The City Guide Singapore gives you a comprehensive guide of the fascinating city-state.
Along with Monaco and Vatican City, Singapore is one of three modern day city-states. Located on the tip of the Malay Peninsula and home to 5.5 million citizens, this densely populated country is rich in monetary wealth and diversity. It also boasts a number of accolades like largest infinity pool and tallest manmade waterfall. Singapore, whose original name, Singapura, translates into “The Lion City,” appealed to my inner Leo. But there’s more to this former British trading colony than Michelin-rated hawker stalls and Frankenstein-esque Super Trees that are basically the fanciest solar panels I ever did see. Singapore is a melting pot of cultures—every sign is translated into the four languages that represent the population: Tamil, Bahasa, English, and Mandarin. The food is equally representative of the various cultures that have found common grounds in Singapore. One minute you’re snapping photos of Chinatown’s colorful shutters decorating the timeworn windows of heritage houses, the next minute, Singapore reminds you of its ultra modernity with its glittering skyline.
Talk Like The Locals! Don’t forget to soak in the distinct “Singlish” accent, which is by far my favorite thing in all of Singapore. Singaporean English is a mishmash of Indian, Mandarin, Malay, and British English. You can catch locals ending sentences with words like lah, or paiseh, or boleh!
Much love to my Singaporean spirit guides, Becca and Far, who equipped me local intel and primed me to find a friend in every Singaporean. And shout-out to a very special woman who made this trip happen, my cousin Joni. There’s nothing like Asian hospitality and family and friends to keep us going!
✱ GARDENS BY THE BAY
Step inside a world of tomorrow at Singapore’s top-rated attraction, boasting the world’s largest glass greenhouse, The Flower Dome, and the world’s tallest indoor waterfall in The Cloud Forest. At sundown, the Super Trees come to life, putting on an electrifying light and sound show. The shows start at 7:45pm and 8:45 pm, entrance to the Outdoor Gardens is free.
✱ HAJI LANE
Tucked down a small side street in the Arab Quarter is a hipster passageway to cute cafes, independent boutiques overwhelmed with quirky knickknacks, funky murals, and edgy bars with sweet Happy Hour deals.
✱ SENTOSA ISLAND
Looking for a great escape? Take a ferry or cable car to the manmade island that boasts a Universal Studios theme park, a TrickEye Museum, and a few artificial beaches. Be sure to drop by the original Merlion statue, a proud symbol of the city-state.
✱ LITTLE INDIA
The vibrant neighborhood is a mix of colorful Hindu temples, garland vendors, sari stores, and some of the most talented teh tarik “pullers” cascading hot milk tea from one vessel to the other. Don’t forget to snap a pic at Tan Teng Niah, the most colorful Chinese villa tucked away in Little India.
✱ MARINA BAY SANDS
An architectural behemoth, this striking three-building luxury hotel is crowned by the world’s largest infinity pool on the surfboard-shaped observatory desk.
TIP: Wanting to see the view from the top but not willing to spend $23 SGD to go to the Sky Deck? Take the elevator to the 1-Altitude Bar on the 61st floor and get the same view but spend your money on a drink instead of an elevator ride.
✱ SINGAPORE FLYER
Not enough time to see the whole city? Take a spin on the observation ferris wheel that boasts 28 air-conditioned capsules that can accommodate up to 28 passengers each.
Hawker courts that conceal Michelin-awarded food stalls and ancient medicinal halls vending curious cures are things you’ll find down the raucous streets of one of Singapore’s most beloved neighborhoods.
✱ ORCHARD ROAD
The main shopping drag and home to Singapore’s preferred mall experience, ION Orchard. You don’t have to be a shopping fiend to enjoy Singapore’s malls as they are home to some of the country’s best food courts. Also, during Christmas season, Orchard Road is transformed into a winter wonderland with 9-feet tall animatronics and relentless Christmas music abounds.
- PLATFORM 1094 – A Harry Potter themed-cafe made famous by their signature drink, “Mr Lich’s Brewing Brew” ($15 SGD), a neon blue cocktail, ahem “potion,” that flickers and sparks with a dash of cinnamon. Don’t forget to get into character: the restaurant owners have laid out a number of wands, robes, sorting hats, and even house ties so you can represent your Hogwarts house, while noshing on some Western delights like Drunken Clam Paste Pasta and Truffle Fries. (1094 Serangoon Rd, Singapore 328192)
PRICE: $$ ($7-22 SGD–quite affordable especially for a popular spot!)
IF YOU WANT MICHELIN BUT AREN’T WILLING TO SPEND THE DOUGH
- HONG KONG SOYA SAUCE CHICKEN RICE & NOODLE – Not to be confused by the flagship store on Smith Street, this no-frills food court stall was one of two hawker stalls (handpicked from a batch of over 6,000 candidates) to be honored for the FIRST.TIME.EVER in the history of Michelin with a star rating. Get there right when it opens. We were there at 11:15 am (it opened at 11 am) and still had to wait for an hour to be served our plate of chicken rice and noodle. Honestly, I thought it was a bit overrated and the noodles were better than the chicken, but where are you going to get a cheaper Michelin meal than that? (#02-126, 335 Smith Street Block, Chinatown Food Complex, Singapore 05033)
PRICE: $ ($3.80 SGD per serving)
IF YOU WANT SOME AUTHENTIC PERANAKAN FOOD
- 328 KATONG LAKSA – Arguably the best laksa in Singapore, this spot’s claim to fame was beating celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey in a laksa showdown back in 2013. Laksa is a Peranakan delicacy, made with noodles slathered in a creamy coconut-milk broth. 328 Katong’s reputation lies in a well balanced broth, where the coconut milk adds just the right amount of texture and fragrance and doesn’t overpower the umami of chili and dried shrimps. Order the lime juice to cut the effects of a highly savory aftertaste. (51 East Coast Road, Singapore 428770)
PRICE: $ ($5 SGD for a small, $7 SGD for a large)
IF YOU’RE NOT A FAN OF DISPOSABLE PLATES
- THE BANANA LEAF APOLO– Banana Leaf Apolo is considered the pinnacle of Little India’s food experience. Not only do you get to eat on banana leaf fronds instead of ceramic plates per Indian tradition, but their expansive menu caters to both Northern and Southern Indian palettes. Unanimously, the star of the show is the semi spicy, tomato-based fish head curry. If you’re not into stuffing your face with a whole fish head, the South Indian Vegetarian Thali set is complete with 4 types of vegetable curries, curd (yogurt), karai gravy, pickles, and sweet, milky pudding, and some slices of chapati and free-flow white rice. (54 Race Course Rd, Singapore 218564)
PRICE: $$$ (prices are inflated due to tourist status)
- SINGAPORE ZAM ZAM – It’s an easy marketing tactic to claim “Best ______ in Town” but when an establishment actually delivers on the promise, you know you’ve hit the jackpot. Zam Zam is a famous spot for Arab delicacies like murtabak, a thin-skinned turnover stuffed with eggs, minced meats, like chicken, mutton, and even deer, and deep fried to perfection, and biryani dam, a spiced rice dish. Don’t forget to order teh tarik, frothy milk tea, to wash down all the commotion of flavors. (697-699 N Bridge Rd, Singapore 198675)
PRICE: $ ($8 SGD for a medium-sized murtabak)
IF YOU’RE INTO FIGURING OUT THE SNACK SCENE
- YA KUN KAYA TOAST – With locations all around the city, this fast food chain excels in the art of kaya toast: toasted slices of white bread smeared with kaya spread (aka coconut jam) and then paired with either butter, cheese, and even peanut butter. From my Singaporean friend Becca, she advised me to order the Cheese Toast set, which comes with a soft boiled egg. You sprinkle pepper and soy sauce into the eggs and the proceed to dip the kaya toast in the mix. Sounds offbeat but when in Singapore, do as the Singaporeans do.
IF YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL WITH CHILI CRAB
- DRAGON PHOENIX RESTAURANT – When it comes to true blue Singaporean Chili Crab, Dragon Phoenix Restaurant takes home the prize. The original Chili Crab recipe is attributed to a pushcart madam, but what Singaporeans know of the recipe today can be credited to the owner of the Dragon Phoenix, who added sambal (chili paste), eggs, and tomato paste to the dish, creating that rich and robust flavor. Service is sub par, but remember what you came for. (177A River Valley Rd, #06-00 Novotel Clarke Quay, Singapore 179031)
PRICE: $$ ($80 SGD for Chili Crab, one side dish, drinks, and service)
IF YOU HAVE A HARD TIME DECIDING ONE PLACE
- POTATO HEAD FOLK – A favorite of my Singaporean friend Far, Potato Head Folk is an Indonesian lifestyle brand that has broken into the social fabric of Singapore to become one of the top hangouts on a Saturday night. Maybe its because the four-story spot is housed in a photogenic heritage building, or maybe its because you can get good drinks, good food, good music, and good people all under one roof. It’s a space that exudes cool at every turn. Make sure you visit all four floors. (36 Keong Saik Road, Singapore 089143)
✱ KEONG SAIK ROAD – The stylish stomping grounds of Singapore’s nouveau riche. Bear in mind, the pitfalls to all the flash is you won’t find a cocktail for less than $25 SGD (~$18 USD) and so many businesses turnover due to the high competition. Try Neon Pigeon, The Guild, Old Man, and a long-time resident, Potato Head Singapore for some food and fun in the city.
✱ TIONG BAHRU – The oldest housing project in all of Singapore, it’s known as “coolest tourist neighborhood tourists forgot.” You can check out Art Deco flats from the 1930s, a lineup of the best indie bookstores in town, and a food market that’s so cool, it warranted its own 8-bit interactive map complete with food stalls that you can filter by category.
✱ NAIISE – A curator of homegrown brands like Souvenirs from Singapore, which sells Singapore inspired designware. Buy online or go to their brick and mortar stop at 277 Orchard Road.
✱ THE BUDDHA TOOTH RELIC TEMPLE AND MUSEUM – A reliquary for all things Buddhist, owing its name to the sacred object it protects—what is believed to be the left canine of Buddha recovered from his funeral pyre, but there is also a teahouse and theater on the premise. (288 South Bridge Road)
✱ SULTAN MOSQUE – Considered the heart of historic Kampong Glam. The mosque is the capped with two golden onion domes but that’s not the most impressive feature: take a closer look at the base of each dome and you’ll see glass bottles decorating the support, donated by poorer members of the Muslim community during the construction so that every citizen, no matter their socio-economic background could contribute. (3 Muscat Street)
✱ BEE CHENG HIANG – The most famous of all Asian barbecue purveyors, selling bags of the sickly-sweet strips of sliced pork and beef barbecu. Iit’s the gift that keeps on giving and you can get it all around the island.
✱ SUPERHERO CAFE – Comic book devotees can geek out at this restaurant/bakery paying homage to all things DC Comics, complete with diner booths overlaid in comic strip wallpaper and a wide assortment of superhero-themed treats. (2 Bayfront Avenue, Bay Level, 01-03, The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands)
BY MRT The Singapore Tourist Pass is the ULTIMATE investment in Singapore. Depending on how many days you purchase for, you can take unlimited rides on the MRT, LRT, and local buses. The MRT begins running at 5:30 am with the last departure at 12.00 AM. When you visit Changi Airport, follow the signs to the MRT and at the bottom of the escalator, the Tourist Pass stand is to your left.
PRO-TIP: Before you depart the country, don’t forget to drop off the pass at the kiosk, where you’ll be given your refundable deposit back of $10 SGD that’s inclusive of the initial fee.
BY FOOT As my friend Becca says, “Don’t walk in the sun. What are you, a tourist?” Also her words verbatim: “Kind of like Hong Kong, you can kind of get from A to B to D by walking through malls, buildings and underground. No one actually walks in the sun. Two of the largest is through a huge tourist area. Here’s a map.
WANT TO BUY A SIMCARD?
The price of a Tourist Simcard at the airport has gone from $15 for 5 days to $45 for 3 days.
PRO-TIP: Head to Chinatown where a number of telecommunication shops still carry the Singtel hi! Tourist 3-in-1 simcard where you pay $15 for 5 days. The simcard includes 500 minutes local call, 100 locals SMS, and 30 minutes international.
Interested in learning more about Singapore? Check out the resources below:
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