This is my island in the sun. Singapore, island of legends, wealth, and modernism. The island where the jungle rises to meet the sea. Where the hot humid air never cools nor does the food. This small island nation at the tip of Malaysia is more of a financial center then tourist destination, but that may change soon as tourists discover all this playground has to offer.
Foodies will find Singapore a heaven on earth with an incredible mix of Malaysian, Chinese, Indian, and native traditional Peranakan food. Best of all, the food is available at several hawker centers around the city at incredibly affordable prices. These centers are like food courts taken to a phenomenal extreme. While the food is cheap, alcohol isn’t, due to high tariffs and fairly low demand except for expats. Still, several good spots for drinks, with notable atmosphere and views can be found. There are also a ton of touristy things to do in this city that don’t require entering a high rise office building. For the active lifestyle enthusiasts, you’ll be surprised at the bevy of great ways to experience the city while staying fit and possibly finding some thrills.
Touristy things to do in Singapore
- Explore the Gardens by the Bay. These famous gardens not only house the immense steel tree-like structures that look like a real world Avatar, they also contain some beautiful gardens. Inside are also two large bio-domes which contain a several story waterfall, cave, rain forest flora, and an immense greenhouse with trees and flowers from all over the world. The trees are especially grandiose at night when lit up during the short light shows.
- Find more flowers at the Singapore Botanical Gardens. These huge gardens make the Gardens look tiny by comparison. Within the grounds you’ll find tons of trees from around the world, flower gardens, and a large pond with swans. It makes for a wonderful walk to work off some of the food you’re sure to have.
- Fewer trees, more animals at the Singapore Zoo. The Singapore Zoo is famous for pioneering the “cageless” approach to enclosure design. Most of the animals appear to be unenclosed thanks to this design and a lack of cages, glass, and fences. Don’t worry, the lions aren’t likely to get out.
- See a unique “theme park” at Haw Par Villa. There is no admission cost to this oddball display of statues, pavilions, and figures, brightly painted and on display. A quick walk through will allow you to see how the inventor of Tiger Balm decided to celebrate his wealth with quirky and festive decor. It’s guaranteed to be something you won’t see elsewhere.
- Start your religious education at the Buddha Tooth Temple. Singapore is home to a melting pot of religious culture and much of it is on display at the various temples around the city. This one, housing religious relics of antiquity is a beautiful example of Buddhist temples with tons of golden statues on display and a deep red decor everywhere.
- Continue at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple. This temple, a beautiful example of the Hindu style is both a religious site of worship and a community center. No matter what time you visit there is sure to be something going on inside the colorful walls. Don’t forget to take off your shoes.
- Do some hipster shopping at Haji Lane. This small street contains several boutiques, trendy clothing stores, and a few good restaurants. It’s the best place to find some quirky fashion or home items in Singapore. Need a good luck cat iPhone case, you’re in luck.
- Continue your shopping in Tiong Bahru. Singapore’s other hipster area, perhaps the Williamsburg to Haji Lane’s Lower East Side, has a great selection of little shops too. There’s an incredible bookstore, a great artisan coffee place, and a stationary store. It’s exactly like Williamsburg with fewer beards. And maybe one or two fewer cats in strollers.
- See the city on the Singapore Flyer. Yeah it’s a bit cheesy, but the view from the top of the immense ferris wheel by the bay can’t be beat. Hit it up at night for lovely views of the skyline, marina, and even Gardens by the Bay under lights.
- Explore the best airport on the planet. Before you leave the city, you have to take some time to explore the airport. The free wifi on it’s own makes it stand out, but what truly sets this incredible airport that is consistently ranked the top in the world are the other attractions. There is a waterfall, butterfly garden, and even a movie theater. Don’t just head directly to your gate.
Ways to stay active in Singapore
- Take a hike on the Southern Ridges. Start from Vivocity and take the path up Mt. Faber to the peak. Shake your head at the tourists who took the cable car up. Slackers! Continue to the Henderson Waves Bridge, a unique architectural feature that might make you a bit dizzy as you cross. Finish up with a trek down the metal catwalks through the trees where you can lose the city in the jungle.
- Run the MacRitchie Reservoir loop. This loop around the reservoir offers incredible views early in the morning or late at night with the sun low. You’ll want to get there around one of those times to enjoy a run without getting stuck on the narrow paths. Continue up to the tree top for another jaunt through the trees.
- Get your heart pumping with a ride on the Sentosa Island Zipline. Out on the adventure park island Sentosa, you can ride a steerable sled down the mountain like an F1 driver. Or, head up to the peak by the beach and prepare yourself for a nearly half mile long zip line ride that drops out over the jungle treetops and ends on the beach over the water. It’s equal parts exhilarating and scenic, so try to keep your eyes open.
- Run the Marina Bay Walkway. This flat walkway around the entirety of the marina bay isn’t only great for tourists to meander around for nice views of the skyline. A run around the loop will grant you great up close views of the Sands Hotel, the Merlion statue, the Shoppes, the Float, the Helix bridge, and the Promontory. It’ll be hard to keep your pace up while taking in all the sights.
Where to find the best food in Singapore
- Chili Crab at Jumbo Seafood. If you have nothing else in Singapore, make sure you get a chili crab. This culinary masterpiece of spice and flavor is life altering. Time is measured before crab (bc) and after crab (ac). Go ahead and make a mess with it, you deserve it.
- Channel your inner Anthony Bourdain at Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice. Inside the Maxwell Road hawker center, this unimposing stand is easy to miss but the flavor packed meal shouldn’t be. Bourdain named this his favorite food after visiting and is even opening a similar food hall in New York inspired by the city’s hawker centers.
- Stuff yourself with Murtabak at Seah Im Hawker Center. If you enjoy Indian food half as much as me, you’ll love this stuffed pan fried bread which when stuffed with chicken, reminds me of roti stuffed with chicken. You’ll find it at many of the hawker centers, but this one is among the best with a great crispy bread.
- Indulge your sweet tooth at Ri Xing Xiang Ji Fried Sweet Potato Dumpling. At this Maxwell Road hawker center stand, you can find little sweet potato munchkin-like dumplings in a variety of flavors. They make a great after dinner snack.
- You’re going to need a bigger boat with the Shark Nugget Lor Mee. The Tiong Bahru hawker center has an awesome mix of asian and seafood counters including several that have this ridiculously tasty, somewhat sweet seafood soup that features shark nugget.
- The best Indian food at Roti Paratha House. This unassuming restaurant on the outskirts of town is the kind of place populated largely by local regulars and cab drivers, so you know it must be good. When your waiter sports a mullet more majestic than Jaromir Jagr, you know it will be exquisite. The eponymous roti, a flatbread perfect for dipping in sauces does not disappoint. Wait, is that a picture of the waiter with Jagr on the wall?
- Try traditional Peranakan food at Candlenut. For a special treat, head to Candlenut, a restaurant specializing in the traditional food of the island, Peranakan cuisine. This food blends the heat and spice of Malaysian cuisine with the depth of flavor and tender cooking style of Indian. Look for clay pot cooked chicken in an earthy sauce.
The best spots to find a drink in Singapore
- Find some artisanal coffee at 40 Hands. This Tiong Bahru coffee house wouldn’t feel out of place in Brooklyn. Hipsters with wacky hair and high school lab equipment make awesome drinks here. Good coffee can be hard to find in a city known for late mornings and high humidity.
- Face your fear of heights at Altitude Gallery and Bar. Not for the faint of heart, this bar situated outside on the top of the Raffles building offers incredible views of the city. By the end of the night it might be more than the altitude making your head spin with a strong cocktail selection on the menu.
- Taste some craft microbrew at Brewerkz. Singapore isn’t much of a beer town. Finding any beer other than the mass market mass produced brews is a challenge. At this, a microbrewery with multiple locations in town, you can find a half dozen or so styles of pretty good brew. And this beer tastes amazing after a long day of activity in the heat and humidity.
- View the city from the Marina Bay Sands Skybar. Skip the price of admission for the top floor view gallery and instead go down one level to this bar which has the same views. The drinks are pricey, you’re paying for the view after all, but the view is worth it.
Where to stay in Singapore
Stay at the Wangz hotel. This small boutique hotel is a bit outside the city center, but thanks to an excellent subway system, nothing is far away. The rooms are excellent and modern, there is a nice bar on the roof with great views, and breakfast at the restaurant is quite nice.