Singapore brings to mind images of grandeur — the unmistakable profile of the towering Marina Bay Sands Hotel, the luminescent stalks of Supertree Grove, the curved roof of the Esplanade Concert Hall. But beneath that opulent exterior lies a city bustling with energy and a vibrant mix of cultures. During our recent trip with United Airlines, we traveled along the new route from San Francisco to Singapore and visited some of the Lion City’s most popular attractions. If you have the opportunity to visit, check out some of our favorite spots in this melting-pot metropolis.
Relax and soak up the view
Few cities interweave modernity and greenery quite like Singapore. Just look at the brilliant Gardens by the Bay, a 250-acre nature park featuring intricately designed, flora-infused structures such as the Cloud Mountain and the Flower Dome. When the giant sprouts of the Supertree Grove light up come nightfall, you’ll feel overwhelmed by the natural enchantment that pulses through this marvel of a city.
Of course, the superb views don’t stop there. Anywhere you wander, you’ll be treated to spectacular urban vistas that seem to blend into their ecological foundation. For a sunrise excursion, venture to the Marina Barrage, a dam covered in a lush-green lawn, where you can gaze across the water to the majestic figure of the Marina Bay Sands. Throughout the day, be sure to spend some time at Singapore Botanic Gardens. The only tropical botanic garden on the UNESCO World Heritage List, this tranquil paradise offers 180 acres of green space perfect for walking, picnicking, or simply relaxing — all in the heart of the city. Alternately, you can take a stroll along the Henderson Waves, an aptly-named pedestrian bridge that cascades through the forest between Mount Faber Park and Telok Blangah Hill Park.
At night, make your way to the Event Plaza of the Marina Bay Sands for Spectra, a 15-minute dance of water fountains and laser-driven special effects all set to a gorgeous orchestral soundtrack. The performances start at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., with an additional 10 p.m. showing on the weekends.
Have a bite… or four
You’ll never go hungry in Singapore. From hawker stalls and wet (food) markets to Michelin-starred fine dining establishments, the city offers meals that cater to every mood. Those with a refined palate need look no further than Baba Chews in Katong Square or New Ubin Seafood in Hillview. The former offers an all-day selection of modern and traditional cuisine from the Straits of Malacca while the latter specializes in sumptuous seafood and Singaporean cze char fare. If you prefer something a little more contemporary, head over to Mount Emily and make a reservation at Wild Rocket. There, chef Willin Low has pioneered modern Singaporean cuisine by creating a contemporary twist on the dishes he grew up eating in the ’70s and ’80s. And for a truly unbeatable dining experience, hop in the elevator at the Marina Bay Sands and ride it all the way to the rooftop, where you can enjoy a delicious take on Italian-American cooking at Lavo Kitchen while looking out over the spectacular city unfurled below.
The most exciting dining experiences in the city, however, aren’t enjoyed sitting down. You’ve likely heard of the Maxwell Road Food Center, where you can try world-famous Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice, but don’t end your meal there. Singapore offers a vast array of food markets and hawker stalls where curious diners can sample sizzling dishes cooked on-the-spot. Also at Maxwell Road, you should indulge in a crispy snack at Fuzhou Oyster Cake or grab a bowl of hot-and-sour soup at Special Shanghai Tim-Sum, otherwise known as the “dumpling stall from Queenstown.” And be sure to make your way over to the Chinatown Wet Market, where you’ll be met with a bustling atmosphere that enchants each and every traveler. There, the sights, sounds, and smells are just as delicious as the edible offerings, which include Chinese herbs and vegetables, live shellfish, and exotic meats such as eels, frogs, and turtles.
Be still in the city’s temples
Though Singapore is a spectacularly modern city, it boasts a rich history as well, and one of the best ways to immerse yourself in that is to visit the island’s various temples. One of our favorites is the city’s oldest Hindu temple, Sri Mariamman. Built in the mid-19th century, the temple remains an ornate monument to the city’s Indian influences and features six colorful tiers decorated with gods, mythological beasts, and soldiers. Nearby, in the heart of Chinatown, you’ll also find the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, a four-story pagoda that includes a bell tower, a sacred stupa made of solid gold, a museum featuring over 300 Buddhist artifacts, and even a tea room on the second floor where you can kick back and relax.
If you find yourself in need of someplace quiet to reset, make your way toward the Thian Hock Keng Temple, Chinatown’s oldest Hokkien Temple. Once a landing point for Chinese soldiers in the 19th century, the grounds now act as a haven of quietude in the center of a thriving metropolis. As an added bonus, check out the outside rear wall, where a 145-foot (44-meter) mural traces the stories of the Hokkien immigrants who left China and landed in Singapore. The mural was painted by local artist Yip Yew Chong and covers the hardships, tragedies, and elation faced by those early immigrants.
Spend an afternoon on the water
As Singapore is an island city, any exploration of it would be incomplete without spending some time on the river. Luckily, you can do just that through Singapore River Cruises. This exciting cruise line maintains a fleet of modern bumboats — electric, eco-friendly iterations of the rustic vessels once used to ferry supplies out to ships anchored off-shore — that will guide you on a tour of the spectacular waterway that cuts through the Lion City. Along the way, you’ll marvel at the buzzing markets and eclectic eateries that line the Boat, Clarke, and Robertson quays. You’ll duck under architecturally aesthetic bridges like the Alkaff and the Helix, and you’ll spot eye-catching landmarks like the Merlion and the Esplanade. It’s an aquatic adventure that can’t be beat.
Singapore is a destination that merges the past with the future. If you’ve experienced the magic of the Lion City, tell us which locales are on your list of favorites!
Additionally, Singapore is a great launching pad to the rest of Southeast Asia — if you’re interested in exploring Thailand, Vietnam, and beyond, you can check out United’s Excursions Perk.