From elegant temples and tropical parks to shiny skyscrapers and fragrant medicinal shops, Singapore has an enticing blend of traditional cultures and Western influences.
It might not have the classic atmosphere of a Southeast Asian city, but it surely has its own personality, with charismatic neighborhoods and multicultural population including Chinese, Malay, Indians, and expats.
I will take you on a virtual tour, based on my experience, of how things work on the land of Singapore, and how to get the most from your traveling experience. Heads up, in this dynamic metropolis new thing happen every day, at the same time encountering a flow between natural beauty and an array of futuristic, high-quality places. A place to broaden your horizons.
Singapore is famous for its food, a unique mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and Western elements. With such a high contribution to the local cuisine, there’s no wonder food is taken very seriously in Singapore, having some of the most diverse kitchens in the world.
One of the best ways to explore the Singaporean cuisine is to go at a hawker food. This is a cooked food center, like an open-air complex, housing many stalls that sell a variety of inexpensive food. They are simply delicious, value for money and a melting pot of culture. The intense flavor of the hawker food has influenced even the Singaporean restaurant scene to profile the flavors in their menus.
If you prefer indoor spaces, there are multiple food courts in all the shopping malls around Singapore. When the sweltering outdoor heat is high, just go for a shopping therapy and a good dose of air-conditioning. Try Orchard Rd, this is the queen of shopping malls.
Now, talking about Singaporean dishes, I personally found many similarities with Malaysian dishes (characterized by the heavy use of spices), even though the Singaporean laksa, the best-known local dish, is different from Penang laksa, which is more spicy, sourish, and with more use of tamarind.
Chinese food as eaten in Singapore commonly originates from southern China. Noodles can also be served not just in soup, but also dry, like tossed with chili and spices in one bowl, and the soup in a separate bowl. Chor mee, Hokkien mee, and Chicken rice are some of the local most famous Chinese dishes that you should also try.
The Indians managed to put their impact on the local culinary scene, and the Indian dishes, after being “Singaporeanised”, were adopted by the entire population. In Little India neighborhood you can have various curries, naan bread, tandoori chicken, as well some thosai crepes, or idli lentil-rice cakes.
There is also ‘Rojak”, a dish very close to the heart of many Singaporeans. There are various versions as the Chinese, Malay and Indian styles. Fundamentally they are “salad” mixture either with vegetables, fruits, tofu, flour topped with peanut sauce. Is a very representative dish for locals that represents the mixture of different taste and cultures in harmony.
But there are infinite options in terms of food in Singapore. Nowadays, with a growing cosmopolitan influence through tourists and expats who moved here from all over the world, the range has expanded and includes cuisines like Italian, Spanish, Vietnamese, Thai, Nepalese, Lebanese and more.
For more update information about where to go to eat and drink in Singapore, I’ve talk to H, my old Singaporean friend who used to live in my hometown in Romania. I asked her what she would recommend to a visitor who wants to experience the local cuisine. Here is what she said:
“Personally I like it traditional when it comes to food, so places like Samy’s Curry at Dempsey Road where food is served on banana leaves and Hua Yu Wee, a seafood restaurant in an authentic, humble setting along Upper East Coast Road serving one of the best crabs in the city are a few that appeal to me.
For leisure, I enjoy going to Timbre for a good pizza accompanied with great music, and Prive or Fika for a quiet evening with friends. I love the ambiance and desserts at PS Cafe and the flavourful ice-cream at Ben & Jerry’s (Dempsey).
Occasionally, I’d reserve the special nights for a full course meal at Lawry’s The Prime Rib or Otto for a fancy Italian. Carousel, Basilico Restaurant, and StraitsKitchen are my top-picks when it comes to buffet.
For bar and bistro, there are Brewerks, KPO, Wala Wala, Tango’s, Harry’s or the recently renovated Chijmes. But my usual days are mostly hawker-style foodcourts at Raffles Place, Newton Food Centre, or some hipster cafes I could find along Sultan Road or Haji Lane.
Singapore’s nightlife scene can be quite vibrant, with live music concerts, but it also can be very calm and relaxing. You can go to Marina Bay at one of its casinos and enjoy a rooftop view while drinking a Singaporean Sling cocktail, or you can go for a walk on the Riverside and enjoy a river cruise. You can check the super club Zouk, considered one of the world’s best nightclub, you can try other clubs of Sentosa and nearby St James Power Station, or, if you’re in a group, you can gather with friends at a karaoke box.
Things to do in Singapore
There are some iconic sights that a Singapore first-timer shouldn’t miss, with a mix of high attractions, some charming local neighborhoods and lesser-known sights.
Marina Bay encompasses a collection of sights, museums, and architecture. The largest attraction is the iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel and the shopping complex with its three towers and infinity pool on top.
The nearby Garden By The Bay is a must for nature enthusiasts and it’s worth visiting also for the ingenuity and uniqueness of its design. The Cloud Forest features the tallest indoor waterfall in the world and it’s surrounded by a misty display of tropical plants, while The Flower Dome displays flowers from all over the world in a brilliant kaleidoscope of colors.
Raffles Hotel is a beautiful hotel, opened in 1887, and since then has accommodated great names, as Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maugham, and Herman Hesse. The hotel is named after Singapore’s founder, Sir Stamford Raffles, and is an enduring icon of the city’s rich colonial history. The famous Long Bar is a good place to enjoy the famous Singapore Sling, but personally, I think it’s overrated. Instead of having an over pricy cocktail up there, better just go and wander through the hotel, while you soak up the classic Raffles atmosphere.
The Botanic Gardens are a good option if you need a break from the big tourist spots. It lies close to the city and is home to over 1,000 species of orchids. There is also a ginger garden, a rainforest, and various streams and waterfalls to explore.
Orchard Roads is a must visit, even if you are not a shopping lover. It stretches on 2.2 kilometers of road, boasting 22 malls, 6 department stores, and hotel complexes which are connected through underground walkways.
Ah, and don’t forget to visit one of the city’s beautiful temples!
Kampong Glam is the traditional Malay-Muslim quarter of Singapore, an interesting mix of old Malay culture and young modern local culture. It’s good for a quiet stroll and browsing small shops and cafes. There is also the Sultan Mosque to visit, which I personally like very much.
The Singapore Zoo is probably one of the best well-kept zoos in the world. The open concept allows animals to be seen in their natural habitat. A ride on the tram allows visitors to sight giraffe, lion, rhino, elephant, and more. It also takes you to different venues where you can catch the many shows they offer. One could easily spend an entire day here, or an afternoon, to catch the night safari. I would have love to do it, but I didn’t.
Sentosa Island is where to go if you feel like having a beach break. It’s certainly not that amazing when compared to those from Malaysia, Thailand or Philippines, but it’s still a welcome place to relax in the sun. There is also the Universal Studios, interesting to check if you’re a film lover, as well as SEA Aquarium if you’re an underwater enthusiast.
Singapore is one of the Asia’s most important hubs, as the gateway to Southeast Asia. Therefore, mostly all major international airlines fly there from all over the world. Nowadays, the high competition of the airline companies managed to transform Singapore into an affordable destination; with 500-550 Euros you can find round trip deals from Budapest, Vienna, or Bucharest.
If you find yourself already in Southeast Asia and you’re coming from Malaysia, driving into Singapore is a relaxing and scenic way of getting there. A bus or mini-van ticket from Kuala Lumpur will cost you only 10-20 Euros. Ah, and there’s also a train to take, as well, more slow, but comfortable. Then, if you’re coming from Indonesia, besides flying you can consider taking a boat cruise. There are regular ferry services to Tanjung Belungkor in Malaysia and Riau Islands in Indonesia that can offer a pleasant experience.
As for getting around the city-state, there are plenty of buses and taxis, as well the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), all offering a very comfortable way to get anywhere around in Singapore.
Where to stay in Singapore
You might get in there cheap, but accommodation in Singapore is quite expensive. A bed in a dorm room at a hostel cost between 11-18 Euros a night, more expensive than almost everywhere in Europe. At least you can get free WiFi and free breakfast (a poor one, don’t expect much). Airbnb is an option if you’re okay with the idea of sharing the room with other travelers.
If you organize your trip with at least a few weeks ahead, a 2 star-hotel room will cost you only 40 Euros per night, otherwise, expect to pay more.
Many thanks goes to Ng Siew Cheng and Gigi Chan who help me with some of the article’s photos, as well to H, my old friend, for the latest tips she shared with us about going out in Singapore and who prefers to remain under cover 🙂