It might be one of the smallest countries in the world, but nothing about Singapore feels or looks little. In fact, the beloved destination – which has a total land area of just 264 square miles – is known as “Lion City,” which should tell you everything you need to know about the main island. Or should that be mane island? Grr…
This tropical island country, which lies just above the equator off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, was given its name by Sang Nila Utama, a Palembang prince who believed he’d spotted a lion on the island. But despite christening it Singapura, which is Sanskrit for Lion City, you won’t find wild cats roaming around, don’t worry.
That said, the spirit of the King of the Jungle can be felt everywhere, even on arrival. Changi Airport has been voted the world’s best airport so many times, it’ll need a new terminal for its ego at this point; it comes complete with a 24/7 free cinema and a selection of designer shops that would rival Rodeo Drive.
You might be tempted just to stay there for your trip, but even greater pleasures await. Because in Singapore, they don’t do things by halves. Everything about Singapore feels grand. It’s the most expensive city to live in the world, but also has one of the highest population densities, while somehow never feeling too crowded or too overpriced (for visitors at least). There are certainly high-end restaurants where you could blow your budget in a matter of hours, but local places will more than satisfy without emptying the wallet.
One gem, Nomiya, can be found in the heart of Chinatown, the reliably bustling hub, where you’ll find mouth-watering wagyu beef and unforgettable black chicken. Even the edamame beans pack a punch, as does the sake you can wash them down with. Just try and get away without ordering their Brussels sprouts – the waiter won’t allow you not to try them, and with good reason. In one bite, a healthy chore becomes a treat you’re raving about.
Equally, Sin Yuan Hong LP Gas Pte Ltd is a sweet little place with some delightful signature Singapore cuisine. They have a knack for celebrating vegetables and making you feel like it’s the first time you’ve tasted them – the eggplant will make you want to send that emoji for a non-cheeky reason.
Oh, and try Kayan toast, wherever and whenever possible. Sweet, buttery, available all over the city, there’s no excuse not to.
Of course, if you tell anyone who’s been to Singapore that you’re going, there’s one thing you will hear over and over again. But yes, you have to go to Raffles for their famed Singapore Sling. You simply must. The country’s signature cocktail, which contains gin, Cointreau, cherry brandy, Dom Benedictine, pineapple juice, grenadine, Angostura bitters and lime, was first served at the Long Bar in Raffles Hotel in 1915. Raffles remains a tourist hotspot. The chic, beautiful hotel with peanut shells all over the floor (it’s part of the charm, don’t worry, not a health and safety hazard – though do watch your step) is expensive, so maybe just the one Sling. But you’ll be pleased you visited.
If you do indulge in multiple Singapore Slings though, you might start to think you can speak Singlish, which is the “secret” fifth language of local lingo, and notoriously hard for tourists to follow. It joins the four official languages – English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil – that Singaporeans speak. However, the locals are very friendly and welcoming, in any language.
And if they give you any advice regarding your daytime jaunts, it’ll be this: drink plenty of water. It’s a humid place. Even your sweat will sweat. And should you experience a tropical storm there, well…let’s just say, think you’ve been wet before? Think again. There are baths that will leave you less soaked. But just think of it as a large rainforest shower.
And speaking of forests, the cloud forest is another major attraction you should explore. Nestled by the river, near the famous Gardens by the Bay, is the spectacular contemporary greenhouse, home to the world’s tallest manmade waterfall, and a fabulous photo opportunity. At about $40, it’s worth the ticket fee, particularly if you’re there around 2pm for the memorable water misting.
For more natural beauty, the botanical gardens won’t disappoint. As you enjoy the lily garden, lakes and stunning flowers, just watch out for monkeys and large lizards. All part of the fun. And speaking of Gardens by the Bay, try and go up to the top of the iconic Marina Sands Bay hotel, which looks like a cruise ship being held up on the heavens by pillars, for a drink and unrivaled views of the city. If you listen closely, you’ll swear you can hear that lion roaring.
Or is that just the police? Singapore has famously strict laws. Chewing gum is banned, so only those with a medical prescription can chew, and littering is not taken lightly, with large fines – SGD300 (about $225) – and court summons handed out like lollipops (probably also banned) to any offenders. There’s even a law against not flushing the public toilet after using it – which could see you fined SGD 150 if caught.
But the, let’s say, less than laid-back attitude, has benefits in other areas. Apart from the city being known for stunning cleanliness (because, let’s face it, who can afford to risk it?) the underground system runs so smoothly and efficiently it puts just about every other major city in the world to shame.
Everything just works well in Singapore, one of many reasons it’s so enduringly popular with tourists from all around the world, so many of whom rave about how magical it is. And honestly, they ain’t lion.