The Perfect Weekend in Singapore

There are plenty of ways to have a perfect weekend in Singapore. For a small place, it packs a mighty punch of delight. For first timers, a taste of the outdoors, a splash of shopping, and more than a few hearty servings of food will leave you craving more. Browse the National Gallery Singapore. Explore the Gardens by the Bay. Sip a sundowner at one of the stunning rooftop bars. And eat eat eat. (The food is so incredibly good.) Make your way outside of the city center to see the world-famous Singapore Zoo.

18 Raffles Quay, Singapore 048582
The best fast food in Singapore‘s central business district can be found at Lau Pa Sat (Raffles Place MRT stop). This 150-year-old former fish, fruit, and veg market was converted into a collection of hawker food stalls in the 1970s. The market, which has recently undergone a facelift, is shaped like an octagon with eight alleys emanating from the center. There are about 75 different stalls to choose from, selling everything from curries and dosas to dumplings and pig organ soup. You are sure to find whatever it is you are craving. When in doubt, do what the Singaporeans do and join the longest queue! Here are my top picks: Shanghai deep-fried pork and spring onion buns from the stall in the center. These are to die for. Help yourself to a little plastic saucer of chili paste for dipping. Thunder Tea Rice - Stall 01-26/31 - A healthier option with brown rice, herbs and tofu thrown into delicious combinations. Try their signature dish. I prefer to add the cold green broth to the rice bowl before eating. Murtabak (stuffed roti prata) - get a plate to share from one of the Indian Muslim food stalls. Mamacita’s Costa Rican cuisine (near Thunder Tea Rice) - an unexpected but perennially popular stall. Fresh lime juice or iced kopi (coffee) from the beverage stand in the center of the market. Don’t forget to bring your own napkins/tissues/wet wipes. Stalls don’t give them out and they also come in handy to save your seat while you’re ordering your meal.
River Valley Rd, Singapore 179037
Tour the spice garden at Fort Canning Park with a botanist to see and smell chilies of all types as well as lemongrass, galangal, turmeric, curry leaves, limes, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Fort Canning Park is bounded by Hill Street, Canning Rise, Clemenceau Avenue, and River Valley Road. —Jessica Battilana This appeared in the March/April 2011 issue.
#02, 20 Trengganu St, 01 Chinatown, Singapore 058479
An evergreen Chinese favorite, dim sum is great to snack on when visiting Singapore’s famed hawker centers or exploring the city’s Chinatown. Dim sum literally means “touch the heart,” and the authentic local offerings are sure to touch yours. Yum Cha has a vast dim sum menu with items at affordable prices: There’s a dizzying array of dishes to choose from, but make sure to get the soup dumplings (xiao long bao) no matter what, and order a round of egg tarts as soon as you sit down—they’re likely to run out.
After a 10-minute ferry ride from Changi Point in Singapore City, you’ll arrive on Pulau Ubin—a small, densely forested island where life moves a little slower. Rent a bicycle and spend a lazy day pedaling around this sleepy fishing kampung (village). You can sample fresh grilled fish and prawns from seaside hawker stalls, sip Tiger Beer, and get a glimpse of what life was like in parts of Singapore as recently as 50 years ago. Visitors may also enjoy kayaking trips and nature walks led by local volunteers. Check the National Parks website for details and to book tours. If you don’t want the peace and quiet to end, stay overnight at the island’s resort or at one of its free beach campsites.
80 Mandai Lake Rd, Singapore 729826
Singapore Zoo has been recognized as a leader in creating naturalistic habitats since its opening in 1973, using concealed moats to separate animals from visitors and incorporating a local reservoir into the landscaping. There are dozens of themed exhibits here! Some highlights include the Fragile Forest, where guests enter a massive biodome that re-creates the diversity of the rain forest, and the Reptile Garden, home to Komodo dragons and giant tortoises. At the adjacent Night Safari experience, guests walk or travel in trams from tropical to mountain habitation zones, where rhinos, elephants, tigers, and some 130 other species can be observed.
Haji Ln, Singapore
Kampong Glam is a culturally rich district, bordered by Little India and Bugis, that’s one of Singapore’s oldest and most storied neighborhoods. But today Kampong Glam is becoming the hub for artisan foods and crafts, most of them sold out of monochrome storefronts on Haji Lane. Wander the alleyway to discover clothing, accessories, and home decor made in Singapore and nearby countries; multicolored murals; hidden cafés; and lively bars that often host music acts. A block or two off the main drag, Maison Ikkoku is a hipster haven of single-batch and cold-brew coffee. Nearby, Symmetry is the best spot for weekend brunch, especially if you’re a sucker for truffle eggs and Aussie-style flat whites.
Set in City Hall, now part of the National Gallery Singapore, this lovely dark-wood-paneled restaurant reflects the country’s rich Peranakan Chinese heritage in both design and fare. Traditional tile floors, marble-topped tables, nostalgic bentwood chairs, and vintage photos set the scene for a feast of rich dishes that mingle Chinese and Malay flavors. if you’ve never had this combination of cuisines before, prepare to be forever changed. Dive in headfirst and try the spicy chicken stew (buah keluak ayam), the zesty beef rendang, the chili crab, or the fish-head curry. If you’re with a group, order a spread of plates to share, like the fried eggplant with sambal sauce and the deep-fried tangy prawn, crab, and chicken dumplings.
5 Rochester Park, Singapore 139216
There are two Min Jiangs in Singapore, and both are set in lovely heritage buildings: one in the early-20th-century Goodwood Park Hotel, and the other in Rochester Park, a cluster of colonial-era black and white bungalows repurposed into restaurants. Min Jiang’s menu is packed with Sichuan and Cantonese classics, but the big star is the wood-fired Peking duck served with traditional pancakes, crispy slivers of skin and meat, and sweet bean sauce. Still hungry? The hot-and-sour soup, prawn-and-pork stir-fry, and lobster with eggplant and minced chicken in Sichuan chili sauce are also irresistible. If you’re dining with a significant other, grab a table outside on the veranda: The candlelight and tropical foliage create a romantic and cozy vibe.
101 Thomson Road, #01-08 United Square, Singapore 307591
Considered Singapore’s national dish, Hainanese chicken rice is a beloved staple for many. It’s made up of a fragrant bowl of chicken broth, a pile of fluffy rice, and tender poached chicken (skin on), as well as condiments like ginger paste, dark soy sauce, and chili sauce—and sometimes a side of gai lan (a leafy Chinese vegetable). Enjoy the traditional meal in homey surroundings at Wee Nam Kee, a casual and inexpensive restaurant that started out many years ago as a humble food stall. Though the chicken rice is the star, other favorites include cereal prawns, fish-head curry, salted-egg pork ribs, and sambal kangkong (greens).
01, Far East Square, 18 China St, 01, Singapore 049560
The Ya Kun experience is a must for foodies looking for an authentic Singaporean breakfast. Ya Kun Kaya Toast started as a humble coffee shop in Singapore’s business district, but it’s since morphed into a café chain with an impressive number of outlets in Singapore and other Asian countries. Ya Kun’s signature dish is its kaya toast, which consists of kaya (a coconut-based jam) spread on a thin slice of toast and served with soft-boiled eggs and freshly brewed coffee (the beans are wok-fried in butter and sugar, strained through cloth, and served with some condensed milk). If coffee isn’t your cup of tea (sorry, couldn’t resist), Ya Kun also serves teh tarik, a Malaysian sweetened-tea-and-milk beverage popular among locals.
2 Dickson Rd, Singapore 209494
Another of attorney-turned-hotelier Loh Lik Peng’s boutique properties (along with the New Majestic), Wanderlust is perhaps the quirkiest hotel in Singapore, taking guests on a fanciful journey that befits its name. The building opened in the 1920s as the Hong Wen Chinese School and later served as a settlement where Indian immigrants reared livestock. Its unchanged sober white facade with black shutters gives little hint of the outré interiors. Each of the four floors was fashioned by a different Singaporean design agency, resulting in various themes. In the lobby, an industrial-glam aesthetic manifests itself in an old-fashioned collapsible metal gate repainted in gold, a Frank Gehry-designed sofa, and seats made from recycled road signs by Australian Trent Jansen. Rooms on the “Creature Comforts” floor include Typewriter, where giant lettered arms reach out and up from a sofa with keyboard letters on the upholstery, while lanterns cast shadows of monsters along the corridors.
1 Fullerton Square, Singapore 049178
Opened at the mouth of the Singapore River in 1928 to celebrate 100 years since Singapore‘s British founding, the Fullerton Hotel was, at the time, the largest and most expensive building in the Lion City. It served as the General Post Office, Exchange, Chamber of Commerce, and Singapore Club before undergoing a $320 million refit to open as a hotel in 2001. Visually, it’s a showstopper, with coffered ceilings, cornices, and marble floors—a Palladian building in stark contrast to the neighboring bland office towers. The atrium lobby is refreshingly bright, with a grandness of scale that brings drama to the arrival experience. Rooms have vanilla-colored walls, and some open to the atrium. The 25-meter infinity pool is almost theatrical, with Doric columns rising behind. Leisurely afternoon tea is a fine excuse to linger in the atrium lobby and appreciate the airy space’s tranquil qualities.
18 Marina Gardens Dr, Singapore 018953
With its domed greenhouses of epic proportions dotted across some 100 hectares (250 acres), the sustainable Gardens by the Bay are educational and fun. The Cloud Forest is a misty, 42-meter-high (138-foot-high) “mountain” that re-creates tropical highlands; visitors use ramps to explore around and through them. A biosphere of Mediterranean and desert plants, including huge baobab trees, makes up the Flower Dome. Outdoors, guests walk on suspended walkways between steel-frame “Supertrees” that are covered in solar-powered lights.
39 Armenian St, Singapore 179941
The Peranakan Museum houses an excellent collection of antiques, textiles, and artifacts over three floors in a beautiful heritage building that in and of itself is something to behold—it was constructed in 1912 as the Tao Nan School in an exciting mash-up of architectural styles. The exhibition space showcases treasures from Peranakan homes and daily life in 10 permanent galleries. Peranakan culture, which sprang up in Singapore and elsewhere in the former Straits Settlements when Chinese traders married into wealthy Malay families, gave rise to a unique cuisine, type of dress, and home decor that are still an important part of many Singapore families’ traditions today.
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