When diplomat and author Sir Harold Nicolson landed in Singapore in 1957 he was stunned. “It is about the greenest place I have ever seen,” he writes in his travel memoir Journey to Java. “It is like entering Dartmouth on a muggy August afternoon.”
Aboard a cruise ship on a last hurrah to the era of cruise ship travel, Nicolson saw the island before it blossomed into the Singapore we know today.
The transition from a little more than a fishing village to a futuristic first world country all happened within just 50 years.
A megapolis in every sense of the word, Singapore now offers every luxury you might expect from one of the most advanced cities on the planet, along with impressive world rankings in terms of GDP, quality of life, education, and healthcare.
Residential neighbourhoods offer a fascinating diversion from the CBD’s blockbuster sights, including the iconic Raffles hotel with its potent gin sling cocktail and renowned Long Bar, to the buzzing Chinatown or colourful Little India districts.
Just beyond is the retro-fabulous 1930s housing estate Tiong Bahru, a treasure trove of boutiques to keep you busy, and endless cute brunch spots at one of the many cafés, such as new favourite, Whisk.
Katong is also emerging as a hispter playground thanks to the opening of slick new restaurants such as The Trenchard Arms, along with Everton Park, which is fast becoming an ‘It’ neighbourhood, with some people already calling it the 'new Tiong Bahru'.
Tourists can sample Singapore’s flourishing hotel scene: it's all about cutting edge interior design in Singapore's hotel scene at the moment, from the opulent French accents at the glitzy Sofitel So Singapore with its Karl Lagerfeld designed logo in the CBD, to savvy business traveller favourite, Wangz, in Tiong Bahru.
There’s also Hotel Jen Orchardgateway, from the team at Shangri-La, located on popular shopping street Orchard Road.
Singapore might be a city of the future, but it has never forgotten its roots. A bona fide melting pot from its inception, Singapore remains a refuge that welcomes people from all over the world.
The unique assimilation of peoples, cultures, religions, and food are some of the things that make the city so unique and such a fascinating destination.
Locals are rightly proud of their fantastic street food culture, now internationally recognized by the Bib Gourmand (the Michelin Guide’s value-for-money sibling) with a total of 34 eateries making the culinary cut in this year’s awards, each serving meals for under SGD 45 – about £25.
The picks are as diversified as Singapore’s rainbow of cultures, with over 19 types of cuisine featuring on the list, from Indian and Cantonese to Vietnamese and even Turkish cuisine making an appearance.
Food centres are a good bet for some of the best: the Amoy Food Centre is home to A Noodle Story, Famous Crispy Curry Puff, Hong Kee Beef Noodle and Hoo Kee Rice Dumpling, while the Maxwell Food Centre in Chinatown serves up Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice – as featured in Gordon Ramsay’s ‘Hawker Heroes Challenge’.
If it’s Michelin stars you’re after, Singapore has a galaxy. A total of 29 spots have received at least one elusive star, and in fact, the city has made history for being the only place in the world where you can have a Michelin-starred meal for about £1.
There’s a reason it’s called the ‘Garden City’ because when you’ve had your fill you can walk off the excess at one of the many parks that cover the island.
Considering the sleek skylines of Marina Bay and the Civic District, it's hard to imagine Singapore actually living up to its "Garden City” moniker, but with 46 per cent of the country covered by green, it more than delivers.
Plans are underway for a “green matrix” that will link all of Singapore's parks and nature reserves so that visitors will be able to cross from west to east throughout the island without touching tarmac.
The 150-year old Singapore Botanic Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the atmospheric jungles of Pulau Ubin are some of the most iconic parklands, but it’s the Marina Bay area that is really one to watch.
Its skyline has been transformed by the addition of structures such as the Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay, the Gardens by the Bay with its iconic Supertrees and vertical gardens, the Marina Bay Sands, and the Singapore Flyer.
Arts and entertainment
Also worth a look is Singapore’s ArtScience Museum and the Gillman Barracks, a former army base dating back to 1936, now transformed into a contemporary art space.
Singapore’s National Gallery, now housed in the iconic City Hall and former Supreme Court building showcases the region’s largest collection of southeast Asian and Singaporean art.
Visiting in September? Head to the Grand Prix Season Singapore where you can enjoy all the thrill and glamour of the F1 racing experience in what must be one of the race’s most spectacular locations, as well as stunning entertainment from international artists including Seal, Lianne La Havas, and Duran Duran.
It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what makes Singapore so special but like one of its many gardens, this once ‘stopover city’ has now bloomed into Asia’s most exciting destinations.