If you want to break a long haul trip to Europe, Singapore is a great place to do it. Compact, easy to get around, and packed with a range of great experiences, 24 hours in Singapore feels much longer.
Changi Airport is about 20 minutes from the city via taxi on the East Coast Parkway. A great introduction to the city: It is a lushly-planted, fast moving thoroughfare that takes you into the city past East Coast Park, an almost 20-kilometre strip of open spaces, bike paths, restaurants and hawker centres running along the coast, past the Singapore Flyer, the startlingly designed Marina Bay Sands Casino, and the soon-to-be-opened world’s largest indoor gardens.
Singapore runs on tropical time, and business doesn’t really get going until 10.30. If you’ve arrived in the early morning, head straight for the Botanic Gardens (1 Cluny Road) for a wander along its serene shady pathways and their humid, verdant vegetation. Stop for an iced tea at the Ginger Garden, or dine on local cuisine at one of the many restaurants scattered throughout the gardens’ extensive grounds.
If you’re feeling a bit steamy after brushing with nature, then Singapore’s reputation for gigantic shopping malls is richly deserved. Either grab a taxi or wander along Orchard Road until you reach Ion Orchard, Singapore’s newest monument to consumerism. Strikingly designed to ensure that jaded shoppers discover new experiences around every corner, it is filled with well-known street brands like Zara to high-end haute couture boutiques. But if you’re after an electronic souvenir of your visit, Sim Lim Square (1 Rochor Canal Road, near Little India) or Funan Digital Life Mall (109 North Bridge Road, not far from Town hall MRT) are the places to go.
For a brush with some of the cultures that make Singapore unique, take the MRT from Orchard to Chinatown and explore Pagoda Street and the Chinatown Heritage Centre (48 Pagoda Street). Entire sets of bedrooms, kitchens and street scenes from the late 19th century and early 20th century allow visitors to step back in time to explore the area’s origins as it transformed from a muddy fishing village, through its murky years when it was home to dozens of opium dens, to its present life as a gleaming metropolis.
Little India (Serangoon Road) is a bustling assault on the senses, from the spice shops and flower garland vendors that crowd its footpaths to the stores filled with wondrous saris and jewellery shop windows filled with gleaming yellow gold. Not far away, from Little India Kampong Glam, Arab and Bugis Streets were originally home to the Malay aristocracy, and today are filled with shophouses selling books, textiles, batiks, sarongs, baskets, perfumes, arts and craft.
After the sun goes down, the options are endless. Try the time-honoured tourist tradition of a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel, hang out with the city’s large expat population in the bars at Boat Quay or wander up the river past Clarke Quay to Robinson Quay for Happy Hours that last most of the evening. If you are prepared to try your luck, or have had the foresight to book ahead, there are dozens of fine dining options available including the so-called Magnificent Seven restaurants at Marina Bay Sands, featuring chefs like Wolfgang Puck and Tetsuya Wakuda.
Otherwise dine like a local at one of the city’s many hawker centres: world famous hawker food can be found in most shopping centre food courts, and at Singapore institutions like Lau Pa Sat (18 Raffles Quay) and Newton Circus.
Finish the evening with panoramic views of the city from the gravity-defying cantilever of the Marina Bay Sands Skypark, or trek through the jungle serenaded by the roars of tigers, and experience the doubtful pleasure of a fish pedicure at the Night Safari. Open from 7pm to midnight, if time’s short, taxi is the best way to get there; it will take around half an hour from the CBD, and be prepared to wait awhile for a cab if it starts raining.
On leaving the city state, make sure you allow some extra time to explore the airport. Filled with fabulous shops, interactive gaming, free movies and beauty treatments, it consistently rates among the best in the world for a reason.