A Traveler’s Guide to Singapore

Before the country’s iconic Raffles hotel opens in Boston this summer, take a trip 9,000 miles to experience mind-bending skyscrapers, sprawling botanical gardens, and some of the world's best steamed chicken.

Singapore’s glittering skyline at dusk. / Photo by Jeremy Woodhouse/Getty Images

Singapore’s name comes from the Malay word for “Lion City,” which partially explains the nearly 30-foot-tall Merlion fountain on the waterfront (a can’t-miss Instagram opportunity). It also applies to the go-go economy: It’s one of the world’s busiest shipping ports. An ultra-modern melting pot, it blends the cultures of China and India with colonial Britain and Malaysian and Indonesian influences. The result is a compact, polyglot metropolis where litter, graffiti, and street crime are non-existent due to strict laws and heavy surveillance. This might earn Singapore its reputation as a nanny state, but it also makes it one of the safest places in the world (see: the phones and purses left as placeholders on tables at outdoor cafés). The steamy, tropical climate wraps the city’s space-age exoskeleton in jungle-like greenery, which also means there’s fresh produce year-round. In short, what began as a remote trading post in the early 1800s is now a futuristic city with the world’s longest rooftop infinity pool and a Louis Vuitton boutique that looks like it’s floating on the harbor. Even the airport, Changi, is a tourist attraction, with the world’s highest indoor waterfall, a butterfly and sunflower garden, and subterranean amusement park/arcade.

The colorful house of Tan Teng Niah in Little India. / Photo by John Seaton Callahan/Getty Images


The Singapore Botanic Gardens, a vast park that includes a spectacular outdoor stage where concerts are held, also houses the National Orchid Garden. The VIP garden features varieties named for Princess Diana and the Obamas, while the aptly named Cool House offers a welcome blast of AC alongside a mind-boggling array of blossoms. The Gardens by the Bay, meanwhile, feature the “Supertree Grove”—giant tree-like structures supporting a plethora of plant life, illuminated every night in a sound and light show. A short walk away is Marina Bay Sands, three towers with a common roof that have become an icon of the Singapore skyline. Inside you’ll find a hotel, casino, shops, restaurants, and observation decks, but the views are also memorable aboard the Singapore Flyer, Asia’s largest Ferris wheel. Be sure to set aside a few hours (each) to explore Little India—with historical sites like the candy-colored house of Tan Teng Niah—and Chinatown, with its colorful murals, handsome mosque, and the breathtaking Buddha Tooth Relic Temple (climbing three stories to see the tooth in question is mandatory).

Tempting dishes from National Kitchen by Violet Oon. / Photo by Violet Oon Singapore


It’s hard to have a bad meal in Singapore, whether you’re in the mood for street food or a Michelin-starred restaurant. Two standouts, though, are the Arab-inflected Zam Zam in an old shophouse and the gorgeous National Kitchen by Violet Oon inside the National Gallery. One thing every visitor must try: Hainanese steamed chicken rice, Singapore’s national dish.


Singapore is a shopping nirvana: Hermès alone has no less than six locations, and there’s a mall on seemingly every corner. However, for more-authentic wares, try haggling in the stalls of Chinatown or the Tekka Centre in Little India.

A luxe studio suite at Raffles. / Photo by Raffles Hotel Singapore


Queen Elizabeth supposedly told Prince William, “While you’re at Raffles, try to see a bit of Singapore.” Indeed, the legendary hotel—which opens its first North American property in Boston this summer—is steeped in its own fascinating history. Named for Singapore’s founder, Sir Stamford Raffles, it opened in 1887 as a beachfront rooming house for Malay rubber planters and intrepid adventurers. Since then, it’s been a home away from home for notables like Noël Coward, whose song “I’ll See You Again” chimes daily from the original grandfather clock in the lobby. The best way to experience all of its secrets is to spend time with hotel historian Roslee Sukar. He can wind up the old gramophone, escort you past the line that forms daily for the Long Bar (home of the original Singapore Sling), and show you the hat boutique in the hotel’s shopping arcade where you can push a wall of shelves to open a secret door into the American Express Centurion Haus lounge.

A scenic pavilion at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. / Photo by Seng Chye Teo

Getting There

Singapore Airlines operates one of the world’s longest nonstop flights from Newark Liberty. The 18.5 hours fly by, especially from the magic carpet ride of business class, but even premium economy is comfortable enough to get some shuteye.

First published in the print edition of the May 2023 issue with the headline “Boston Traveler: Singapore.”

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