First published on 21 Jul 2009. Updated on 22 Jun 2012.
Wake up early and head to the Singapore Botanic Gardens for a 7am tai chi session. Take a short taxi ride to the charming Dempsey Hill area for Western-style brunch at PS. Café at 9.30am, and hightail it out of there before the crushing crowds arrive.
You’ll need that morning rest and sustenance for the next few hours as you brave Orchard Road. Start at the western end of Orchard, at the Scotts Road intersection, and gradually walk your way east – make sure to hit heavyweights like Wheelock Place, Far East Plaza, Wisma Atria, Tangs Orchard, Takashimaya Department Store and the Paragon Shopping Centre. Take a break at the end of the road, at Plaza Singapura; the basement level has decent lunch options.
From here, it’s a brisk 30-minute walk (or five-minute bus ride) to the colonial/civic district, just a few blocks east of the Orchard Road/Bras Basah Road junction. Watch for architectural standouts like St Andrew’s Cathedral and the Armenian Church. Prefer a blast from the past (or an air-con unit)? Check out the National Museum of Singapore – here, the story of the island is told, from the points of view of both historical events and personal histories.
In the early evening, head down to Chinatown. Catch a glimpse of classic shophouse architecture along Mosque Street or on Tanjong Pagar Road. Check out the wares at the Chinatown Night Market on Pagoda Street, but be warned: goods are often overpriced, and you’d do well to bargain with shop owners. Walk south on South Bridge Road, and see three of Singapore’s most popular religions in a three-block stretch of one street: Sri Mariamman Temple (the island’s oldest Hindu temple), Masjid Jamae Mosque and the towering Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum. Cross the street and have dinner at Maxwell Food Centre, a huge hawker centre. We recommend the pan-fried radish cakes at Jin Ji Mei Shi (stall 96), the ngoh hiang (Hokkien-style fried meat rolls) at China Street Fritters (stall 64); and congee (rice porridge) at Zhen Zhen (stall 54).
After the classic hawker meal, jump in a taxi and head back to the colonial district for a Singapore Sling at the Long Bar, inside the irrepressible Raffles Hotel. Yes, the drinks are a diabetic’s nightmare and the bar is crammed with tourists, but it’s a lovably cheesy must – after all, this is the place where the cocktail was concocted in the early 1900s. If you're still buzzing at this point in the evening and you want a night out on the tiles there's plenty to keep you up till the wee hours. If you're a fan of the more rural scene why not choose one of the bars up at leafy Dempsey for a nightcap, the ultra-cool Hacienda for a cocktail and chilled beats under the stars, or Red Dot Brewhouse for a locally brewed beer. If you're a music fan, check out our Music section to see which bands are in town and which venues have artists-in-residence: if you like jazz you'll never go wrong at BluJaz Cafe and if you're a rock fanatic Crazy Elephant is a safe bet. Finally, if you're looking for ultra-convenience, Clarke Quay is the destination for you - Singapore's best-known entertainment venue has clubs, bars and restaurants galore all under one (jellyfish-resembling, colour-changing) roof.
Just because you have the itinerary now doesn’t mean you’re free to explore yet. Here are tips for surviving a walking tour of Singapore:
1. Pack light. There’s nothing worst than traipsing around a city carrying a small village on your back. If you can help it, leave the backpack in the hotel and bring only what you need.
2. What you need is an umbrella. Singapore’s tropical climate is known to unleash torrential downpours at any given time, so make sure you bring a travel brolly, just in case.
3. Stay hydrated. It’s almost a given that there’ll be water, water everywhere, but it’s not the kind you can drink. Buy a small bottle of water and make sure to drink lots of it as you go – Singapore sits nearly on the equator, and the mercury rarely dips below 20˚C.
4. Bring a sweater. That said, while the temps outside are hot, any indoor space will likely be over-air-conditioned. (Energy conservation is actually an ongoing concern for Singapore, which has been relatively slow to jump on the green bandwagon.) The coldest of all are typically movie theatres, followed closely by malls and office buildings. A sweater or shawl is also a good idea if you’re visiting Buddhist temples or Muslim mosques.