Singapore — a city with a reputation for cleanliness and innovation. But if you reach beyond first impressions, you’ll discover the island offers much more. Our guide to exploring Singapore is filled with vibrant architecture, mouthwatering food options, memorable museums, and beautiful outdoor spaces, the Lion City will make any traveler feel at home.
Whether you’re planning a short weekend or an extended stay, our team has gathered the must-sees, must-visits, and must-tries in Singapore. This list is by no means exhaustive, so use these suggestions as a jumping-off point for your explorations. Just remember to take it easy, stay hydrated, and always carry an umbrella.
This piece was sponsored by STB and Singapore Airlines
An anchor of the Marina Bay skyline, Singapore’s ArtScience Museum rises like a massive lotus from the water. Inspired by the confluence of creativity and technology, the museum offers a chance to enter a world of thoughtful discovery. Its “Future World” exhibition, one of the museum’s permanent installations, should be high on your priority list.
If you’re looking for a great way to spend your first day in Singapore, look no further than Singapore’s National Gallery. Not only does the museum provide an overview of Singapore’s history and artistic culture, it also presents breathtaking visuals. Originally two separate government buildings, the structure is now connected by sweeping glass walls, metal thatching, and sprawling tree-like columns. Visit the bar on the sixth floor for a drink at Smoke and Mirrors and a fantastic view of the skyline that features the Marina Bay Sands Resort.
National Museum of Singapore
Another beautiful combination of neoclassical architecture and modernist structural elements, Singapore’s National Museum delights history buffs and cultural aficionados alike. The galleries highlight everyday aspects of Singaporean life both past and present, celebrating the intersection between the mundane and the sublime.
Joo Chiat Road & Koon Seng Road (Katong)
Head over to the Katong neighborhood where you can find the Peranakan Houses, rare examples of straits architecture found outside mainland China. The delightful array of colors adorning the bright buildings represent the convergence of cultures for which Singapore is so well-known. Note the bat-shaped vents on the first floors, which are meant to symbolize good luck.
Old Hill Street Police Station
Originally home to Singapore’s first jail, this historic structure has since reinvented itself as a governmental hub, housing both the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, and the Ministry of Communications and Information. If you can, catch the building at Golden Hour, when dappled light covers the Station’s crisp white facade and candy-colored windows with a unique texture.
The Library at Orchard
If your travel companions love to shop, but you prefer the company of a good book, look no further than the Library at Orchard Gateway mall. Scour the contents of the undulating shelves and then sit in one of the many brightly-lit nooks hidden throughout the building. The library also features a small wooden amphitheater, the setting of regular readings and other events highlighting the Singaporean literary scene.
Sri Mariamman Temple
Built in 1827, this Hindu temple has since undergone multiple expansions, additions, and renovations. Though it started as a small wooden worship space, the six-tiered gopuram, or entrance tower, now rises above surrounding Chinatown. Most visit only to see the tower’s population of brightly painted Hindu deities, but many still interact with the temple as a religious space. Take off your shoes and step inside to witness a timiti, or fire walking ceremony, which occurs every year right before Diwali.
A name typically associated with ingenious chocolate work, Janice Wong brings her aptitude for unforgettable visuals to this full concept restaurant located inside Singapore’s National Museum. Save more room than usual for dessert — star items include the “Purple Chestnut,” styled in dizzying violet hues, and the “Cacao Forest,” engulfed in a cloud of cotton candy.
After some morning shopping at Dempsey Hill, stop by Michelin-starred Candlenut for one of the best meals you can get in Singapore. Woven light fixtures hang overhead as you choose from a menu jam-packed with Peranakan staples and intense flavors. Order the swimmer crab curry — the vibrant flavors in this golden dish make it a best-seller, and for good reason.
If you have a good sense of direction, wind your way through Singapore’s Botanic Gardens to find yet another Michelin-starred restaurant: Corner House. Featuring chef Jason Tan’s culinary philosophy that he calls “Gastro-Botanica,” the menu emphasizes a balance of proteins and botanical elements. Eat lunch on the veranda to fully appreciate the surrounding verdancy.
The Mandarin term for “grandmother” inspired this trendy restaurant located inside the Warehouse Hotel. At every place setting, a placard details the proper etiquette and instruction for eating a popiah, a dish unique to a small region in Southeast China and one of the stars of PO’s menu. Follow the instructions carefully and you’ll hardly believe something so delicious was assembled with your own hands.
Bring some cash and your appetite for another Singaporean staple — the food hawker center. These are scattered throughout the city, providing a perfect opportunity for a quick meal no matter where you are. Locals love Newton Circus and Maxwell Street, but if you’re looking for something a little flashier, try the food center at Lau Pa Sat.
Coffee Shops, Bakeries & Bars
The Daily Roundup
Singapore’s food options can be delicious but dense. For respite, head to Outram Park and the Daily Roundup. This airy, laid-back cafe serves a generous collection of crepes and galettes both classic and creative.
Singapore’s coffee culture tends to feature simple menu items and an appreciation for education. At Common Man Coffee Roasters, where exquisite roasting meets a passion for making specialty coffee accessible, you can find both. Stop in on either the second or fourth Wednesday of the month for one of their free cupping sessions.
The Fabulous Baker Boy
You don’t have to go far in Singapore to satisfy your sweet tooth — if you find yourself near Clarke Quay and Fort Canning Park, however, make a pitstop in this charming bakery and restaurant and try at least one slice of cake.
After traversing the length of the Botanic Gardens, trek a little farther and cool down in this chic local hangout. The name ATLAS is an acronym for AT Land Air Sea, and the breezy ambience reflects that with a menu full of comfort food classics and funky flavors.
One of the most unique parts of Singapore’s bar scene, The Library features an eclectic drink menu that must be read with a decoder — and that’s after you gain entry (the ever-changing password can be found on the bar’s Facebook page). From the street, the bar appears to be a simple storefront but, once the secret password is mentioned, you’ll gain access to a mirrored anteroom and the bar beyond.
In keeping with Singapore’s love for hard-to-find bars, Operation Dagger has no sign over its door. Instead, a spray-painted logo adorns an abandoned concrete facade right off Ann Siang Rd. Walk through the black door and down the stairs and feast your eyes on the bar’s main light fixture — several Edison bulbs illuminating a cloud of unlit incandescents. The ever-changing cocktail menu only lists the flavors of the drinks and not the alcohol included. The results are often unexpected experimentations with texture, flavor, and temperature.
Step out of the heat of Haji Lane and into an eclectic space filled with pop art and vintage tchotchkes. Symmetry gets creative with its menu, whether it comes to cocktails, a special menu just for Monday, or even its non alcoholic offerings — their strawberry lemonade, with thick swirls of freshly muddled strawberries and lime dust, is the perfect antidote to the ubiquitous humidity in Singapore.
The Great Outdoors
In the morning, before the day’s hottest hours, spend some time outside the city center and stroll among the lush verdancy Singapore has to offer. The trails are surprisingly extensive and, with walking as your only mode of transportation (bicycles aren’t permitted within the park), you can easily spend a few hours exploring the various natural corridors. Drop a couple of Singaporean dollars to enter the intricately designed National Orchid Garden, which houses over a thousand species of the flower.
Bukit Brown Cemetery
A short cab ride from the skyscrapers of downtown Singapore, the cemetery of Bukit Brown will make you feel as though you’ve entered another world. You won’t find many bouquets on the graves here, instead, relatives place incense or containers of food to honor the deceased and help their souls find peace. Trees, ferns, and grasses coexist with the graves and the air is filled with the sounds of birds and insects. If you’re not renting a car, make sure you have a plan for getting a cab back — there are few cars in the area and no WiFi within walking distance.
Gardens by the Bay
Of the many modern additions to the Singapore skyline, this magnificent combination of urban design and lush green landscaping wins the title of most distinct. During the day, the “Supertrees,” giant baobab-like metal structures harvest solar energy, while at night they come alive with lights and sounds. Meanwhile, what appear to be giant glass hills are actually cooled conservatories that you can take advantage of for periodic breaks from the heat. Leave ample time to explore and remember that the Gardens regularly hold cultural and artistic events.
An institution of the Singapore hospitality industry, the Raffles has played host to a number of the city’s most important visitors throughout its 120-year history. Today, this beautifully restored colonial building still offers an unparalleled experience for its guests. Stroll through the courtyard, indulge in an unparalleled Indian buffet for lunch, sip on a Singapore Sling in its birthplace, or listen to a story told by the hotel’s resident historian, Leslie Danker.
This hotel was previously a spice warehouse (known as a godown), a seedy underground distillery, and, most recently, a discothèque. Now, there are nods to its storied heritage through its industrial chic design philosophy. The Warehouse offers prime aesthetics, with graphic pulleys lining the lobby’s ceilings and a custom design in every room. Additionally, it celebrates partnerships with local Singaporean vendors and artisans, emphasizing local community while still attracting a global clientele.
Hotel Jen Tanglin
If you’re looking to stay in the Tanglin neighborhood, closer to the Botanical Gardens and Dempsey Hill, Hotel Jen is a great bet. Free bicycle rentals are available to their guests, as are hearty food options.
When you arrive in Singapore, it won’t take long to discover why travelers and residents alike praise the city’s abundance of culture and activities. Singapore thrives in the face of contrast — past and present; natural and manmade; East and West.
Want to experience it for yourself? Book a trip with Singapore Airlines, which, much like the city itself, prides itself on efficiency and comfort.