The City in a Garden
Returning once more to the most perfect “sin-city” in the planet, the stunning and shiny capital of this tiny nation-island, Singapore. While the first time I came here was as part of a wider trip visiting Thailand and Malaysia as well, on this occasion there was no difference. Coming from Malaysia, after spending two weeks travelling through Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. And coincidence-wise, it’s the matter of just a month after this trip that I will be returning to Southeast Asia, precisely to Thailand, one of my all-time favourite countries ever. No matter how many times I keep coming to Southeast Asia anyway, it is always so good that I cannot wait too long for the next one.
Singapore is the city of the future as many refer to it. A place where everything is being planned with a future perspective of 50 years ahead, and now even beyond. It is a very small nation, where space is their limitation. Completely surrounded by water, only a bridge links it to mainland Malaysia. Every project must be carefully studied and planned, and they excel at it like no other city in the world. From design, to comfort, environment, technology and efficiency; everything seems out of this world in the sense of cleanliness, safety, order and superb education and respect of its citizens. It’s really everything. A country which claims to have one of the highest educational levels and lowest crime in the world, and anyone can totally agree with that.
Now believe it or not, it is merely some dozens of years ago that this territory was in a completely different league and story. While it thrived as a British colony, it lasted until 1963 when the British left and so it joined Malaysia for a brief period of 2 years. For Malaysia, the fact that majority of the population was Chinese it was seen as a threat, hence on 9 of August 1965, Singapore became the first and only country in the world to gain independence against its own will. I’m quite sure Malaysia is still regretting such part of their history. Nowadays it is a non-stoppable growing Asian Tiger, like its other tigers Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea.
Their perfection is such that this example will keep you wondering. Did you know why chewing gum is forbidden in the country? Two reasons. First because it makes the streets dirty; and second, a much funnier one. Their shiny metro system had such sensors installed at the doors, that a chewing gum was between those in the floor and would not close. It took a long time and delays to find the reason why. Hilariously, that was the cause of this “incident”. Seeing cleaners wiping the windows of the metro trains is not unusual. Specially after rush hour, when some “hands and finger prints might be on them” as in any city would normally happen, but here this is not acceptable hence the obsession for perfection, very similar to how Japanese people are, especially in terms of cleanliness.
Do not plan less than 3 days in the city, believe me you will love it so much that a shorter visit can lead to disappointment when having to leave. It does have way too many places and sights, and considering the reduced size of the country, that’s genius how they’ve created such amazing public spaces for everyone to enjoy, and totally for free to anyone. The city itself is already stunning in both heritage colonial architecture and its 21st century futuristic projects, but the clever respect for the environment has gained the reputation of being “a city in a garden”.
An immaculate botanical gardens, listed by the UNESCO a World Heritage Site; the stunning fashionable Gardens by the Bay or the state of the art Changi Airport where the world’s largest indoor waterfall has been installed (the Jewel) among a canopy of an indoor rain forest and the largest indoor collection of plants. yet not only at specific places, but along the streets, boulevards, squares; all filled with lush vegetation, plants and trees, and the more and more integration of vertical and hanging gardens at the new buildings erected. It’s just green wherever you look!
Getting lost in this city is almost impossible. The areas are very well defined and the streets follow a grid pattern. You can easily walk from one area to another, or take the bus and metro. Transportation is very efficient and covers absolutely every area you will ever need to go.
There is something quite important you should also know relating to the weather. It is incredibly difficult to predict and to have a clear sky day. Your chances to see the sun are always in the mornings, while during the afternoon clouds develop and usually heavy rain is likely to happen. Don’t worry though, remember the temperature it is around 28 degrees all year round, therefore the rain is quite pleasant to my taste even I got absolutely soaked. Rain might be for around 30 minutes, and then it’s gone, and of course you dry. This usually happen day after day.
Looking for food? You are in the right place. Fusion of Chinese, Malaysian, Thai. You will find everywhere little places where you can get great noodles, dumplings, all kind of vegetables, woks; and one of the best place to be is at the Lau Pa Sat Market. Here you will get lost and crazy; far too many options that you will not know what to get. Keep trying something different each time, it is always one of the biggest pleasures of mankind, food. Singaporeans do great noodle dishes, and although a seafood laksa soup for example is a traditional Malayan cuisine, they love it, and it’s great!
For information about the city’s history check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Singapore’s currency is the Singaporean Dollar (SGD). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Singapore
- Little India To the northeast of the city, it is packed with colourful Sino-Portuguese style shophouses, with plenty of shops and restaurants. The nearest metro stations are Little India, Rochor or Jalan Besar of the Downtown Line, or Little India on the North East Line.
-Tan Teng Niah The iconic building symbol of the district, painted in multiple colors. It’s on Kerbau Road, near Little India MRT station.
-Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple Built in 1881 in South Indian Tamil style.
-Abdul Gafoor Mosque Built in 1907 it is one of the finest architecture-wise talking.
- Arab Street Just across the Rochor River, opposite Little India, is the Muslim Quarter. On the same note as the other area, it is the same here with countless Sino-Portuguese shophouses perfectly restored, plenty of shopping and lots of restaurants. Nearest metro stations Jalan Besar or Bugis on the Downtown Line.
-North Bridge Road One of the major thoroughfare in the entire city, crossing northeast all the way to the southwest across the Civic Centre and Central Business District.
-Sultan Mosque The largest in Singapore, and also the most beautiful, dating from 1824, truly an icon. A nice view is from North Bridge Road however the best is from Muscat Street just at the other side.
-Malay Heritage Centre By the eastern side of the Mosque you have this park with the beautiful building of the museum about the history and culture of Singapore.
-Bussorah Street The pedestrian way and major tourist spot in Arab Street district. The view of the mosque is impressive from here with that many colourful buildings and a plethora of restaurants and shops.
- Beach Road Linking Arab Street all the way south west towards the Civic Centre and the Cathedral where it terminates. Lots of new construction along its length, some of which quite iconic towers great designed.
-The Gateway With some towers including the neo-art deco style Parkview Square.
-South Beach Towers The next iconic skyscrapers you will reach. A set of 4 in a 2 and 2 distribution, some of the latest additions to the skyline, designed by Normal Foster + Partners.
-Suntec City and Millenia Walk Behind the South Beach, is this massive complex comprising huge shopping malls, plenty of office space, convention centre coupled with gigantic top hotels. Designed by Tsao & McKown Architects emphasising on Chinese feng shui, with the complex resembling a left hand when viewing from above. It is within the area named as Marina Centre.
-Fountain of Wealth Worth to reach this place for this monumental fountain among the 5 skyscrapers. It is the world’s largest fountain, and beautiful day and night when it gets illuminated.
- Civic District Filled with English colonial architecture everywhere. Grand buildings, the cathedral, churches, administration and museums. All sort of buildings which once formed the English colony.
-Raffles Hotel Along Beach Road, the spectacular and luxury hotel, landmark of the city. Established by the Armenian hoteliers Sarkies Brothers in 1887, and named after the founder of the city Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. It was one of the grand hotels built by the brothers in Southeast Asia, being the others the Eastern & Oriental in George Town (Malaysia), The Crag in Penang Hill (Malaysia), the Strand in Yangon (Myanmar) and the Majapahit in Surabaya (Indonesia). You can go inside to the splendid courtyards, and if you are willing to pay the price, you can order at the Long Bar the world famous and iconic Singapore Sling cocktail here invented. Of course you can also order the same elsewhere for a fraction of the price.
-War Memorial Park By the southern side of the Raffles and South Beach Towers. Offers nice views of the surrounding area.
-Swissotel The Stamford Side by side with the War Memorial. Easy to spot, still the tallest hotel in Singapore. Designed by I.M. Pei in 1985, in a mix of cube and circular shape. It’s free to access the New Asia Bar in the floor 71.
-Saint Andrew’s Cathedral Just across the Swissotel Tower. The country’s largest, dating from 1862 in neo-Gothic style.
-Chijmes On North Bridge Road, north of Saint Andrew’s and opposite the Raffles Hotel west side. A former 19th century colonial convent and church transformed into a restaurant.
-Cathedral of the Good Shepherd Continuing along Bras Basah Road west after the Chijmes. Completed in 1847 in Renaissance revival style.
-Art Museum Right by the Bras Basah MRT station of the Circle Line. Housed in a former Catholic school from 1850, nowadays the major exhibition of contemporary Asian art.
-Middle Road Church At the corner of Waterloo Street with Middle Road. Dating from 1875, another of the colonial gems.
-National Museum The largest in the country housed in one of the grandest colonial buildings in neo-Palladian and Renaissance styles.
-Fort Caning Green Behind the National Museum, the former place where the main English colonial fort used to be. It’s a large park with monuments and old structures among other constructions.
-Armenian Street Quite fashionable with the amount of colonial structures perfectly restored, some of which in art-deco style. South east from the National Museum.
-Peranakan Museum Housed in a 1912 immaculate colonial former school, dedicated to the Peranakan culture.
-Saint Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Church The oldest Christian church in Singapore, built in 1835.
-Philatelic Museum Housed in the former Anglo-Chinese School building from 1906.
-Masonic Club Next to the Philatelic Museum, building dating from 1845.
-Central Fire Station While not in Armenia Street but on Hill Street, next building after the Masonic Club. Another of the grandest colonial structures built by the British.
- Singapore River While part of it is still considered the Civic District, it is easier to split into different section in order to plan the best route to continue your sightseeing. It does split the old colonial centre with the growing Business District, containing at both banks great old and new architecture.
-Clarke Quay A great colonial area of the city, full with shops, restaurant and thriving nightlife. The main streets are covered hence a great area even on rainy days.
-Parliament The southern tip of the Civic District, 2 blocks south of Saint Andrew’s Cathedral. Home to a great collection of colonial buildings. Linked to the Business District and Marina across the two bridges.
-Parliament Building Facing the old one, was constructed in 1999 in a design in harmony with the other historical buildings here.
-The Arts House An exhibition place in the former Parliament building.
-Victoria Theatre Built in 1909 in Victorian style, with the tall clock tower in the middle.
-Asian Civilisations Museum One of the first of its kind about the history of China, Southeast Asia, South Asia and West Asia. Located within the Empress Place building, former offices of the government during the colonial times.
-Boat Quay Opposite the Parliament tip, a great riverfront area with lots of Sino-Portuguese houses and plenty of choices of bars and restaurants.
- Central Business District (CBD) Surrounding the southern edge of the Marina Bay. Nowadays one of the world’s most recognisable and famous skylines.
-Lau Pa Sat Market At the heart of the business district is this old Victorian market, now turned into a food heaven market. You can try dishes from everywhere in the world at very competitive prices. It is better enjoyed at dinner, where the place is filled with people. Satay and seafood laksa soup are some of the best.
-Guoco Tower The tallest in Singapore, designed by SOM. Worth to mention here, although the surrounding streets are all filled with great towers everywhere too.
- Chinatown Just at the back of the CBD, by MRT Chinatown Station of the Downtown and North East Lines. Many streets filled with gorgeous Sino-Portuguese houses all perfectly restored. Also many temples around and not only Chinese, but Hindu as well. It is one of the best areas to admire the once colonial Singapore.
-Pagoda Street The main thoroughfare cutting the district from west to east. The most colourful and touristy one, fully pedestrian.
-Temple Street Parallel to Pagoda, another great street where to find lots of traditional restaurants and shops.
-Buddha Tooth Relic Temple The main Chinese temple in Singapore. Designed in Tang dynasty–style is a great landmark together with the surrounding buildings. Located at the southeast corner of the district, by South Bridge Road.
-Sri Mariamman Temple This very iconic Hindu temple is the oldest and largest in the country, dating from 1827 and heavily ornamented. Also along the South Bridge Road, corner with Temple and Pagoda Streets.
-Jamae Mosque The second largest in the country. Built in the 19th century in a fusion of Indo-Islamic and South Indian styles.
-Nagore Dargah Along Telok Ayer Street, not far east and parallel to South Bridge Street. Shrine built in 1830 by south India Muslims resembling a palace.
-Thian Hock Keng Temple Next door from the Nagore Dargah. Built in 1839 it is one of the most carefully decorated in very traditional Chinese architecture.
-Al-Abrar Mosque Just meters ahead after Thian Hock Keng. Completed in 1855 making it one of the oldest.
- Esplanade – Marina Bay It is the main avenue running along the CBD on the Marine Bay. This is the remarkable and iconic image to the world of Singapore’s incredible growth and power. A city in a garden, but also by the sea.
-Esplanade Bridge Linking the Esplanade Theatres by the Bay to the Merlion and Fullerton Way. Great panoramic views of the entire bay from here.
-Anderson Bridge Dating from 1910, linking the Victoria Theatre with Fullerton Way, offering nice views of the Singapore River and CBD skyline.
-Cavenagh Bridge One of the most historical, this suspension pedestrian only bridge has some of the best views of the Singapore River and CBD skyline, connecting the Parliament to the Fullerton Square.
-The Merlion No visit to Singapore can miss the icon of the city, the Lion fountain, located in Esplanade, just opposite the Fullerton Hotel.
-Fullerton Hotel Another of the impressive luxurious property. A famous picture is that of the Merlion and the hotel in the background at night, when both are lit.
-Clifford Square Nice space surrounded by piers and restaurants, and great views over the bay.
-Marina Bay Sands One of the most expensive hotel constructions ever created, the 3 towers became from the first day of completion part of the skyline and how people conceive Singapore from its silhouette with the largest cantilever platform in the world joining the 3 towers at the very top creating an enormous space with gardens, infinity pool, restaurants, bars and viewing deck. It’s called the Skypark, and costs 23 SGD to access it. The views are stunning! I would recommend you to get there at least an hour before sunset in order to enjoy the day light, sunset and night views. It changes dramatically from one to another. The Bayfront MRT station serves the Circle and Downtown Lines with direct access to the complex and the Gardens by the Bay.
-ArtScience Museum Part of the same Marina Bay project, and located at the northern tip of the complex. Designed to resemble a lotus flower.
-Gardens By the Bay Built in reclaimed land to the sea it covers different areas and structures, being the centrepiece the Supertrees and the Glass Domes which are the largest greenhouses in the world. The Skyway connects two Supertress offering splendid views of the complex (you need to pay 5 SGD for it), and every day at 19.45 and 20.45pm there is a free light and music show, the Garden Rhapsody. A must see!
- West of the city As it is located more outside of the rest of the sights and areas, the best way to get there is via the MRT. The best here without doubt are the Botanical Gardens.
-Orchard Street Starting by the western side of the National Museum, is the main shopping avenue. The nearest MRT station is Dhoby Ghaut on the North East, North South and Circle Lines. Malls include Orchard Central which has a 24/7 operational Roof Garden or ION Orchard where ION Sky offers a 360 degree view from the highest point on Orchard Road.
-Istana Park The green lush area between Dhoby Ghaut at the south and Little India at the north MRT stations, home to the presidential palace.
-Botanical Gardens Listed an UNESCO World Heritage Site, an absolute must do when visiting Singapore. Easy to reach via the Circle and Downtown MRT Lines to Botanic Gardens station. Established in 1859 by the British, It is a very large site hence plan your time accordingly. Open from 05.00am until midnight and it’s free to enter, except for the National Orchid Garden that costs 5 SGD for adults, 2 for students and 1 for seniors.
- South of the city Not much more to see once you are farther south of the Business district and Chinatown, however there is still a place you should include in your plans should you have the time for it, that’s the island of Sentosa.
-Sentosa Island Home to many resorts, casinos, shopping malls, museums, a water park, golf courses, the Universal Studios Theme Park and the beaches. The best way to reach it is via the monorail that links VivoCity, next to Harborfront MRT (Circle and north East Lines) with Beach Station, between Siloso and Palawan Beaches, costing 4 SGD, then any travel inside Sentosa Island is free.
-Palawan Beach Probably one of the nicest beach in the whole of Singapore, but also one of the crowdest, and not just only because the many bathers, but for the many tourist also coming here to reach the Southernmost point of Continental Asia.
-Reflections at Keppel Bay Although located farther west than the Harborfront station, you can see these building from the monorail heading into Sentosa in the distance. Designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, are quite unique for the curved shape of each tower.
Changi International Airport keeps ranking as the best in the world year after year, in terms of facilities, punctuality, comfort, offer, engineering, design… almost anything you can imagine, moreover with the recent addition of the Jewel, the gigantic space interconnecting 3 out of the 4 terminals in an astonishing piece of architecture blending with the nature including the largest indoor waterfall in the world and an entire rain forest within. Almost every airline flies directly to Singapore hence the connection between Europe, Asia, Middle East and the Americas could not be easier. Singapore Airlines is the country’s flag carrier, and it is among the world’s best airlines in terms of safety, service, comfort, customer care and punctuality.
From the airport you can directly take the MRT train East-West Line to the city centre where you can interconnect to all other lines. This is without doubt quite comfortable and one of the fastest while cheapest way to reach your final destination within the city or any of the neighbourhoods and outskirts.
The Airport Shuttle services are very comfortable in the way that they take you door to door to your accommodation wherever it is within Singapore. They run every 15 to 30 minutes depending on the hour of the day, 24 hours a day, at the cost of 9 SGD per person. For that price, honestly, consider this as the best option if you need to carry a lot of luggage.
If it is 4 of you travelling together, then do not even hesitate in taking a taxi. It will come cheaper than the Airport Shuttles and not that much more than having to get 4 tickets for the metro.
Coming overland it is possible from neighbouring Malaysia. It is just across the international bridge from the last city, Johor Bahru, into the neighbourhood of Woodlands. Either you take a train or a bus, it is straightforward with a journey time of around 5 hours to Kuala Lumpur.
Once in the city, you can use either the EZ-link or Nets Flash Pay pre-paid contact-less cards where you can store value on it and use it on any MRT trains and all the city buses at a 15% discount. The card costs 12 SGD but comes with 7 SGD stored value, and when more value needed, you can top up in increments of at least 10 SGD at the vending machines or Seven Eleven stores. However from experience, I can say that the need for taking any public transportation is not going to be that much, so you are better off by paying single tickets each time.
In order to reach Sentosa Island you can take the cable car from Harborfront MRT station, or the Sentosa Monorail which goes directly next to both Siloso and Palawan Beaches, the nicest ones in Singapore. It costs 4 SGD return to get on the monorail, but once you are inside the island, any transport there is completely for free.
Lastly, there is Grab available everywhere in Singapore, this is the equivalent of Uber but better, and cheaper! Simply download the app, register and you are done. You do not even need to provide a debit/credit card as you can pay cash. You will always know the total fare, and the precise location of where you are going. This comes very cheap to be honest, and the most comfortable way to move around without any doubt, especially if you are 2 or more people as it turns to be cheaper than public transportation then.
Singapore is one of the most expensive cities in the world in terms of accommodation. It is also incredible the choice you have here, with so many amazing properties that it is hard to even decide. Every hotel chain, name it and you have it here, from the ultra-luxurious to the more modest ones and the wide variety in between; and of course, a good selection of properties through airb&b and the likes with plenty of choice for backpackers. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, Hotels Click, LateRooms or Ebookers.
In the most recent trip in 2019 we stayed at the Bencoolen @ Hong Kong Street. A really nice boutique small property in a restored colonial building at Hong Kong Street, right in the heart of the CBD, minutes away from Clarke Quay and most of the sights within walking distance. Excellent customer service and welcome, beautifully designed in every place. Comfortable and quiet rooms, great breakfast and although small, there is a very nice jacuzzi pool at the rooftop.
Back in 2011 we stayed at the Riverside Hotel Robertson Quay (near Clark Quay MRT Station) formerly the Park Hotel Clark Quay. Perfectly located walking distance to everywhere, large and comfortable rooms, very spacious, huge and high quality breakfast, extremely clean and incredibly professional staff. Not to mention the pool, which included back massage bubbles and heated water. That was the perfect ending of the days, relaxing in the pool until well after 23.00pm. Without any doubt, highly recommended to anyone.