The small city-state of Singapore offers more than just high-end shopping malls, luxury hotels, and fine dining, there is also a vibrant history and diverse ethnic quarters to discover, along with many family-friendly attractions and lovely public spaces. For a country that is just two-thirds the size of New York City, Singapore packs quite a punch with its futuristic skyscrapers, plethora of entertainment, shopping and dining options. The Lion City state is full of contrasts and definitely worth a visit any time of the year.
Chinatown: If you have ever visited China, Singapore's Chinatown neighborhood will bring you right back there. From the small mom-and-pop stores and authentic Chinese food to the bright red lanterns, there is an excitement and hustle in this district. You can visit the Chinese Heritage Centre and see the impressive and beautiful Sri Mariamman Hindu temple. Another temple worth seeing is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. If you are up early enough, you can hear the morning drum ceremony.
Heritage markers have been installed throughout the neighborhood in English, Japanese, and simplified Chinese so visitors can better understand the significance of the area. But this neighborhood is not just a testament to the influence of the Chinese throughout Singapore's past; this is a progressive neighborhood and home to the trendy Ann Siang Hill area, where the quaint bistros and upscale boutiques could be at home in any Western city.
Orchard Road: This area includes high-end stores for crazy shoppers. You would expect nothing less from a neighborhood that boasts 22 malls and six department stores. There are also four movie theaters, including an IMAX, and a KTV karaoke. If you get hungry while burning through all that cash, there are plenty of eateries in the neighborhood serving international cuisines.
Little India and Arab Street: One of the most exciting aspects of Singapore is the diversity of its neighborhoods. The country is a savvy shoppers' paradise, but you will also find rich traditions, delicious foods and local character in its older quarters. Nowhere is this truer than in Little India and Arab Street (also known as the Arab Quarter). Here, you will want to visit the historic Sultan Mosque, originally built in 1825.
Non-Muslims are not permitted in the prayer hall, though you can appreciate the distinctive golden domes and craftsmanship of the exterior structure. Haji and Bali lanes are especially good spots to shop for something a little more unique than a designer handbag, and you will also find yourself surrounded by music and food, as there are countless restaurants.
Sentosa Island: Singapore is not exactly known as a beach destination, but if you are really craving some fun in the sun, Sentosa Island is the place to find it. Siloso Beach is a good spot for getting in beach time, and visitors can play volleyball on free courts or go kayaking and skim-boarding. There are several other beach attractions as well, plus an Underwater World aquarium where you can swim with dolphins. A must-see on Sentosa Island is the Merlion, Singapore's famous statue that has the head of a lion and the body of a fish. You can take an escalator to the top of the statue, and enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding area.
Gardens by the Bay: Once you have glimpsed this beautifully designed green space you will not be able to stay away. Wander through the Bay East Garden, perfect for enjoying the vibrant plant life and escaping the city bustle for a moment. Do not miss the Supertree Grove, where you will find a cluster of the iconic, futuristic structures designed to perform environmentally sustainable functions. Then, head to the Cloud Forest Dome to see the world's tallest indoor waterfall and learn a bit about biodiversity.
Botanic Gardens: Singapore received its first UNESCO World Heritage nomination for the botanic gardens, and with good reason. The city can sometimes feel like a concrete jungle, albeit a clean and comfortable one, but the botanic gardens preserve pieces of Singapore's wilder heritage. You can visit the gardens' heritage trees via walking trail, which are conserved as part of an effort to protect the city's mature tree species.
Fort Canning Park: As military strongholds go, Fort Canning has had a long and varied life. Built in 1859, the fort was an essential site for Singapore's defense. Now in peacetime, the original building is home to modern performing arts troupes, and the park regularly sees picnics, concerts, theater performances, and festivals. Other attractions include relics from Singapore's early history, from as far back as the 14th century, and Sir Stamford Raffles' personal bungalow. Guests can also see a replica of the spice market Raffles established in 1822, as well as the ASEAN sculptures that were erected in the 1980s.
Singapore Zoo: Billing itself as the world's best rainforest zoo, the Singapore Zoo is a pretty impressive place. The facility is clean and inviting, and the animals appear well treated with plenty of lush vegetation and habitat space. The orangutans are particularly impressive, and visitors can watch as babies and adults alike swing high above their platforms and snack on bananas. There is also a large chimpanzee family, zebras, meerkats, a komodo dragon, mole rats, white tigers, kangaroos, and many other creatures.
Changi Chapel and Museum: Singapore was not spared the horrors of WWII, and the Changi Chapel and Museum tells the story of those who suffered under Japanese occupation. The museum displays the letters, photographs, drawings, and personal effects that are now testaments to the imprisonment of more than 50,000 civilians and soldiers in Changi Prison. The Changi Chapel, found in the open-air courtyard of the museum, is a replica of one of the many chapels that were built during WWII.
It stands as a monument for those who would not fold under Japanese rule. A must-see in the museum is a series of murals painstakingly recreated from originals painted by Bombardier Stanley Warren. Guests can participate in a guided tour or opt for an audio tour that features accounts of Changi prisoners' wartime experiences.
Marina Bay Sands: The opulent Marina Bay Sands resort complex includes a hotel, high-end luxury brands, a mall with a canal running through it, the ArtScience Museum, and the Marina Bay Sands Skypark — a vantage point for taking in the entire city. The Skypark's viewing deck and infinity pool are found in the ship that tops the hotel. From the Skypark, you can see the innovative double helix bridge, the port, the Gardens by the Bay, and the impressive skyline. While up there on top of the city, guests can grab a snack or a coffee at the rooftop restaurant or pick up some keepsakes from the souvenir stand.
Raffles Hotel: This colonial building is one of the world's last grand 19th century hotels, and was once visited by literary luminaries such as Rudyard Kipling and Joseph Conrad, as well as movie star Charlie Chaplin. Built in 1887, the Raffles Hotel has served as a Singapore landmark for well over a century and continues to live up to its storied reputation with excellent food and service. The classical architecture and tropical gardens provide a refined setting, and represent another facet of Singapore's varied and rich history.
Singapore Flyer: The world's largest giant observation wheel, Singapore Flyer is a must visit. Choose from several different packages that allow you to be served and pampered while enjoying a view that encompasses not only the Singapore skyline, but reaches to the Spice Islands of Indonesia and Malaysia's Straits of Johor. Each package includes access to the multimedia Journey of Dreams exhibit that delves into Singapore's history and the creation of the Singapore Flyer. Flights last 30 minutes each and run from early morning until late at night.