Chinatown's history dates back to 1821 when the first Chinese junk carrying immigrants arrived from Fujian province. Much of it has been rebuilt and the old shop-houses restored and it remains one of the most interesting areas to explore, with a lively street scene rich with traditional architecture and customs. Its four main districts - Kreta Ayer, Telok Ayer, Tanjong Pagar and Bukit Pasoh - each have a distinctive flavour.
Kreta Ayer is the heart of the busy trading area. It contains Smith Street, home to the remains of the once-famed Cantonese Opera House, Lai Chun Yuen, and the tradition lives on with daily singing at the Chinese Theatre Circle. Newly re-paved, Smith Street is also referred to as Food Street and, along with Trengganu Street , now makes a lively eating and shopping area. Outside the fantastic souvenir and clothes shops, the pavements are crammed with tables and diners eating cheap Chinese food until midnight.
At Chinatown Complex, corner of Sago Street and Trengganu Street, fresh food is haggled over at the 'wet market' on the ground floor, while eating stalls on the second floor are also popular until late. This area also has the traditional medicine halls, where a complex array of Chinese herbs are available, with expert advice on hand.
Telok Ayer was the main landing site for the Chinese early immigrants, who formed the backbone of the early Chinese community. The most important Chinese and Muslim temples are here. Tanjong Pagar is on the outskirts of Chinatown. A well-conserved area with old shop-houses, it is now a more upmarket business area, which is quite spacious and good for nightlife. Bukit Pasoh was originally the heart of Chinese culture in Singapore. It has had the reputation for being seedy, with clan associations and prositutes, but is now more upmarket with cafés and boutique hotels.
All of Singapore's major religions are in evidence in Chinatown. Telok Ayer has Singapore's oldest Hindu temple, the Sri Mariamman Temple on South Bridge Road, which comes to life during festivals. Also along one stretch of Telok Ayer Street is a magnificent collection of national monuments: Al-Abrar Mosque , Thian Hock Keng Temple, Nagore Durgha Shrine and Fuk Tak Chi Museum.
Transport: MRT Outram (W2), then a ten-minute walk to Smith Street.
North of the colonial district, Little India offers a completely different flavour of Singapore with colourful, noisy and crowded streets that reflect an important part of the island's history. When Sir Stamford Raffles arrived in 1819, he had an entourage of 120 Indian assistants and soldiers who resided mainly in Chinatown. Cattle-rearing near the Rochor River brought them into the area now known as Little India and, by the turn of the century, it became a thriving commercial area.
For today's visitor, the attractions are mainly shopping, eating and places of worship, especially along the main hub of Serangoon Road. The smell of spices emerges from the shop-houses, while the informal restaurants offer some of the best food east of Calcutta in this, one of the oldest areas of Singapore. The Little India Arcade and Zhujiao Centre are newly converted shop-houses selling handicrafts, saris and spices, while fortune-tellers use small parrots to pick cards that will tell your future.
A taste of the Indian subcontinent can be devoured, from Ayurvedic (traditional) medicine shops, Bengali tea-houses and flower-garland sellers to the sounds of Bollywood music from the countless CD shops. Traditional and religious life is elaborately displayed at the magnificent temples of Sri Veeramakaliamman, Sri Srinivasa Perumal and Temple of 1000 Lights. During Hindu festivals, especially Deepavali , the area comes to life even more. Slightly less traditional and more commercial wares are on sale at the Mustafa Centre, a three-storey complex selling electronic and household goods at some of the cheapest prices in town - although it is packed at weekends.
Transport: Bus 64, 65, 85, 97 or 111 from Orchard Road.
Built in 1887 and declared a National Monument in 1987, Singapore's most famous landmark is one of the world's greatest Victorian grand hotels. Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling, Noel Coward and Charlie Chaplin made it a favourite retreat and it still oozes tradition, particularly since its S$160 million refurbishment in 1991, which was based on the hotel's heyday of 1915.
Afternoon tea in the Tiffin Room, a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar and a drink under the cool high ceilings of Bar & Billiard are all part of the Singapore experience. The new arcade houses 70 regional and speciality shops, as well as restaurants and regular performances at the Victorian-style playhouse, Jubilee Hall. There is a museum on the upper floor, which houses fascinating Raffles memorabilia, with photographs of some of its more famous guests over the last 100 years, including Charlie Chaplin and his brother, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Noel Coward's diary, which recounts the death of his travelling companion (glossed over elsewhere in the display), is utterly compelling.
Tel: 6337 1886. Fax: 6339 7650.
Transport: MRT City Hall Station, then short walk to Beach Road.
Located next to the Singapore Zoological Gardens, the award-winning Night Safari is billed as the world's first night zoo. Over 90% of animals are nocturnal, so by opening at night and using clever lighting techniques to recreate an almost authentic natural habitat, this zoo allows visitors amazing opportunities to see animals when they are at their most active.
Spread over 40 hectares (100 acres), there are more than 1200 animals, covering 110 exotic species in eight zones that recreate geographic regions, including the African savannah, Nepalese river valley, South American pampas and Burmese jungle. There is a 45-minute tram ride , which offers a leisurely alternative to the three Walking Trails. The twice-nightly Creatures of the Night show sees employees grappling with some of the less dangerous species (at 2000 and 2100).
180 Mandai Lake Road
Tel: 6269 3411 or 3412 (24-hour information). Fax: 6366 3309.
Transport: SBS bus 138 from Ang Mo Kio MRT or TIBS bus 927 from Choa Chu Kang MRT.
Opening hours: Daily 1930-2400.
Admission: S$15.60; tram rides S$5; concessions available.
Billed as a 'tropical isle of peace and tranquillity' and a contrast to Singapore's frenetic atmosphere, Sentosa Island is a purpose-built island theme park. Some of its biggest attractions include: Underwater World, one of Asia's largest tropical oceanariums with 2500 marine creatures in an 80m (262ft) submerged tunnel; Dolphin Lagoon, a water show with a pink dolphin; VolcanoLand, which recreates a journey into the centre of the earth; the 37m (121ft) Merlion; and Magical Sentosa, a musical fountain show twice every evening.
Museums include: Images of Singapore , which uses waxwork figures to depict the social and cultural history of Singapore; and Fort Silosa , which recreates the bunkers and underground passages used in the island's defence.
Sentosa Island also offers beaches, golf, hotels and restaurants, regional food and arts - all on an epic scale. There is a free monorail or bus around the island and visitors can jump off at any station.
Tel: 6275 0388. Fax: 6275 0161.
Transport : Orchard bus E from Orchard Road; or Sentosa bus A and C from World Trade Centre and Tiong Bahru MRT; or cable car from Mount Faber.
Opening hours: Attractions vary; usually daily 0900-1900 (or as late as 2200).
Admission: S$2 (excluding transport to the island). Additional charges for individual attractions (S$3-17).
Supreme Court and City Hall
Dating from 1939, the Supreme Court is one of the last colonial constructions. Its Corinthian columns surround stately interiors featuring murals by Italian artist Cavaliere Rodolfo Nolli . Next door is City Hall, another giant structure, built in 1929 and the site of the Japanese surrender to Lord Mountbatten in 1945. It was on these very same steps that the Prime Minister of the time, Lee Kuan Yew, emotionally declared Singapore's Independence from Malaysia.
Organised groups may tour the premises by appointment, with the useful Guide to the Supreme Court, and anyone may attend most open court hearings. Those who want to learn more about the local judiciary can visit the Multimedia Gallery , where presentations relating to the workings of the court are screened on the hour during office hours.
St Andrew's Road
Tel: 6332 4270. Fax: 6337 9450.
Transport : MRT City Hall; then walk across the Padang.
Opening hours : Mon-Fri 0830-1730, Sat 0830-1300.
Admission : Free.
The largest bird park in all of South-East Asia, Jurong BirdPark is a refuge for more than 8000 birds of 600 different species from all over the world. Highlights include Waterfall Aviary, at 30m (98ft) the world's highest man-made waterfall; the South-East Asian Bird Aviary, where a thunderstorm is simulated every day at noon; and Jungle Jewels, featuring dazzling hummingbirds.
At the Lodge on Flamingo Lake, visitors can dine surrounded by 1001 flamingos, or breakfast on the Song Bird Terrace. Bird shows and feeding times feature flamingos, macaws, hornbills and cockatoos and one of the biggest attractions is the Penguin Parade, housing more than 200 penguins of five species. An air-conditioned monorail covers the entire park.
2 Jurong Hill
Tel: 6265 0022. Fax: 6261 1869.
Transport: MRT Boon Lay Station, then SBS bus 194 or 251 from Interchange.
Opening hours: Daily 0800-1800.
Admission: S$12; S$3 (monorail); concessions available.
Singapore Art Museum
This was once the St Joseph's Institution, the island's first all-boys school, which was built by French Catholic monks and is one of the most striking structures in the city. Now home to the Singapore Art Museum, its exhibits are predominantly 20th-century South-East Asian art with paintings, sculptures and installations. Although specialising in regional art, the museum recently broadened its scope to include the rest of Asia. There are free guided tours daily in English at 1100 and 1400, as well as 1530 on Saturdays.
71 Bras Basah Road
Tel: 6332 3222 or 6375 2510 (recorded information).
Fax: 6334 7919.
Transport : MRT Dhoby Ghaut.
Opening hours : Mon 1200-1800, Tues-Sun 0900-1800 (until 2100 Fri).
Admission : S$3; some temporary exhibitions extra; free after 1800 Fri.
Singapore Science Centre
Housing more than 850 exhibits, mostly interactive, the Science Centre is Singapore's largest collection devoted to the wonder of science - and was recently extended. Its exhibition halls include: the Discovery Zone, for young children, the Human Body, Mathemagic , Space Science , Biotechnology, Energy, the Hall of Aviation, the Hall of IT and the Web of Life - all explaining the science in ingenious interactive ways.
Outside, there is an Ecogarden and a Kinetic Garden, the first of its kind in Asia, which showcases interactive sculptures and science displays. There is also an Omni-Theatre.
15 Science Centre Road
Tel: 6425 2500. Fax: 6565 9533.
Transport : MRT Jurong East, then SBS bus 66 or 335.
Opening hours : Tues-Sun 1000-1800 (last Omni-Theatre show 2000).
Admission : S$6; plus S$10 (Omni-Theatre).
Singapore Cable Car
This new addition to Singapore's attractions offers views of the city from an impressive height. Spanning over 1750m (5740ft), it is the first cable car in South-East Asia and the only one that crosses a harbour. The cable car stops at three stations - and visitors can board at all three. Each have beautiful, very different, views. Mount Faber is the second highest hill in Singapore and an equatorial rainforest; Cable Car Towers is actually the rooftop of a skyscraper, situated near the World Trade Centre and with a view over the busy harbour; while the third station is on the island of Sentosa, so the trip affords fantastic views of the sea. It is possible to travel in a glass-bottomed car, making the journey even more spectacular.
Mount Faber, or Cable Car Towers, 3 Maritime Square, or Sentosa Island
Tel: 6270 8855. Fax: 6273 4639.
Operating hours: Daily 0830-2100 (last cable car leaves Sentosa).
Price: S$8.50 (normal cabin); S$15 (glass cabin).
Asian Civilisations Museum
Housed in a restored neo-classical building dating back to 1910, this museum focuses on the multi-ethnic heritage of the region, especially Chinese history, symbolism, art, connoisseurship and the Chinese scholar tradition. It has a collection of Buddhist artefacts, Imperial porcelain, 17th-century Ming-style furniture and displays of Peranakan culture. It is seen as an important showcase for the culture's development. There are free daily guided tours at 1100 and 1400, plus Saturdays at 1530.
39 Armenian Street
Tel: 6332 3015. Fax: 6332 7993.
Transport: MRT City Hall, then walk along Stamford Road.
Opening hours: Tues-Sun 0900-1800 (until 2100 Fri).
Admission: S$3 (concessions available).
Changi Prison Chapel & Museum
This chapel and museum is a reminder of Singapore's more harrowing historical moments. During World War II, three years of conflict with the Japanese before capitulation saw 50,000 civilians and soldiers imprisoned in Changi Prison . The chapel, housed within the open-air courtyard, was first built in 1988 by the wartime prison inmates, and is now a monument to those prisoners of war. Photographs, drawings and letters in the museum depict the daily life of the prisoners, but the highlight of the exhibition is a series of paintings, called the Changi Murals, recreated from those painted by British PoW Stanley Warren. Services are conducted by the Changi Christian Fellowship every Sunday 1730-1900. There are daily guided tours on the hour.
1000 Upper Changi Road North
Tel: 6214 2451. Fax: 6214 1179.
Transport : MRT Tanah Merah, then SBS bus 2.
Opening hours: Daily 0930-1630; guided tours on the hour from 1000.
Admission: Free; S$6 (guided tours); concessions available.
Singapore Botanic Gardens
The Singapore Botanic Gardens are a perfect respite from the city's urban landscape. They epitomise the tropical island's luxuriant parks with a combination of primary jungle and elegantly laid-out flowerbeds and shrubs. Over 3000 species of plants thrive in the gardens, which also serve to educate and conserve. Spread over 52 hectares (128 acres), the gardens hold more than half a million plants, while the National Orchid Garden has the world's largest orchid display with over 60,000 plants. The gardens are also a venue for outdoor concerts.
Tel: 6471 7808. Fax: 6472 3033
Transport : SBS bus 7, 105, 106, 123 or 174 from Orchard Boulevard. Shuttle bus at weekends hourly 0700-1900 from opposite Orchard MRT.
Opening hours: Daily 0500-2400; daily 0830-1900 (National Orchid Garden).
Admission: Free; S$2 (National Orchid Garden).
Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
This 164-hectare (405-acre) reserve, 12km (7.5 miles) from the city centre, is one of only two nature reserves within city boundaries in the world (the other is in Rio de Janeiro). The reserve contains more species of trees than the entire North American continent - and is one of the few attractions in Singapore that is not man-made. Many species of larger animals were rendered extinct but today it is possible to glimpse a flying lemur, long-tailed macaque monkey or anteater. The reserve has the island's most challenging walking or cycling trails but the paths are well marked as they meander through the jungle, in the company of exotic birds, butterflies, monkeys and squirrels. Bukit Timah Hill, at 164m (538ft), is Singapore's highest point.
177 Hindhede Drive
Tel: 6468 5736 or 1800 468 5736. Fax: 6462 0723.
Transport: TIBS bus 171 from Orchard MRT or Newton.
Opening hours: Daily 0700-1900.
Chinese and Japanese Gardens
Situated at the very west end of the MRT line and lying side by side, these gardens reflect very contrasting landscapes. The 13-hectare (32.5-acre) Chinese Garden portrays the Imperial Sung Dynasty style, echoing the grandeur of the Beijing Summer Palace with its bridges and pagodas. It also has the largest Suzhou-style bonsai garden outside China, with over 1000 plants, as well as a seafood restaurant. The 13-hectare Japanese Garden, by contrast, emphasises Zen simplicity with stone lanterns, summer houses and Zen rock gardens. Classical Japanese motifs help create a soothing atmosphere. The Chinese Gardens also have the largest collection of tortoises and turtles in the world, with over 200 species.
1 Chinese Garden
Tel: 6261 3632. Fax: 6261 1390.
Transport : MRT Chinese Garden.
Opening hours: Daily 0900-2200.
Admission: Free; S$5 (special exhibits).
to top of page