How to spend a long weekend in Singapore

WT Writer
Oct 15, 2019

This tropical island that’s bursting with lush greenery, is a breath of fresh air. Read our top tips for discovering Singapore

From sleepy fishing village to strategic trading hub to cosmopolitan melting pot, Singapore’s transformation is a fascinating tale filled with twists and turns. Many slices of the country’s multicultural, colonial and wartime past have been carefully preserved, making it a top spot for history and culture buffs. What’s more, the Garden City more than lives up to its modern-day moniker, with an abundance of tranquil green spaces including the Singapore Botanic Gardens, which earned its UNESCO stripes in 2015. Even the airport (frequently voted the world’s best) is an experience in itself, with its brand-new Jewel Changi complex home to a lush forest trail. Hit the road in a taxi and make the 30-minute journey towards the distinctive city skyline to discover why this small country always leaves a big impression. Here’s how to make the most of a long weekend in Singapore...

Merlion Park with a view towards Marina Bay Sands. Photo: Getty Images
Merlion Park with a view towards Marina Bay Sands. Photo: Getty Images
The Merlion sleeps

It’s time to toss some peanut shells on the floor (it’s a tradition for patrons of the famous Long Bar), as the storied Raffles Singapore has reopened after an extensive restoration that’s brought a fresh appeal to this national treasure. Book yourself into one of the Residence, Promenade or Studio Suites (the latest additions to the hotel’s plush room line-up) and soak up the history. There’s luxury shopping and mouthwatering culinary collaborations with top talent (including with Chef Anne-Sophie Pic of the three-Michelin-star Maison Pic in France), thrown in for good measure.

Meet and mingle with fellow travellers and get plugged into local community happenings at the millennial-friendly lyf Funan Singapore. Situated within Funan Mall in the Central Business District, this newly opened co-living property offers a hip apartment-style stay. 

Swap socialising with the youngsters for a luxurious beachfront escape at Shangri-La’s Rasa Sentosa Resort & Spa on Sentosa Island. Just 15 minutes from the city, you’ll get the best of both worlds here. Bliss out to serene views of the South China Sea – we say splash out on a Sentosa Suite on the upper floor of the resort’s east wing. Get back to nature by tagging along on a garden tour with the resort’s resident gardener.

Beyond the malls

Singapore is a luxury seeker’s paradise and while the shiny mega malls beckon, there’s also a rich local style scene to discover. At the flagship TANGS (tangs.com) department store on Tang Plaza, you can shop a curated selection of Asian brands while, for the very best Singaporean design talent under one roof, Design Orchard (designorchard.sg) is your go-to. The incubator for established and emerging creatives is a hub for over 60 homegrown designers, including indie womenswear label Ginlee Studio and leather accessories experts Gnome & Bow. Next, roll up your sleeves and get involved in some street shopping. The bustling Bugis Street Market (3 New Bugis Street) is one of the best, with over 600 stores across three levels selling everything from novel keepsakes to printed totes, with entertainment and alfresco dining spots aplenty.

A mural in the Tiong Bahru neighbourhood
A mural in the Tiong Bahru neighbourhood. Photo: Singapore Tourism Board.
Know your stuff

See how far Singapore has come since its independence in 1965 with a whistle-stop tour of the country’s most significant historical sites. Aside from visiting the National Museum of Singapore (nationalmuseum.sg) – the ultimate way to immerse yourself in history and culture – a fun way to get an overview is to take a bumboat river cruise (rivercruise.com.sg). You’ll sail around Boat Quay, Clarke Quay and Marina Bay, spotting all the major landmarks as you go, from the very place that Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (who helped to establish Singapore as a British trading port) first set foot here in 1819, to the majestic Merlion statue and the architecturally stunning Marina Bay Sands resort. Delve deeper into the local culture by exploring the hip Tiong Bahru neighbourhood, which has an abundance of cool cafés, independent boutiques,
small art galleries and bookstores to browse. Stop by Curated Records, a hole-in-the-wall treasure trove for vinyl, before photographing the eye-catching wall murals that enhance the area’s creative flair.

Dishes from the summer delights seasonal menu at Jiang-Nan Chun in Singapore
Dishes from the summer delights seasonal menu at Jiang-Nan Chun in Singapore
Stalls and stars

For a first-night meal to remember, head straight to the buzzing Clarke Quay for chilli crab – simply rock up and explore the rows of restaurants on foot before taking a seat at the one that wins you over. It’s a must-have foodie experience for any visitor. Next, get a taste of the street food culture with a visit to Newton Food Centre, a popular alfresco dining spot serving authentic hawker fare. Home to almost 100 stalls, the choice is immense. A popular dish is the barbecued sambal stingray (grilled on a banana leaf in spicy homemade chilli paste), as featured in the film Crazy Rich Asians. Otherwise, the satay is always a solid choice.

Get your hands on mooncakes outside of the festival times at traditional bakeries such as Tai Chong Kok (taichongkok.com), which has been making them from scratch since 1935. Watch them being shaken free from their wooden moulds and bite into the warm pastry to release the sweet bean paste inside. 

If you need an excuse to get all dressed up, head to the newly minted Michelin-starred restaurant Jiang-Nan Chun, at Four Seasons Hotel Singapore. Led by Executive Chinese Chef Tim Lam, it’s the place to go for authentic Cantonese cuisine, with signature dishes including the mesquite wood-roasted Peking duck served with caviar, double-boiled soups and handmade dim sum.

Ce La Vie at sunset
Ce La Vie at sunset
Hit the roof

Singapore’s not shy of rooftop venues. Perhaps the most famous is the Skypark at Marina Bay Sands, which is home to five such elevated spots, including Cé La Vie – go at the weekend for chilled DJ sets. An equally impressive choice for an evening tipple is Smoke & Mirrors (smokeandmirrors.com.sg) at National Gallery Singapore. Kick back and admire the panoramic view of the twinkling skyline while sipping on one of its trademark classic drinks with a twist. And if you feel like partying the night away, loop back to Marquee at The Shoppes – a grown-ups’ playground complete with indoor Ferris wheel and slide.

Orangutans at Singapore Zoo, photo by Afur Wong via Singapore Tourism Board
Orangutans at Singapore Zoo, photo by Afur Wong via Singapore Tourism Board
Fun and games

If you’re travelling with tots in tow, or are simply a big kid at heart, you’ll be won over by the city’s playful attractions 

Thrillseekers can rush to Universal Studios Singapore (rwsentosa.com), which has 24 rides, shows and attractions spread across seven themed zones. Book the VIP Experience for a personal escort though the park, and priority access to the rides and shows, including the tallest duelling roller coasters on the planet. Another big-ticket attraction, Adventure Cove Waterpark is a sure-fire hit with water babies. It’s bursting with rides and slides, such as a giant wave pool, lazy river and a snorkelling reef brimming with 20,000 vibrant fish. 

More of an animal lover? Hear the tigers roar on a Night Safari (wrs.com.sg) of Singapore’s sprawling nocturnal wildlife park and view Malayan tigers, Asian elephants, Asian lions and more on an experience that will deepen your appreciation of wildlife conservation. Or, you can visit Singapore Zoo in the early hours for a Jungle Breakfast with Wildlife, during which you can tuck into dim sum while being eyed by an audience of orangutans, cotton-top tamarins and slithering snakes.

Green Daze

No trip to the Garden City would be complete without taking a closer look at the lush green attractions that characterise the island state. Replete with rare flowers, vertical gardens, and intriguing sculptures from around the world, Gardens by the Bay (gardensbythebay.com.sg) is a stunning showcase. Explore the mist shrouded Cloud Forest (a 35-metre tall mountain covered in tropical plant life and surrounded by a waterfall) before taking a stroll along the 22-metre-high OCBC Skyway. Start your journey at dusk and you’ll see the surrounding ‘supertrees’ come alive with mesmerising light and sound shows. 

The UNESCO-listed Singapore Botanic Gardens (nparks.gov.sg) is another green gem, home to the beautiful Swan Lake – so called due to the pair of graceful swans from Amsterdam that have settled there. 

Ramp up your activity levels with a hike along Southern Ridges, a 10-kilometre stretch of connecting trails that guide you through some of Singapore’s most popular parks and gardens.

Insider tips

Jenard Ng, marketing manager at design agency FILTR (wefiltr.com) leads us to the hidden gems…

“Singapore’s unique combination of cultures has resulted in an extraordinary variety of food. Local delights include: Li Xin Teochew Fishball Noodles at Ion Orchard’s Food Opera; Wee Nam Kee for Hainese chicken rice; Katong Laksa for noodles in a spicy curry soup made of coconut milk; and Candlenut, a one-star Michelin restaurant that specialises in Peranakan food. 

“Singapore is full of malls but the best one, in my opinion, is Ion Orchard (ionorchard.com). It has everything you need, from luxury brands to first-rate food outlets. For a more edgy retail scene, check out the newly refurbished Funan Mall near City Hall (capitaland.com). 

“On Friday and Saturday nights, visit the vibrant Haji Lane, which unleashes its true colours with live acoustic performances.”

Photos: Singapore Tourism Board; Getty Images.

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