What the island city-state of Singapore lacks in sheer girth (its landmass measures just 719 square kilometres) it more than makes up for in density of choice when it comes to things to see and do.
Forget the stereotype of it being just a stop-over destination: you are going to need a solid four or five days to get through this selection alone.
Singapore prides itself on being a city within a garden, and the magnificent Gardens by the Bay complex is the crowning glory of this concept: two gargantuan domed conservatories filled with myriad plants and flowers and the sculptural Skytree Grove that is illuminated each evening in a dramatic light show. The Cloud Forest dome really is stunning, with its almost 35 metre waterfall and elevated walkway that snakes around the lush tropical indoor ‘mountain’. This is one of the most popular attractions in town so plan to get there early.
The behemoth Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum is an impressively-sized Buddhist temple complex built in 2007 that houses a Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic that reputedly belonged to Buddha himself, housed in a giant stupa. The temple complex is a cavalcade of lanterns, statues and relics; make your way through the floors to the peaceful rooftop garden with its pagoda and prayer wheel. Entry is free.
An historic landmark within its own right, this world-renowned hotel has undergone a serious restoration, but the traditions have not been sacrificed at the altar of modernity. And one of the most delightful of these is taking afternoon tea in the Grand Lobby. With a dress code listed as ‘casual chic’ the afternoon tea menu includes dainty finger sandwiches, homemade scones and petit sweet treats crowned with a steaming pot of tea or a glass of bubbles. Bookings are listed as recommended, but having seen the daily turn-out first hand, they are actually essential.
Boasting the world’s largest public collection of Singapore and Southeast Asian modern art in the world, the imposing National Gallery Singapore is made up of the historic City Hall and former Supreme Court buildings, which have been restored and fused together by a stunning modern glass atrium designed by studioMilou Singapore.
After browsing the permanent and visiting exhibitions, head to the rooftop garden for stunning views over the city and then exit through the gift shop; Gallery & Co. is a funky shopping and dining spot offering up art and design products and a light café menu. Come back after dark to dine and drink at some of the best restaurants and bars in town including National Kitchen by Violet Oon and Odette.
An oasis for bird watchers and nature lovers, The Southern Ridges consists of 10 kilometres of paths and elevated walkways, including Henderson Wave, an undulating bridge suspended 36 metre above the streets and connecting one hill to another. Pack a hat and water and stroll through the open spaces of Mount Faber Park, Telok Blangah Hill Park, Hort Park, Kent Ridge Park and Labrador Nature Reserve, including amongst the canopies, admiring native bird species and stunning flora and fauna. Catch the MRT to the Harbourfront station to start the walk at the Marang Trail.
Located at the National University of Singapore, the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum is a must as much for the building it is housed in as what it houses. Designed by Singapore architect Mok Wei, the arresting building, known as the Rock, is a cast-form concrete hulk with a large section looking like it has been sliced off to reveal a verdant terraced garden. Windows on the structure are limited and small in order to protect the 2000 natural history specimens inside, including three giant diplodocid sauropod skeletons at its heart.
7. Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple & the Mustafa Centre
The Little India neighbourhood is a vibrant and fragrant slice of Indian culture in Singapore, complete with the colourful Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, a great museum detailing the local history (Indian Heritage Centre), restaurants and sweet stores selling delicious curries and sticky Indian desserts and fabric and jewellery stores selling silky sari fabric and elaborate gold designs. While in the area don’t miss the chance to browse the Mustafa Centre, a multi-level markets selling everything from frozen roti to Bollywood DVDs: the local wisdom is that if you can’t find it here, it doesn’t exist. Use the Little India MRT.
Part of Wildlife Reserves Singapore, which includes Jurong Bird and Singapore Zoo, recognised as one of the best facilities in the world, the 35-hectare Night Safari is a chance to see some of the most fascinating animals in the world after the tropical heat of the day has subsided, from families of Asian elephants to the critically endangered Malaysian tiger and the curious Sanda Pangolin, one of the most trafficked animals in the world. The Night Safari trams weave through coloured-coded zones, with regular stops where you can jump off to explore by foot and get a closer look at some of the almost 900 animals, a staggering 41 per cent of which are threatened.
9. Kampong Glam
Kampong Glam is one of Singapore’s oldest urban neighbourhoods, anchored by the golden-domed Sultan Mosque. The pleasure of visiting here is in strolling the streets and lanes; head to Haji Lane for its funky little boutiques, bars and restaurants or Arab Street with its shops selling traditional fabrics like batik and handmade perfumes.
Singapore’s Peranakan heritage derives from the Chinese settlers from the southern provinces who came to the Malay Archipelago and integrated into the local population, resulting in a culture of unique traditions, language and food. The striking blue Baba House, one of the best preserved Peranakan family homes in Singapore, was built in 1890 and eventually gifted to the National University of Singapore. Now restored to the glory days of the 1920s, tours can be booked to explore the period and antique furnishings, vintage photos of the family who once owned it and lovely architectural features.