For a tiny red blip on the world map, Singapore’s achievements go well beyond its size. Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy give you a lowdown on what to do, where to stay, and what to relish while in the country. By Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy

When Sir Stamford Raffles first docked here in 1819, it seemed the perfect locale for
a trading settlement—by the Singapore River, at the crossroads of the monsoon winds, and a safe harbour. The fair tides brought in trade, communities, and cultures: from Chinese and Indian traders to Malay settlers, Dutch merchants, Arab dhows, and Portuguese battleships. Singapore transformed from a sleepy fishing village to a multi- cultural city that constantly reinvents itself.

Singapore Guide
SuperTree Grove at Gardens by the Bay.

10 ESSENTIAL EXPERIENCES

Your Singapore sojourn is incomplete without these unmissable stops.

1. TOSS PEANUTS AND SINGAPORE SLINGS AT THE LONG BAR

Singapore Sling, the iconic gin- based cocktail, was crafted in 1915 at the Long Bar of Raffles Hotel by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon. Down one at the historic bar where it was invented and don’t forget to toss peanut shells while you’re at it—it’s a colonial tradition.

2. CLICK A 3D PHOTO AT NATIONAL GALLERY SINGAPORE

Pose against a 3D rendition of Drying Salted Fish by local artist Cheong Soo Pieng, a pioneer of the Nanyang style. With 8,000 artworks across 64,103 square metres, National Gallery is the largest museum in Singapore with the world’s biggest public collection of Southeast Asian art. Catch a free guided tour (20 slots daily) from the Visitor Services Counter. 10 am-7 pm (till 10 pm on Fri/Sat); INR 1,032 adults, INR 774 children.

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A bartender at Raffles Hotel concocts the famous Singapore Sling cocktail.

 

3. CHECK OUT THE TIME CAPSULE FROM 1937

The National Gallery is housed in the former Supreme Court and City Hall buildings, restored with an award-winning glass-metal façade. Under the foundation stone lies a time capsule with old papers and coins—to be opened in the year 3000! Explore the prison cells, Rotunda (round library), and the tablet in City Hall commemorating the Japanese surrender accepted by Admiral Lord Mountbatten on September 12, 1945.

4. SEE ORCHIDS NAMED AFTER BOLLYWOOD STARS

Founded in 1859, the Singapore Botanic Garden is the only tropical garden in the world that’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As per Singapore’s ‘orchid diplomacy’, many hybrids at the National Orchid Garden are named after visiting dignitaries, including Bollywood stars like Shahrukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan. Volunteers conduct free tours on Saturday.

5. FEED NECTAR TO LORIKEETS AT JURONG BIRD PARK

While at Asia’s largest bird park, catch the High Flyers Show where macaws and other winged wonders perform unusual tricks. At Lory Loft, colourful lorikeets hop all over you and search for a perch to feed on honey and nectar. You’ll literally have them eating out of your hands! Entry adults INR 1,393, children INR 929.

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The old Supreme Court building now houses the National Art Gallery.

 

6. SPOT CANOLA, THE MANATEE AT SINGAPORE RIVER SAFARI

Spread over 69 acres, the river-themed zoo is Singapore’s top attraction with 1.7 million visitors annually. The biggest attraction here is Canola, the manatee who was abandoned at birth but survived with the care of aquarists at River Safari. Most of the 315 species, including the endangered white rhino and the world’s largest captive population of orangutans, are in a natural environment behind barriers, moats, and glass houses. Get a ParkHopper Plus 4-park admission with tram/boat rides and cover Jurong Bird Park, Singapore Zoo, the neighbouring River Safari, and the world’s first Night Safari. A 4-park pass costs `4,127 per person.

7. VISIT THE SOUTHERN MOST POINT OF ASIA

At Sentosa’s Palawan Beach, a swaying rope bridge takes you to the southern most point on the Asian landmass. For more adventure, take on rides like Battlestar Galactica: HUMAN vs. CYLON or TRANSFORMERS The Ride: The Ultimate 3D Battle at Universal Studios Singapore, see the world’s largest collection of marine life at S.E.A. Aquarium, go for Segway rides, try indoor skydiving at i-Fly, or go wave riding at Wave House Sentosa—all at Resorts World Sentosa. 10 am-7 pm; entry INR 3,818 adults, INR 2,889 children, VIP Tour Unlimited Access INR 15,376.

8. CATCH THE LASER SHOW AT GARDENS BY THE BAY

Every evening (7.45 pm, 8.45 pm) at Gardens by the Bay, the SuperTree Grove of upto 50-metre-tall vertical gardens lights up in a dazzling laser display. The 15-minute sound and light show is free to public. While you’re here, enjoy the tropical rainforest inside Cloud Forest, and see rare plants and flower displays inside the Flower Dome.

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The National Orchid Garden located within the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

 

9. GET A HISTORY LESSON AT THE INDIA HERITAGE CENTRE

The revamped India Heritage Centre in Little India showcases the roots, culture, and contribution of the Indian diaspora to the country. Equipped with a tab, get a dose of augmented reality through interactive panels and exhibits, including those of early ships that sailed to Singapore. 10 am-7 pm, Monday closed; entry INR 206.

10. RIDE ON THE LARGEST OBSERVATION WHEEL IN ASIA

A great perch to see the city by night, Singapore Flyer was the world’s tallest ferris wheel at 165 metres until it was upstaged by the High Roller in Vegas in 2014. Reserve a pod for a private three-course dinner, and check out the 737-800 flight simulator. An immersive experience with life-size cockpits and aircraft controls lets you steer the world’s most popular jet airliner, taking off and landing at any airport in the world. 10 am-10 pm; entry INR 9,030.

Singapore Guide
Lory Loft at Jurong Bird Park, where you can meet and feed over 10 species of lories and lorikeets.

 

5 OFFBEAT TRAILS

Tread off the beaten path in Singapore to uncover these gems.

1. WALK ALONG THE STREET OF THE DEAD

Opposite the towering Sacred Tooth Relic temple in Chinatown is Sago Lane. Named after the sago flour mills in the area, it was later lined by ‘death houses’. Poor Chinese immigrants believed that dying in one’s home brought ill luck to surviving residents, so dorms sprung up with attached funeral parlours. Outlawed in 1961, today, the lane sells funeral paraphernalia and Chinese medicine.

2. ADMIRE WWII MEMORABILIA AT FORT SILOSO

A lift rises 36.3 metres high to a viewing deck and the 200-metre- long walkway snakes above the canopy with stunning sea views, ending at gun placements and the WWII Surrender Chamber. 10 am-6 pm; 90-min guided tour INR 1,031 adults, INR 722 children.

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The S.E.A. Aquarium at Resorts World Sentosa is home to over 1,000 species of marine life.

 

3. TAKE A GUIDED TOUR OF TIGER BALM GARDENS

A guided walk of Haw-Par Villa tells the tale of two brothers who created the iconic ointment Tiger Balm. The villa’s gardens have sculptures depicting Chinese folk tales and moralistic lessons like the 10 Courts of Hell. Besides this ‘Journeys to Hell’ tour (Fri), try the colonial district walk (Mon) and ‘Red Clogs Down The Five Foot Way’ in Chinatown (Wed). The Original Singapore Walks guided tour INR 1,960 Adults, INR 928 children.

4. BE WOWED BY THE STUNNING PERANAKAN TRAIL

Explore the stunning Peranakan houses of Chinese straits-born settlers at Koon Seng Road. Built between 1900 and 1940, these row houses are an architectural wonder with beautiful façades, latticed windows, and ornate Chinese motifs. Also visit the Peranakan Museum, and try Peranakan or Baba Nyonya cuisine at Blue Ginger, Tanjong Pagar Road.

5. SAY HELLO TO DINOSAURS AT THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM

The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum boasts 5,00,000 animal and plant specimens, including a Heritage Gallery with a bird taxidermist’s kit and other exhibits. The highlights: a 10.6- metre sperm whale Jubi Lee that washed ashore in Singapore in 2015 and three dinosaurs from America. 10 am-7 pm; entry INR 1,083 adults, INR 670 children.

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Giant coloured letters spelling Siloso Beach is a major landmark in Singapore.

 

8 GREAT GRUBS

Tuck into these signature dishes while on a food trail in the city.

1. SINGAPORE CHILLI CRAB AT JUMBO SEAFOOD

Jumbo’s award-winning chilli crab makes it hard to get a table at their hectic Riverside Point outlet or the original East Coast Seafood Centre where it all began. The stir-fried crab is coated with sweet, savoury, and spicy tomato sauce.

2. SONG FA’S BAK KUT TEH

From a tiny pushcart on Chinatown’s Johor Road in 1969 to a chain of restaurants, Song Fa’s is known for bak kut teh, its juicy falling-off-the-bone pork ribs and peppery pork rib soup, served with white rice and garlic chilli paste.

3. 328 KATONG LAKSA

The Michelin-star eatery dishes out the town’s best laksa—a coconut based curry with yellow noodles, prawns, boiled egg, sambal, topped with fried onions and peanuts.

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Haw-Par Villa tells the tale of two brothers who created the ointment Tiger Balm.

4. CANTONESE CHICKEN RICE AT BOON TONG KEE

Established as a stall in Chinatown in 1979 serving Cantonese chicken rice infused with white sauce, the flagship restaurant was set up at Balestier Road in 1983 offering zi char (home-style) food.

5. STEAMED PORK DUMPLINGS AT DIN TAI FUNG

This Michelin-star awardee is ranked among the World’s Top 10 Best Restaurants by The New York Times and dishes out signature xiao long baos (steamed pork dumplings) with premium chilli oil and sauce imported from Taiwan.

Singapore Guide
The Peranakan houses of Chinese straits-born settlers at Koon Seng Road.

6. YA KUN KAYA TOAST AND KOPI

Arguably the national breakfast dish, kaya toast is toasted bread slathered with butter and kaya jam―made of eggs, sugar, coconut milk, and pandan leaves. Paired best with hot kopi (coffee) or tea. Try the charcoal grilled version at the original Ya Kun shop or at Killiney Kopitiam―the oldest Hainanese coffee shop in town.

7. BAK KWA AT FRAGRANCE

The Chinese salty-sweet pork jerky is available in regular or spicy versions, though Fragrance offers variants like bacon, turkey, red yeast, honey, pig-shaped Kurobuta (Berkshire pigs), and even a crocodile bak kwa!

 

Singapore Guide
Song Fa is known for its juicy bak kut teh.

8. KUEH AND MOONCAKES AT BENGAWAN SOLO

Purveyors of traditional cakes, buns, and cookies, Bengawan Solo offers treats such as kueh lapis (spiced layer cake), kueh lapis sagu (rainbow layer cake) and ondeh ondeh (coconut-coated glutinous rice balls filled with molten palm sugar).

SAMPLE THIS

Singapore has many exciting dining and drinking destinations with a garnish of history. The 19th-century Victorian era wet market Lau Pa Sat is a bustling street food centre, with stalls radiating from its central clock tower. By evening, traffic on Boon Tat Street is closed as makeshift stalls churn out satays and seafood.

Singapore Guide
Bakkwa (barbecued meat jerky) is one of Singapore’s most popular snacks.

 

HIGH-FIVE BARS

Here’s the lowdown on the best watering holes in Singapore and what to order while there.

1. OPERATION DAGGER

This underground bar in Ann Siang Hill is named after the 1950s cleanup drive of Chinatown to remove gangsters. Once you locate it (in a hidden basement with gang signs)―the 10,000-light-bulb bar decor is the dead giveaway―sample homemade tinctures, aromatic smoke, micro-herbs, and Southeast Asian spices from their in-house ferment programme, stirred into ‘dangerous drinking water’ (cocktails) like Caramelo Koala and Oyster Ice Cream!

2. AH SAM COLD DRINK STALL

Styled like a speakeasy at Boat Quay, try cocktails like Laksa & Beaded Slipper using Singaporean and Asian ingredients.

Singapore Guide
The 19th-century Holy Infant Jesus Chapel has been renovated into an entertainment quarter.

 

3. BAR STORIES

In colourful Haji Lane with vibrant street art, try Miss Joaquim, a cocktail inspired by Singapore’s national flower.

4. NATIVE

Ranked among the World’s Top 50 bars, Native on Amoy Street is award-winning bartender Vijay Mudaliar’s new offering, serving cocktails with locally foraged ingredients—from jasmine blossom to turmeric leaves. Try Antz, a blend of Thai rum, aged sugarcane, tapioca, and soursop topped with ants on a frozen basil leaf.

Singapore Guide
Sample drinks with homemade tinctures, aromatic smoke, and micro-herbs at Operation Dagger cocktail bar.

5. 1-ALTITUDE

Get high at the world’s highest al fresco bar, perched on the 61st to 63rd floors of One Raffles Place. Catch stunning aerial views of Marina Bay Sands and signature cocktails like Zen Breeze and Monster Caipirinha.

GETTING THERE

Singapore Airlines flies direct from Bengaluru, Chennai, and other cities to Changi Airport. The multiple award-winning Changi Airport is packed with facilities for rest, recreation, and retail. Each terminal has something unique: a Cactus Garden and The Social Tree at T1, Sunflower, Orchid and Enchanted Garden at T2, and a Butterfly Garden at T3. Passengers with a layover of at least 51⁄2 hrs can avail a free 21⁄2 hr guided bus tour of Singapore!

Singapore Guide
Try signature cocktails like Zen Breeze at the world’s highest al fresco bar, 1-Altitude.

WHEN TO GO

Singapore is a year-round destination packed with art, culture, sports, and music events, besides festivals: Chinese New Year (Jan-Feb), World Gourmet Summit (Apr-May), Ramadan/Hari Raya (Jun), Great Singapore Sale and Singapore Food Festival (Jul), Mid Autumn Lantern Festival (Sep), Singapore Grand Prix (13-22 Sep), Deepavali, Christmas, and New Year.

Related: Every Country Should Implement Singapore’s Waste Management System