After living in Singapore for three and a half years, I think it’s time to reveal my favorite parts of the Garden City. These are the things I love, the places I explore over and over, the elements I never tire of. In no particular order, here’s The Best of Singapore from this local’s perspective.
Singapore’s growing skyline includes the designs of world renown architects like Moshie Safdie, Zaha Hadid and Daniel Libeskind. Marina Bay Sands is probably the most recognizable structure defining the Garden City with its curved top spanning three columns. Creativity and good feng shui have shaped the city into an architectural gem, yet heritage shophouses remain as equally important elements of Singapore’s character. Don’t miss the City Gallery for a fantastic look at Singapore’s city planning — past and future — along with three scale models (on the first and second floors) showing the development of the city center and entire island of Singapore.
Thaipusam and Fire Walking
Not for the faint of heart, these two major events of the Hindu calendar are enthusiastically celebrated in Singapore. Don’t be afraid. If you come to watch and learn you’ll be welcomed by the local Indian community who invite your respectful curiosity and take a lot of pride in sharing their faith.
Lau Pa Sat
The doyenne of hawker centers, Lau Pa Sat is both historic and charming. Existing in some form or fashion since the early 1820s, this place has more kinds of food than you could ever try in one sitting. More than 100 stalls serve up Singaporean, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Turkish and even Costa Rican specialties. If these don’t fill your belly, head outside to the barbecue satay stalls where you can dine on grilled shrimp, pork, chicken and mutton with a side of roti pratha. Yes please!
Arab Street/Kampong Glam
Sparkling textiles and beautiful rugs may attract you, but the shawarma at the corner will keep you coming back. From smoking the hookah to dining outside Masjid Sultan on a Friday night, Arab Street is a melting pot of Middle Eastern culture with a little dose of Blu Jazz and Zam Zam thrown in for fun. Don’t miss the hip shops of Haji Lane.
Sure, you might need to go to Fairprice for a few bits and bobs, but plan to do most of your shopping at Singapore’s daily markets in every neighborhood of the city. Fresh fruits and vegetables abound, along with meats and seafood from the daily catch. For the widest variety, try Tekka market in Little India where you’ll find just about every spice and slice of meat you need for that steaming bowl of curry.
Here lies the quintessential Singapore neighborhood. Explore on a Saturday morning to experience the old and the new, the hip and the classic – the full spectrum of Singapore within just a few blocks. Get a flat white at Forty Hands, linger over words on paper at Books Actually, don’t miss the kouign amman at Tiong Bahru Bakery, dip into the daily market to stock up on rambutans, head upstairs for some Chicken Rice, try the pork buns at the corner store next to Wangz Hotel, have a rooftop cocktail at Wangz, and end the day with spare ribs and chili crab at Por Kee Eating House. This is just the beginning.
Gardens by the Bay
Baobab trees, infinite flowers, a mountain waterfall, a Supertree grove and some really cool architecture make this a marvelous outing. If all that doesn’t wow you, the cool air of the domes will at least provide a welcome respite from the heat and humidity of Singapore. Don’t miss the Supertree Skyway – one of the best photo opps in all of Singapore.
No city does brunch like Singapore. Nearly every hotel and upscale restaurant has something good to offer on Sundays. It’s practically a sport, with free-flow Champagne, cocktail carts, specialty grill stations, piles of fresh seafood and desserts to find the sweet tooth in everyone. But it’s not cheap, so save up for this Sunday treat. Favorites? Edge at the Pan Pacific Hotel for the variety of cuisine or the Fullerton Hotel for its seafood and setting. For something completely different try Catalunya where wallets, plates and eardrums are all broken at some point along the way.
Chinatown and the Buddha Tooth Temple
Give yourself a whole afternoon to properly explore this treasure trove of culture, food and heritage architecture. Shop for souvenirs, walk through the wet market, or just have a beer and watch the world go by. Retreat to the rooftop of the temple for a tranquil surprise, or head to Club Street where the road transforms into an al fresco party on Friday and Saturday nights.
The Esplanade and Marina Barrage
Pick any weekend afternoon to meander the esplanade and view the Singapore skyline from stunning vantage points. Rent some roller blades at Clark Quay for a fun spin down the river, or take a kite to the grassy rooftop of Marina Barrage for a breezy escape. Singapore’s waterfront is packed with local color, including the Merlion.
All photos included are from my Instagram feed. Follow me on Instagram at compassandcamera.