Singapore is a cultural melting pot; a place where historic colonial influence is being pushed aside in favor of the new and ultramodern. It is forging ahead as one of Asia’s nicest, most advanced cities, possessing a unique ability to seamlessly integrate art into the cityscape through funky architecture, abstract green spaces, and stunning visual displays of light and sound. Singapore is stacked with luxury shopping meccas, trendy rooftop bars, and world-class cuisine as diverse as the people who live there.
I recently spent a few days seeing for myself if Singapore lives up to all the hype. And while small cities ridden with charm like overflowing flower boxes and street accordion players are really more my speed, it turns out that the luxurious amenities of this futuristic city hold a surprising appeal.
WHAT TO LOVE:
I find the thought of visiting a large Asian city to be overwhelming. I don’t like big crowds or places that are difficult to navigate on foot, and many Asian cities exude a sense of organized chaos that can be intimidating to even the most experienced of travelers. I was equally surprised and pleased to find that Singapore did not meet these stereotypes. It is largely Westernized, and thus, serves as a nice gateway city for travelers who are hesitant to jump head first into the exotic charms of Asia.
First of all, it’s CLEAN. Incredibly clean, like a germaphobe’s dream. You’ll receive a hefty fine for littering anything from gum to cigarette butts on Singapore’s streets. But it is evident that the locals and tourists tend to abide by the rules, and I appreciate that. There is also less pollution than I would have anticipated. Singapore has made tremendous efforts to be a green city and it shows.
It’s safe. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more safe in a country. The crime rate here is incredibly low and the people are gentle-natured. I would not think twice about returning to Singapore on my own, as a twenty-something female traveler.
It’s modern and swanky. As someone who spends most of her time traveling around the old world in Europe, I found Singapore’s angular, contemporary skyscrapers to be particularly impressive. Equally as impressive? The service you receive inside those fancy buildings. You can expect five-star service from most hotels and restaurants, as well as locals that genuinely care about the experience you have in their country.
WHAT TO LOVE LESS:
Singapore sits right on the equator, meaning it’s hot and humid year-round. I’m unaccustomed to this type of humidity and found it to be intense and exhausting. Someone who lives in a more tropical climate than Colorado probably wouldn’t have been as affected by the heat. The other big downfall? The cost. Singapore is consistently ranked one of the most expensive cities in the world. And while you can avoid spending a lot of money on certain things (like food and transportation), hotels and activities definitely add up. The best way to combat this? Keep your stay short! Singapore is small so you can see and do a lot in just a few days… and avoid breaking the bank.
WHAT TO DO:
Visit Gardens by the Bay. The gardens are a true testament to Singapore’s commitment to environmental sustainability. Designed with the intention of turning Singapore into a “City in a Garden,” this nature park has two climate-controlled conservatories – the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest – home to a combined 220,000 plants from around the world. The gardens also feature grove of Supertrees – artificial, solar-powered trees that also provide the structure for natural ferns and flowering plants to grow upon.
Have a Singapore Sling at Raffles Hotel, where in 1915, the now famed cocktail was first created. Raffles is one of the few remaining 19th century hotels in the world and it has been well-preserved to its former glory. Ask any local where to get the best Singapore Sling and they’ll point you in this direction.
Visit the Hawker Centers. For some of the city’s best and cheapest eats, turn to the Hawker Centers. These food courts are an important part of Singaporean culture, viewed as hubs for congregating, rather than just enjoying a meal. On my visit, I stopped at the Maxwell Food Center (near Chinatown) because I was committed to trying the famed chicken rice from Tian Tian. This stall has received enormous praise from well-known chefs like Anthony Bourdain, although I’ve got to say, the line was a little too long and the dish a little too bland for my liking.
Marvel at the architecture. Singapore is an architectural playground, earning the name ‘Garden City’ for the city’s dedication to integrating parks and greenery into the urban landscape. The skyscrapers are contemporary and minimalist and stand in sharp contrast to the remaining colonial structures in the heart of the city.
Go to the top of Marina Bay Sands. It’s famous for the pool (which is only available for hotel guests to swim in), but the top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel is also home to several bars, restaurants, and the Sands Skypark Observation Deck where you can take in the incredible view of Singapore’s skyline.
Visit Chinatown. Escape the city’s skyscrapers and seek out something more authentic. Chinatown is bustling with locals and tourists wandering between fragrant food carts, stalls selling silk robes and lucky cats, and stands piled high with exotic fruits including Durian. Beyond the market, you can explore several temples, tea houses and the best Chinese restaurants. This is where modern meets tradition in Singapore.