Singapore is not unlike a mini-cosmos: it offers a multitude of activities and attractions, boasts a totally unique personality and, most of the time, seems to live in a world of its own. Perhaps it’s the fact that the ‘national’ identity is just such a mixed-bag of ethnic diversities, or the fact that it’s been handed back and forth between foreign nations like a Fedex pack over the last century, but fact remains that whatever it is that has rendered Singapore so unlike anywhere else seems to be here for good. Yippie!
Renowned for its cleanliness, law and order and pristine and sunny disposition, Singapore is an ideal host country for anyone who wants an easy, hassle-free yet still brilliant break. Check out the following best things to do in Singapore and plan your next trip with a little pizzazz.
Things to do in Singapore – Shop till you drop…
No matter what you do in Singapore, you won’t be able to get away from the shopping, so we suggest you get it out of your system as soon as possible so you can concentrate on the more cultural sides of the city. Head to Orchard Street and, if you don’t find something to buy within the 22 shopping malls and four department stores, you’re simply not trying hard enough. Just don’t be a bore, and fill your suitcase with the usual Singaporean fluff! Read our REALLY good guide to shopping in Singapore and bring home something your grandkids will feel too guilty to sell on Ebay in 50 years’ time.
Come fly with me…
Singapore’s version of the Eye of London is by no means a poor imitation; in fact most people are claiming this to be the much better version. Whether that’s because Singapore has a much more striking skyline, or the fact that clear skies are the norm here rather than the exception, we don’t think it’s fair to compare. London may lose out big time. Singapore’s skyline is renowned for being intensely bright and completely colourful, and there’s no better place in the city to enjoy the sparkly spectacle than from the tip top of the Singapore Flyer.
A ride on the city’s ferris wheel lasts half an hour and is rather reasonably priced, just don’t make the mistake of doubling the price for a champagne ride! All you’ll get is a watered down Sling and a souvenir champagne glass you can get at the $2 store. Save your pennies for a real glass of bubbly after the ride.
Channel your inner botanist…
There are various reasons why the city’s urban natural haven, the Singapore Botanic Gardens, should be on the top of your wish-list: first of all it’s beautiful, second of all it’s a great place for a morning jog when everything else is still closed, and third of all it’s about the only place in the city where you don’t run the risk of maxing out your credit card. Oh, you may just want to bring a little cash so you can pay to visit the incredible Orchard Garden however; it’s like a Singaporean flowery heaven!
Local flora is beautifully signposted for the botanically-challenged, and the whole 183 acre natural estate is pure bliss in a city which at times may seem like it is completely artificial.
As with all things ‘made in Singapore’ the city’s premier zoo is one of the most organized and best kept anywhere in the world. When visiting the Singapore Zoo, one is ‘almost’ happy to see some of the planet’s most incredible creatures in captivity; if only all zoos were like this. The animals have the run of this place and visitors certainly never get the feeling the exhibits are restricted in any way. You may see the usual run of zoo species, yet the tropical settings and natural habitats make them that much more enjoyable. Orang-utan lovers ought to note that this is as close to them as you can get in any zoo, so don’t miss your chance to get close and personal with the ‘old men of the forest.’ Just watch out; they spit!
Go on a little tour around Asia…
Singapore’s ethnic diversity is one of the most celebrated sides of the city-state’s culture. Going by the credo that everyone who stays in Singapore for more than 5 minutes can be considered a local, do dive into the most authentic quarters of town, namely Chinatown and Little India. The ideal destinations for those who really had a hard time deciding where to go on holiday, spending a whole day in Chinatown and Little India could feel like you’ve just won the holiday trifecta. Indulge in tea ceremonies, visit temples of all denominations, buy cheap souvenirs from outdoor markets, gorge on spicy curries, and enjoy a session of reflexology before returning to the relative tranquillity of the other Singapore.
Be Bear Grylls for a day…
Singapore’s most prized nature reserve, the Sungey Buloh Wetland Reserve, has recently been named a crucial stop-over point for migrating birds in Australasia; so hey, if it’s good enough for countless feathery ones, it’s good enough for us! This may be a corner of Singapore which is a bit of a pain to reach on public transport, but this is probably the reason it is a quiet and delightfully contemplative retreat in the city. There are kilometres of walking trails which see you walk along, above and right through mangroves, accompanied by hundreds of birds, a few monitor lizards and perhaps a crocodile or two. The Singapore Nature Society offers a plethora of free and very informative guided tours, ideal for those (like us) who can’t tell their kingfishers from their mudskippers (who knew one is a fish who can walk on land and the other a bird?) Check out the website for more info, and to find out which guided tours will be on when you plan to visit.
Escape to (another) island…
If it’s starting to seem like all we’re urging you to do once you get into Singapore is to get out of it, don’t be alarmed. We just know that you probably don’t need any guidance to shop, stroll along the waterfront, or indulge in some delectable local cuisine. You can do that all by yourself. So to that end, here’s another invaluable activity not to miss when visiting Singapore: take a whole day trip to Sentosa Island.
Infinitely easy to reach and offering enough attractions to hold you there all day, Sentosa is the holiday retreat island of Singaporeans and a place you’ll do well to explore. Home to the popular Universal Studios, as well as kilometres of pristine beaches, two premier golf courses, several animal and natural reserves, and half a dozen world-class resorts as well, Sentosa is an ideal choice if you want to just get away from Orchard Street for a day. But don’t fret…there’s plenty of shopping options here too!
Play with your food (just don’t tell mum)…
You will undoubtedly be feasting whilst on a visit to Singapore, yet we think that the most memorable gastronomic experience may come from a local cooking class with Food Playground, one of Singapore’s most beloved tourist activities. These authentic cooking classes are aimed specifically at those who believe that the best curries, laksas and hanan chicken sauces come from jars and tins. Totally hands-on, fun, messy and informative, the classes here are a great way to learn more about the traditional cooking methods used in Singapore, and the traditional influences all the immigrant shave had on this most unique Asian cuisine. What we love most about the guys at Food Playground is that they are not your typical, scary-looking chefs a-la Gordon Ramsey, but just a bunch of dedicated foodies who have a passion for sharing the food and culture of their country with visitors.
Gorge yourself senseless…
Your last holiday mission, should you wish to accept it, is to down as many Singaporean chilli mud crabs as you could possibly manage during your stay. We did! Singapore is renowned for its varied cuisine and optimal epicurean experiences, just take one look at our Singapore Eating Guide, and you’ll soon realize that in this city, eating and breathing are pretty much the same thing: an intrinsic part of life one does without ever realizing one is actually doing it. Locals don’t eat huge portions, granted, but they can seat down for a meal at least five or even six times a day; they are more food obsessed than most people realize and take great pride in their authentic cuisine. Of all the dishes you can and should try here, however, the Chilli Mud Crab would have to be the most iconic as well as the most delicious.
The incredibly messy yet unbelievably satisfying dish has been around for 60 years or so in Singapore, yet would have to be one of the fastest growing international dishes. The satisfaction of feasting on a chilli mud crab comes not only from its delicious taste, but also from fact that it can really only be eaten with one’s hands. The crab is stir fried in a dense spicy sauce made with ketchup (seriously), soy sauce, ginger and shallots, thickened with eggs and corn flour; and usually served on a bed of noodles. The whole thing is just a floating, slurpy bowl of sweet and sour yumminess. Extra real chilli should be requested if you like yours with a little kick.
Chinese sweet buns are usually served alongside the dish, ideal for mopping up leftovers from your plate, hands and face and quite possibly your hair too. So it’s not going to win you any ‘first date’ points, that’s for sure, but who cares about looks and decorum when it tastes so good!?
Hints on where to try it: generally avoid hawker stalls for this particular dish; stick to restaurants which only serve mud crabs (the varieties abound). Moreover, pick a place overrun with Asians as opposed to Westerners! They don’t necessarily need to be Singaporeans by the way; mud crab is a popular dish in the whole region and Asians are obsessed with food quality so you can’t go wrong following the ‘local’ herds.
It’s safe to say that on the last day of your trip you may be more than happy to take it easy. Although mud crab indigestion has (reportedly) never killed anyone, there’s really no reason to put your body under any additional and unnecessary stress. To this end, we urge you to round off your trip with a sublime pamper session at Singapore’s premier spa: the Banyan Tree Spa at Marina Bay Sands. This luxurious establishment offers a multitude of treatments including full body scrubs and rubs, rejuvenating facials and, we’re told, an absolutely orgasmic pedicure. We can’t attest to the latter as we actually fell asleep, but our footsies were left heavenly smooth! Opulent treatments, amazing views form the 55th floor, and a sensational floating feeling which lasted for days could well be the most ideal way to bring a Singapore holiday to a heavenly close.
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Banyan Tree Spa at Marina Bay Sands