Get your bearings by riding the world’s highest observation wheel, the Singapore Flyer. The wheel’s capsules offer a bird’s-eye view of the city centre, Marina Bay Sands and Gardens by the Bay. On a clear day, passengers can see far south across the water to Indonesia and north to Malaysia. See singaporeflyer.com.sg; adults $S33 ($28), children $S21.
From the Flyer it’s a quick hop and a skip to Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands, where celebrity chefs have satellite kitchens in the shopping mall flanking the harbour. For me, the pick of the lunchtime bunch is db Bistro Moderne by France-born, America-based chef Daniel Boulud. Order a set lunch (from $S42) with Boulud’s famed pork terrine and gorgeously rich ratatouille. See dbbistro.com.
Named after a British general, Gillman Barracks was built in the 1930s to house soldiers of the Middlesex Regiment. The six-hectare estate was recently restored and refurbished as a government-backed hub for contemporary art, with 13 galleries, including New York-based Sundaram Tagore and Berlin’s Michael Janssen. Gillman’s Centre for Contemporary Art, set to open later this year, will discuss contemporary art through education, research, exhibitions and artist-in-residence programs. See gillmanbarracks.com.
Take a stroll through the greenery of the Southern Ridges, a nine-kilometre trail that connects nature parks along the southern edge of Singapore. Henderson Waves, a stunning 274-metre pedestrian bridge made from steel ribs and local wood, is a 30-minute walk from Gillman Barracks.
Time to dine at JAAN on the 70th floor of the Swissotel the Stamford Hotel. Helmed by French chef Julien Royer, it’s a key fine-dining experience. Think dishes such as rich and earthy crepes, mushroom tea and hay-roasted bresse pigeon leg teamed with barley and morel mushrooms. The menu is delicate, fresh, innovative and teamed with top-notch service, excellent wines and extraordinary views of the city. Degustation menus are priced from $S198. Bookings essential. See swissotel.com.
Pick up a map and take a walk through Singapore’s cornucopia of heritages. Start at the Raffles’ Landing Site, where Sir Stamford Raffles is said to have first set foot in Singapore in 1819. From here, trace the river down to the historical Fullerton Hotel, cross and walk up through Boat Quay, once the main harbour for traders, now filled with bars and restaurants. Turn right onto North Bridge Road to take in St Andrew’s Cathedral and the Supreme Court. If there is time, stop by the excellent Peranakan Museum on Armenian Street (peranakanmuseum.sg) to discover the origins of the early Straits Chinese settlers.
Stay on North Bridge Road until it hits the colourful Arab Quarter and shopping mecca, Haji Lane. From here turn left onto Arab Street and continue until you reach Little India, a bustling, dazzling, incense-burning neighbourhood where the city’s Indian population resides and trades.
Stop for an early lunch in Little India. The majority of Indians in Singapore have ancestry in Tamil Nadu and their specialty lunchtime dishes are coconut-based sour and spicy curries eaten with rice, papadums and pickles, and served on a fresh banana leaf. Their other forte is dosa, a scrumptious crispy crepe made from fermented rice and lentils and served with sambar and chutney. Dosas (here pronounced tho-sais) come in countless varieties; for me, paper dosa is best. Try it at Banana Leaf Apolo on Race Course Road.
Take a taxi back to the Raffles statue for the nearby 14,000-square-metre Asian Civilisations Museum in Empress Place, which follows the city’s history and the cultures of its citizens, including those of Tamil, Hokkien and Malay backgrounds. Until November 24, the museum’s lacquer exhibition has collectable ornaments that were once traded like precious stones – and can still fetch as much. See acm.org.sg.
From here it’s just a 10-minute stroll or quick taxi ride to the Raffles Hotel for its Tiffin Room high tea. Built in 1877, the hotel has been immortalised in the works of Rudyard Kipling and Alfred Hitchcock. Afternoon tea is just as salubrious – cucumber sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and banoffee pie eaten in the grand company of a harp player and white-glove service. 1 Beach Road; see raffles.com; $S68 for adults, $S35 for children, bookings essential.
Don a dark shirt and head to Jumbo Seafood at Riverside Point to dine on Singapore’s quintessential dish, chilli crab. Featuring mud crabs stir-fried with a thick and savoury tomato-based sauce that is lightly touched with chilli and which you eat with your hands and sop up with mantou-boiled bread dumplings, this is as delicious as it is horribly messy. Bring wet wipes and a spare shirt. 30 Merchant Road; see jumboseafood.com.sg; plates of chilli crab from $S56.
Singapore is awash with “hidden bars”, speakeasies where the owners eschew the media, websites, signboards and sometimes even names. King of the elusive bars is unofficially named the Library after its shop front, which you will need a password to enter (these, ridiculously, can easily be obtained by staff at Keong Saik Snacks, the cafe through which the bar is accessed). Admission pretences aside, it’s a sexy space featuring a beaten-copper bar and whimsical cocktails such as Shrub a Dub Dub, which mixes gin, vermouth, apple juice, green tea, honey and citrus and is served in a miniature bath-tub. 49 Keong Saik Road; no website or phone, naturally.
Brunch the Chinese way – with dim sum. Hong Kong’s Tim Ho Wan made waves a few years ago when the Michelin Guide gave it a star. Tim Ho Wan opened a satellite kitchen in Singapore in April. The queues are long (although they can SMS you when your table is ready) but the dim sum is fresh, tasty and authentically Cantonese. Don’t miss the bun with barbecue pork and pork dumpling with shrimp. Plaza Singapura, 68 Orchard Road; see timhowan.com; plates from $S4.50.
Pockets of cool
Go for: A breather from the bustle of Orchard Road.
Stay for: Arts, a spa and drinks under the trees.
Dempsey Hill is an oasis of green, with galleries, shops and restaurants.
Spa Esprit at House (spa-esprit.com) is the place to go for a massage followed by a sweet honeycomb wrap. Reddot (reddotbrewhouse.com.sg) serves beer. Dine at the Tippling Club (tipplingclub.com) and have cocktails at The Green Door (theprivegroup.com.sg/thegreendoor).
Go for: Glimpses of old Singapore.
Stay for: Tapas bars and design hotels.
Hotel 1929 (hotel1929.com) and the New Majestic Hotel (newmajestichotel.com) strike a chord with jet-setting flashpackers. Dine at tapas bar Esquina (esquina.com.sg), on Jiak Chuan Road and at Singapore TV chef Jimmy Chok’s Bistro Soori (bistrosoori.com) on Teck Lim Road. For fine dining, head to Restaurant Andre on Bukit Pasoh Road (restaurantandre.com).
Go for: Bespoke clothes and collectables.
Stay for: Exploring a vibrant Islamic neighbourhood.
For men, try clothing shop Know It Nothing (knowitnothing.com). Dulcetfig (dulcetfig.com) offers affordable vintage treasures for women. Soon Lee (soonlee.sg) stocks Asian-inspired clothing and shoes. Head to Straits Records on Bali Lane for LPs and CDs. All shopped out? Kick back at Cafe Le Caire on Arab Street (cafelecaire.com).
A Singapore Stopover Holiday Program, including hotel accommodation, return airport transfers and free admission to key attractions is from $30-a-person for the first night, twin share, if booked by September 30 for travel until March 31, 2014. A Changi Transit Program includes vouchers for $S40 a person. Phone 13 10 11, see singaporeair.com.