With a city as exciting as Singapore which bursts with incredible architecture, museums, galleries, peaceful gardens and exciting food, it is not the easiest task to see, do and eat the very best of what this incredible city state has to offer in a little more than 48 hours! Thankfully the small size of Singapore and close proximity of its highlights made it possible to immerse ourselves into this vibrant city with its mosaic of cultures, smells and tastes.
The ‘Lion City’ or little ‘Red Dot’ as it is also called is a highly efficient and clean city island off the southern tip of the Malay peninsular. Once just a little fishing village it is now one of the largest financial hubs in Asia. Its colonial past is still visible, as are the many different cultural influences that makes Singapore so attractive and diverse. It is also a popular gateway hub, making it the ideal stopover for international travel with Changi Airport voted as the world’s best airport.
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Singapore’s sights are located conveniently close to one another and can easily be explored by foot, taxi or the clean and highly efficient MRT. One of the first sights we visited was Singapore’s most iconic structure – Marina Bay Sands, a recent addition to Singapore’s skyline which we could already see from our hotel, the Mandarin Oriental located opposite.
The architecture of Marina Bay Sands is truly impressive! On top of its three hotel towers sits the world’s largest infinity pool (only open to hotel guests) – Singapore’s hottest selfie spot ;-). The building is also home to world class restaurants, a casino, two theatres as well as an observation deck from which visitors can enjoy amazing views (for a fee).
Another popular tourist attraction that is not far from Marina Bay Sands is the famous Merlion statue, the city’s mythical mascot. It has the head of a lion and the body of a fish that represents Singapore’s early beginnings as a fishing village whereas the lion head refers to its original name Singapura meaning ‘Lion City’.
Continuing on foot we enjoyed a long walk along Singapore River. The riverside is dotted with restaurants, bars as well as beautiful colonial buildings. This is also where Sir Stamford Raffles, founder of modern Singapore, first landed in 1819. Raffles landing site on the North bank is marked by a statue of him – just behind Parliament House.
Walking through Singapore also allowed us to get a good feel for Singaporean life. The sounds, smells and pace of life. The city has a wonderfully young and dynamic vibe to it and I was impressed by the efficiency and impeccable cleanliness. One thing that is worth knowing before visiting Singapore is that littering is an absolute no go and highly fined, as is possessing and chewing gum.
After our long walk we headed straight to Raffles Hotel which opened its doors in 1887 and soon after became a byword for oriental luxury and the place to be. It is now one of Singapore’s most beautiful heritage icons. The Long Bar, located on the second floor, is where bartender Ngiam Tong Boon invented the famous Singapore Sling – regarded by some as Singapore’s ‘official drink’. The Singapore Sling comes with a bag of monkey nuts which are traditionally dropped on to the floor. The Long Bar is probably the only place in Singapore where you are allowed to litter without the fear of being fined 😉
For dinner we met up with friends at Kilo – a cool and trendy restaurant that is a little off the beaten track but well renowned with foodies. Located in an old storage warehouse with an open air concept it overlooks the edge of Kallang Basin and is a great place to enjoy excellent food and catch up with friends.
Even though we only arrived in the afternoon we felt as if we have spent much longer in Singapore than we actually did. Before we called it a day we decided to visit the nearby Supertree Grove which is most beautiful at night when the trees are nicely illuminated. The Supertree Grove is part of the gorgeous Gardens by the Bay which we visited the next day when we also took the opportunity to walk the 22 metre high skyway that connects the trees. Wandering through the Supertree Grove is free, as is watching the light and sound show currently at 7.45 pm and 8.45 pm.
Early the next day we took a taxi to the Botanic Gardens, a Unesco Heritage Site which is open from 5 am to midnight. The gardens are a stunning oasis of peace, featuring elegant lakes, themed gardens as well as an ancient rainforest! In the early hours the Botanic Gardens is filled with joggers, dog walkers and local Singaporeans practicing Tai Chi.
The Botanic Gardens is also home to the National Orchid Garden where three hectares provide a space for over 1,000 orchid species and 2,000 hybrids. It is the largest display of orchids in the world and well worth the $5 entry fee (The Botanic Gardens itself is free of charge).
Another taxi ride brought us to the National Museum of Singapore – Singapore’s oldest museum. The museum showcases Singapore’s history and culture in a most stunning building! One of my favourite sections (apart from the Singapore History Gallery) was the Modern Colony Gallery giving a snapshot of life in the 1920s to 1930s – which felt almost like walking into the costume storage for the Great Gatsby.
Next we visited Gardens by the Bay – Singapore’s hottest new horticultural asset which spreads over 101 hectares with indoor as well as outdoor gardens. Most imposing are the two futuristic glass houses that are filled with Mediterranean (Flower Dome) and tropical mountain plants (Cloud Forest). We bought tickets for both conservatories and were most impressed with the man made 35 metre mountain and water fall in the Cloud Forest! The famous Supertree Grove is part of the Gardens by the Bay as already described in one of the earlier sections.
After lunch, which we enjoyed at a friends house, we entered Singapore Zoo. Already amazed by Singapore’s green spirit I was taken by the open and natural enclosures that give animals plenty of space to roam freely. Animals here seem happy and well looked after. The zoo seems to take its responsibility towards animals seriously and even runs one of the most successful orang-utan breeding programs. It was lovely to see the monkeys swing above visitors heads without any restrictions. My highlight, however, was seeing the beautiful white tigers.
Next to the zoo but completely separate to it is the Night Zoo which is open between 7.30 pm and midnight. More than 1,000 nocturnal animals can be seen in their natural habitat that can be either encountered by hopping aboard a tram or by walking. We chose the latter option and I can only recommend to use the hiking trails instead of the tram. The tram does not reach all animals and it adds to the experience to find yourself in the dark, surrounded by animal noises. We discovered these two cute flying squirrels that watched us walk through their territory 😉
For a late dinner we booked a table at Labyrinth – one of the best places in Singapore to enjoy Asian fusion food which was conveniently located on Raffles Avenue.
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On our last day we joined the crowds of buzzing Chinatown with its colourful mix of old and new. The Chinese quarter is filled with cultural heritage, temples and traditional shop houses that sell anything from fine silk, jade jewellery to plastic buddhas.
One of the must-see things in Chinatown is definitely the grandiose five-story Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. It serves as a temple as well as a museum and is free to enter. When we visited, monks in golden robes were hurdling through the temple, whilst devoted buddhist whispered their prayers and burned incense in the prayer hall. We enjoyed taking our time to explore the temple, museum and peaceful flower garden on the rooftop.
Another absolute must while being in Chinatown is a visit of Chinatown’s famous Maxwell Road Hawker centre for a dead cheap, delicious and authentic lunch. A local favourite is the Haines Chicken Rice – best bought from either Ah Tai or Tian Tian – featured by Gordon Ramsey’s as well as Anthony Bourdain!
The afternoon was spent strolling through Singapore’s National Gallery which spans over two historic buildings – the former Supreme Court and City Hall – which are connected by two bridges, located in the atrium, under a canopy of glass and metal. The galleries exhibit Singaporean and Southeast Asian art that provide some insights into the rich historic and cultural heritage of the region.
For our last meal in Singapore, we walked into the City Hall Wing of the National Gallery where National Kitchen is located. The owner, Violet Oon, is Singapore’s most well known chef and famous for her authentic Singaporean cuisine. We booked a table for the earliest sitting as we had to catch our flight back home right after. The restaurant had a beautiful old world charm to it and the food was excellent – just the perfect place to end an amazing time in Singapore!
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48 hours were just about enough time to get a good understanding and feel of this exciting city, its friendly people, delicious food and rich culture and I secretly hope that this was not the last stopover in Singapore!