A city as small as Singapore can be toured in just three days, many would say, but to see all the highlights and get beneath the skin of this charming place definitely warrants a longer stay. A tour planned around the major districts allows one to appreciate its history, people and rich cultural diversity in an optimal period of time. Here is the best of Singapore not to be missed.
—Singapore's architectural goldmine. Let yourself be whisked back in time to 1819, when Sir Stamford Raffles first stepped ashore and the Union Jack was raised. Still exuding a strong air of colonialism are well restored government buildings, cathedrals and churches, and the Singapore Cricket Club, once a sports centre for the British colonists. Esplanade Park makes for a pleasant stroll, while learning about the martyrs and heroes, for whom the various memorials in the park have been built. The city's finest museums also lie nestled in and around the district including the Singapore Art Museum, Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore Philatelic Museum and Singapore History Museum. Just at the eastern outskirts of the colonial core stands the renowned Raffles Hotel
. A modest museum on the third floor retells its legend.
—This is the very origin of Singapore's prosperity, with the Merlion (the city's tourism icon) steadfastly standing guard at the mouth of the river. Quaint bridges span the river, ranging from the elegant Anderson Bridge to the simple Ord Bridge. Boat Quay
, an excellent reincarnation of Peranakan shophouses and godowns, is a pleasant place to dine alfresco, with its long slew of chic cafes, restaurants and pubs. Further upstream is Clarke Quay, yet another series of restored shophouses, where a carnival atmosphere prevails at the fall of dusk. Come Sunday, a flea market thrives here, displaying an appealing range of old treasures, curios and collectibles. Other dining and entertainment attractions along the river include the Riverside Point, Riverside Village and Robertson Quay at the uppermost end.
—Home to the towering skyscrapers that lend Singapore its distinctive skyline. Over the years, building after building has battled to be the tallest; today, three have tied for the honours—OUB Building, UOB Building and Republic Plaza, all standing at the maximum permissible height of 280 metres. At one end near the mouth of the Singapore River is The Fullerton Singapore
, a hotel built in the classical architecture that once dominated the district. Further south is Clifford Pier, built in 1931 and is today the embarkation point for cruises to neighbouring islands. Another piece of old Singapore is the Lau Pa Sat Festival Market
, a complete reconstruction of the first municipal market of 1894 that has been transformed into a thriving food centre—the perfect venue for relishing Asian cuisines at rock-bottom prices. Orchard Road
— Shop till you drop! Join the jostling crowds and do what young and trendy Singaporeans do best—shop, catwalk and flaunt their latest buys. Swanky malls and charming boutiques dot Singapore's prime shopping belt from end to end, while chic alfresco eateries make great spots for watching the fashion parade go by. Top stops include local department stores Robinsons
(which is a landmark in itself with the distinctive pagoda-roofed tower of the Singapore Marriott
just above it), and mammoth shopping arcade Ngee Ann City
for its posh boutiques and the anchor tenant, Takashimaya. Christmastime along Orchard Road
is always a colourful spectacle of bright lights and exuberant decorations.
—Once a victim of redevelopment, this ethnic enclave still holds pockets of old, dilapidated buildings where Singaporeans continue to practice age-old trades. Others have been restored to their former state, like the series of shophouses at the Tanjong Pagar Conservation Area. For an authentic taste of Chinese culture, try visiting a teahouse and the Thong Chai Medical Institute, then take a peek into a typical middle-class Chinese home in the 1920s at the Chinaman Scholar's Gallery. Crowded streets throb, especially just before Chinese New Year, when Chinese opera and lion dances add to the festivity. Do not forget to visit the eclectic mix of mosques and temples while you are here—the serene Nagore Durgha Shrine, the elaborate Sri Mariamman Temple and the grand Thian Hock Keng Temple are just a few.
—With its top draw being the Sultan Mosque
, this is the repository of culture for Singapore's Muslim community. Muslim restaurants and coffee shops line the streets, serving up mostly traditional Indian and Malay fare. During the holy month of Ramadan, even more food stalls are set up in preparation for breaking fast at dusk. Shopping here is a delight and a welcomed change from the glitzy malls of Orchard Road
, with stores selling Malay, Indonesian and Middle Eastern merchandise—lots of textiles, carpets, antiques, jewellery, artefacts, basket wares and alcohol-free perfumes. Do not forget to drop by Istana Kampung Glam and take a stroll around Singapore's oldest Malay cemetrey.
—A riot of colour, particularly on Sundays and during major Hindu festivals, like Thaipusam and Deepavali
. Awash with scents and sights of the Indian subcontinent, this is where Indian men and sari-clad women abound, and everything needed by Indian households is found. Traces of Hinduism are seen everywhere, from the embellished Veeramukaliamman Temple to pictures of Hindu deities. Mustafa Centre
sells just about anything you need under one roof and is a haven for bargain hunters.