Singapore city guide: All you need to know
By Katie McGonagle | 17 Aug 2022
Cruise ships have restarted calls to Asia’s premier cruise hub, so it’s time to rediscover the joys of Singapore with our ultimate Singapore city guide.
Turning a quiet corner in Joo Chiat, we’re greeted by a fleet of vintage Vespas, lined up in a row along the roadside and decked out in rainbow-bright shades – cherry red, powder blue and mustard yellow – all with sidecars styled to match. While passers-by look on in puzzlement, I’m handed a helmet and pointed towards the corresponding scooter, where my guide and driver, a Brazilian-turned-Singaporean called Guillermo, awaits.
A few words of advice later and we’re scooting through the streets of this heritage district in a curious-looking convoy, passing historic shophouses with their candy-coloured facades, eye-catching street art and getting an occasional glimpse of modern glass-and-steel skyscrapers in the distance.
It’s a novel way to explore a city and I can see why it has become a must-try tour, letting time-pressed cruise passengers tick off many of Singapore’s diverse districts in one go while having fun at the same time. We skim through Kampong Glam, Telok Ayer, Little India and Chinatown, watching as the buildings transform from one style to another and getting an introduction to the cultural melting pot that is Singapore.
Singapore city guide: All you need to know
With ships able to depart from this key Asian port once again, the city-state is making a cruise comeback, so we check out what to see and do before you set sail.
What to do in Singapore
The whistlestop tours with Singapore Sidecars range from one to three hours, with options to focus on art, history, design or even creative themes including a Crazy Rich Asians tour visiting the city’s distinctive black-and-white houses, a legacy of Singapore’s colonial past. Prices start from around £106 per person.
Once you’ve got your bearings, return to the cultural districts to explore in more depth. Visit the colourful Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum and Hindu Sri Mariamman Temple, which sit a stone’s throw from each other in Chinatown, or stroll through Little India to see its impressive street art.
With the help of guide Karni Tomer, owner of foodie tour company Wok ’n’ Stroll, I start the day with dosa dipped in spicy chutney and cooling raita, served with sweet milky tea. We marvel at the neon-bright Indian desserts on display, then walk the narrow back-streets where she explains the stories behind murals depicting everything from traditional Indian folklore to the real-life tales of Chinese settlers arriving in Singapore (three hours, £70 per person).
What to see in Singapore
Singapore’s heritage districts are only half the story – this modern metropolis is awash with new development around its waterfront area, where the huge wheel of the Singapore Flyer and the Marina Bay Street Circuit racing track sit opposite the lotus-flower-shaped ArtScience Museum and the towering super-trees of Gardens By The Bay. Although the huge, man-made trees are impressive, they don’t match up to the array of lush tropical plants on display in the Flower Dome, with its gushing waterfall and fragrant scents wafting through the air.
And if it’s views you’re looking for, they won’t come better than from 57 storeys up at the SkyPark Observation Deck. You’ll see swimmers going to and fro in the stunning infinity pool at Marina Bay Sands, admire the city’s mishmash of architectural styles and huge swathes of green spaces, and look out across the bay where you might even spot your cruise ship coming into port.
Where to eat in Singapore
Food is at the heart of any Singapore stay, with favourites like Hainanese chicken rice – a dish that was developed by southern Chinese immigrants – or spicy Malaysian-influenced chilli crab offering a taste of the city’s diverse cultures as well as its local ingredients.
The best way to experience Singaporean cuisine is to compare its fine-dining restaurants with the no-frills fare of its hawker stalls – there are hawker centres dotted all over the city, where you queue up for flavour-packed dishes at impossibly low prices then sit at shared tables to eat.
Po in The Warehouse Hotel has elevated traditional Chinese cuisine into an art form, with helpful waiters to guide you through dishes including soft-shell crab, spicy tamarind barramundi or popiah, a spring roll-like wrap that you assemble at the table.
At the five-star Mandarin Oriental, the Cantonese menu at the Cherry Garden restaurant has, likewise, brought a sense of sophistication to traditional dishes, served up in atmospheric surroundings. Rooms at the luxury hotel, where upper floors boast knockout views across the bay, start at £236 per night.
Getting to Singapore
Royal Caribbean International has restarted cruising from Singapore on Spectrum of the Seas, which is homeported there, along with Asian cruise line Resorts World Cruises.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises are among those set to follow this year, while Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line, Silversea, Seabourn and P&O Cruises are due to restart calls at Singapore in 2023. Direct flights are available from Heathrow with British Airways, or Heathrow and Manchester with Singapore Airlines.
Singapore has relaxed its Covid regulations, allowing fully vaccinated travellers to visit without any tests and quarantine. You can find the latest travel updates and advice on planning a trip at VisitSingapore.com.