Over 800 years ago Temasek, Sea Town in English, was first settled. Over the years, it saw diverse rulers, war, peace, poverty and finally prosperity. That settlement is now a city known as Singapore, one of the most expensive cities in the world in which to live. Thankfully residents contribute to the third highest GDP in the world, so can afford it.
Many seasoned travelers know Singapore as a gateway to other Eastern destinations, but its unique history makes it a great destination in itself. It turns out there is a lot to do and see in Singapore that makes its history come alive, keeps tourists entertained and proves why it is a place worth paying for. We curated a list that is by no means exhaustive, but a version of what we would do on that planned layover and trust us, we are already planning it.
The Story of Singapore
The National Museum of Singapore is a beautifully designed space devoted to the history of Singapore. From the first settlements to Malay rulers, from its role as a British trading post to a Japanese pawn in WWII, the museum uses multimedia to make historical players come alive. It doesn’t stay in the past however as the Living Galleries concentrate on the city’s present day. The museum also includes galleries of past and present artists as well as contemporary art installations at the entrance.
Once you have been immersed in the past of this multicultural city, it is time to get out into the streets and see how the places of the past feature in the present. The area of Geylang is home to some amazing architecture built at the turn of the 20th century when Malay and Indonesian workers flocked to Singapore to find work. It is also known as Singapore’s red light district, but taken in during the day, there is nothing seedy about it. The immigrants not only built shops and houses, they also built temples, many of which are still in use today. Take a wander down the narrow lanes, known as lorongs to see historical buildings and sock up the distinct vibe of this old neighborhood.
Another neighborhood with a distinctive vibe is Kampong Glam and one of its streets known as an alternative shopping destination. Haji Lane promises more historic shop fronts but quirky independent designers are behind them. Clothing ranges from upscale to vintage but there are other things on offer from lamps to stationery, housewares to handbags. After window shopping or buying an extra suitcase of stuff, there are cool cafes and restaurants to quench your thirst and fill your stomach.
High Class Hotels
Speaking of thirst quenching there is no better way to do that than at the Raffles Hotel. Sir Stamford Raffles was the Lieutenant-Governor of a district in neighboring Sumatra. Arriving in Singapore in 1819, he saw the strategic and commercial potential of the small village. He purchased the land it was on from the ruling Sultan and enticed Chinese and Indians to come to the intended trading port. The Raffles Hotel opened in 1899 is a testament to the man and his vision as well as a left over from colonial days.
Nowadays visitors come to the hotel to stay, see a local landmark and sip on a Singapore Sling, a cocktail invented in 1915 by one of the hotel’s Long Bar bartenders. You can sit back take a sip and imagine historical characters such as Ernest Hemingway, Rudyard Kipling, Noel Coward and Charlie Chaplin enjoying a tipple along side you.
For a modern symbol of the city’s rising fortunes the Marina Bay Sands resort complex is the Raffles hotel of its day. Paying guests get a luxurious accommodation experience at the hotel that includes a swim in their famous infinity pool – the world’s highest, largest, outdoor body of water! If you aren’t a guest you can still pay an entrance fee of $20 to see the stunning views of the city from the complex’s Skypark. If you want to have a cocktail in this modern marvel, it doesn’t have to be a Singapore Sling, but it will save you the entrance fee while imbuing at the Cé La Vi rooftop bar and watching the sunset.
Along for the Ride
Another way to see the Singapore skyline is by taking a ride on the 165m-tall Singapore Flyer the second-largest observation wheel in the world. Located close to the Marina Bay Sands, the ferris wheel offers 30 minutes of impressive views. Open early morning until late at night, visitors can choose to view the city via natural light or night lights.
Another attraction that can be experienced at night, well, only at night from 7:30 pm until 12:00 am is Night Safari Singapore. This wildlife park gives tourists the totally unique experience of seeing animals close up on their nocturnal wanderings. Electric trams take tourists around the perimeter of the park, stopping along the way for glimpses of tigers, crocodiles, leopards, flying foxes, civets, porcupines, and spotted hyenas, amongst others. There are special enclosures and shows that give insights into the 130 species which call the park home.
Creatures Great and Small
From land to sea, Singapore has another attraction well worth seeing, the S.E.A Aquarium is the world’s largest containing 100,000 sea creatures. The aquarium is a state of the art sea adventure that exposes visitors to different species of undersea life all swimming and swarming in 49 specialized habitats. A visit to this aquarium is like having access to all the worlds oceans in one place and time. Presented in breathtaking ways such visitors come face to face with creatures of the sea and have a lot of fun doing it!
While visiting all of these fascinating venues, neighborhoods and historical places, you would definitely build up an appetite. With Singapore’s history of cultural inclusion, you can bet its food is a unique culinary experience. The concept of fusion is found in its distinct cuisine that can be experienced on the street or in a fancy restaurant.
If street food is your thing, then finding it in Singapore is easy due to its Hawker Centers – food stalls organized in one location. Some centers have upwards of 100 vendors selling their foodie wares. Good bets are Maxwell Road Hawker Centre, Old Airport Road Food Centre and Lau Pa Sat which is open 24 hours.
Researching things to do in Singapore surprised us. It is a city with a lot to offer visitors, trust us there are many attractions we didn’t mention such as Universal Studio’s Singapore, Sentosa Island, Gardens by the Bay and more. It looks like a stopover wouldn’t give enough time in this unique place with a fascinating history. Maybe we’ll have to make it a future vacation spot instead.