Singapore travel tips: Where to go and what to eat in 48 hours

Get a taste for this multi-cultural city-state through its delectable food scene, says Julia Buckley

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The Independent Travel

Travel essentials

Why go now?

Singapore's food scene is unlike any other. From hawkers handing family recipes down the generations, and restaurants from relatively unknown regions of Southeast Asia, to experimental addresses peddling molecular gastronomy or focusing purely on desserts, its diverse culture (a mix of Malay, Chinese, Indonesian, Indian, Peranakan, Western) is best savoured through its food.

And, with the city-state's 50th anniversary of independence coming up next year, now's the time to stop over.

Touch down

British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) and Singapore Airlines (020 8961 6993; singaporeair.com) fly non-stop from Heathrow, and Singapore Airlines also has a one-stop service from Manchester. Changi Airport (00 65 6595 6868; changiairport.com) is 20km east of the city centre. The journey to the city centre takes about half-an-hour either on the East-West MRT (metro) line (S$2.20 /£1) or by taxi (around S$25 /£12).

Get your bearings

The island of Singapore lies off the southern tip of the Malay peninsula, with the population clustered in the south. The central districts are clearly delineated, with the Singapore River cutting through them: the colonial district to the north is where you'll find Raffles Hotel (1), named after the founder of modern Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles. The financial district lies around Raffles Place (2), south of the river. Orchard Road, lined with shopping malls, is west of the colonial district, while Little India and Kampong Glam, the Islamic quarter, sit above it. Chinatown and Telok Ayer – once the seafront, before the days of land reclamation – lie south-west of the financial district. East of Telok Ayer, on reclaimed land, is Marina Bay with the Marina Bay Sands hotel (3) and the monumental Gardens by the Bay (4) beside it. To the south is Singapore's "State of Fun": the island of Sentosa (5), home to family-friendly attractions, resorts, man-made beaches and Universal Studios (sentosa.com.sg).

The main visitors' centre (6) is at the junction of Orchard and Cairnhill Roads (00 65 6736 2000; yoursingapore.com; 9.30am-10.30pm daily). Buy a Singapore Tourist Pass here for S$10 (£4.90) per day, S$16 (£7.80) for two and S$20 (£9.80) for three. It provides a boat and bus tour plus unlimited access to public transport. The cheap, efficient MTR network is supplemented by buses to every corner of the island.

Check in

Sofitel So Singapore (7) at 35 Robinson Road (00 65 6701 6800; sofitel.com) opened earlier this year, transforming a heritage building into a luxury Karl Lagerfeld-designed hotel, complete with gilt-tiled rooftop pool. The deliciously outré rooms start from S$348 (£170) a night, not includ- ing breakfast.

It started life as a British military barracks, but the Hotel Fort Canning (8) at 11 Canning Walk (00 65 6559 6770; hfcsingapore.com) has sloughed off its utilitarian past with sleek, modern rooms – some with private gardens. Doubles start at S$259 (£127), excluding breakfast.

No two rooms are the same at The Sultan (9), 101 Jalan Sultan (00 65 6723 7101; thesultan.com.sg), a shophouse conversion occupying one of Kampong Glam's most beautiful buildings. Double rooms from $S140 (£69), including breakfast.

singapore map

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Day one

Take a view

The Skypark at Marina Bay Sands (3), at 10 Bayfront Avenue (00 65 6688 8826; marinabaysands.com), dominates the city skyline with the Singapore River on one side and the Singapore Strait on the other. It offers unbeatable views from its 200m eyrie. Entry costs S$23 (£11). You could return at night to the Ku De Ta's Sky Bar, right beside it (00 65 6688 7688; kudeta.com) which charges no entry fee.

Take a ride

Hop on a River Explorer commuter bumboat (riverexplorer.sg) at the Bayfront North jetty (10), beside Marina Bay Sands. Boats ply the Singapore River daily from 7am to 11pm, up to every 10 minutes; tickets cost S$4 (£2). Alight at Raffles Landing (11) for a pleasant three-block walk through the colonial district to the City Hall MRT (12). Take the East-West line to Bugis (13), one stop away.

Lunch on the run

Opposite the gold-domed Sultan Mosque (14) in Kampong Glam, Rumah Makan Minang (15) at 18 Kandahar Street (00 65 6294 4805; minang.sg) serves superb Minangkerbau (West Sumatran) food at its open-air tables. A mixed plate costs around S$5 (£2.50).

Window shopping

Behind the fabric stalls of Arab Street, Haji Lane is crammed with independent shops – a welcome break from Singapore's anodyne malls. Most sell clothes, but Mondays Off (16), at No 76 (00 65 8200 7100; mondays-off.com; closed Monday) has a great selection of locally made products, from posters designed in-house to cushions and cacti terrariums. Nearby, Sifr Aromatics (17), at 48 Arab Street (00 65 6392 1966; sifr.sg), is a modern take on Kampong Glam's perfumeries, using traditional ingredients to make innovative blends.

An aperitif

There's no menu at Bar Stories (18), at 55/57A Haji Lane (00 65 6298 0838; facebook.com/bar stories.sg). Instead, choose a spirit and a flavour (sweet, sour, salty or spicy), flag up any allergies you may have, and then they'll invent something to your taste. Over in Chinatown, The Library (19), 47 Keong Saik Road (00 65 6221 8338) is a cocktail bar that is entered via a secret door within a tailor's shop. To enter, you'll either need the weekly password (announced on the Facebook page of its sister restaurant The Study – facebook.com/thestudy49), or just tell the doorman a good joke. Drinks at both these bars cost around S$22 (£11).

Dining with the locals

Candlenut (20), at 331 New Bridge Road (00 65 8121 4107; candlenut.com.sg) is a Peranakan restaurant that blends traditional and modern: think beef rendang done as a sous vide, and buah keluak – the signature Peranakan dish – as a dessert. Mains cost around S$16 (£8).

Just across the street is the Majestic Restaurant (21), at 31-37 Bukit Pasoh Road (00 65 6511 4718; restaurantmajestic.com), one of the best modern Cantonese restaurants in Chinatown, despite its low-key location in a hotel (the New Majestic). A six-course tasting menu costs S$68 (£33).

singapore_temple_getty.jpg
In the gods: Sri Mariamman Temple (Getty)

Day two

Sunday morning: go to temple

You'll find three places of worship on Chinatown's South Bridge Road. The eau de nil-coloured Jamae Mosque (22) is at No 218; the Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple (23), is at No 244; and the enormous Buddha Tooth Relic Temple (24), at No 288 (00 65 6220 0220; btrts.org.sg) doubles as a museum. Open 7am-7pm, free.

Out to brunch

Tong Ah (25) at 35 Keong Saik Road (11am-2.30pm and 5-10pm daily) is the place for kaya toast: thin, toasted sandwiches slathered in home-made coconut jam, with a knob of cold butter in the middle. Kopi (sweetened coffee, filtered through cotton socks) and toast costs S$3 (£1.50).

Take a hike

Start at Ann Sian Hill (26). Turn right on Ann Siang Road, a sliver of old-style Singapore. You emerge in an alley behind Amoy Street – once there, turn left. On the right is Telek Ayer Green, one of the city's oldest neighbourhoods. Many of the Hokkien Chinese first arrived here; the Thian Hock Keng temple (27), to your right, was built for them. To the left of the green is the Nagore Durgha Shrine (28), which doubles as Singapore's Indian Muslim Heritage Centre. Wander among Telok Ayer Street's shophouses and temples, and end at Tanjong Pagar park (29).

Cultural afternoon

Sample the melting pot culture via the food hawker stalls. The MTR makes it easy to "hawker hop". Try Ah Tai Chicken Rice at the Maxwell Food Centre (30), Fishball Story at the Golden Mile Food Centre (31), at 505 Beach Road, and Alhambra Padang Satay at Glutton's Bay (32).

Icing on the cake

The 2am Dessert Bar (33) at 21a Lorong Liput (00 65 6291 9727; 2amdessertbar.com) opens daily except Monday to 2am; it opens for business from 11am at weekends, 3pm other days, It has experimental puddings, such as mustard meringue, for around S$18 (£9).

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