Officially it’s the Republic of Singapore and a sovereign city-state with a population of over 5 million on an island that’s not even as big geographically as New York City. We were fortunate to visit this year and my expat brother and family showed us some of the top sights. It’s now way up there as one of my favourite destinations.
Singapore really is a mecca for family fun in a compact, safe, country. It was my first time to Asia and a real eye-opener. Singapore is a futuristic, magnificent showcase of wealth; the country is the fourth wealthiest in the world.
Here are twelve top Singapore attractions.
Singapore continues to evolve as the Garden City, a vision that began in the 60’s. Every evening at Gardens by the Bay, the tree-like towers in Supertree Grove, shimmer and sparkle to a background of ethereal music. Gaze up from below or enjoy the sky-high walkways looking down on 250 acres of nature with gorgeous gardens and two conservatories, the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest. We visited the latter that replicates the climate of cool moist mountain regions. Take the elevator to the top of Cloud Mountain and enjoy the lush landscapes as you walk down a circular path past a 115-foot waterfall from level to level.
Adjacent to Gardens by the Bay is Marina Bay Sands, a resort that opened in 2011 at the whopping cost of 8 billion dollars. It includes a sky park, casino, hotel, convention/exhibition centre, skating rink, restaurants, theatres, a museum, and a 340-metre infinity swimming pool atop. Wow, I’ve never seen anything like it. And then for all your luxury shopping needs, the resort also includes the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands.
3. Night Safari
Upon arrival, I realized what a very big deal the Singapore Zoo is; it’s a massive operation on a Disney scale. The night safari is a peaceful ride through the zoo on a commentated journey, seeing the animals in softly glowing. Many of the animals appear to roam freely with no fences to be seen; with moats the only barrier between them and you. But the night safari is just one of the special experiences waiting for you at the Zoo. There are performances, like the Creatures of the Night Show, and plenty of dining opportunities.
Wander through this colourful sanctuary with more than 5,000 birds across 400 species. The many habitats and exhibits cover a large area (about 50 acres) but if your feet are weary you can hop on a guided tram. Don’t miss taking in a show! Whether it’s the King of the Skies or the High Flyers, it will be the highlight of your visit. We saw the latter, and the glee on the school kids’ faces was adorable when trained birds alighted on the arms of lucky volunteers. After the show, you can go up front for close-up picture taking.
5. Stay and play on Sentosa Island
Sentosa Island is the focal point for family fun in Singapore. This is where you’ll want to stay and play at a variety of attractions. It’s an island paradise for families. You’ve got Universal Studios, Marine Life Park Aquarium, the Maritime Experiential Museum, Tiger Sky Tower, S.E.A. Aquarium, Butterfly Park and Insect Kingdom, Mega Adventure Park, Trick Eye museum, Sentosa Luge, Sentosa 4D Adventures, Battlestar Galactica roller coaster, Adventure Cove Waterpark, golf, beaches, walking trails, restaurants, hotels, and if that is incredibly not enough there’s a whole lot more.
6. Bumboat River Cruising
Gliding along the river and bay is a great way to give your feet a rest, and casually take in the some of the top tourist sights. Buy a beverage to take on board before you embark and have your camera ready. The Merlion fountain is probably the most photographed sight in Singapore. Cruises take about 45 minutes.
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7. Ethnic neighbourhoods
We zipped over to Chinatown by subway to a restaurant destination, Well Dressed Salad Bar and Café for super laid-back vegetarian and vegan fare. I’ve never been to China, but I’ve been to a few Chinatowns and this was by far the best. Walking the narrow alleyways, laden with every bauble and trinket imaginable, was great fun!
We also quickly stopped in at the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple Museum (free admission). Yes, that is an unusual name, apparently, the left canine tooth of Buddha recovered from his funeral pyre is displayed there.
Another quick subway ride took us over to Little India, for another great culture walk. It’s worth going just to see the temples like Veeramakaliamman Temple.
Many say that this is an overpriced tourist trap, but I would say it’s a must do if you are in Singapore. The Raffles Hotel Singapore, home of the Singapore Sling, is awe inspiring grandeur in the plantation style. Yes, the cocktails In the Bar and Billiard Room are expensive (they are everywhere else too), but we thoroughly enjoyed it. The Singapore Sling was invented here as a more discreet way for ladies to make merry, in a pretty pink gin-based beverage.
And your visit comes with free, all-you-can-eat peanuts. Wondering what to do with the shells? Toss them on the floor like everyone else. Kids love it! Casual attire is fine.
9. Riverside stroll
My favourite thing to do in Singapore was to walk along Clarke Quay, the Singapore River and around the harbour, gawking at the anything goes architecture, and stopping in at a riverside pub. Singapore takes gardens and greenery very seriously and you’ll see Botany incorporated into buildings everywhere. New developments must include significant amounts of green space and the innovative ways that plants are incorporated is nothing short of wondrous.
On one stroll, we stopped at the Asian Civilizations Museum where we gained a better appreciation for Singapore’s rich history. The museum restaurant, Privé, has an incredible showcase of desserts and riverside dining. The peanut butter cream cheese pie sure looked good.
10. Hawker centres and rooftop dining
If you like to eat, like I do, dining in a hawker centre is a dream come true. It’s a whole lot of inexpensive food of amazing variety in a food court like setting. They’re all over town and popular with the locals.
We attempted to eat at one of the most famous hawker centres, Maxwell Food Centre, but sadly it was closed for spring cleaning. But we were completely satisfied sampling the wares at Lau Pa Sat. It’s in the heart of the financial district and a more upscale hawker experience. We took our dessert to the outdoor seating, a Choco Brownie Korean Bingsu shared three ways. It was so yummy and the perfect refreshment for the humid heat. At noon, we watched the office towers spill out hoards of workers and pour into the food centre. So going a little early is a good idea if you want to avoid line-ups, although they do move quickly.
For a more grown-up activity, there are loads of sky high roof top dining opportunities with sweeping city vistas and we thoroughly enjoyed three: me@OUE, Joie, and an outdoor rooftop bar perched atop the Fullerton Hotel Singapore. Watch the Singapore skies light up at night.
11. Hiking through rain forests
We enjoyed nature walks in a couple of places. Take a cable car up to Mount Faber and walk the heritage trails in the rainforest. You’ll see signs not to carry plastic bags; apparently, the monkeys are attracted to them and the likelihood that they contain food. I hoped to see a monkey in the wild but they were elusive to us. (Should have carried a plastic bag :))
Fort Canning Park is another great place for a peaceful stroll with gorgeous gardens and lush lawns. There’s some stair climbing so get ready to break a sweat.
12. Airport entertainment like nowhere else
Even Changi Airport is a wonderland, with a nature trail, gardens, a swimming pool, a multimedia entertainment centre, movie theatre, koi pond, a 12-metre slide, and a butterfly garden. You may want to add in some extra time there.
Even after seeing all of that, I know that there was so much more than we could have seen. Special thanks to my brother and sister-in-law for the great hospitality. May we come back?
For more information visit www.visitsingapore.com
Tip: Singapore is an extremely safe city for a reason. They’ve got some pretty strict laws with fierce penalties to match. For example, a prescription is required for chewing gum. A tourist can bring in two packs but whatever you do, don’t chew it on the public transport or that could cost you a hefty fine. Likewise, don’t get caught spitting on the sidewalk or jaywalking.
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