Experience the real Singapore with expat Eliza’s tried and tested list of things to do, what to see and where to eat. She’s researched it all so, whether you’re in town for a week or just overnight, you can get a taste of the city’s rich heritage (and hopefully keep your distance from the selfie-stick-wielding tourists).
Many people treat Singapore as a stop off on route to an exotic island somewhere in South East Asia. No point leaving the airport, they think, Singapore is just a high rise urban metropolis devoid of any character. There was a time when this reputation was well-deserved but now things couldn’t be more different. The city’s culturally diverse population is reflected everywhere – in its food, architecture, places of worship and shops. Having lived here for a while now and enjoyed so much of the city, here is a selection of my favourite things to do if you find yourself in Singa.
Dining doesn’t get more hedonistic or exquisite than a free-flow Champagne brunch at one of the city’s world-class luxury hotels. They are rife in Singapore and, although you have to pay quite a hefty price tag up front, you can eat and drink to your heart’s content. Think oysters, roasted joints of meat, cured meats, cheese, freshly baked bread, handmade ravioli all washed down with the finest champagne or cocktail, if bubbles aren’t your thing. My top pick is brunch at the Bar & Billiards Room at the landmark colonial Raffles Hotel (pictured) or the Dim Sum brunch at The Fullerton Hotel.
At the other end of the scale are the bustling Hawker Centres dotted around the city, offering fresh, authentic and affordable food. Most notable is Lau Pa Sat (pictured), offering up a feast of hawker fare such as grilled satay, lurid mounds of sweet ice kachang and Indonesian nasi padang for no more than $5 a dish. The food is incredible, as are the opportunities for some fantastic people watching.
A short walk around Marina Bay leads you to the iconic flower shaped ArtScience Museum with it’s impressive exhibitions, which in the past have included retrospectives on Genghis Khan and Silk Road treasures. Well worth a visit.
For quaint reminders of the city’s past head for a wander around The Arab Quarter. I love whiling away hours browsing the old fashioned shophouses on Haji Lane with its numerous fashion boutiques, vintage record stores, design stores and gourmet cafes (Wonderland pictured). Nearby sits The Projector, a dynamic alternative to the common Cineplex reviving a historic movie theatre as an independent creative platform that brings together the best of indie, foreign, cult favourites, classics, arthouse and more.
Keong Saik Road makes the perfect night spot. Formerly a prominent red light district peppered with brothels back in the ‘60s, this road is now buzzing with some of Singapore’s hottest tables. Start with meticulously crafted cocktails on the rooftop at Potato Head Folk (pictured) and then head over to Burnt Ends for a selection of expertly barbecued dishes. If you’re in the party spirit, head to nightclubs Zouk or Kyo to see out the night.
For those in the mood for some greenery, or looking to combat a serious hangover, why not go paddle boarding on the East Coast at Mana Mana Beach Club or trek the 12km around MacRitchie Reservoir. For a sense of what Singapore looked like 100 years ago, jump on a bum boat from Changi Ferry Terminal and cycle around the picturesque island of Pulau Ubin (pictured). Reward yourself with some local seafood and a cold tiger beer overlooking the Singapore straits.
Set just a short drive from the centre of town, you can enjoy the best of both worlds in this elegantly renovated colonial mansion.