Off the mainland of Southeast Asia lies a city with both sophisticated towering high-rises and an untamed jungle. Singapore, the world’s only city-state, seems to have one foot in the present and one in its past. The 51-year-old country may be a global finance player but it’s also a place where treasured dishes are shared in open-air food markets. At just 300 square miles Singapore is easy to see in a few days, but takes a lifetime to fully understand. We’ve put together a list of must-sees that will have you communing with nature, sampling traditional Asian fare and shopping.
As far as first impressions go, Changi Airport, where most visitors to Singapore begin their journey, makes an incredible one. A new flight arrives every 90 seconds at the busy hub and the airport is basically a destination unto itself. There’s a butterfly garden, a sunflower garden, spas, food, shopping, a swimming pool and even a theme park. Try not to get too distracted in the airport and head outside.
Make your first stop the Singapore Botanic Gardens. The park in downtown Singapore is open from 5am to midnight and is a quiet escape from the bustling city for both locals and visitors. Wander the orchid garden, take in the lush rainforest or the lily ponds, all while starting to become accustomed to the humidity of the country.
After your climate introduction it’s time to get know the food at one of Singapore’s Hawker Food Stall Centers. These open-air markets are foodie paradise. Tons of inexpensive options, with dishes created from recipes passed down generations. The Newtown Circus on Bukit Timah Road is one of the most famous Hawker Centers and provides a good way for foreigners to ease into the experience.
If your feet can stand a little more walking, end the day with some shopping. Orchard Road is known for its designer collections but fashionistas should also check out Haji Lane in the Muslim district. The unassuming street is home to a variety of small boutiques that rival the hippest retail streets of Paris, New York and LA.
A 10-minute boat from Changi Point Ferry Terminal transports you to a window to Singapore’s past. The island of Pulau Ubin is rural, untamed and brimming with history. Rent a bike and explore, keeping an eye out for wildlife and striking up conversations with locals at one of the tiny stores.
Make your way back to downtown Singapore in time for the nightlife. Hip, young Singaporeans gravitate towards Zouk, a historic nightclub where you can dance the night away (or to 2am anyways). For a quieter taste of Singapore nightlife visit speakeasy 28 Hong Kong Street, which, despite the address in the name, you might have difficulty finding. Once you do you’ll have your choice of cocktails ranging from classic to inventive in a swanky bar that any 1920s lover will adore.
Awake to your final day in Singapore ready for some culture. Singapore’s Chinatown Heritage Center is the first stop in Chinatown. The cultural center offers walking tours of the area where you’ll learn the history of Chinatown, see recreated living quarters, including bedrooms and kitchens from the late 19th Century. Before making your way to the airport, visit Marina Bay Sands or the Singapore Flyer, both of which offer incredible views of the city you’ve spent the past few days exploring.