Where to stay in Singapore

The lowdown on Singapore's best neighbourhoods packed with hotels, restaurants, bars and sights for an awesome holiday. By Mia Chenyze
Marina Bay
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Shop, sightsee, dine out in style or bar-hop till the wee hours – there plenty of ways to live it up in Singapore. Here, we pick out the best of the best experiences to make time for, from Vespa tours of Peranakan estates to the most impressive bars that make Singapore the cocktail capital of Asia – we're even clueing you in on the most hole-in-the-wall seafood joint where you can dine just like the locals. For your home away from home, we've sussed out the best neighbourhoods that are rich with sights and sounds for serendipitous exploring and the coolest digs that won't burn a hole in your wallet.

Where to stay in Singapore

Katong

Katong

Katong has charm in spades. After all, it is the spiritual home for both Eurasian and Peranakan cultures (cemented from inter-marriages between early immigrants and the local population). Take in its unique architecture – which blends Chinese, Peranakan and English colonial elements – that's remarkably well-preserved thanks to its heritage conservation site designation. Katong's wealthy visage dates to the 20th century when its seaside locale made it a popular suburb for European settlers and the English-educated middle class. Much of traditional Peranakan and Eurasian eateries have remained in Katong, but the district is also littered with quaint little cafés and bakeries that play to the neighbourhood's heritage.

Eat

Eng Seng Restaurant

Chilli crab may be top-of-mind for visitors, but for Singaporeans, black pepper crab is held just as dear. For black pepper crab aficionados, Eng Seng is the holy grail – never mind that the service is notoriously brusque, that it's best to call ahead to reserve your crabs, or that it's near impossible to snag a table after 6pm. The reward for all that hardship and indignity: supremely succulent and meaty crabs. Whereas most restaurants lean towards fiery hot styles, Eng Seng's signature sauce has a palpable sweetness that balances the peppery notes. You'll also likely see every table ordering mee goreng (spicy, stir-fried egg noodles) and cuttlefish paste-stuffed youtiao – we advise you follow suit.

Drink

The Trenchard Arms

A gastropub with an English soul, the Trenchard Arms serves up classics such fish and chips, scotched eggs and sticky toffee pudding. Chase it down with craft suds from the likes of Old Speckled Hen, Speights, and Spitfire.

Do

Sideways.sg's Vintage Vespa Sidecar tour

Go full-on with the vintage experience and scoot around the Katong 'hood in style – in the sidecar of a vintage Vespa, no less! The three-wheeled tour (from $30 for 30min) has you parading past picture-perfect, colourful Peranakan terrace houses and you'll also be introduced to storied landmarks such as the Ceylonese Sri Senpaga Vinayagar temple and Chiang Pow Joss Paper Trading company which builds elaborate paper offerings for the afterlife.

Sleep

Hotel Indigo Singapore Katong

Hotel Indigo Singapore Katong beats a Peranakan heart. This boutique-style property is splashed out in vivid colours and Peranakan touches abound: from floor tiles that mimic the mosaic pattern found in Peranakan homes, to Singer sewing machine legs that form the base of in-room vanity counters and ornate display cases that double up as the mini bar. There's no lack of modern comforts either, with a 24-hour gym, a rooftop lap pool that proffers a view of residential Singapore and a lobby lounge stocked with local literature.

If you do just one thing...

Check out Birds of Paradise, a gelato house with botanical-inspired flavours. The white chrysanthemum is our favourite – almost like a floral version of chocolate chip ice cream, but studded with crushed cacao nibs.

Orchard Road

Orchard

Orchard Road has come a long way since its humble beginnings as a site for fruit orchards and nutmeg plantations back in the early 1830s. It is now the cradle of money, affluence and extravagance. It's Singapore's shopping artery, winding from the intersection at Tanglin Road right up to the doorsteps of School of The Arts. It's not all designer threads and upscale restaurants for the ladies-who-lunch sort either. Malls such as Far East Plaza, Cineleisure and 313@Somerset are the preferred hangouts of teens, whereas Lucky Plaza, Midpoint Orchard and Cuppage Plaza are revered by the foodie crowd for hole-in-the-wall joints that dish up authentic Indonesian and Japanese morsels.

Eat

Les Amis

Fine-dining may be becoming a little out of mode these days but Les Amis is proof (to the jaded) that a star-studded restaurant can be convincingly understated. A good 90 percent of ingredients are sourced directly from France and chef Sebastien Lepinoy's cuisine is impeccably refined and delicate. The best way to appreciate his produce-driven vision is through his seasonal tasting menu – a languorous and substantial five-course affair ($215, additional $120 for wine pairing). Then there's the legendary Les Amis hospitality – ever attentive, but always jovial and down-to-earth.

Drink

Manhattan Bar

The best bar in Asia – according to the 2017 Asia's 50 Best Bars list – resides right in Singapore and its Art Deco-leaning furnishings would have you imagining you've walked onto the set of The Great Gatsby. Here, the menu is inspired by the different eras of Manhattan, from the colonial period of the 1520s right up to the disco exuberance of the 70s. Case in point: Bonfire ($26), a smoky mezcal number that calls to mind the caravan days of the early settlers. Manhattan is also home to Singapore's largest trove of North American whiskies – 160 expressions and counting – which are available by the dram and by themed whiskey flights (from $45 for four 20ml pours). 

Do

Shopping

Because Orchard Road is just about synonymous with shopping, d'uh. Head over to Tangs at Tang Plaza to get acquainted with homegrown labels such as In Good Company (think clean lines and timeless silhouettes), Aijek (sophisticated lace dresses are their signature looks) and Anothersole (hailed as the Toms of Singapore for their soft leather lace-ups). And if you're chasing goods from luxury houses, Ion Orchard and Paragon are your best bets. They're just about bursting at the seams with big shots like Hermes, Burberry, Salvatore Ferragamo and more.

Stay

Regent Singapore

The plush interiors and stately charm of the Regent Singapore marks a welcome change from the frenetic pace of Orchard Road and the thronging crowds. The property is also unusual for being among the few hotels in Singapore with pet-friendly policies. The long-running Pet Staycation package comes with a personalised PuppyPack (chew toys and treats, and even a map of dog-walking routes), a cosy pet bed, and a separate (and fancy! Think sirloin burgers and baked salmon) in-room dining menu for your best pal. Heck, there's even a minibar menu of grooming accessories if you're feeling particularly extravagant.

If you do just one thing...

Nip into the supermarket at Isetan Scotts. It's almost always running food fairs, packed with promoters luring touting samples and you can also nibble on your purchases with a sake in hand at the in-house sake bar.

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Chinatown Singapore

Chinatown

Chinatown has an unenviable reputation as a tourist trap with kitschy souvenir shops and overpriced seafood restaurants. But it's really a matter of knowing where to look. Contrary to its name, the historic precinct of Chinatown was home not just to Chinese immigrants but also Indians and Arabs and Jews. This cultural legacy is evident in Chinatown's unique concentration of religious architecture, with mosques and Hindu temples and Buddhists temples all clustered near one another. Food-wise, Chinatown is unparelled. The Chinatown Complex Food Centre is concentrated with hawkers proudly carrying on the food traditions of yesteryear, while the streets of Amoy, Telok Ayer, Keong Saik and Bukit Pasoh are teeming with some of Singapore's trendiest dining and drinking addresses.

Eat

The Coconut Club

The humble nasi lemak is the calling card of The Coconut Club. The nasi lemak here is no less authentic than the grub at hawker stalls and you'll find the price premium ($12.80 for the signature set) more than justified by the amount of care that goes into perfecting each and every element. The rice is perfumed with coconut aroma, the fried chicken is incredibly crisp and suffused with spices, the fried egg is singed at the edges and runny in the centre and the addictive sambal chilli is every bit as punchy as it should be. To quell the heat, make the house-made Cendol ($3.80) your sweet antidote.

Drink

Operation Dagger

Operation Dagger may be better known as a speakeasy-style watering hole but there's more up head barmen Luke Whearty's sleeves than the average cloak-and-dagger secrecy. It's arguably at the forefront of cocktail magicking, borrowing modernist techniques and drawing inspiration from all over the world to build a progressive menu. Much of the intermediate ingredients are made in-house – often relying on infusion, distillation and fermentation methods to coax flavours from fruits and vegetables and all the unloved parts between. Theatrics occasionally show up (picture an ethereal raft of bubbles that taste uncannily of coconut mead) but for Luke and his team, it's ultimately about challenging flavour and texture perceptions. Sit down for the omakase (from $95 for a 3-course drink and snack pairing) to really dive headlong into the madcap journey.

Do

Chinatown Heritage Centre

The kitschy souvenir shops and overpriced seafood restaurants that line the street might not inspire much confidence, but the Chinatown Heritage Centre is worth the hunt. Located within a restored shophouse, the museum has faithfully recreated the original interiors to make it just like how a real shophouse used to be in post-war Singapore, down to the cramped quarters and old-fashioned cooking implements. Placards are informative but the multimedia guide is worth the extra $3 for the gritty intimacy you get into the lives of the shophouse tenants: the coolies, hawkers and seamstresses who crossed the seas to build a new life in Singapore.

Stay

Sofitel Singapore City Centre

A fitting tribute to Singapore's garden city moniker, Sofitel Singapore City Centre is a garden oasis in the heart of the Central Business District. Sofitel's facilities and services are as attentive as its luxury hotel positioning promises. For the road-weary traveller, soothing respite takes the form of a large soaking tub in every room and an outdoor lap pool that's framed by lush foliage. For kid-toting families, there are colouring books to keep the little ones occupied. For the fitness junkie, exercise mats and foam rollers are stashed in the wardrobe, plus Club Floor guests can venture beyond the 24-hour hotel gym to access the full facilities (and fitness classes) at the adjacent Virgin Active gym.

If you do just one thing...

Head into the bowels of the Chinatown Complex Food Centre to get a proper taste of local eats. Not sure what to order? Just make like the locals and follow the snaking queues. The longest one happens to be for the cheapest Michelin-starred meal money can buy at Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle.

Bugis Haji Lane Kampong Glam

City Hall and Bugis

It's not dubbed the arts and heritage district for naught. The City Hall precinct has perhaps the highest concentration of museums and monuments – including heavyweights such as the National Museum, the Armenian Church, and the Peranakan Museum – and encompasses three arts institutes. The wealth of beautifully preserved architecture also explains why you might keep running into couples out and about for their wedding photoshoots.

Eat

Folklore

At the fringe of the Arts & Heritage District is Folklore, where chef Damian D'Silva tirelessly devotes himself to preserving Singapore's heritage foods. The menu is a confluence of Chinese, Malay, Peranakan, Eurasian, and Indian cuisines – food that he grew up with – and everything is made from scratch to the same exacting standards his grandparents held. You'll find timeless classics such as Peranakan chap chye (a medley of vegetables braised in a pork-and-prawn stock) and beef cheek rendang (fork-tender and suffused with heady depth), as well as lesser-known oldies like singgang (a Eurasian dish of deboned wolf herring cooked in a mildly spicy paste). Whatever it is, don't leave Folklore without relishing D'Silva's signature sambal buah keluak fried rice. Portions run hefty, so come in a big group and order up a storm to share.

Drink

Atlas

This grand lobby bar single-handedly planted the Singapore flag on the global bar map when it opened in 2017 with its collection of more than 1,000 gin expressions – the largest in the world. Artesian alumnus Roman Foltan leads the cocktail front, shaking and stirring classics from the Jazz Age. Its Champagne collection is nothing to snub your nose at either: Atlas houses one of the most comprehensive portfolios, within Southeast Asia, of bubblies and other fine vinos from the Champagne region.

Do

National Design Centre

A creative hub for Singapore's burgeoning design scene, the National Design Centre frequently plays host to all manners of design-centric events, from exhibitions and symposiums to workshops and pop-up markets. The bulk of its activities are open to members of the public. The centre also runs guided tours to introduce the history of the building and the programmes that are on-going. Keepers, a multi-concept store that champions local designers and artisans, has its flagship store on the ground floor – perfect for a bit of souvenir shopping.

Sleep

JW Marriot Singapore South Beach

The sprawling compound of the JW Marriott is an amalgamation of heritage and eco-conscious modernity, and the best way to appreciate the historical significance of the architecture – and the artworks that enliven the hotel – is to request for a complimentary tour of the grounds. Guest rooms are generously sized (all with a luxuriously large bathtub) and quirkily decorated. There are not one, but two roof-top pools where you can really soak up a 360 view of city. If you're holidaying with girlfriends, opt for the women-only floor which nets you extra amenities such as hair straighteners, facial steamer, and pedicure sets.

If you do just one thing...

Wander around Kampong Glam (bound by Ophir Road and Jalan Sultan Road). Once home to Singapore's Muslim immigrants, the precinct is now achingly trendy with vintage-inspired boutiques, cafes and dessert parlours. Watch where you walk though – there's always a hipster posing for an #ootd at every turn.

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Marina Bay

Marina Bay

The Marina Bay as we know it is an engineering feat. Much of the waterfront's landmarks – the Singapore Flyer, the Esplanade, and even the gargantuan Gardens by the Bay – all sit on reclaimed land. In its earlier incarnation, Marina Bay was littered with bumboats plying goods and passengers up and down between the Clifford Pier and the ships waiting at the mouth of the Singapore River. The Marina Bay now juggles dual roles as the financial heart of Singapore and as the island's main tourism hub.

Eat

Labyrinth

At Labyrinth, local flavours are approached through the lens of molecular gastronomy. What would ordinarily sound like a gimmicky abomination is in fact artfully wrought by chef-owner Han Liguang. For all the fancy aesthetics of foams and crumbs, Han's food is incredibly comforting and rib-sticking. Among his most famous creations: chilli crab, where the iconic dish has been deconstructed to resemble a seaside tableau, painstakingly plated with mantou 'sand', tempura soft-shell crab, a 'seashell' of chilli crab ice cream, and 'sea foam' of aerated crab bisque.

Drink                                        

Tap Craft Beer Bar

Get ready to drink your heart out. There are 20 craft beers (mostly American) on tap and another 80-item list of bottled beers, ciders, wines and spirits. Even though Tap is smack within the air-conditioned mall that is the Capitol Piazza, chugging pints here feels more like you're perched in a breezy beer garden, thanks to the high-ceilinged glass roof above. Them beer floats are pretty dope too if you have a sweet tooth.

Do

Gardens by the Bay

Carve out a few hours to stroll around the Gardens by the Bay. Entry to the grounds is free and there's plenty of magnificence to gaze upon within the sprawling grounds even if you're not keen on shelling out for the ticketed Cloud Forest and Flower Dome conservatories. You'd best aim to be around the Supertree Grove at either 7.45pm or 8.45pm, as that's when the Garden Rhapsody display runs. The music-and-light show is both mesmerising and trippy, reminiscent of that epic Avatar scene where the alien forests of Pandora come alive.

Stay

The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore

There are no boring rooms at the Ritz-Carlton. Whatever your room category, you're always promised a view, either of the glittery Marina Bay or the Kallang River. In fact, the spacious marble-tiled bathrooms all come with a view and a deep-soak tub for your humble-bragging pleasure and the theme of luxury continues with walk-in wardrobes and feather beds. Art is the cornerstone of the experience at the Ritz-Carlton: guests can grab a brochure to go on a self-guided tour of the hotel's sizeable collection of artworks and the Club Lounge also boasts a drawing nook – complete with easels and pencils – to encourage guests to sketch a memento of the skyline.

If you do just one thing...

Walk, jog or cycle (Singapore is flush with bicycle-sharing services now, and there's a two-wheel ride just about every 10 metres) around Marina Bay to get a proper perspective of its splendour. Better yet, allow yourself time to shoot the breeze and nurse a drink at one of the many waterfront bars.

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