Glimpse a different Singapore. The personal connections made on this itinerary promise that no two travellers will bring home the same experience.
Day 1: Architecture and greenery
Wake up bright and early to birdwatch at Telok Blangah Hill Park. On the 1.3-kilometre-long elevated platform of the Forest Walk, tread lightly and you may get a sight of regional birds like the Pink-necked Green Pigeon and Yellow-vented Bulbul. Between September to March, your patience may also be rewarded by sights of migratory birds like the Black Baza or the Asian Brown Flycatcher. Many of these birds are quite small, so take advantage of the monkey’s-eye view of the canopies on the Forest Walk to seek them out with your eyes.
Find your favourite birdwatching spot elsewhere by walking along the highest pedestrian walk in Singapore, the Henderson Waves. The bridge’s organic, undulating form is a feat of contemporary architecture, and you’ll find many hidden nooks on it where you can breathe in the fresh air, 36 metres above the forest floor.
From the bridge, take a short walk to HarbourFront Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) station. Take the train to Bayfront MRT station and you would have arrived at Gardens by the Bay, where flora from all over the world spreads across the park’s 101 hectares right in the heart of the city.
Within one of the climate-controlled domes in the park, you’ll find POLLEN, a fine dining restaurant. It’s the ideal spot to break for lunch—not only do the French-Mediterranean dishes celebrate fresh produce, they are plated to mimic the flowers and plants that surround the restaurant.
In Gardens by the Bay, landscape designers meet with horticulturalists to take gardening to the next level. Feel cool air condense on your skin as you stroll through the Cloud Forest, a conservatory that also houses the world’s tallest indoor waterfall. Get lost in the SuperTree Grove, where metal structures resembling trees have been engineered to house vertical gardens. And watch the ecosystem at work at the Dragon and Kingfisher Lakes, thriving with aquatic animals that live in harmony with the plants.
After spending the day in the Gardens, sniff out an irresistible attraction at Satay by the Bay, an outdoor food court that specialises in the namesake skewered meats. Dine by a tree-lined waterfront that opens out to a stellar view of the sun setting. Hues of red, orange and blue will dance across the surfaces of the Civic District’s skyscrapers and on the bay’s waters—the perfect ambience for delicious satay (grilled skewered meat) and other local delights.
Day 2: History
People’s Park Complex in Chinatown is a unique mixed-use development of commerce, food and residences that opened in 1970. You may hear strains of music through the throng of people that is ever present at this complex. As you join the crowd, look out for the buskers on traditional Chinese instruments like the erhu (Chinese violin) and guzheng (16-string plucked instrument). Their musical expertise has been the life of this site for decades.
Nearby is Chinatown Complex Market & Food Centre, the unofficial living museum of heritage trades and food for Singapore. On the ground floor, you can find family businesses that have been around for generations, such as Foo Leong Records, a record store that specialises in Cantopop, Mandopop and other music from Southeast and East Asia. Mrs. Wong has been running this store for more than 40 years. Her loyal customers-turned-friends and the memories of the age of CDs keeps her going, and she’ll love to tell you all about them as you browse through her cosy shop.
You should stop for lunch on the second floor of Chinatown Complex, where you’ll find the largest hawker centre in Singapore. The dizzying number of stalls—more than 260—only lends credence to our reputation as one of the world’s culinary capitals. If you can’t decide on a stall, join the queue that snakes out from the one-Michelin-starred Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle.
Work off your lunch by walking through the Civic District, whose eclectic mix of buildings range from the historical to the consummately modern. Or both at the same time, as in the case of the National Gallery Singapore. The striking art institution comprises the neoclassical buildings of our former City Hall and Supreme Court, yet it bears enough contemporary design flourishes to stand its ground as a modern architectural wonder. Explore all of it—and the thousands of artworks—with the guidance of visitor ambassadors like Caroline Beverly Seah, who lives out her passion for art and history in the gallery’s halls.
You can easily spend an entire day here, but heed the rumbling of your tummy when dinnertime rolls along and head to National Kitchen by Violet Oon. The restaurant is proudly Peranakan (Straits-born people of Chinese and Malay/Indonesian heritage), serving up fiery dishes for which the community is renowned. Like the food, the restaurant’s décor of antique furniture and black-and-white photos from Oon’s personal collection comes straight from the heart.
Day 3: Nature & Wildlife
Join the Kebun Baru Birdsinging Club in Ang Mo Kio, one of the oldest residential areas in Singapore. You’ll be enchanted by the croons of birds like merbok, shama, mata puteh and jambul. The proud owners of the feathered creatures have brought them here to train their ‘voices’ for singing competitions, which the club holds once a month. Check out its events calendar in advance, and maybe you can join in to pick out the next Avian Idol.
For lunch, take a short walk to Zhenyi Veggie Place, a restaurant that doles out vegan and vegetarian takes on zi char (home-styled Chinese cuisine featuring à la carte dishes). Have a meal alongside the residents of Ang Mo Kio. If you come on a weekend, expect to find whole families who have come from other parts of Singapore for a meal here.
From the restaurant, hop on a bus or taxi to the Singapore Zoo, where you can coo over white tigers, pygmy hippos and over 300 species of animals. The Zoo has adopted the ‘open enclosure concept’, so bring your safari hat and unleash your inner ranger.
When twilight falls, check out the world’s first night zoo, the Night Safari, located just next door. Have dinner while exploring this nocturnal animal park when you sign up for the Gourmet Safari Express. As part of the experience, a tram will take you past enclosures for Asiatic lions, clouded leopards and other endangered species while you dine in comfort.
Day 4: Neighbourhoods
Dedicate this day to the locals and the communities in which they live. Become a student of the arts with free Theravam classes at Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, which opened in the 1850s and is one of Singapore’s oldest Hindu temples. Theravam is part of a collection of devotional poetry, and through the class, you’ll learn how local devotees worship the many incarnations of Lord Vishu.
Take a short walk to Jothi Store & Flower Shop. The store began life, in the 1960s, as a modest flower shop, but has since grown into a full-blown enterprise, supplying garlands to almost all Hindu temples and Indian weddings in Singapore. Have a chat with the owner Rajakumar Chandra—he’s also the chairman of the Little India Shopkeepers & Heritage Association—and you might just learn a few secrets about the historical precinct.
While you’re there, breathe in the sweet aroma of jasmine flowers, incense, camphor and other spices as he regales you with tales of this storied neighbourhood. As you leave the store, you’ll be looking at the narrow back lanes and streets of Little India around you with new eyes.
Just across the road from the shop is Ananda Bhavan Restaurant. At almost a century old, this local chain of vegetarian Indian restaurants claims to be the oldest of its kind in the city. Go for the full experience and devour a plate of thosai (savoury pancake), washed down with a mug of sweet masala chai (spiced tea). Although cutlery is available, this is the best place to learn how to eat with your hands.
Continue your exploration of this neighbourhood southward until you reach Kampong Gelam, the historical seat of the local Malay aristocracy. While we no longer have a Sultan (Muslim sovereign), this area has retained most of its historical architecture. The Sultan’s palace has been repurposed as the Malay Heritage Centre, and the mosque he built, the Masjid Sultan, remains the epicentre of our Muslim community. Take a walk through both buildings and try to guess which sections are original and what had been added later. Hint: Masjid Sultan was once a single-storey building.
If you’re looking for unique souvenirs, take a walk down Haji Lane, which is brimming with hip boutiques. Many of them take inspiration from local culture, for instance the cute plushies and cushions, modelled after local snacks, that are stocked at Meykrs. Cap off your day with a dinner, drinks and dancing at Going Om, a lively café that’s inspired by teahouses and backpacker hostels of the Himalayas.