Visiting Singapore – A City Guide

Visiting Singapore – A City Guide was originally published as Singapore Guide on IHG

visiting Singapore, Gardens by the Bay

Visiting Singapore? Gardens by the Bay is one of the top attractions

Modern, prosperous and dynamic, Singapore is a global hub for finance, high-tech industry and international trade. If you’re visiting on holiday, it’s a shopper’s haven and a foodie’s dream, with gleaming malls and a legendary food scene that takes in everything from Chinese, Malay and Indian street food to sophisticated fine-dining restaurants.

If you’ve an urge to explore, you can discover the island’s multicultural heritage in Chinatown, Little India, Kampong Glam and the grand colonial buildings of the Civic District. You’ll also find plenty of beachside activities, rainforest parks, a thriving arts scene and 21st-century attractions like Gardens By The Bay.

Visiting Singapore: city layout

Shaped like a diamond, Singapore combines towering skyscrapers, traditional communities and modern waterfront developments.

Restored 19th-century colonial buildings are clustered in the city and Civic District near the Singapore River, with Chinatown close by. Little India and Kampong Glam are found to the north of the city and head east for the popular local suburbs of Geylang and Joo Chiat.

There’s an extensive network of nature reserves and parks throughout the island. Holidaymakers are drawn to islands such as Pulau Ubin for nature trails and bike tracks as well as Sentosa island, connected to central Singapore via a bridge, for seaside entertainment and theme parks.

Top attractions in Singapore

The beautifully landscaped Gardens By The Bay is home to the Cloud Forest and Flower Dome greenhouses, filled with blooms from across the world. Don’t miss the OCBC Skyway, a walkway set among 18 ‘supertree’ sculptures, which comes alive after dark with a magical light display.

For a relaxing day out, head to Sentosa island to soak up the sun on the beach, enjoy a leisurely round of golf or brave the thrilling rides at the Universal Studios Singapore theme park.

Singapore Zoo is home to white tigers, honey-loving sun bears and African lions. You can spot the giant pandas, Kai Kai and Jia Jia, at the River Safari, or nocturnal leopards on the Night Safari.

For a bird’s eye view of Singapore head to the Singapore Flyer, a 165-metre observation wheel with 360-degree views of the island.

The concierge recommends…

  • A walk around Marina Bay to enjoy the city’s night lights.
  • A stroll through the Singapore Botanic Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site housing lush themed gardens with more than 1,000 species of orchid.
  • food tour through the well-loved haunts in Chinatown, Geylang Serai, Joo Chiat or Kampong Glam.
  • A visit to Pulau Ubin, a kampong (traditional) village off the coast near Changi Airport.
  • Booking tickets for a traditional dance performance, a play or a concert at the iconic Esplanade arts centre.

Hotels in Singapore

For your stay in Singapore there are hotels that will suit every budget and travel need. The city’s efficient transport system makes travelling around a breeze, and it’s easy to find hotels within walking distance of a train station.

If you want to be in the thick of the action, pick a central location like Orchard Road, Singapore’s most famous shopping street, or close to the energetic nightlife hubs around Clarke Quay, Robertson Quay or Club Street. For a budget hotel in Singapore you’ll find good choices in Little India and Kampong Glam.

Singapore hotels in the central business district (CBD) or at Bugis, Outram Road and North Bridge Road are good for business travellers, with plenty of entertainment nearby.

Families might appreciate the quieter residential areas with easy access to the centre, like Tiong Bahru and River Valley, or a beachside retreat on Sentosa.

Eating Out in Singapore

Katong Laksa, Singapore Cuisine

Singapore Katong Laksa by Jpatokal, wiki Commons

Singapore’s culinary scene lies at the heart of local life. Choices range from Chinese, Indian and Asian street food at budget-friendly hawker centres in Maxwell Road, Lau Pa Sat and Tiong Bahru Market to award winning fine-dining restaurants like Restaurant Andre or Tippling Club.

For a special night out, try a rooftop restaurant such as Stellar at 1-Altitude to enjoy panoramic city views while you feast on modern European or Asian fare.

If you’re looking for an authentic Singaporean experience, BonAppetour organises trips to local families’ homes for a traditional meal, as well as gourmet cooking classes.

The chef recommends…

  • Chilli Crab: Sweet, savoury and spicy, this dish is prepared by stir-frying crabs in tomato and chilli sauce. Best eaten with fried mantous (Chinese buns).
  • Hainanese Chicken Rice: Steamed chicken, rice cooked in rich chicken broth and cucumber slices make up this beloved national dish. Spicy chilli and ginger paste is the perfect accompaniment.
  • Laksa: This delicious Peranakan soup consists of rice noodles, spices and seafood cooked in creamy coconut milk.
  • Bah Kut Teh or “meat bone tea”, prepared by simmering pork ribs in broth filled with herbs and spices.

Shopping in Singapore

Singapore’s vibrant local shopping streets and glitzy international malls should satisfy even the most demanding of shoppers.

Around Orchard Road you’ll find glamorous malls like TakashimayaParagon and Ngee Ann City, filled with high-end boutiques, luxury labels and gourmet food products. For popular local brands try exploring central malls like Marina SquareMillenia Walk or Raffles City Complex.

If you’re on the lookout for souvenirs, you can pick up Asian antiques, artworks and colourful fabrics along the quirky streets of Little India, Chinatown and Kampong Glam.

Local shopping in Singapore:

  • Ann Siang Hill: The historic streets around Ann Siang Hill and Telok Ayer are lined with independent boutiques selling unique clothing, fashion accessories and home ornaments.
  • Haji Lane: Designer boutiques selling modern and vintage fashion and lifestyle accessories have transformed this narrow alley in Kampong Glam.
  • Bugis Village: Its crowded lanes are home to a labyrinth of stores in restored shophouses, selling everything from fashion to food and electronics. Ideal for shoppers on a budget.

Culture & Nightlife in Singapore

Singapore’s cultural scene reflects its unique racial mix. The streets of Chinatown, Kampong Glam and Little India are filled with traditional shophouses and temples. A trip to the Buddha Tooth Relic TempleSri Mariamman Temple or Sultan Mosque provides a glimpse into the religious traditions of the local Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim communities. You’ll find throngs of devotees in traditional garments playing musical instruments at Sri Mariamman’s frequent temple processions.

You can trace Singapore’s history through the art, artefacts and multimedia displays at the National Museum of Singapore. Traditional Chinese beadwork, porcelain and sarong kebaya dresses are on display at the Peranakan Museum.

Singapore nightlife takes in everything from sleek rooftop bars to chic beachside hangouts and stylish nightclubs. For an evening of feasting and late-night revelry head to Clarke Quay or ClubStreet. The vibe is quieter at Robertson Quay, or at Dempsey Hill, where a relaxed evening can be enjoyed.

Live music venues in Singapore:

  • Blu Jaz Cafe: Jazz lovers flock to this funky bar for its live music, as well as R&B, hip-hop and Latin dance parties.
  • Timbre: There are three Timbre venues in Singapore, with regular performances by local and international bands.
  • Catch a free concert from the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, held at venues such as the Botanic Gardens.

Leisure in Singapore

Lovers of the outdoors can find plenty to please in Singapore’s parks. You can rent a bike and follow the island-wide park connector network. You’ll enjoy coastal views, tropical greenery and cooling breezes on a ride from East Coast Park to the popular Changi Village Food Centre, which dishes up some of the best nasi lemak (coconut rice) on the island.

Nature lovers can take a treetop walk on the suspension bridge at MacRitchie Reservoir, a leisurely stroll around the hilltop at Fort Canning Park or enjoy panoramic views of the city from the Southern Ridges.

For families, the landscaped roof of the Marina Barrage, looking out over the city and Marina Bay, is a popular spot for picnics and kite flying. Ride the Singapore Cable Car over to Sentosa resort for beach watersports, golf, theme parks and views of the harbour from the Imbiah lookout.

Thrill seekers can try indoor skydiving at iFly Singapore on Sentosa or hurtle through the air in a reverse bungy or GX-5 extreme swing at Clarke Quay. Get closer to nature in the Bedok Reservoir and tackle the family friendly treetop ziplines at the Forest Adventure.

Singapore Hokkien Mee

Singaporean Hokkien Mee by Nicholas Chia, Flickr

To eat as the Singaporeans do, head to a local cafe for a breakfast of kaya toast and soft boiled eggs. For a Sunday treat, try one of Singapore’s famous Champagne brunches at Garibaldi or Catalunya.

Best Eats in Singapore:

  • Tong Ah Eating House: This cafe serves up slices of crispy kaya toast and cups of smooth, fragrant kopi (traditional coffee).
  • Chinatown Food Street: Great for street-side dining on local delicacies like hokkien mee and roti prata.
  • Kok Sen Restaurant: This old-school dining establishment turns out some of the tastiest Cantonese wok-fried dishes on the island.
  • Din Tai Fung: This Taiwanese dumpling house has taken Singapore by storm with branches throughout the island.

Singapore Food Guide: 10 Must-try Dishes + Where to Eat Them

The Singapore food scene is a spicy reflection of its multicultural heritage. Very much like Malaysia, the island nation has been a world-renowned trade hub for centuries. By the 400s A.D., Arabs, Chinese, Indian, Javanese, and also Malay merchants heavily trafficked its Straits.

Eleven centuries later, the arrival of colonial powers such as Portugal and Great Britain brought with it another wave of migrant workers–adding even more ingredients to the melting pot.

buffet, Singapore food guide

Singapore food buffet by Jezy, Flickr

Given its history, I couldn’t wait to take a bite out of Singapore during one of my short stopovers this past summer. And so I enlisted the help of James from Culture Bites to introduce me not only to the most traditional dishes, but also its thriving contemporary foodie scene.

Below, my favorite foodie finds in the city!

Singapore Food Guide: Top Traditional Dishes and Spots

Katong Laksa, Singapore Cuisine

Singapore Laksa by Jpatokal, wiki Commons

Katong Laksa

Janggut Laksa: #01-64, Roxy Square, 50 East Coast Road

This Chinese-Malay concoction is the quintessential Singaporean dish–and one of many delicious curry variations in Asia.

Fish cakes, eggs, shrimp, and chicken are boiled with rice noodles in a spicy coconut milk base.

What makes Singaporean Katong laksa truly stand out, however, are its cut-up noodles (usually considered bad luck by the Chinese!) and addition of tofu puffs and cockles.

popiah, food in Singapore

Singaporean Popiah by ProjectManhattan, wiki Commons


Kway Guan Huat Joo Chiat Original Popiah & Kueh Pie Tee: 95 Joo Chiat Road

The Hokkien diaspora has spread the consumption of these thin, crêpe-like spring rolls all over Southeast Asia.

Particularly, popiah in Singapore and Malaysia is made by rubbing the batter onto a hot plate until thin. Then, it is stuffed.

Common ingredients include been sprouts, shredded omelette, peanuts, fried tofu, carrots–which are mixed with either soy sauce, shrimp paste, and/or spicy chili sauce.

chili crab, Singapore seafood

chili crab photo by Chris Chen, Flickr

Chilli Crab

Jumbo Seafood: 20 Upper Circular Road #B1-48, Riverwalk, Clarke Quay

Partly-opened crab, steamed, then stir-fried in a thick tomato chili gravy. What’s not to like?!

While somewhat intimidating to tourists with low heat tolerance like myself, I was pleasantly surprised to find that chilli crab is deliciously palatable. Must be the sweet ketchup, beautifully balancing the fiery chilies.

sambal stingray, unique Singapore food

sambal stingray plate by singaporelocalfavourites .com

Sambal Stingray

BBq Seafood: #03-178, Taman Jurong Market and Food Centre

Barbecue or sambal stingray is one of the most unique foods in Singapore. It is typically wrapped in a banana leaf, grilled until lightly charred.

More recently though, establishments have started to cook the rays on a hot plate until its shrimp-based chili spread (known as sambal belachan) is sizzling.

Don’t be put off by this traditional Singaporean street food: the stingray’s texture might remind you of lobster, lacking a ‘fishy’ aftertaste and no fine bones.

If your taste buds can handle the heat, try it!

Singapore Hokkien Mee

Singaporean Hokkien Mee by Nicholas Chia, Flickr

Hokkien Prawn Mee

Come Daily Fried Hokkien Prawn Mee: #02-27, Blk 127 Toa Payoh Lor 1

You might recognize this name from my Malaysia foodie guide, but they are in fact two totally distinct dishes!

Unlike the soupy Penang Hokkien prawn mee, the Singaporean version refers to yellow noodles stirfried with soy sauce, garlic, prawns, squid, eggs, bean sprouts, and angel hair rice noodles. Sambal and lime are traditional tangy toppings as well.

Char kway teow, Singapore-Chinese noodles

Photo by Ben Lee, Flickr

Char Kway Teow

Hill Street Fried Kway Teow: #01-187, Blk 16, Bedok South Road

Char kway teow is another national dish shared by both Singapore and Malaysia.

The fatty dish consists of flat rice noodles, bean sprouts, prawns, Chinese sausage, fish cakes, and sometimes crispy pork lard. A salty helping of dark soy sauce and chilies bring all the ingredients together.

Another version of the dish is also popular in Indonesia, where it’s made sweeter, spicier, and without pork–an accommodation to its Muslim majority.

Singapore Food Guide: Contemporary Samplings and Hip Spots

contemporary Singapore food scene

Keong Saik Road and its vicinity have a dodgy background. In recent years, however, the area morphed into a shining star of Singapore’s contemporary foodie scene.

Posh restaurants, bars, and even boutique hotels now sprinkle the area.

As I scoured the streets with James, a few spots with imaginative cocktails and bites caught my attention.

I’ll gladly share the short list with you, but remember: menus change often!

unique Singapore cocktails, The Library

Grand Theft Nacho Cocktail

The Library: 47 Keong Saik Road, Chinatown

Behind a password-protected liquor store door is a romantic, dim-lit speakeasy bursting with young, talented mixologists.

The Library offers a beautifully-crafted cocktail list, with one of the favorites being a Doritos-infused tequila cocktail.

The Mexican agave base is expertly mixed with spiced cherry tomato shrub, minty amaro Strega, dry sherry–garnished with Creole bitters, lime, and a side of nachos.

Singapore's best restaurants, burnt ends

Pulled Pork Brioche Burger

Burnt Ends: 20 Teck Lim Road

Dave Pynt directs the daily roasting, smoking, grilling, and baking of meats in dreamy ways at Burnt Ends.

Their specialty? PORK. Particularly, their crunchy suckling pig and pulled pork brioche burger alone are worth the trip.

best food in Singapore, Neon Pigeon

Smoked Pork Buns

Neon Pigeon: 1 Keong Saik Road, Chinatown

The name may not say much, but these smoked pork buns, topped with pickled daikon and ginger, are a memorable Asian fusion creation.

The cucumber goma-salar, smothered with peanuts, is another honorable mention at this hip Japanese-inspired F&B concept.

Singapore food, Hibiscus ice cream

Hibiscus and Smoked Ice Cream

Burnt Ends: 20 Teck Lim Road

I could have never pictured smoking my ice cream and topping it with an aromatic flower, but Burnt Ends threw it out of the park again!

This delicate dessert was the perfect ending of my unique foodie walk in Singapore.

What’s your favorite food in Singapore? Share with me below!

Want to eat it all? Contact Culture Bites Singapore to book a food walk or a completely customized experience, like mine! Many thanks to James for the fabulous complimentary introduction to Singaporean cuisine, btw 😀