With its blend of old and new, colonional and contemporary, Singapore is a true wonder of Southeast Asia. Gleaming skyscrapers, luxury hotels, Instagrammable parks and boulevards filled with air-conditioned malls – Singapore truly has it all. Oh, and there are loads of attractions and great things to do to keep the hordes of visitors occupied too. It can be hard to know where to start, so here's a run-down of the best Singapore attractions, as selected by our local experts just for you.
If you've just got off the plane, don't have to leave the airport just yet! Entertain yourself at the latest lifestyle concept, Jewel Changi Airport. This majestic dome is home to over 280 dining and retail outlets, with some open around the clock – think dining at ungodly hours at American fast-food chain A&W or food court Five Spice, or killing a couple of hours with a movie at 24-hour Shaw Theatres. You can also catch the hourly light and sound show at the HSBC Rain Vortex, the mall’s 40m-tall indoor waterfall, from 7.30pm to midnight.
Opened in 1937, this weird and wonderful park was named after its owners, Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, the brothers who made their fortune from the acclaimed cure-all ointment Tiger Balm. Multicoloured statues and tableaux – some looking rather neglected – depict scenes from Chinese mythology. The highlight is the Ten Courts of Hell (responsible for childhood nightmares for generations of Singaporeans) where dioramas showing human sinners being punished in a variety of hideous and bloodthirsty ways – in extremely gory and graphic detail. It’s a safe bet that you will never see anything like it anywhere else.
The former City Hall and Supreme Court buildings have been refurbished to become Singapore’s National Gallery. It is the largest visual art gallery in the city-state and is mostly dedicated to local and Southeast Asian art from the 19th century to the present day. Many of the works on display are drawn from the permanent National Collection but there’s also a rolling programme of temporary exhibitions to check out too.
Once a convent school, CHIJMES has transformed into a hip lifestyle enclave brimming with bars, restaurants and cafés. It’s currently undergoing a revamp – and it’s more than just a cosmetic update. A fleet of new F&B joints are flocking to the old school, including El Mero Mero, Here & There, and Prive.
The stuff of nature-lovers’ dreams, Gardens by the Bay is a truly magnificent site. The 250-acre green haven is filled with huge, flora-wreathed towers connected by ‘skyways’ and two enormous conservatories. Opened in 2012 as part of a drive to bring more greenery into Singapore, the gardens are free for guests to explore but you'll need an admission ticket for access to the flower domes that house rotating floral exhibitions. Needless to say, this is a non-negotiable must-see.
This outpost of Universal Studios' theme park empire on Sentosa Island has an array of world-class rides across its various regions. There's Transformers: The Ride (a 3D adventure where you have to protect the Allspark), Battlestar Galactica (twin roller coasters that are sure to get your heart racing), Jurassic Park Rapids Adventure (everyone's favourite water ride), Enchanted Airways, Canopy Flyer and Revenge of the Mummy. Your kids will obviously never forgive you if you don’t let them run amok here.
With 28 awe-inspiring hectares to explore, it's unlikely that you'll be able to cover Singapore Zoo in its entirety in a day. But you give it a good go. Unlike traditional zoos, which keep its animals in cages, this place was the first in the world to implement the 'open concept', which has animals in individually landscaped enclosures. There are more than 4,000 animals to see across 11 zones, including Wild Africa, Primate Kingdom and Frozen Tundra. Visit the world's largest captive colony of orangutans, feed the friendly Asian elephants and see the rare white tiger.
Set in lush secondary rainforest, the Night Safari is a must-see for visitors. The world’s first night zoo (opened in 1994) allows you to witness what over 2,500 nocturnal animals from 130 species get up to after dusk, in naturalistic habitats and without barriers, via the use of special lighting techniques. Lions? Check. Rhino? Check. Leopards? Check. Flying squirrels? Check!
Manatees, crocodiles, flamingos and monkeys are just some of the 5,000 beasties you’ll encounter in this river-themed wildlife park, which boasts the world’s biggest freshwater aquarium and a panda exhibit housing the cuddly couple Kai Kai and Jia Jia. The River Safari is split into two zones: the Rivers of the World, which showcases animals from eight rivers including the Congo and Yangtze, and Wild Amazonia, where you can come face-to-face with over 30 animals from the rainforest on a boat ride aptly named Amazon River Quest.
Take a walk on the wild side as you step foot on one of Singapore’s most popular off-shore islands. A sprawling 1,020 hectares, Ubin boasts lush greenery and abundant wildlife, drawing nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts to explore the many wonders of the granite island. There are plenty of activities to get up to here: go birdwatching at Pekan Quarry, wander through nature trails, and hike 75 metres up Puaka Hill for a breathtaking panoramic view of the islet.
Singapore’s oldest nature park is continuously filled with joggers, families and weekend strollers – plus those flocking to see the occasional free concert. You can get into the reservoir’s rainforest via the MacRitchie Trail, which offers straightforward boardwalk treks and more ambitious, longer hikes. There’s plenty of wildlife here, from flying lemurs to tree frogs and pangolins – but they do tend to hide out of sight. The one exception are the long-tailed macaque monkeys that hang about. Be warned, though: having been fed by less responsible visitors, they can be aggressive little terrors.
The 2,500 rooms at this hotel offer views of the South China Sea or Marina Bay and the Singapore skyline, but let’s be honest: the Moshe Safdie-designed SkyPark is the real crowd-puller, sitting atop the three hotel towers 200 metres above ground level. Non-hotel guests have to pay for the privilege of enjoying unfettered views from the Observation Deck across the city – but it’s definitely worth it. To take that selfie to make all your friends back home seethe with envy, if nothing else.
An airport doesn’t sound like much of an attraction – more a series of interminable queues filled with tetchy flyers and shrieking babies. But Singapore’s Changi Airport has been voted the world’s best airport for the fifth consecutive year – and there’s much to marvel at here. Butterfly habitats, Balinese-style rooftop pools, 24-hour cinemas, spa centres, and the highly-raved Jewel Changi Airport – trust us, this ain’t your average airport. There are far worse stopovers during a long-haul flight.
Once home to an orchard of fruit trees, this area of Singapore is now widely known as the shopping district. Stretching out over two kilometres in the centre of the city, Orchard Road is home to numerous coffeeshops, beauty salons, art galleries, hotels, designer and discount outlets, restaurants and nightclubs. Come armed with cash and plenty of it.
Few buildings have created such a stir in Singapore as the Esplanade. Opened in 2002, the eye-catching bayfront complex has been dubbed ‘the durians’ by locals because of its resemblance to the spiky (and stinky) tropical fruit. It’s the city’s most prominent performing arts centre and the programme bears an eclectic mix of Western and Eastern influences. Book a gig, concert or theatre show in advance and make a cultural evening of it.
Marina Bay’s giant, 42-storey, 165m observation wheel continues to pull a mix of tourists and locals who come for the breathtaking, 360-degree views of the city available from one of its capsules. Each flight lasts 30 mintues and on a clear day the panorama from the top of the wheel stretches into neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia. If you fancy pimping your experience a bit, take a look at the dining and cocktail packages that are available.
After an $118 million refurb and rebranding job, the Singapore History Museum reopened as the National Museum of Singapore: the largest museum on the island. There are two main galleries: the Singapore History Gallery, which traces the history of Singapore from its beginnings in the fourteenth century to the present day and the Singapore Living Galleries, which focus on four lifestyle themes – food, fashion, film and photography. It’s worth a visit just for the building, an imposing neoclassical structure, complemented by modern glass additions.
Shoehorning art and science into the same room and doing justice to both was always going to be a big risk. But by and large, the ArtScience Museum succeeds. Future World: Where Art Meets Science is a collaboration with Japanese art collective teamLab and features interactive experiences that are also perfect Instagram fodder.
Sing ‘unda tha sea’ as you ogle at over 800 species of marine wildlife in the world's largest aquarium, which also has the title of the largest collection of manta rays in captivity. Amongst the other underwater beasties tenured here are nurse sharks, hammerhead sharks, eels, clownfish, giant octopuses, bottlenose dolphins and seahorses.
You gotta love a waterpark, right? Adventure Cove – located on Sentosa Island – is a great one filled with high-speed rides that spiral, dive and plunge. One standout here is the Rainbow Reef, where you can snorkel among 20,000 tropical fish. For those not feeling so hyperactive, there are plenty of shaded cabanas to relax with a drink.