This tropical island and favourite stopover destination has shaken off its clinical image. Ginny Buckley enjoys the buzz of a bustling city state
The world will focus on Singapore on Wednesday, when the venue for the 2012 Olympics is announced. It's a busy year: the island marks 40 years of independence from Britain on 9 August with a month of celebrations – including the Womad music festival in beautiful Fort Canning Park (1), 26-28 August.
Singapore Airlines (0870 608 8886) flies daily from Manchester and Heathrow; British Airways (0870 850 9850) and Qantas (08457 747 767) also fly daily from Heathrow. A dozen other airlines will take you there with an en-route stop, including Emirates (0870 243 2222) from Gatwick, Heathrow, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow via Dubai.
You arrive at the vast but extraordinarily efficient Changi airport, where your bags often arrive at the luggage carousel even quicker than you do.
Changi is 12 miles east of the city centre; each terminal has a tourist office, open 6am-2am daily. Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) trains take about half an hour to reach City Hall (2), the most convenient station for the centre, or about 10 minutes longer if you change for Orchard Road station (3), close to where many hotels are located. The MRT system is complicated: as well as your S$1.40 (50p) basic fare you must pay a S$1 deposit on your ticket, and you may need to change trains at Tanah Merah station en route to and from the centre. Instead, you could get a cab: S$24 (£9) for the half-hour ride.
GET YOUR BEARINGS
Singapore Island is the same size and diamond shape as the Isle of Wight. The city occupies the southern tip of the island, with the old colonial centre on the north bank of the Singapore River. Further north lie vibrant Little India and the Islamic quarter around Arab Street; Chinatown is on the south bank.
Most visitors take advantage of the heavily discounted hotel rates offered by airlines. But for an antidote to the bland, big-name hotels check in to The Scarlet (4) at 33 Erskine Street (00 65 6511 3333; www. thescarlethotel. com), housed in a row of converted shophouses in the Chinatown conservation area; double rooms from S$175 (£58) including breakfast and broadband. When the heat of the city gets too much, head to the hotel's open-air Jacuzzi or its pretty rooftop bar. A modest alternative is Perak Lodge (5) at 12 Perak Road in vibrant Little India (00 65 6299 7733; www. peraklodge. net). Double rooms start at S$70 (£23) and include breakfast, but it's worth paying S$90 (£29) for one of the larger rooms on the second floor.
TAKE A VIEW.
Climb to the top of Mount Faber (6) on the southern side of the city, which at 105m offers good views of Singapore and the islands that surround it. You can also catch a cable car from here to the largest, Sentosa Island ( www. sentosa. com.sg), a former military fortress that is now a holiday resort with beaches, bars and hotels.
TAKE A HIKE
Singapore's National Heritage Board has come up with some excellent walking trails that you can pick up at tourist offices or download from www. nhb.gov.sg/ cdt/ index/. Trail 1 starts at Sir Stamford Raffles' landing site (7) and takes you on a tour through the Civic District.
LUNCH ON THE RUN
In Little India grab a table outside the Selmor (8), which is open 24 hours a day, on the corner of Clive Street and Campbell Lane. Go for the S$6.50 (£2) Chicken Set, a dry chicken curry with rice, served on a banana leaf. Don't wait for the cutlery to arrive: get stuck in with your fingers, and wash it down with a glass of fresh lime juice.
Jet-lagged? At the Mustafa Centre (9) on Syed Alwi Road in Little India, you can shop 24 hours a day. The long drag of Orchard Road with its glitzy malls and big-name brands is the area most tourists head for, but it can be overpowering. For a more relaxing experience, take a wander round the galleries and antique shops on the adjoining Taglin Road. Then head to the Arab Street area, in particular Bussorah Street (10) for good-value silks and curios. For electronic gizmos and gadgets, try the Futan IT Mall (11). On the site of the former Parliament Building (12) on the riverside, the Arts House (00 65 6332 6900; www. theartshouse. com.sg) has an excellent shop, Homespun, which sells art by locals alongside work from cottage industries all over Asia.
A short way west along the river you'll find The Asian Civilisations Museum (00 65 6332 7798; www. nhb.gov.sg/ acm), housed in the beautiful Empress Building (13) and open 9am-7pm daily (Mondays from 1pm, and Fridays until 9pm). The museum's second site (14) on Armenian Street (00 65 6332 3015) houses the Peranakan Galleries (same hours), which focus on the cultures that have influenced the region. A ticket covering both galleries costs S$6 (£2).
As the sun sets and Singapore lights up, grab a window seat on the 71st floor in the New Asia Bar (15) at 2 Stamford Road (00 65 6837 3322); on Fridays and Saturdays, a cover charge of S$20 (£6.50) applies, but this includes the first drink.
DINING WITH THE LOCALS
Book a table outside by the river at Indochine Waterfront (16) at 1 Empress Place (00 65 6339 1720; www. indochine.com. sg). This stylish fusion restaurant (which hosts the London delegation on Wednesday) is pricey by local standards and you'll have to listen to the market chat of the broker boys who head here after work, but it's worth going for the interesting menu and the fabulous view.
SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH.
The city's oldest temple, Thian Hock Keng (17), is on Telok Ayer Street in Chinatown. The first Chinese sailors to land in Singapore established a shrine on this spot to give thanks to the goddess of the sea for a safe passage. The temple now built on top of it opens 8.30am-5.30pm daily.
OUT TO BRUNCH
After visiting the temple, join the locals for dim sum at the Yum Cha Restaurant (18), upstairs at 20 Trengganu Street (00 65 6372 1717). At the opposite end of the scale is the extravagant champagne brunch on offer on Sundays between noon and 3pm at the Sentosa Resort and Spa on Sentosa Island (00 65 6275 0331; www. beaufort. com.sg): S$88 (£29) gets you everything from foie gras to the unlimited seafood, plus free flow champagne. If you're too full to move when you've had your fill, the hotel will provide you with towels so you can lounge by the pool for the afternoon.
TAKE A RIDE
A day's unlimited travel on the SIA Hop-on Bus costs only S$8 (£2.70). Buses run every half hour from 8.30am to 7pm and stop off at Orchard Road, Bugis Junction, Suntec City, the Colonial District, Clarke Quay, Boat Quay, Chinatown and the Singapore Botanic Gardens. (If you've flown with Singapore Airlines then all you need to do is show your boarding pass and the journey is free.)
A WALK IN THE PARK
Singapore's Botanic Gardens (00 65 6471 7361; www. nparks. gov.sg) includes the National Orchid Garden (19), where you can admire the 1,000 species and 2,000 hybrids that make up the Gardens collection; open 8.30am-7pm, admission S$5 (£1.50).