01 of 08
Why You Should Put Singapore On Your Travel Must-See List
Singapore often gets plenty of attention in the press for reasons totally unrelated to its real charms. Sure, it’s a wealthy country whose permissive taxation policies attract millionaires looking to settle down (hello, Eduardo Saverin), but you don’t have to be a tax accountant to see the real value of a Singapore visit.
Singapore packs a surprisingly massive number of attractions: verdant parks, world-class zoos, luxurious hotels, historical structures, and deliciously cheap eats, all in a land area not much bigger than El Paso, Texas.
With not a little difficulty, we’ve boiled down the reasons for visiting Singapore down to seven bullet points. Read on to find out more about this little island city that thinks big.Continue to 2 of 8 below.
02 of 08
Reason #7 - Watch the Old and New Colliding
Singapore’s relationship with its past, to crib from Facebook, boils down to “it’s complicated”. Many historical buildings in the business center have long been obliterated to make way for gleaming high rises.
But modernity has not always had its own way: ethnic enclaves like Chinatown retain many 19th-century shophouses and temples, and many other signs of Singapore’s past persist all around the island.
Most of Singapore’s oldest buildings find new life through new uses: a former British Army HQ, for instance, has been transformed into the cozy but modern Hotel Fort Canning. Other places have managed to hang on through history’s highs and lows – the Raffles Hotel, opened in 1887, continues to serve patrons in the same Long Bar that once served Somerset Maugham and Charlie Chaplin.
All bets are off, though, when you go to Marina Bay: this part of Singapore is currently undergoing a radical transformation into a “garden city”. Its skyline has been transformed by the addition of structures like the Esplanade, the Gardens by the Bay, the Marina Bay Sands and the Singapore Flyer. To see Singapore rushing headlong into the future, you need to visit Marina Bay posthaste.Continue to 3 of 8 below.
03 of 08
Reason #6 - Explore the Island's Parks & Wildlife
Considering the towering, iconic skylines of Marina Bay and the Civic District, it's hard to imagine Singapore actually living up to its "garden city" aspirations. Leave the built-up areas behind, though, and you'll find a network of parks that spans the island, adding to a green cover that makes up about 46 percent of the country.
The National Parks Board (nparks.gov.sg) manages Singapore's sprawling parks network, which includes family-friendly parks like Kent Ridge Park (pictured above) and seaside promenades like the East Coast Park.
Plans are under way for a "green matrix" of park connectors that will link Singapore's parks and nature reserves all across the island - in a few years, you can cross from west to east throughout the island without stepping out of a park!
Apropos of a country placed in the middle of one of the world's most intense biodiversity hotspots, Singapore also has a number of zoos worth visiting: the (almost) cageless Singapore Zoo, the nocturnal Night Safari , and "Asia's largest bird park", the Jurong Bird Park (birdpark.com.sg).Continue to 4 of 8 below.
04 of 08
Reason #5 - Shop Till You Drop
Keep your credit card under lock and key when you visit Singapore, because you’ll be sorely tempted to go on a shopping rampage. The shopping scene in Singapore is cunningly designed to efficiently part you from your money: shopping centers in Orchard and City Hall are mostly connected by underground passageways to the MRT and to each other, credit cards are widely accepted everywhere (although cash is still king – read about money in Singapore), and the annual Great Singapore Sale slashes prices to bargain levels island-wide!
Tourists who fly out through Changi Airport can also take advantage of Singapore’s tax-free shopping policies – the 7% Goods and Service Tax (GST) levied on shopping in Singapore can be refunded before your outbound flight, thanks to an ultra-efficient Electronic Tourist Refund Scheme (eTRS) in place.
Where you go shopping depends on what you need and where you stay; for more details, check out our list of hottest shopping spots in Singapore.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
05 of 08
Reason #4 - Lie in the Lap of Luxury
Steadily, Singapore has become a favorite playground for the world’s rich. As the world’s biggest businesses have continued to invest in Singapore, so have some of the world’s finest luxury brands.
The hotels along Orchard Road, the Heritage District and Marina Bay have more stars than Ari Emanuel’s phonebook. The burgeoning restaurant scene is evolving away from the country’s hawker roots to embrace Michelin-class extravagance. New Singapore shopping centers like the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands hawk luxury goods like Louis Vuitton, Prada and Bulgari. And spa enthusiasts can lose themselves in the island’s many exclusive spa resorts and day spas.
The aforementioned Marina Bay Sands also hosts one of Singapore’s two casinos – the gaming tables provide another fun way to part with one’s cash!Continue to 6 of 8 below.
06 of 08
Reason #3 – It’s the Ultimate Asian Travel Hub (and Layover Experience)
Singapore’s central location in Southeast Asia makes it an ideal air, land, and sea stopover for visitors who plan to travel elsewhere in the region.
The country’s main air hub, Changi Airport, is easily reached by flights from Los Angeles (compare prices), San Francisco (compare prices), and New York (compare prices). From here, visitors can fly practically anywhere into Southeast Asia, as the region’s major carriers and budget airlines service regular flights from Changi.
The rest of Asia can also be reached by land and sea from Singapore. Bus services depart regularly for Kuala Lumpur in neighboring Malaysia. Singapore is connected by rail to Malaysia and thus to the rest of Asia – the Woodlands rail station is Eastern and Oriental Express’ Southeast Asia terminus. (More at their official website - www.orient-express.com.)
The Singapore Cruise Center (singaporecruise.com.sg) offers ferry services to Batam, Bintan and Karimun, along with a number of international cruise lines. The new Marina Bay Cruise Center (mbccs.com.sg) specializes in cruise operators; most of the biggest names in the cruise business now use the bigger Marina Bay port for their Singapore stops.
Got a long layover? Singapore’s small size and comprehensive transportation system makes it one of the best places to endure a long wait in: just grab an EZ-Link card from the MRT Station at Changi Airport’s basement and head on off to explore the island at your leisure.Continue to 7 of 8 below.
07 of 08
Reason #2 – See Different Cultures Side By Side
For such a small island, Singapore is chock-a-block with a variety of Asian cultures, all living side-by-side, each with an ethnic enclave and a Singapore festival of its own. Officially, the Singapore government recognizes Chinese, Malay, and Tamil (Indian) as the nation's constituent cultures: in each ethnic enclave, individual Singaporeans find a way to eat, worship, and live to the fullest extent of their cultural heritage.
The "enclave" system is rooted in Singapore founder Sir Stamford Raffles' policy of allocating a district to each ethnicity in Singapore. Today's Chinatown, for instance, was allocated in 1828 to the immigrant Chinese of Raffles' day. The dirt and corruption of old Chinatown has long been swept away, with the present narrow streets having been "disneyfied" with garish colors and gentrification. The shophouses that used to shelter brothels and opium houses, for instance, have been converted into museums, offices, and hotels. Visit during Chinese New Year in Singapore to see Chinatown's local vibe turned up to eleven!
The quarters of the former Malay nobility of Singapore have become the kernel for present-day Singapore's Kampong Glam: the former Sultan's palace has now been transformed into the Malay Heritage Center, a cultural showcase for Malay life, past and present. Close by, the golden-domed Sultan Mosque and the bazaars on Bussorah Street and Arab Street provide ample opportunities for tourists to see local Malays pray and shop.
During Ramadan and Aidilfitri, Kampong Glam becomes the site for a massive pasar malam (night market) that caters to Malay Muslims and non-Muslim visitors alike.
At Little India you can see - and smell - how the local Tamil Indian community lives: the area's spices and scents permeate the area, providing an interesting sensory backdrop as you explore. Get some shopping done at the Tekka Market, the Little India Arcade, Campbell Lane, or at the 24-hour Mustafa Centre shopping mall.
Little India is also the place where you can have absolutely authentic Indian food at perennial favorites like Muthu's Curry. The best time to visit Little India coincides with the Indian high holidays of Thaipusam and Deepavali.Continue to 8 of 8 below.
08 of 08
Reason #1 – Pig out on Singapore’s vibrant food culture
Singapore may be a prosperous country, but eating out around here takes place mostly in the country's many hawker centers - open-air foodcourts that sell Malay, Chinese, Thai, Indian, Peranakan, and "Western" food, fast and cheap. Singapore hawker centers serve as an amazing, delicious crash course on the local culture - after all, Singapore (much like Singapore's food) derives its identity from long centuries of trade and the merging of many cultures, brought by the traders and their servants who came and stayed.
Today, Singapore's constituent cultures all vie for your attention when you set foot in a hawker center: will you be having the biryani from the Indian food stall? The nasi lemak from the Malay stall? Or maybe you'd like some char kway teow from the noodle stand? The choices are endless... and surprisingly cheap! (Expect to spend about $2-4 for a filling meal at a Singapore hawker center.)
The food choices become even more varied in the holiday season: Chinese New Year celebrations in Singapore prompt the appearance of specialty Chinese foods like yusheng, while Ramadan and the ensuing Hari Raya (Eid al-Fitr) festival comes with a proliferation of pasar malam (night markets) serving an endless variety of Ramadan foods. Then there's the Singapore Food Festival (singaporefoodfestival.com.sg), several weeks of nothing but food from all over the planet taking center stage all over the island!
If being food-mad were an actual psychological condition, then consider Singapore an island-wide asylum.