T+L's Definitive Guide to Singapore
Singapore is coming into its own, thanks to forward-thinking design and architecture, and a food scene that is as dyamic as it is diverse.
Lay of the Land
CBD: The Central Business District is a hotbed of modern architecture and includes the 656-foot-high Marina Bay Sands Skypark.
Katong: This area is known for its Peranakan heritage; streets are chockablock with pastel-colored shop-houses.
Little India: In bustling Little India you’ll find food stalls and Hindu temples.
Orchard Road: Head here for high-end restaurants and shopping malls, as well as top hotels.
Sentosa: On the island’s southern tip, there are pristine beaches and waterfront resorts.
Tiong Bahru: Bordering Chinatown, Tiong Bahru’s Art Deco charm, one-off boutiques, and café culture have earned it a cult following among hipsters.
Taxis can be hailed easily; the SMRT is one of the world’s cleanest and most dependable subway systems.
Seven hotels we love, from the new to the classic.
Capella: There are plenty of hotels on Sentosa, but none has the colonial grace of the Capella. Set in the converted 19th-century Royal Artillery buildings, the 112 rooms and villas feature private plunge pools and white-on-white bedding. $$$$
Fullerton Bay Hotel: A modern alternative to the nearby Fullerton—its sister hotel—this 100-room property stands out from its Neoclassical neighbors with a glass façade and contemporary art collection. $$$
Marina Bay Sands: The three-tower Marina Bay Sands has become one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. A highlight: the 133,000-square-foot rooftop with knockout views of the city. $$
Park Royal on Pickering: Conceived by Singapore-based architecture firm Woha, the new Park Royal showcases chic sustainable design. The roof is lined with solar panels while the Zen-like interiors include ponds, waterfalls, and a cabana-lined infinity pool. $$
Raffles: In the CBD, the 1887 Raffles has undergone several contemporary face-lifts but stays true to its colonial-style past. Sikh doormen welcome guests in the main driveway and suites are done up in antiques and Oriental carpets. $$$$$
Wanderlust: Tucked away in Little India, this zany hotel is the brainchild of a group of local design companies. Expect whimsical touches such as life-size pencil drawings of furniture on the walls and neon lighting. $
W Singapore Sentosa Cove: For its Singapore property, Starwood chose to go seaside, to Sentosa. Here, DJ’s spin in the lobby, underwater speakers play music in the pool, and rooms have multiple options for mood lighting. $$$
Hotel Pricing Key
$ Less than $200
$$ $200 to $350
$$$ $350 to $500
$$$$ $500 to $1,000
$$$$$ More than $1,000
See + Do
A four-stop cultural tour of the city.
Designed by Israeli-born Moshe Safdie, the flower-like ArtScience Museum displays exhibits on technology, art, and style by such talent as Japanese video master Naoko Tosa.
The recently expanded Gillman Barracks is one of Singapore’s most unusual contemporary art spaces; it spotlights marquee names from around the world (Chinese artist Ai Weiwei; Australian sculptor Sam Leach).
The Peranakan Museum explores the culture of the Peranakan (descendants of 17th-century Chinese and Indian immigrants who married local Malays). Inside, you’ll find artifacts ranging from ceremonial jewelry to nyonya porcelain vases.
Gardens by the Bay is a futuristic grove of “Supertrees,” the first phase of the city’s 250-acre waterfront park.
Worth a Detour
Often referred to as Singapore’s last kampong (Malay village), Pulau Ubin is a boomerang-shaped island that’s a 10-minute boat ride from Changi Point Ferry Terminal. Once you arrive, rent a bike to see wild mangroves, traditional wooden houses, and the occasional wild boar.
Our favorite spots for authentic wares, clothing, and more.
Books Actually: In his funky Tiong Bahru shop-house, owner Kenny Leck carries the city’s largest collection of literary tomes. The back of the store is dedicated to oddities such as vintage cameras and typewriters.
Pact: Inside the Orchard Central mall, a few of the city’s smaller lifestyle brands have opened this cool multi-concept space: sample the signature 12-hour pork belly at the restaurant Kilo; check out the selection of Americana-inspired threads by local label K.I.N; then head to the back for a cut at Pact & Lim hair salon.
Threadbare & Squirrel: This indie fashion boutique on Bali Lane stocks Singapore’s best regional designers. You’ll find billowy dresses by A.K.A Wayward, geometric-cut wool sweaters by Max.Tan, and laid-back silhouettes from Weekend Sundries.
Tyrwhitt General Company: Hidden above a trendy café off Jalan Besar, this one-of-a-kind shop serves as a platform for emerging craftspeople to sell their work. Best bets: canvas tote bags displaying culinary delicacies, white ceramic plates with emblems of Singapore landmarks, and old maps of the world. On weekends, the place hosts workshops on bookbinding, silk-screening, and leather-working.
Want to know where to dine in Singapore? Here’s our roundup of the city’s most buzzed-about tables.
Immigrants: Chef Damian D’Silva’s new gastrobar in Joo Chiat has rekindled Singapore’s passion for local heritage food: the tapas-style plates include beef-cheek rendang, chilled tofu with century-egg relish, and some of the city’s best chicken wings. $$
Lolla: The founders of a successful underground supper club recently expanded to this two-floor shop-house in Chinatown. Mediterranean-influenced dishes are prepared in the ground floor’s open kitchen, with 14 counter seats; in the industrial-chic basement, you’ll find a large communal table for 22. Don’t miss the fresh sea urchin atop squid-ink custard and finely chopped chives. $$$
No Signboard Seafood: What originally began as a nameless hawker stall in the late 1970’s has grown into five outposts across the city. Swing by the Geylang location for white-pepper crab, a longtime neighborhood favorite. $$$
Pidgin Kitchen & Bar: The latest talk of the town: restaurateurs Adrian Ling and Cleo-Chiang Ling’s new fusion joint in Dempsey Hill, which puts a modern spin on Southeast Asian classics. Try the razor clams tau suan and rich bak kwa macaroni and cheese. $$$
Restaurant André: This three-story Chinatown spot turns out haute French nouvelle plates prepared by Taiwanese chef-owner André Chiang. The rotating eight-course menu is based around Chiang’s “octaphilosophy,” where elements such as memory, salt, and texture become themes in his cooking. What to expect? Dishes such as warm foie gras jelly with black-truffle coulis. $$$$
Yum Cha: Dim sum devotees love Yum Cha’s old-fashioned pushcart service, a novelty rarely seen in Singapore. Located on the second floor of a nondescript building in Chinatown, the restaurant’s marble-topped tables and framed photos of the neighborhood circa 1960 set the backdrop for standout salted-egg prawns and cod steamed with cai poh. $$
Singapore Street Food
For the city’s best Malay, Chinese, Indian, and Peranakan dishes, head to these hawker centers.
At Changi Village (BLK 2/3 Changi Village Rd.; no phone; $), the International Nasi Lemak stall is known for its lemongrass-infused pandan rice.
There is always a line outside the Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice stand at Maxwell Road ($), but it’s worth the wait.
Singapore’s celebrated foodie K. F. Seetoh handpicked the collection of stalls at Makansutra Gluttons Bay ($). Oyster omelettes and fried carrot cake can be enjoyed with a view of the skyline.
Restaurant Pricing Key
$ Less than $25
$$ $25 to $75
$$$ $75 to $150
$$$$ More than $150
Three insiders share their go-to places in the city.
“I often start my day recharging with an avocado drink made from gula melaka (palm sugar) at Green Room Café ($$), in Bishan Park. Chomp Chomp Food Centre (20 Kensington Park Rd.; no phone; $) has great sambal stingray, chicken wings, and sugarcane juice. Come dinnertime, Catalunya ($$$$) shakes up a mean and limited-batch (only 50 glasses per week) Reverse Gin and Tonic, which pairs nicely with the signature suckling pig; the views of the city from the restaurant’s windows are breathtaking.”
Founder and fashion designer, Hansel
“I satisfy my love for all things vintage at Granny’s Day Out, which sells clothing, purses, and shoes sourced from around the globe. Another favorite for retro finds is Hock Siong & Co. (153 Kampong Ampat; 65/6281-8338), in Macpherson. For lunch, Kok Sen Coffee Shop (30 Keong Saik Rd.; 65/6223-2005; $$) serves an incredible prawn noodle soup (be sure to book ahead). At night, I like to catch a play at Wild Rice or Pangdemonium.”
Noor Effendy Ibrahim
Artistic director, the Substation
“For a glimpse into the local art scene, check out the rotating exhibits at Grey Projects, in Tiong Bahru, and Sculpture Square, in Bras Basah. The Substation, where I work, has great contemporary shows. If you like experimental theater, don’t miss a performance at 72-13 Theatreworks. When I want to escape the bustle of the city, there’s no better place than Labrador Nature Reserve, which hugs Singapore’s southern coastline.”
Where to spend a night out.
Singapore’s first stand-alone rooftop bar, Loof, has recently injected its menu with Southeast Asian flavor. Order the chili-crab cheese fries with a Singapore Sour (vodka, sour plum syrup, and calamansi juice).
Touting itself as the “highest alfresco bar in the world,” 1-Altitude offers 360-degree views and is furnished with plush daybeds.
Inspired by a bar in Bali of the same name, the casual-chic restaurant-bar Ku Dé Ta attracts big-name DJ’s thanks to its 600-foot-high perch atop Marina Bay Sands.
The Tippling Club caters to a creative crowd; try the Purple Drank, made with vanilla-and-raisin spirit, curaçao, candy gomme, raspberry, and citrus.
Ku dé Ta
Raffles Hotel, Singapore
Squint a little and it’s easy to imagine how the all-suite Raffles must once have felt when the sea lapped up along its promenade, and Noël Coward and Somerset Maugham sat in the lobby bar tossing back Singapore Slings beneath the lazily twirling fans. The beach has long since been paved over, but thanks to sensitive renovations, the hotel still retains an old-world gravitas (only with added comforts like Wi-Fi, DVD players, and a 24-hour butler service). The 103 colonial-themed suites, set in cloister-like buildings with breezy verandas, surround sweeping private lawns; all have 14-foot ceilings and are outfitted with carved Peranakan furniture, Oriental rugs spread over polished teak floors, rich brocade fabrics, and baths stocked with Fragonard products. Though celebrating its 125th birthday in 2012, the hotel is still a magnet for A-listers (Elizabeth Taylor, Diane von Furstenberg, and Barry Diller have all stayed here). And the bar still mixes a mean Singapore Sling.
No Signboard Seafood Restaurant
A smart, busy place on the Esplanade that started life as a hawker stall, No Signboard Seafood Restaurant offers its giant Sri Lankan crab under a lava of addictive, ruddy-hued sweet-piquant hot sauce amped with garlic, pungent shrimp paste, and a host of secret ingredients.
It’s no wonder that Capella chose the recently revitalized Sentosa for its Asian debut. The 30-acre island off Singapore’s southern coast already has 14 comfortable hotels, but none have this form of colonial grace (public spaces are set in the converted 19th-century Royal Artillery buildings) and modern accents (two new curvilinear wings). All 112 guest rooms, villas, and manors feature teak-lined doors and windows and crisp white-on-white baths; top-floor corner suites open onto patios with alfresco whirlpools. Another spot with standout views: the outdoor dining terraces look out over the bi-level infinity pools, which seem to slip into the South China Sea.
Marina Bay Sands
A budget the size of South Carolina's. A park suspended 650 feet in the air (and large enough to hold four A380 jets). More than 7,000 employees. Singapore's $5.5 billion hotel property is set to catapult this tiny island country off Malaysia into the ranks of futuristic, vertigo-inducing cities like Dubai. Designed by U.S.-based Moshe Safdie, the casino hotel is a mini-city that has 2,560 guest rooms and seven restaurants helmed by such renowned chefs as Daniel Boulud, Guy Savoy, and Tetsuya Wakuda. The three-acre SkyPark has a 500-foot infinity pool. The atrium-style casino's chandelier is made of 132,000 Swarovski crystals. At night, head to the two floating nightclubs—the perfect end to a day in Asia's eye-popping new playground.
Fullerton Bay Hotel Singapore
This Marina Bay masterpiece is tucked in the heart of Singapore’s Central Business District, just minutes from main shopping hubs like Suntec City and Orchard Road. Polished rosewood, leather, and chrome finishes lend an understated spark to each of the 100 rooms; public spaces are a chic mix of iridescent glass tiles, ivory paneling, andfloor-to-ceiling windows (the hotel’s French brasserie, Clifford, was designed by Hong Kong–based starchitect Andre Fu). Health nuts can work out while gazing at the Singapore skyline—the on-site gym is packed with sleek, Technogym machines that face an outdoor deck—while more business-minded travelers will take advantage of the hotel’s three impeccable meeting rooms, named for commodities that were traded in Singapore in the 1930s (saffron, silk, and silver).
The small Peranakan Museum, devoted to the fusion cultures of Singapore, was installed in a disused middle school.