My husband grew up in Singapore—as some of you already know—and we travel there regularly to visit his family. Last December marked my 10th year of going there, and it was one of my best trips. We spent quality time with family over the Christmas holidays, and there was no lack of babysitters so we could enjoy some time to ourselves.
Though I’ve been to Singapore multiple times now, there are some activities that never seem to get old. Here are five of my favorites:
Situated in the heart of the financial district, Lau Pa Sat (literally, “old market”) is a beautiful colonial-style building in the midst of gleaming office towers. Built over a hundred years ago, it has been designated a national monument thanks to its distinctive architecture. By day, it is a hawker center—a collection of open-air food stalls, Singapore’s equivalent of street food—but it really comes to life in the evenings, as office workers wrap up their work and their minds turn towards dinner. The nearby streets are cordoned off, folding tables and plastic chairs are set up in the middle of the road, and the place is transformed into a big BBQ party. Order satay (grilled meat on skewers) and stingray (skate fish) from one or more vendors on Satay Street, and while you’re at it, grab some Tigers (the local beer) to wash it all down.
I visited the Botanic Gardens on my first few trips to Singapore, but hadn’t been back for a couple of years prior to this trip… I had forgotten how wonderful this place is! The Gardens are a short walk or jog from the Orchard Road shopping district and the nearby Shangri-la Hotel, but it feels a world away, like walking through a tropical rainforest. Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015, it is immaculately kept and showcases the native flora. (You don’t see many of these plants elsewhere in Singapore, due to the level of urban development.)
In some ways, the Gardens remind me of Central Park in New York City. In the early morning, you’ll find people practicing tai chi, Chinese dance and yoga. Later in the day, you’ll see students, expatriate workers and tourists roaming the pathways.
P.S. The National Orchid Garden is especially beautiful and worth visiting for the sheer variety of orchids.
3. Gardens by the Bay and the Marina Bay Sands
These two venues are among the most photographed attractions in Singapore… it’s hard to believe they didn’t exist when I first visited Singapore 10 years ago! In just a short time, they have become so iconic. With its futuristic Supertree structures, elevated walkways, Cloud Forest and Flower Domes, the Gardens by the Bay remind me of a science-fiction movie. There are always interesting exhibits to take in, so be sure to check out the calendar of events. I recommend heading to the outdoor gardens earlier in the morning, leaving the Cloud Forest and other indoor exhibits for when the day gets warmer and you need to duck out of the tropical heat.
Fun fact: the Marina Bay Sands takes in nearly as much gaming revenue annually as the entire Las Vegas strip! There are plenty of shops and restaurants in and around the hotel as well, for those who don’t care for casinos. The nearby ArtScience Museum is another iconic building, and worth checking out if you have the time. And of course, don’t forget to bring your swimsuit and take a dip in the world’s largest infinity pool that spans all three towers of the Marina Bay Sands. This is a great place to grab a cocktail, enjoy a panoramic view of Singapore as the sun sets, and watch the laser show afterwards.
Before gaining its independence in 1965, Singapore was a British colony for 150 years. Back then, much of the commercial activity was shipping- and trading-related, which attracted many migrants from mainland China. The various clans—Hokkiens, Teochews, Cantonese and Hakka–settled in adjacent neighborhoods which now make up historic Chinatown. Today, it is an eclectic mix of old and new—you can find traditional Chinese medicine halls and stores selling cheongsams (traditional Chinese dresses, also known as qipao) alongside modern bars and cafés.
In addition to the Chinese, there are also large communities of Malays and Indians. Singapore is a veritable melting pot of cultures and religions, and nowhere is this reflected more clearly than Chinatown, where you can visit three of the oldest Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim houses of worship in the country.
If you love trying local food whenever you travel, but only have a short amount of time, stop by Chinatown Food Street. Singapore has an amazing food culture that borrows from various cuisines while retaining its own distinctiveness, and the vendors here have been handpicked to showcase many of the local favorites.
One of my most memorable experiences in Singapore was a visit to the Smith Marine kelong restaurant. In the old days, or so I am told, kelongs (offshore wooden houses and fish farms built on stilts) dotted the waters surrounding Singapore. Most of these have vanished as the country modernized, so this harks back to simpler times. It’s a little farther afield—you have to take a boat from Changi or Punggol to get there—so plan accordingly.
Once there, you fish for your own food… but don’t worry, they make it easy for you. Even my two children were able to catch their own fish. Afterwards, the restaurant will cook it in any number of ways (your choice). The staff will also prep any extra fish you catch and pack them in ice for you. Seafood doesn’t get much fresher than that!
If you have ever visited Singapore, I’d love to hear about your most memorable experiences 🙂