Hopes soared on news that the governments of Hong Kong and Singapore were flirting with the idea of an exclusive travel bubble that would allow the denizens of each city to visit the other. Although the plan has so far remained a pipedream rather than a reality, it may not be too long before the SAR’s wanderlust A-listers can finally hit the skies and visit this tropical destination once more.
The Lion City is not a new hotspot by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, as one of Asia’s premier travel hubs, its pre-Covid tourism figures stretched upwards of 19 million visitors a year – quite an achievement for an island nation that boasts less than six million souls.
A vibrant, bustling city, Singapore combines all the quaint charms of Southeast Asia with a heavy sprinkling of contemporary stylings. Any visitor to the city would surely marvel at its distinctive architecture. How could they not, with iconic structures such as the triple-towered Marina Bay Sands, the Supertrees at Gardens by the Bay, the fanciful Merlion, spiky Durian arts centre, and lotus-like ArtScience Museum immediately capturing the attention?
Singapore is seen as the melting pot of Asia for a reason, and not just because of its scorching heat. You may be too blinded by Marina Bay to appreciate that at first, but stay long enough, and you soon realise that Singapore’s exceptional blend of ethnicities, cultures and food is what makes this city unique. One minute you’re wandering past swanky storefronts on Orchard Road and the next, you’re tucking into the island’s very best fodder, not at some fancy restaurant, but elbow to elbow with locals at a hawker centre. From enthralling cultural experiences stemming from a fascinating history to unbelievable street food and modern-day fun, there’s a lot to see, do and eat in Singapore. If you don’t know where to start, here’s a quick guide to some of the most popular sights, as well as a few hidden gems that are equally worth a visit.
With a prime position abutting Marina Bay, Gardens by the Bay is among the top attractions in Singapore, and rightly so. Here, the verdant greenery offers a refreshing break from the urban jungle just beyond its borders. The sheer variety of plants, and the creative ways in which they’re displayed, is awe-inspiring. In one part of the conservatory, the Cloud Forest mimics the cool-moist ecology of the tropical highlands, while the outdoor Supertree Grove allows guests to meander along treetop bridges for an alternate perspective across the 101 hectares. A key draw of this hugely popular tourist attraction is the oft-photographed 114-foot indoor waterfall, a must-see for any Instagram aficionado.
Forget manicured or wild, the eight-acre outdoor cultural park of Haw Par Villa is, to put it mildly, rather bizarre, yet its quirky nature offers a feast for the eyes. Founded in the ’30s by Tiger Balm founder and philanthropist Aw Boon Haw, it is home to the more than 1,000 detailed sculptures and dioramas commissioned by the magnate to teach traditional Chinese values. At its inception, it was popular and crowded, but a loss of lustre since those early days translates into an unvarnished feel that only enhances its inherent charm. A destination for visitors of all ages, it provides an unfiltered lesson on Chinese morals and culture without long queues and peering through glass panels.
Given its multicultural population, it’s no surprise that the Singapore culinary scene ranks among the world’s most vibrant. Although you may be tempted to indulge at high-rated, high-end dining venues during your stay, no trip would be complete without experiencing the city’s traditional eating hubs, the hawker centres. In these casual dining arenas, scores of stalls serve up an endless array of unimaginably delicious plates – all for extremely reasonable prices. The most popular are Newton Food Centre and Maxwell Hawker Centre, where you can try such delicacies as freshly grilled seafood, laksa and Singapore’s iconic chicken rice, as well as the colourful local desserts.
Jewel in the Crown
It may seem strange to suggest hanging out in an airport, but Jewel Changi – the latest addition to the city’s airport – is a travel destination in its own right. Changi is a constant on Best Airport lists by the likes of Skytrax, CNN and Travel + Leisure magazine, and now the transportation hub features an amazing nature-themed area masterminded by famed architect Moshe Safdie. Within its confines, you’ll find countless shopping, dining and entertainment options. The true jewels within the Jewel, though, are the Rain Vortex – a seven-storey-high indoor waterfall – an indoor forest with suspended walkways, and the Canopy Park, replete with garden trails, bouncing nets and giant slides.
The island city-state has its own dedicated island resort. A 1,236-acre isle off the southern coast, Sentosa is home to major tourist attractions like Universal Studios Singapore and the S.E.A. Aquarium. Also located within the massive playground of Resorts World Sentosa is Luxury Fashion Galleria for the that goes hand-in-hand with a trip abroad. Singaporeans and international travellers also flock to Sentosa to hang out on the beaches, zip line at Mega Adventure Park, and much more. Golfing enthusiasts will not leave disappointed, as the Sentosa Golf Club features two challenging courses to help while away their time. All in all, this mini island has been intelligently designed specifically to appeal to a broad range of folk – except, perhaps, those seeking a more off-the-beaten-path destination.
Taking to the paths of the Singapore Zoo may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is home to 315 different species of animals, of which roughly 16 percent are considered endangered. Built in 1973 and renowned for its ‘open captivity’ design, residents here roam large enclosures dotted with moats, water features and unobtrusive barriers. The formula has clearly found success, with the zoo drawing more than two million visitors each year, who can choose to board trams, boats and even horse-drawn carriages to explore the 69-acre enclosure.
On the Ridge
If you really want to stretch your legs, then head to the Southern Ridges, a 6.2-mile recreational trail that connects five parks along Singapore’s southern rim – Mount Faber Park, Telok Blangah Hill, Hort Park, Kent Ridge Park, and Labrador Nature Reserve. An architectural feat, the walkway wends its way through jungle-like canopies of trees and within plain sight of unusual flora and fauna. Even if you don’t manage to traverse the entire length, make sure you drop by Henderson Waves, a timber deck perched some 256ft in the air. It’s the highest pedestrian bridge in the city and, unsurprisingly, a favourite photo-op for snazzy snappers.