Even though it’s made “best places to go” lists from the New York Times and Lonely Planet in recent years, Singapore’s appeal as a tourist destination remains one of the best-kept secrets in Asia.
This island city-state on the southern edge of the Malay Peninsula is more than a thriving business center filled with ex-pats — it’s a hub of innovation, an urban jungle that doesn’t scrimp on the jungle, a foodie destination where neighboring cultures of Asia fuse into the cuisine. Bottom line: If you’re looking to visit the city of the future right now, Singapore is your place.
With United and Singapore airlines both launching nonstop flights to Singapore from San Francisco in the past year, it’s a lot easier to get to than before. We’ve uncovered 9 reasons American travelers are putting Singapore at the top of their list.
1. It’s never the same thing twice
Singapore’s gleaming modern architecture rivals Dubai and Hong Kong and steals the headlines and cover photos. But you’ll find these new-world skyscrapers also share space with the Old World in Singapore. Hindu and Buddhist temples, centuries-old colonial buildings and colorful rows of shop houses are set against the dramatic backdrop of the ever-growing skyline. And with 22 percent of the city on reclaimed land from the ocean — Singapore keeps growing.
2. They’ve got ‘Supertrees’
You’d expect trees to look like this in the city of the future. But would you also expect them to generate solar power and collect rainwater? These “Supertrees” are vertical gardens as tall as 16 stories high, part of the Gardens at the Bay that also includes two biodomes housing flora and fauna from across the world and the world’s tallest indoor waterfall. One of the best ways to see the city is from a suspended walkway that snakes through the Supertrees and looks out on the gardens, skyline and South China Sea.
3. You won’t feel out of place here
One of the first things a visitor to Singapore will notice is how clean and orderly everything is — the chaotic streets of motorcycles and smoggy skies of other comparable cities in Asia aren’t found here. Add that to the fact that English is an official language, taxis are ever-present and cheap (call your cabbie “uncle”), the trains are prompt and the island is less than 30 miles across, and you’ll find it’s easier to get around than just about anywhere else in Asia (or at home).
Singapore’s history as a trading hub means there are four official languages — including English. That makes wandering for fashionable finds on Haji Lane, snagging fresh fruit at Tiong Bahru Market and hanging out in the hipster coffee shops of Jalan Besar a fun day for even the most directionally challenged of visitors.
4. It’s a lot greener than you’d expect
Nearly half of Singapore is green space, including 300 parks and four nature reserves. One of the most stunning spots is the Botanic Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes the world’s largest displays of the Singaporean national flower — the orchid. The National Orchid Garden has more than 1,000 species with hybrids named after celebrities like Jackie Chan and Andrea Bocelli. Escape here for a surprisingly soothing city break amid rolling lawns and lakes.
5. This might just be the coolest infinity pool in the world
The Marina Bay Sands hotel rises like a 21st-century Stonehenge, and the SkyPark rooftop 57 stories above the ground can’t be missed. The length of three football fields, you’ll find bars and restaurants, an observation deck and the world’s tallest infinity pool — all with unforgettable views.
Even the most jaded traveler will find themselves taking a selfie overlooking the skyline — the hashtag #marinabaysands has more than 810,000 images on Instagram. With a view like this, it’s hard to resist showing off a little bit.
6. You can travel throughout the world without leaving the city
As a crossroads of commerce, Singapore is a melting pot of cultures and religions. Hindu and Buddhist temples share space with churches and mosques, some are even next door to each other. The diverse and distinct districts settled by early migrants include Chinatown, Little India, Kampong Glam (Malay) and Joo Chiat (Peranakan), as well as a strong European influence from colonial days long past.
Venture into these neighborhoods for shopping, street food and a taste of Asia. Best of all, it’s a short walk or cab ride in between — instead of a long flight.
7. Street food is at a different level
That melting pot of cultures manifests itself in the local cuisine — best experienced at hawker centers. Imagine if a city took all the best food trucks and put them in one place — that’s what you get here. Maxwell Food Centre is the most celebrated — but there are several sprinkled throughout the city. The food is cheap, the area is clean and the flavors are unreal. Don’t leave without getting orders of chicken rice, chili crab, laksa and roti prata — and maybe a satay for the road.
The street food is so good here, two hawkers were among the 29 restaurants to earn a Michelin star in the inaugural 2016 Michelin Guide Singapore (one of just 25 editions printed around the world). Foodies take note: This means you can get a Michelin-starred meal for as little as S$3 (a touch more than $2 US). That leaves more budget for your dining experience at three-starred Joel Robuchon or six other two-starred restaurants.
8. There’s a wild side to Singapore you’ll want to see
Despite being smaller than Rhode Island, a good chunk of Singapore is undeveloped. The Bukit Timah Nature Reserve on Singapore’s highest peak is home to rain forest, good for an active hike alongside the monkeys, birds and tropical canopy. An abandoned rail line has become the Green Corridor — think New York’s High Line, but greener — a still developing tract that runs the length of the island and is popular for jogging. For a real departure, take a short bumboat ride to Palau Ubin — a sparsely populated (if you don’t count the wildlife) island without electricity that is a popular day trip.
9. Singapore pairs well with other Asia hot spots
Changi International Airport is a destination in and of itself — the world’s best airport five years running according to Skytrax. It’s not surprising, considering the high-end shopping, rooftop pool, two-story butterfly garden and free 24-hour movie theater, not to mention it’s a model of efficiency — checked bags generally show up within 15 minutes after landing. What’s even better about Changi is that it’s also a hub for Asian destinations — meaning you’re not far from other Southeast Asia getaways after you’ve spent a few days exploring Singapore.