A small nugget of Western influence, Singapore is a great destination for visitors to Southeast Asia seeking a mix of at-home comforts and new culture.
A small nugget of Western influence in an otherwise ancient part of the world, Singapore is a great destination for visitors to Southeast Asia seeking a mix of at-home comforts and new culture. With a bustling economy that hosts many of the world's biggest businesses, a great selection of foods and native drinks, and an interesting blend of different cultures, it's one of Southeast Asia's most diverse and cosmopolitan destinations.
Settled as a trading post for the East India Company in the early 19th century, commerce is essential to Singapore. The small city-state has been a trading post for over two-hundred years, occupying an important spot between Oceania and Southeast Asia. As such, it's tough to miss the massive level of commerce and industry that drives the engine behind Singapore's flashy facade.
From tall skyscrapers in the city center to the flashy condominiums of Marina Bay Sands, the city of Singapore is remarkably rich and prosperous. Despite this, it's a remarkably affordable place to visit given its level of prestige and economic strength. Duties are low and taxes even lower – a key advantage of the island that has made it a hit amongst shoppers and businesspeople alike.
As such, most of Singapore's 'must do' activities revolve around shopping. The city's massive line of shopping malls along Orchard Road is one of the world's most impressive, beating out Beverly Hills and Fifth Avenue in sheer high-end shopping opportunities. From luxury brands to cheap and flashy accessories, the shopping avenue of Orchard Road is easily accessible and tough to pull away from.
Even non-shoppers will be wowed by the city's impressive commercial offerings. From fountains to polished complexes, all of Singapore's central shopping district is remarkably well presented. If you need some urban stimulation – the feeling of being in a big, highly operational city – a walk around the Orchard area is a great way to get to the core of Singapore for residents and visitors alike.
The iconic Merlion statue in Merlion Park and luxury Marina Bay Sands Hotel.
Singapore's best shopping area extends well past Clarke Quay and into Bugis, once the city's cheap central district and seedy nightlife hotspot. Now a great daytime shopping area, Bugis is home to a huge collection of cramped shops and street merchants offering some of the cheapest clothes in the city. While Orchard Road offers prestige, it's Bugis that's home to the city's best value clothing.
Despite its reputation as a shopping haven, however, there's a lot more to Singapore than just shops and mega-malls. Close to Orchard is the city's historical Chinatown district, which is home to some of the best Chinese food you'll find outside of the country itself. This district is also a great place for bargain shopping, with some of the cheapest home goods in Singapore found in its narrow alleys.
Likewise, the nearby area of Marina Bay is a great place to experience Singapore's modern tourist attractions. From the mega-expensive Marina Bay Sands hotel – home to the world's most amazing swimming pool view – to the island's flashiest casino, Marina Bay is Singapore's capital of luxury and expense. Families will enjoy the Singapore Flyer – a giant wheel modeled on the London Eye.
For a more culturally important experience, Singapore's myriad ethnic neighborhoods show off a great deal of the island's multicultural heritage. With a mixed population of Malay, Chinese, Arab, and many other ethnic groups, Singapore is diverse and rich in culture. From the Arab settlements of Bugis to the rushed and colorful Little India, Singapore offers a great mix of cultural hotspots.
Thanks to this incredible mix of cultures, Singapore's food is renowned as some of the best in the world. Cheap, readily available, and celebrated by locals and visitors alike, eating in Singapore is one of the best ways to 'tune in' with local culture. Orchard Road is home to most of Singapore's top restaurants, along with the newer offerings found in the swanky and expensive Marina Bay district.
For a truly Singaporean experience, make your way to a group of hawker stands – small food stalls arranged in an outdoor mall – and order inexpensive local dishes. Singaporeans are highly proud of their food and native drinks, and enjoying the food is a great way to absorb the culture. From satay to laksa soup, Singapore's great good is a must-try experience for culinary obsessed visitors.
Sentosa Island is home to the best beaches in Singapore and is a great place for visitors with young children.
Families will love Singapore, and the island's great combination of shopping, safety, and family-friendly attractions make it one of Asia's best family travel destinations. The new resorts on Sentosa Island are a great place for visitors with young children, and Singapore's Universal Studios Park, although not as impressive as its American relatives, is a great place for kids to spend the day.
While it's shopping and food tend to be cheap and cheerful, Singapore's accommodation options are expensive and somewhat limited. The world's second most dense country after Monaco, most rooms in Singapore are small and costly. Thanks to the city's great transportation system, however, even a suburban hotel can be a convenient ten-minute train ride from the city's major attractions.
Clean, accessible, and culturally varied, Singapore is a great place to start your journey around Asia. With the same energy and vibrance of its neighbors Malaysia and Thailand, yet none of the hustle or safety issues, Singapore is one of the continent's more sanitized and visitor-friendly areas. Get your shopping bags ready, make a list of 'must try' foods, and enjoy one of Asia's best cities for visitors.