14 February 2019 by Tim Tan
Singapore is a melting pot of extraordinary culture drawn in from across the globe, from its sky-scraping glass cityscape to multi-tiered temples that Chinatown. Whether you're visiting the city as a stopover to or from Australasia, standalone destination or extending a beach break, discover the top five things to do in this fascinating island nation, as recommended by our Asia specialist Tim Tan.
1. Sample authentic Singaporean cuisine in the hawker markets
The Food Capital of Asia is Singapore's deserved moniker – and while there may be Michelin stars galore in this city, true Singaporean cuisine is all about the bustling hawker markets. There's everything from fluffy dim-sum dumplings and spicy satay skewers to world-renowned Hainanese chicken rice and Singaporean favourites such as chilli crab and rojak – a salad of fruits and vegetables tossed in a prawn paste. Inspiration is taken from everywhere from Hong Kong to Indonesia to create culinary delights that are uniquely Singaporean – but remember, alongside the iconic street food there are plenty of fine-dining restaurants to sample, perched on the likes of rooftop bars and along rivers. There's also plenty of afternoon-tea delights in many of the hotels, served up in perfect colonial elegance.
2. Stroll around the Gardens by the Bay
The city’s latest green offering is perhaps its greatest too – the Gardens by the Bay. This winner of several architecture awards is made up of a vertical park of 50-metre-high “Supertrees” knitted together by sweeping elevated walkways, dominating Singapore’s Bay area. It's a wonderful place to spend a couple of hours on the panoramic skywalk over the gardens, greenhouses with individual climates and myriad plants and trees species.
3. Relax on the beaches of Sentosa Island
This island of golden sands and swaying palms lies just off Singapore’s south coast and is a wonderful place to spend a night or two. Be sure to find time to enjoy one or two rounds of golf at one of the island’s famed courses or indulge in the thrills of Sentosa’s theme parks. It's all done alongside a myriad of indulgent beachfront resorts, offering swimming pools, gourmet cuisine and five-star service such as Capella (pictured above). The delights of the city are still within easy reach, though, from the shops of Orchard Road to the world-renowned Singapore Zoo.
4. Discover Singapore’s diverse culture
Diversity is the word that perhaps most epitomises Singapore, from giant ferris wheels and monolithic lotuses to unique museums and infinity-pool surfboards – it's truly one of the world’s most iconic skylines. In amongst it all, though, there’s plenty of colonial intrigue, embodied in a harmonious blend of different cultures. Waterloo Street, for example, is home to a Chinese temple, synagogue and an Indian temple, that stand virtually side by side. Close by lies Little India, a mini-Mumbai of temples, restaurants and clairvoyants, where you’re greeted by the heavy scent of spices and can leave carting carvings, silverware and colourful silk saris. Chinatown is another must-visit, home to the Chinatown Heritage Centre and the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum, as well as Arab Street's gilded dome of the Sultan Mosque that looms above the cloth and carpet traders.
5. Sip on a Singapore Sling in iconic Raffles Hotel
Once host to the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Queen Elizabeth, Raffles Hotel remains the place to stay in the city – but a drink there is iconic enough for many. Almost as old as Singapore itself and named after Sir Stamford Raffles – the country’s founder, it’s been newly reopened for 2019. Expect billiards tables, elegant rooms and fine-dining terraces – but it's the Long Bar that's most iconic. Enjoy a few hours here sipping on that most iconic of cocktails, the Singapore Sling.