.

After dinner, customers are encouraged to venture upstairs to The Powder Room, a tucked-away cocktail bar with an exhaustive menu of drinks.

We’re partial to their Old-Fashion Cecil Sour, made with a smooth single malt and served with a side of dark chocolate.

The Black Swan, 19 Cecil St.; +65 8181 3305; expensive

More on CNN: Singapore dining: Best of the old and new

Nightlife

Zouk

Opened in a block of renovated warehouses in 1991, Zouk remains one of the city's top nightclubs.Zouk is Singapore's most famous and popular club. Definitely a best of Singapore attraction.

The global super club with a multi-million-dollar art collection consists 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 that plays host to foreign big-name DJs.

Velvet Underground is more chilled out, billing itself as a bottle-service lounge that plays deep house. 

Phuture is a more avant garde club, dabbling in R&B and hip-hop. 

Zouk, 7 Jiak Kim St.; +65 6738 2988; moderate

Tippling Club

The 45th best bar in the world according to the 2013 "World's 50 best bars" annual rankings, Tippling Club's drinks are among the city’s most unusual.

Well ahead of the current cocktail bar trend, many of Tippling Club's 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.

After five years, it's moved downtown to trendy Tanjong Pagar Road where it now occupies a multi-green-hued three-story shop house.

Our advice? Don’t just go for drinks. You won’t be disappointed by their Classic Menu (six courses for S$160++) or Gourmand Menu (12 courses for S$265++).

Tippling Club, 38 Tanjong Pagar Road; +65 6475 2217; expensive

 

Lantern

Lantern sits atop Singapore's swanky Fullerton Bay Hotel, which opened in 2010. Sitting atop of one of the most luxurious hotels in Singapore (The Fullerton), Lantern offers decent cocktails, a swimming pool, great view (that’s really why you’re here) and comfortable seating.

For added privacy, there are even sofa-beds on which to lie back and draw the curtains.

Drinks are expensive, but it's a great place to start the night or have a romantic interlude over exotic beverages.

Now that Lantern has a canopy, it doesn’t matter if the sky decides to open up.

Lantern, 80 Collyer Quay; +65 6333 8388; expensive

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.

Ku Dé Ta, Marina Bay Sands SkyPark, 1 Bayfront Ave.; +65 6688 7688; expensive

More on CNN: Singapore's best cocktail bars

 

Ah Sam Cold Drink Stall

Ah Sam's interior harks back to the South Bank's history as a home to migrant workers.Home is where your favorite bar is, and while we’re reluctant to reveal our preferred watering spot it'd be cruel to deprive you of the opportunity to sample Sam Wong’s creative concoctions.

Mixing old and new Singapore together, Wong serves cocktails in vessels ranging from vintage glasses to scooping them out from a hawker center-style drink container.

While he can expertly shake and stir anything from a French 75 to a Sazerac, the drinks to order are his own originals -- the Milo-infused rye and the Beaded Slippers, a rum-based chendol-style (local coconut milk-based dessert) drink served with a spoon of red bean paste.

Ah Sam Cold Drink Stall, 60A Boat Quay; +65 6535 0838; expensive

La Maison du Whisky

If you can't find your whiskey here, you've probably been drinking farm runoff this whole time.For the whiskey aficionado, this is the spot. In this spirits-and-whiskey bar and shop, you’ll find just shy of 500 whiskeys sold and stocked from Scotland (where it's "whisky"), Ireland, Japan, Australia, India, etc…

While the dark nectar of the gods is an obvious draw, La Maison also carries a varied range of gins, vodkas, calvados, cognacs and almost every other spirit imaginable.

This makes drinking here a pleasure -- you can mix and match the cocktail you like with the alcohol of your choice.

La Maison du Whisky; #01-10, The Pier, 80 Mohamed Sultan Road; +65 633 0059; expensive

Shopping and attractions

Orchard Road

Orchard Road is a self-contained luxury brand stop. 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 designer brands. 

There are also high street brands in Ion, while mixed-retail complexes such as Far East Plaza sell everything from electronics to sunglasses to cheap, fast fashion.

Newly revamped Tangs Departmental Store is an emporium of everything you need fashion- and lifestyle-wise, with a well-stocked Beauty Hall and a multi-concept spa and beauty concept (Seviin) on the seventh floor.

There are metro stations all the way down the road, which is lined by cinemas, restaurants and bars.

It's pretty easy to get lost; many of the malls are connected in a confusing underground labyrinth. 

Orchard Road

Haji Lane

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 can make for an unpredictable treasure hunt -- hardcore shoppers will want to put aside a good portion of time for the trip. Recommended shops are DulcetfigLoftSoon Leetokyobike, KIN and dh sunglasses

Haji Lane is located near Singapore's Bugis MRT Station in the Kampong Glam neighborhood.

Sungei Road Thieves' Market

In colonial days, supplies looted from the British army mysteriously found their way to Sungei Road. If you’re hunting for all things worn, torn and retro, the Sungei Road Thieves’ Market won’t disappoint.

While not as swashbuckling as the name suggests (in this case the "thieves" hark 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.

 

Little India

Messy, loud but alluringly vibrant, Singapore’s Little India draws everyone from backpackers to locals on a last-minute shopping dash.

With art galleries, authentic Indian restaurants and vegetable stalls crammed into a few hundred square meters, Little India is worth at least a few hours of exploration. 

Mustafa Center is open seven days a week, 24 hours a day -- here you can buy everything from gold bracelets to sporting goods, spices and even a car. 

Take the northeast MRT line to Little India Station and exit at Racecourse Road.

Wildlife Reserves

Kai Kai lets out a yawn. Because being adorable is exhausting. Popular with kids, Singapore's Wildlife Reserves is the parent company of four separate attractions: the Jurong Bird Park, Night Safari, Singapore Zoo and the River Safari, home to Singapore’s most famous expats, 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

 

Sentosa Island

Universal Studios' Battlestar Galactica roller coaster ride. Good luck holding your lunch. A prime example of man-made Singapore, Sentosa Island was built on reclaimed land nearly half a century ago and designed 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 (Tanjong Beach Club is a weekend favorite), 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, Marine Life Park, a water park, casino, hotels and plenty of high-end restaurants and bars.  

Sentosa Island, 40 Imbiah Road; +65 1800 736 8672

More on CNN: World's largest oceanarium opens in Singapore

 

Chinatown

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 a 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 on Smith Street that are difficult to find anywhere else in Singapore. There are also some Chinese temples worth checking out. 

Chinatown, MRT: China Town, Pagoda Street

Singapore Flyer

With 28 fixed capsules, the Singapore Flyer can hold up to 784 passengers. 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 accepts dinner bookings for those who want to eat while they ride. 

Singapore Flyer, 30 Raffles Ave.; +65 6333 3311; adults S$29.50

 

Gardens by the Bay

Varying between 25 and 50 meters, each Supertree features tropical flowers and ferns climbing across a steel framework. One of Singapore's most popular attractions is Gardens by the Bay, a cutting-edge horticultural mega-project featuring 150-foot-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. 

The highlight are the Supertrees. Ranging in height from 80 to 160 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.

Gardens by the Bay, MRT: Bayfront station; entrance to the cooled conservatories is S$28 ($22) per adult, S$15 ($12) per child (three-12 years old). Entrance to the Aerial Walkway is S$5 ($4) per adult, S$3 ($2.40) per child

ArtScience Museum

The ArtScience Museum is shaped like a lotus flower in bloom. 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 who have been featured include Dalí and Van Gogh and more contemporary exhibitions by Lego and Chanel.

The science portion of the museum provides interesting exhibitions for families and interactive games to keep children entertained. 

ArtScience Museum, 10 Bayfront Ave.; adults S$30

 

Resort World Sentosa’s SEA Aquarium at Marine Life Park

Shooting fish in the world's largest barrel.Singapore loves garnering accolades and it's done it (again) with Marine Life Park.

Claiming a badge of honor as the world’s largest aquarium, it's also home to the world’s largest acrylic viewing panel -- all of 118 feet by 27 feet.

Contained within are more than 100,000 marine animals spanning 800 species, including the aquarium's highly controversial bottlenose dolphins, more than 200 sharks and re-created habitats such as the realistic Shipwrecked Habitat, where Stellate Puffer fish, goliath grouper and Napoleon wrasse swim to and fro.

Marine Life Park, 8 Sentosa Gateway, Sentosa Island, +65 6577 8888

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