10 Can’t-Miss Experiences in Singapore

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Throughout 2015, Singapore celebrated its Golden Jubilee, which marked its 50 years as an independent nation. Over the past five decades, this tiny island-state has developed into one of the world’s most progressive, environmentally conscious and clean cities. Yet while there is much to admire about Singapore’s modernity, some of its beast features lie tucked away in historic corners. Whether you want to take in the skyline on Marina Bay or lose yourself in the winding alleys of Chinatown, these 10 experiences are the ones you absolutely can’t skip when you visit. —Abbey Chase

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Chinatown

It can be easy to get lost in the futuristic cityscape, but Singapore’s heritage is still alive and well in the sprawling Chinatown district west of Marina Bay. This part of the city has been inhabited for nearly 700 years, and while British colonization and modernization have driven some of the Chinese population away, the architecture of the neighborhood is well preserved. Singapore’s Chinatown is so big that it has several distinct neighborhoods within it. Telok Ayer is the oldest part of Chinatown, where you’ll find several temples and Muslim mosques, while Kreta Ayer is where you’ll find the operational night markets and the Chinatown Heritage Centre. Ann Siang Hill is the posh part of Chinatown: The area is now known for its lively nightlife and restaurant scene, but many of the original buildings have been preserved.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Singapore Travel Guide

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Geylang Road

Geylang Road is one of the few places in Singapore that feels even remotely edgy thanks to its ramshackle shop houses, boisterous restaurant customers, over-stuffed shops, and near-constant traffic heading into the city. This is a great place to see a side of Singapore that isn’t supremely polished, and its dozens of alleys leading off the main road serve as the historic (and still functioning) red-light district. Geylang is also a great place to try local food at prices that won’t break the bank, along with cuisines from all over Asia.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Singapore Travel Guide

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Shopping

Singapore’s reputation as a shopping mecca is well deserved. Orchard Road takes the concept of a shopping district to another level thanks to its 1.4-mile stretch of nothing but malls (23 in total). Closer to Marina Bay, Suntec City Mall and Marina Square house luxury brands as well as some more unusual finds, like the Emporium Shokuhin, an enormous, multistory Japanese specialty grocery store. For a totally different kind of shopping, head to Chinatown, Kampong Glam, or Little India for a huge assortment of boutiques.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Singapore Travel Guide

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Sentosa Island and Pulau Ubin

For a break from the urban jungle, venture beyond the city’s center to explore some of Singapore’s islands. Sentosa once served as an important military base for the British during World War II, but is now known as a place of leisure. Beachfront bars, fine dining, golf, five-star resorts, several theme parks, and a reputation for all-night partying make Sentosa the ultimate place to indulge. Pulau Ubin is the antidote to Sentosa: On the eastern side of Singapore, this small fishing island is one of the last places in the country to resist modernization, making it an excellent place to get a glimpse into the Singapore of the past and see some of the island’s native animals. A bike trip around the four-square-mile island makes for the perfect day trip outside the city.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Singapore Travel Guide

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Kampong Glam

Original shop houses still line many of the streets in Kampong Glam, a shopping and dining district in Singapore that formerly housed the Malay aristocracy during the British colonial period. Today, this area is also known as the Muslim Quarter, and it’s impossible to miss the huge Sultan Mosque on the Bussorah Pedestrian Mall. If you visit during the day, grab a bite at one of the many authentic Malay or Middle Eastern restaurants and peruse the boutiques along Haji Lane. After dark, Haji Lane comes alive, and you’ll find several venues with live music as well as a collection of craft cocktail bars to duck into for a more relaxed evening. Head to Bar Stories for the perfect bespoke cocktail (they don’t even have a menu), or try LongPlay for old-school music and innovative drinks.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Singapore Travel Guide

Courtesy of Marina Bay Sands

Marina Bay Sands Hotel Skypark

Nothing defines the Singapore skyline as prominently as the Marina Bay Sands, a property valued at $8 billion with an iconic, tri-column structure at the mouth of the bay. Connecting the three towers is a 2.5-acre rooftop terrace that includes a jaw-dropping infinity pool, three restaurants, a bar, and an observation deck. If you’re not staying at the hotel, the Skypark is worth a visit for its unrivaled views of the city. Enjoy a sunny afternoon on the terrace or grab a drink at the Flight Bar & Lounge to watch Singapore come alive after dark.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Singapore Travel Guide

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Hawker Food Stalls

Singapore is notorious for being the kind of city where a dinner tab can reach three figures before the main course arrives, but you won’t need deep pockets for an authentic Malay meal. Hawker centers are a staple of affordable eating in Singapore, where you’ll find countless individual stalls crammed into open-air complexes selling local specialties like Hainanese chicken and rice, dumplings, glutinous rice, noodle soup, and chili crab. Try the fare at the stalls on Newtown Court or at the Old Airport Road Hawker Centre.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Singapore Travel Guide

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Singapore Botanic Gardens

The 156-year-old gardens were last year recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are consistently regarded as one of the best botanic gardens in the world. What began as a project to study agricultural methods in Singapore’s tropical climate in 1822 eventually turned into a public garden and has since been an important research site for the study of rubber cultivation and orchid hybridization. The National Orchid Garden is the crown jewel of the complex, with its collection of 3,000 species and hybrids of orchids, which sits below the beautiful colonial bungalow home where the garden director used to live. Also look for the original bandstand gazebo from the 1930s, located near the sun garden.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Singapore Travel Guide

Courtesy of Raffles Hotels and Resorts

Raffles Hotel Singapore

Named for the modern founder of Singapore, Sir Thomas Stafford Raffles, this luxury colonial-style hotel is the city’s grande dame. Renovations since its original opening in 1887 have changed the layout of the Raffles, but its regal entrance on Beach Road has remained largely untouched since 1899. The property is steeped in history: it was the first hotel in the region to have electric lights and was occupied by the Japanese during World War II, but not before the hotel staff buried the best silver underneath the Palm Court. Even if you’re not staying there, be sure to stop by the Long Bar on the second floor, where the Singapore Sling was invented in 1915.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Singapore Travel Guide

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Gardens by the Bay

For a traditional park and garden, you head to the Singapore Botanic Gardens; for a look at the urban green space of the future, go to the Gardens by the Bay. Only three years old, this has already come to be one of Singapore’s most popular spots. The entire 250-acre property is comprised of a number of attractions, including three different greenhouses, several outdoor gardens, various water features, and shopping and dining complexes throughout. The Supertree Grove is the Gardens’ most recognizable feature: The 12 steel-and-concrete trees with narrow branches look like something from a sci-fi movie. In reality, they collect solar power and act as small ecosystems for thousands of species of rare plants.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Singapore Travel Guide

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