Singapore is a place with many nicknames. Locals call it the ‘Little Red Dot’ – a pet name affectionately adopted by locals due to the city-state’s size and appearance on world maps. But don’t let its size full you. In this city where rustic shophouses exist alongside glassy skyscrapers, hawker food gets cooked up a few streets away from restaurants helmed by celebrity chefs, and nearly every month features a massive city-wide event like the F1 Grand Prix (in Sep) or Art Stage Singapore (in Jan), there is plenty going on. Here, we recommend a few spots you must check out if you’re planning to pop by the ‘Lion City’.
Day 1 (morning): Chinatown
Rise early and start your first day with a delicious breakfast at Chinatown’s famous Maxwell Road Hawker Centre, which offers a selection of local fare such as Xing Xing’s ondeh ondeh (ping pong ball sized glutinous rice dumplings with brown palm sugar filling and coated by grated coconut, $0.40, stall 31) or Hajmeer Kwaja Muslim Food’s roti prata (fried flat bread served with curry, from $0.70, stall 103).
Cross the road to the City Gallery, which provides a fantastic insight into the island’s past and houses an impressive 1:400 model of central Singapore in the final room. Step out from the gallery, head right along Maxwell Road and turn right onto South Bridge Road to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, which displays a series of religious artefacts across six floors, with a tranquil rooftop garden. Further down the road is the Sri Mariamman Temple, the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore, with a richly decorated a colourful gopuram (entrance tower) depicting various deities. Turn left onto Pagoda Street from there to browse through little market stalls selling clothes, trinkets and souvenirs.
Take a taxi to The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, where you can grab a bite at one of the many restaurants including celebrity chef Mario Batali’ family-friendly Pizzeria Mozza. (If you’ve got dough to burn, come back at night for the $400++ set dinner at Waku Ghin.) The ArtScience Museum and Gardens by the Bay are both within walking distance – the former hosts curated international exhibitions throughout the year, while the latter has two large glass conservatories containing thousands of plant species, which provide shelter from the afternoon heat.
Day 1 (afternoon): Option B - Orchard Road
Take a taxi to Singapore’s shopping mecca, Orchard Road. In addition to international brands (H&M, Uniqlo, Hermes and more are all represented here; some with multiple branches), there are plenty of dining options. We like &Made by French celebrity chef Bruno Mernard for its burgers, or try some local fare at the food courts in ION Orchard and 313 Somerset. After filling your stomach, shop to your heart’s content at the many malls along this stretch – Ngee Ann City is home to Japanese department store Takashimaya and over 130 other stores, while Far East Plaza is popular with the younger crowd due to its cheaper price tags and tattoo parlours.
Day 1 (evening)
If the aforementioned Waku Ghin is too extravagant, a more pocket-friendly dinner option would be tapas at Esquina by Jason Atherton, the British Michelin-starred chef (and former protégé of Gordon Ramsey). They don’t accept reservations, so go early.
For a nightcap, give the expat- and tourist-heavy Clarke Quay a miss and head to the quirkier bars around Chinatown like 28 HongKong Streetand Jigger & Pony, which serve up scrumptious cocktails with a twist. 1 Altitude and Ku De Ta are also good spots for drinks with a view. The giant of Singapore’s nightlife scene, however, has got to be Zouk, which was voted by DJ Mag as the fifth best club in the world last year. If you’re here on a family holiday, take a cab and head to the Night Safari, where kids can get up close with the animals.
Day 2 (morning): Tiong Bahru
Take it easy and chill out at the charming heritage (and now quite hipster) neighbourhood of Tiong Bahru. Head to Tiong Bahru Market for local options or to 40 Hands Café for some delightful tau sar bao (red bean paste steamed buns, $2.50) alongside their brilliant selection of coffee. Spend the rest of the morning leisurely wandering around the area. BooksActually is a cute indie bookstore selling local publications, while Strangelets and Fleas & Trees sell an eclectic collection of accessories and furniture.
Day 2 (afternoon): Option A - Sentosa
Grab a cab to Singapore’s playground island, Sentosa – Universal Studios Singapore opened in 2010 and has some great rides, although the queues can get ridiculous during weekends or public holidays. Adventure Cove, a huge, elaborate water park, and the Marine Life Park – the world’s largest oceanarium – also opened their doors at the end of 2012. For adrenaline junkies, the MegaZip lets you whizz over 450m dangled from a zip line at 72m above sea level. If you want to enjoy the outdoors without the crowds, East Coast Park is an alternative spot popular with families and sporty types. The beaches here aren’t as nice for swimming, but you can rent a bike or roller blades.
Day 2 (afternoon): Option B - Kampong Glam
Heritage buffs and shoppers looking for something outside of just the tourist shops should make a trip to Singapore’s Kampong Glam district, which has gorgeous shophouses lining the streets selling carpets and textiles. There are also a lot of hip local clothes and accessories shops around the Haji Lane area, such as street wear store Sup and eco-friendly fashion joint Threadbare & Squirrel. For lunch, Piedra Negra does some very good Mexican food, but there are plenty of other options in the area – just follow your nose. To dig further into the history of the area, the Malay Heritage Centre is a good start, and make sure you visit the majestic Masjid Sultan, too.
Day 2 (evening)
If you spent the day at Sentosa, then it would be a pity if you didn’t dine at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon at RWS, which specialises in French cuisine. Otherwise, Restaurant André should be very high up on your ‘to eat’ list. The local celebrity chef has been voted as one of Asia’s Top 10 Young Chefs and his restaurant has been named one of the best in the world, thanks to his impeccable take on Mediterranean cuisine, infused with Southern French influences.
Still not tired? Head to Little India and laugh yourself silly at a stand-up comedy night at Blu Jaz Café, or experience the surreal late night shopping experience at the 24-hour Mustafa Centre department store, which sells pretty much everything under the sun. For something more sophisticated, relax over cocktails with a local twist at Hopscotch.