Interest in Singapore has soared with the popularity of the best-selling novel and subsequent comedy film, Crazy Rich Asians. In the blockbuster movie, fans were mesmerized by the elaborate bachelor's party on Sentosa Island and the jaw-dropping destination wedding scene at the Chijmes. Singapore is a fascinating hybrid of colonial heritage and forward-thinking culture, the small island nation has potent appeal on many fronts. Its famously multicultural population of more than 5 million residents create a melting pot of charms and experiences that can be tackled in few days, if you’re ambitious. But before you go, here are a few places to go and things to do if you’re considering a trip to the island city-state located off southern Malaysia.
The Lion City seems to house countless mini-cities within its borders. And most famous among its districts are a constellation of vibrant ethnic enclaves that reveal the cultures that contributed to building the country.
Tourists can take a step back in history to explore the Colonial District, surrounded by the glittering towers of the Singapore’s financial center. A window into the days of British rule, this historic district’s neoclassical buildings create a contrast with the bracing modernity. Some of the grand old structures have been adapted to contemporary uses, like the Museum of Contemporary Art and the National Museum, where lively multimedia galleries bring the city’s rich history to life.
Other landmarks to see in the Colonial District include the Esplanade (Theaters on the Bay), Peranakan Museum, Battlebox and the Asian Civilizations Museum, which houses the region’s most comprehensive collection of pan-Asian treasures. The galleries allow visitors to explore the history, cultures and religions of Southeast Asia, China, the Asian subcontinent and Islamic west Asia. Don’t leave without checking out The Tang Shipwreck exhibition that showcases over 500 pieces of recovered booty, including Chinese bronze mirrors -- one is more than 2,000 years old!
For travelers looking for green space in this modern metropolis, they can take a stroll around the 182-acre Singapore Botanic Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that features a Ginger Garden, Learning Forest, Swan Lake and Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden. Don’t miss out on visiting the National Orchid Garden to see more than 60,000 plants, including the Vanda Miss Joaquim, Singapore’s national flower.
For an unforgettable experience, tourists should visit the Gardens by the Bay. This $1 billion, 21st-century botanic garden is known for its high-tech Supertrees and whimsical sculptures, space-age bio-domes and Heritage Garden – four themed spaces inspired by Singapore’s three main ethnic groups (Chinese, Malay and Indian) as well as its former colonial ruler.
Singapore’s Chinatown is worth a visit for its restaurants and beautifully restored shophouses. Don’t miss visiting the colorful Sri Mariammam Temple, the city’s oldest Hindu temple. Also consider a trip to the 5-story Tooth Relic Temple, said to have a tooth of the Buddha on display inside a solid-gold structure in a room on the 4th floor. The temple also features more religious relics on the 3rd-floor Buddhism museum and a peaceful rooftop garden with a huge prayer wheel inside a 10,000 square-foot? Buddha Pavilion.
Looking for more to see and do? Walk into a converted shophouse to explore the history of Chinese immigrants at the Chinatown Heritage Center; discover the hidden secrets of Singaporean artist Yip Yew Chong’s artistic homage to early Hokkien immigrants on the rear wall of the Thian Hock Keng Temple; and visit the Baba House, one of the city’s best-preserved Peranakan heritage homes built in the 1890s.
Located just north of the Singapore River, Little India is a bustling neighborhood and home to the Tekka Centre, which sells street food and draws gourmands from all over Singapore. And nearby Arab Street is punctuated by the golden domes of the Sultan Mosque, the city’s largest mosque originally built in 1825. It was replaced in 1928 with the present building, which was designed by an Irish architect.
And if you’re in Little India, a trip to the Indian Heritage Center is a must. The $12 million state-of-the-art museum features cultural and historical artifacts, maps and multimedia exhibits that explore everything from early interactions between South Asia and Southeast Asia to Indian cultural traditions and the contributions of Indian Singaporeans to the development of the island nation.
Parents looking for more family-friendly attractions should consider a fun-filled visit to the S.E.A. Aquarium, Singapore Zoo or the Adventure Waterpark, which features the first hydro-magnetic coaster in Asia. Universal Studios is the top draw at the city’s Resorts World. Shops, shows, restaurants, rides and roller coasters are featured at this fantasy theme park based on blockbuster Hollywood films, including Transformers.
Foodies can’t visit Singapore without trying the diverse cuisine served at hawker (street) food stalls. If you’re feeling hungry consider places like the Maxwell Food Centre, where you can try delicious hawker treats, including chili crab, laksa, bak kut teh, roti prata and Hainanese chicken rice. Only Singapore offers locals and tourists diverse options such as the decadent murtabak (an Indian and Arab-derived stuffed pancake), succulent Malay satay (grilled sticks of meat) and unctuous Chinese char kway teow (stir-fried rice noodles) – all in one city!
And even though wealthy residents eat food sold at hawker stalls, there are high-end culinary experiences not to be missed here, too! Looking for cocktails with view? Consider the Singapore’s chic rooftop bars like CÉ LA VI, atop the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, the microbrewery Level33 or the sophisticated cocktail bar Smoke and Mirrors located above the National Gallery of Singapore. Soak up those spirits with tasty food served at Michelin-star restaurants like The Song of India, Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle, Crystal Jade Golden Palace and Labyrinth, where innovative menu items fuse tastes from both Singapore and abroad. From hawker street food to a lavish culinary experience, the Lion City offers something for travelers with discerning tastes.
When to Go: Due to its position around the equator, Singapore is tropical and humid year-round. So, there's never a bad time to visit!
Currency: 1 Singapore Dollar = 0.73 U.S. Dollar
Language: English is the national language of Singapore. “Singlish,” an English-based creole or patois, is spoken too.
Best Views of the City: There are numerous locations to get jaw-dropping panoramic views of Singapore’s skyline, including Marina Bay Sands Skypark, Level 33 (Marina Bay Financial Centre) and Gardens by the Bay (Indochine restaurant in the largest tree).
Luxurious Places to Stay: Raffles Hotel, Singapore’s most iconic slumber palace, and the world-renowned Marina Bay Sands Singapore, featuring the world’s largest rooftop infinity pool.
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