Think Singapore and skyscrapers, theme parks, its infamous litter fines and jaywalking rules come to mind. But this flashy side only came to life in the late Nineties, and as great as it is, there is much more to the city than a first-glimpse might suggest. It’s a culturally diverse city that modernised into a tech hub from its origins as a fishing village and an all-important colonial East-West trading post.
So instead of thinking of the cosmopolitan city-state as only a stopover location, we've rounded up the best guidebooks to really get under the skin of Singapore and make the most of your time. We compared the guides by looking at the breadth and depth of the information, how easy the guide was to navigate and whether it was size-appropriate.
1. The Rough Guide to Singapore: from £8.99, Rough Guides
Endeavouring to show off the city’s art and its proximity to nature, this guide (written by native Richard Lim) is slick, concise and covers all bases from transport to tipping etiquette. The colour-coded guide section is followed by separate listing of accommodation and eating. Suggested itineraries – which are loose ideas where parts can be skipped – range from the famous Botanical Gardens to the architecture of the colonial district. The colour photography is beautiful and the maps throughout are detailed and there are also close up versions at the back. This one is also available as an e-book.
2. Luxe Singapore City Guide: £14.99, Luxe Limited
There’s no losing your page with the twelfth “fabulous” edition (as it calls itself) as it’s essentially a piece of folded card. Describing Singapore’s “twin religions” as shopping and dining, it’s aimed at those who want the finest from the city. You can find out where to get Italian suits cut or which bar will serve up the best martini, alongside recommendations on the best tables in town. The whole of the back is dedicated to shopping, while there are also short sections on clubs and activities. There’s no map, but you can download the free app (you get a six-month subscription with each guide), which has regularly updated information, offline maps, directions and itineraries. This is one for the high flyers rather than those on a backpackers’ budget.
3. AA Citypack Guide to Singapore: £7.99, AA Publishing
The slim guide easily fits into your pocket and is split into four sections with an introduction to the city, a colour coded guide, hotel listings and how to navigate public transport. If you’re short on time, the top 25 sights and experiences section at the front of the book pretty much covers the essentials for first time visitors, including the Night Safari – the world’s first nocturnal zoo – to the Asian Civilisations Museum, one of the city’s oldest buildings. There’s a tube map at the front and you can use the pull out waterproof map to follow the self-guided tour section.
4. Singapore City Guide: £10.99, Insight Guides
With plenty of information on the history, politics and culture of the city, this fourteenth edition of Insight’s Singapore guide is extremely thorough and informative. The editor’s choice section breaks down what to see into bite-size pieces from the best festivals and parks to daily markets, and it also has a useful section on money-saving tips. The main section splits Singapore into eight sections including the surrounding areas and details the attractions of each part from Chinatown’s colourful Wak Hai Cheng Temple to one of the historic esplanade park in the Civic District. And you won’t get lost with the inclusion of nine detailed maps with the sights included, although there’s no main pull out map. Also available as an e-book.
5. Singapore Pocket Guide: £5.99, Berlitz Travel
Fitting into the palm of your hand, this pocket guide book begins with 10 attractions that include classic experiences such as sipping on a Singapore Sling cocktail at Raffles Hotel and venturing out of the city to Sentosa Island’s best beaches. There is a detailed guide to a perfect day in the city, starting with breakfast at the 1919 Killiney Kopitiam coffee shop to the best city vistas from the Singapore Flyer observation wheel. The main part colour codes the sections and splits the city into seven areas, with additional sections covering the zoos, parks and gardens as well as island excursions.
6. Lonely Planet Singapore: £12.59, Lonely Planet
From one of the most reliable names in the guidebook world, Lonely Planet’s tenth Singapore edition has special features on local cuisine, tips for shopping along with a small section on the little – but important – first time essentials from what to wear and general etiquette like not leaving your chopsticks upright in a bowl. The main bulk consists of detailed information organised by neighbourhood and there’s also an introduction to Shingler – the mish-mash of Singaporean English that you’ll quickly get used to, plus there’s a pull out large map at the back. Lonely Planet’s guides are also available as e-books and there is extra destination on its website.
7. Wallpaper* City Guide Singapore: £6.95, Amazon
Small enough to slip into a back pocket and part of the Pantone coloured series of more than 100 destinations, this one offers all the design-conscious traveller needs - and there’s plenty of it to see in Singapore. The 24 hours section suggests a timed itinerary of the city’s best, including visiting the tropical Gardens by the Bay and Ku De Ta restaurant and bar, which offers one of the best skyline views. While the guided tour (named ARCHITORU) pinpoints the impressive architecture that’s synonymous with the city. The rest of the book covers places for day trips as well as sports - for those who want to “work out, chill out or just watch”.
8. The Monocle Travel Guide Series – Singapore: £12.99, Die Gestalten Verlag
From retreating into the forests to sampling authentic street food, the Monocle team makes sure you won’t be spending your time pootling around the touristy shops of Orchard Road. Instead it offers authentic experiences from quirky independent cinemas to the old-school charm of the Jalan Besar district. It uses a letter coding system with H for hotels and F for food and drink throughout and includes an essay section covering politics, hospitality and architecture from people who know what they’re talking about.
To really experience the city state, the Rough Guide’s edition helps you do just that with its focus on art, culture and food. It has useful and interesting itineraries, an easy to follow lay out, detailed maps and doesn’t ignore the box-ticking activities that Singapore draws people in with.