The Republic of Singapore, with its historic harbor and a growing reputation for being one of the safest countries in the world, combines old-world glamour with modern skyscrapers.
The country has put itself on the map with its trailblazing airport, Michelin-starred restaurants, and what has become the most Instagrammed hotel in the world -- the Marina Bay Sands, with its rooftop infinity pool. In other words, this destination is known today for being much more than the birthplace of the Singapore sling.
In a country that welcomes more than 16 million visitors each year, there is no shortage of hotel options. And yes, properties here are often pricey, but you can save by visiting hawker markets, inexpensive museums, and enjoying the city's natural sights. Here's our guide.
Staying at the newly-opened Six Senses, Duxton in the heart of Chinatown might just be the best value--especially for the quality. Nightly rates run $280 and you get a lot for your dollar. Located along a historic row of trading houses and designed by Brit Anouska Hempel, the hotel features Chinese, Malay, and European elements which echo Singapore’s diverse cultural heritage. It is also the brand’s first urban hotel.
As soon as you arrive, you are greeted with a welcome drink and encouraged to stand in a giant brass meditation bowl whose reverberations might help you fight jet lag.
These are signs of the hotel’s unwavering commitment to health and wellness: each of its 43 rooms has tinctures to help you sleep better, as well as Tiger Balm and Chinese healing remedy samples to take home. Guests also have access to consultations with a licensed Chinese doctor who can prescribe medicines.
Breakfast (including delicious congees and traditional Singapore keuh or cake) at the hotel’s restaurant, Yellow Pot, is an ideal choice, but steps away from the hotel on Duxton Road are plenty of cafes, restaurants, and bars. For those into local fare, try the Maxwell Food Center, a legendary hawker center with over 100 stalls that serve traditional Singapore street food items like banana fritters, congee, chicken rice, and sweets like traditional pandan chiffon cakes for just a few dollars each.
The National Gallery is good place to spend the day, and it features the world’s largest display of modern Southeast Asian art, a diverse collection of over 8,000 works housed in a building design by Studio Milou. The design features motifs from nature, including tree-like columns and leaf-like fine metal mesh, and fuses two national monuments: the country’s former Supreme Court building and City Hall. Admission is free to Singapore citizens, $20 for visitors.
For an affordable sit-down dinner exploring traditional Peranakan cuisine (a mélange of Chinese, Malay, and Indian styles), try Chef Damian’s Folklore, which boasts hearty heirloom dishes as well as desserts like a wholesome baked custard served with Gula Melaka (a traditional sugar syrup).
The Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore offers a distinctly glamorous sensibility with its marble lobby, Chihuly chandeliers, and rooms with sweeping views of Marina Bay. Designed by Pritzker prize-winning architect Kevin Roche, the entire hotel operates on the philosophy of Feng Shui with iridescent glass panels, rounded corridors, and light woods to create a spacious environment (room rates from $460 per night).
The hotel’s outstanding art collection is a must (with works by Andy Warhol and Frank Stella), and so is the Chihuly Lounge which serves delicious high teas and desserts. A butler-drawn lavender bath following a spa treatment is the perfect way to top off a day here.
A good way to learn more about Singapore’s Peranakan culture and its heritage is to spend part of your day looking at the beautiful jewel-like homes in the Joo Chiat neighborhood, designated as Singapore’s first “Heritage town” in 2011. A must-see in the heart of this district is Intan, a home-museum crammed with Peranakan collectibles of Alvin Yapp, including beaded slippers (kasut manek) and old tiffin carriers. A tour with him includes tea, desserts, and the opportunity to listen to his marvelous stories growing up in the culture that is pre-eminently Singaporean ($60 per person; for appointments visit the Intan website).
Finish the day by dining at the world’s first Michelin-starred Peranakan restaurant, Candlenut, with a modern twist on traditional Straits-Chinese cuisine.
Capella Singapore on Sentosa island recently made headlines this summer when it hosted the Trump-Kim summit (it has also hosted Lady Gaga). The 112-room resort resides in a historic 1880s building restored by Lord Norman Foster, with interiors done by the late Jaya Ibrahim. It also features sprawling gardens and villas in the somewhat idyllic island enclave of Sentosa, with views of the South China Sea (room rates from $500 per night).
The hotel’s modern-style villas boast private plunge pools and a breathtaking spaciousness, and occasionally, you might spot a beautiful peacock or two strolling the grounds, including a rare while albino one. The colonial building served as the officers’ mess of the British Royal Artillery.
You can fill your day by taking in the many family friendly attractions Sentosa has to offer, including a crescent-shaped Tanjong Beach, Universal Studios Singapore, a water slide-studded Adventure Cove, S.E.A. aquarium, and a world-class Maritime Experiential museum that has a thematic history of the island nation.
While there are dining options in Sentosa, veering towards the mainland for dinner options isn't a bad idea, especially if you choose to splurge on a Michelin-star restaurant. Labyrinth, a “New Singapore” culinary journey under the auspices of chef-owner LG Han, marries age-old recipes with modern twists. Han sources everything as locally as possible. The fare here is layered but light, with delicious pre-desserts and textured palate cleansers (a multi-course meal here is about $130 per person).
For a night out, take in some of the bars on the famous Amoy Street, including Vijay Mudaliar’s Native, which boasts a fine array of South Asian crafted spirits and handcrafted cocktails you are unlikely to find anywhere else in the world (e.g. a gin made from an indigenous citrus fruit, the Buddha’s Hand).
If you want to reach Singapore in style, splurge on the nonstop new A380 experience from Singapore Airlines, which has invested in five brand new double decker planes with all the bells and whistles you can imagine, including massage chairs and brand-new suites with 32-inch TV screens (fares average from a whopping $13,000 round-trip from New York, if you want the suite experience). Changi airport gets a brand new terminal in 2019 called “Jewel,” with a façade made up of more than 9,000 pieces of glass; it will also have a the world’s largest indoor waterfall and a five-story garden with plants sourced from all over the world.