Few cities embody the classic Asian blend of east and west, old and new, more evocatively and spectacularly than Singapore. This mesmerising metropolis is one of the world’s most exciting places to eat and shop and, alongside grand colonial reminders of the past, the ever more awe-inspiring attractions taking their place in Singapore’s glittering skyline seem to offer a glimpse into the future. Welcome to our City Guide: Singapore.
In the early 19th century, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, then a Lieutenant- Governor of Sumatra, undertook expeditions in search of a Southeast Asian base for the British merchant fleet, increasingly ascendant in the region as Dutch imperial power waned. Recognising potential in Singapore, then a swamp-covered island and Malay fishing village of only 150 inhabitants (but perfectly situated between the Indian Ocean and South China Sea), he agreed with the Sultan of Johore and the local populace a treaty to establish a trading outpost there.
Singapore’s early status as a free port resulted in rapid growth. Between 1819 and 1821, 3,000 ships arrived, driving import and export trade of more than $8 million. So successful was this new centre of commerce that it was formerly annexed as a British colony in 1824.
The heart of colonial Singapore remains amid the modern skyscrapers. Cricket has been played on the grassed area known as the Padang since the 1830s. The neo-Gothic St Andrews Cathedral, consecrated in 1862, positively gleams in the tropical sunshine. The grand Victorian Old Parliament House is now a contemporary arts centre. And the iconic Raffles Hotel, which opened in 1887 and which, for Somerset Maugham, ‘stood for all the fables of the exotic east’, became synonymous with colonial indulgence. Few visitors can resist the temptation to enjoy a Singapore Sling (£16) in the hotel’s Long Bar, where the drink was conceived in 1915 by barman Ngiam Tong Boon. At the time, etiquette dictated that ladies should not consume alcohol in public, but Ngiam cleverly circumvented this by creating a gin-based cocktail that resembled fruit juice, its rosy hue derived from Cointreau and cherry brandy.
Racing roads and a park in the sky
Perhaps the most amazing of Singapore’s modern wonders is the SkyPark, the massive 57th floor platform atop the three towers of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. The garden and infinity pool are restricted to hotel guests but the Observation Deck (tickets £12 per person) is open to the public. The views are truly spectacular, particularly of the Marina Bay area which, since 2008, has hosted the Singapore Grand Prix, the first F1 night race and the first Asian F1 street circuit. You’ll also see the Gardens by the Bay, a nature park spanning 101 hectares which richly rewards further exploration at ground level. This horticultural showcase includes the beautiful Flower Dome (the world’s largest glass greenhouse) and Cloud Forest Dome, and the already iconic Supertree Grove – tree-shaped vertical gardens with stunning sound and light features, linked by a 22m-high ‘Skyway’.
The Singapore Flyer, a 165m-high London Eye-like observation wheel, also presents splendid city views, along with high tea and butler service in the pods.
The many and varied cultures of Singapore make this one of the great food destinations of the world. You can sample classic Malay, Chinese, Indian and Indonesian dishes, from simply steamed but delicious Hainanese chicken rice to laksa (spicy coconut curry noodle soup), stir-fried Hokkien prawn mee to oyster omelettes. Or try homely Nyonya cuisine, a harmonious fusion of Asian flavours influenced by several of Singapore’s ethnic groups. Closest to a ‘national dish’ is the sublime chilli crab – stir-fried mud crabs in a sweet and savoury tomato-chilli sauce.
Creatures of the night
Head out of the sprawling city and Sentosa Island is surprisingly tranquil and unspoilt, with fine soft-sand beaches and wildlife reserves. Much of Singapore Zoo, set on a peninsula in the Upper Seletar Reservoir, is dedicated to nocturnal animals and a ‘Night Safari’ here is a unique, thrilling experience, featuring tram rides and walking trails through rainforest, and sightings of elephants, leopards, tigers and myriad other characterful creatures.
Shop ‘til you drop
Singapore’s reputation as a shopping Mecca is well founded. The retail heart of the city is Orchard Road, a 1.5-mile stretch of discount outlets, chic boutiques and department stores. Electronics and designer clothes are particularly good value. Bargain hunters may also enjoy visits to the bustling street markets of Chinatown and Little India, the vintage and craft shops of Haji Lane, and VivoCity, the largest shopping mall in Singapore, complete with 340 stores and restaurants, 15 cinema screens, rooftop amphitheatre and art gallery.
Join Aegean Odyssey this winter as she visits Singapore on several sailings, including our 129-day ‘Grand Odyssey, our 20-day ‘Beyond Burma & The Malay Peninsula‘ and the superb 29-day ‘The Golden Triangle to the Strait of Malacca‘ sailing. All of our cruises include flights, transfers, gratuities, shore excursions and wine onboard with dinner.