Where to start? Lifestyle in Singapore these days is exciting, vibrant, history-rich, multi-facetted, impressive, opulent – and transformed! The city state has been undergoing a sea change in its upgrade and diverse selection, reaching standards up there among the very top cities/countries internationally, also still with nature as an important component; in particular the green belts that are still intact. Let’s jump right into it, with a comprehensive but quality-focused selection of recommended experiences – also with some Nordic ingredients in the mix. It offers much more than you have time for during say 48 hours in Singapore, and yet it’s just a selection, from a tremendously wide and exciting smorgasbord of experiences.
It begins already at Changi airport – easily one of the best in the world. It has to highlighted, really: how many airports comes with a swimming pool, with Jacuzzi and poolside bar!? At Changi’s Terminal 1 travellers can opt to enjoy these facilities. And at Terminal 2 there is a fascinating installation created by Stockholm-based artist collective Humans since 1982, which took them four years to make. ‘A Million Times’ is both a kinetic sculpture and functioning clock that reinvents the presentation of time.
For visitors some recommendations for lodging are appropriate, and we begin in a distinguishing residential neighbourhood, halfway between the airport and downtown, called Katong.
There, RedDoorz (fast-growing value hotel chain) near Marine Parade Central is a just refurbished property (small rooms but qualitative and value for money), with excellent bars and restaurants next door, and all over Katong.
Along the same road also Santa Grand Hotel East Coast is situated (has conservation status), recognisable by its whitewashed European-colonial facade. The refurbished hotel takes cue from a culture that Katong is known for: Peranakan (Straits-born Chinese), for instance with a vibrant velvet wine red bedhead and bespoke black-and-white floral wall paper in some of the rooms.
Many of the colourful traditional shop houses built by Peranakan families and tradesmen in Katong in the 1920s and 30s are intact, in which discoveries await, such as restaurants with this culture’s unique cuisine – Nyonya. This is on offer in several dedicated restaurants, of which Kim Choo Kueh Chang not only serves Nyonya rice dumplings but also offers its Peranakan beadworks workshop (Their fashion designer, Mr Raymond Wong teaches how to make these unique beaded shoes). Or book a Heritage Walk for maximum five people that explores the community. You’ll gain a glimpse into their shared Nanyang (Southeast Asian) heritage, and get to truly understand what it means to be Singaporean.
In the Rumah Bebe Peranakan Heritage Shop (next door) there are amazing fabrics, shoes, and blouses in genuine Peranakan design to buy.
Next to Katong is also the residential area of Marine Parade, with several access points to the seaside East Coast Park, highly recommended for a morning walk or run, and a perfect start before breakfast and, say Sunday brunch indulgence!
At this point the park stretches another 4 km to the east and 6.5 km to Gardens By The Bay downtown. Via Siglap Park Connector this park also interlinks with Telok Kurau Park, Bedok Town Park, and Bedok Reservoir Park, forming an artery of exercise routes.
Observe the latest fitness fashion, e-bike riders with mounted mini sound systems, tai chi practitioners; workout with jungle gym equipment; rent a bike; or relax on the beach and have a picnic! One can even camp here in dedicated areas – unfortunately limited to residents of Singapore.
Back in Katong for breakfast Brawn & Brains Coffee is, upon the visit, so new there is not even a price list yet. Excellent cinnamon buns, dark chocolate croissants and coffee were served and a food menu was in the pipeline.
Firebake next door offers a weekend menu between 10am – 2.30pm, including dishes such as: Freshly baked wholemeal butter scones, fresh cream, marmalade or jam; Smoked eggplant, spiced hummus, tomato and manchego; or Spiced mushroom soup with smoked paprika and bread. The toasted sourdough butter brioche, meanwhile, comes with Norwegian butter! The Swedish – locally produced – Nordaq water is also on offer.
Another interesting and different all-day-breakfast spot is Double Joy Lifestyle Garden Centre with its nursery lifestyle garden, and boutique home & décor shop and café.
Throughout the long afternoon Kitchenette café on 19 East Coast Road offers an Eggs & Brunch menu. Treat yourself to Eggs Benedict paired with happy hour rosé (among other handpicked wines), while sitting down street-side in the five-foot walkway.
On the opposite side of the road also lies 112 Katong, with lots of stores, restaurants and cafés, one of them serving a big coffee together with scones, whipped cream and jam.
On a Sunday (also with a Saturday edition) the Sunday Brunch at Mandarin Oriental’s Italian Dolce Vita, in a resort-style setting, belongs to the top choices. Situated next to the pool and with a superb view of Marina Bay Sands you can concentrate on sipping bubbles while others do the exercising in the pool. An Aperitivo welcome drink is followed by Vino Franco Prosecco Spumante Superiore “Rustico” and other free flow wines (optional) together with the optimal brunch (perfect selection without being overwhelming) There are plenty of cold cuts and cheese, antipasti, an awesome dessert spread, in addition to choices served at the table.
Seared barramundi fillet with green pea coulis, tomato olive tartare and tapioca chips; and Risotto with special selection acquerello rice, freccia cheese and Mediterranean flavours were among the menu choices.
Mandarin Oriental also boasts its refurbished bar overlooking the F1 circuit, renamed Mo Bar. Worth a visit for its MO BAR Pilsner craft beer and skilled mixology team its sophisticated décor incorporates travel artefacts, hand-carved wooden sculptures, etched metal panels and hand-woven tapestries.
Talking of bars, there a few positioned a few notches above the rest – and we are then also talking on an international scale.
In nearby historic Bugis, ATLAS bar is situated in one of the city-states most iconic buildings – Parkview Square, which is inspired by the glamourous Art Deco skyscrapers of Europe and New York. The environs in a Batman movie feel like a fair comparison.
Dress for success and feel that have you come to the proper place, celebrating life in the most impressive setting, that is guaranteed to make you look up to the ceiling more than once! Just as impressive are the menus on offer, featuring a collection and cocktails like no other; in menus thick as novels. Inspired from the 1920’s rich culinary and beverage traditions ATLAS Collections feature two of the world’s most remarkable physical collections of gin and champagne. Currently, the collection stands at 50,000 bottles of fine wine and over 10,000 bottles of whiskey. There are also well over 1200 gin brands where Australia tops the list with 95 brands! There are quite a few also from Finland and Sweden. Champagne by the glass from SGD 22, and a Late Night Dining menu sustains you while imbibing. Afternoon Tea is also served. Make sure to reserve your table!
Very close by Village Hotel Bugis offers among the most affordable club room stays in Singapore and renovated bright and large rooms and a rooftop outdoor garden with pool! This is also very close to Bugis Junction – excellent shop house cluster with indoor/outdoor stores.
Aside great shopping Bugis Junction offers another preferred choice for Sunday Brunch at the outstanding Peranakan-influenced InterContinental Bugis. Enter the hotel and step in to Ash & Elm, for its British-inspired, sumptuous Sunday experience, offering also a Taittinger Champagne free flow package, a great guest vibe and top notch service. This Brunch keeps you busy well into the afternoon, with dishes like Grilled lamb chop, green peas and mint jelly sauce; Steamed halibut, grilled leek and lemon butter sauce; Pan-seared scallops, Savoy cabbage, and Bacon; or Mushrooom chestnut wellington, roasted vegetables and Lancashire cheese.
In nearby Kampong Glam, a former fishing village and marked out as a Malay enclave during the colonial period we find highly-recommended The Sultan Hotel. This is a magnificent Singaporean mansion-like shop house with great arches and columns, which has been preserved and recreated as boutique hotel with a roof courtyard, bar, restaurant and the Sultan Jazz Club (with live band from 9 pm).
No room is identical and come with Indonesian furniture, wooden floor and lamps that are like art pieces, that anyone can buy from from VerdeLight.sg. The Puteri Room features iron and wooden beams under the ceiling, and full-length French shutter windows that overlook Aliwal Street. This room type also come with a hand-carved, very comfy King size boat bed and plush armchairs.
Shops in the area hawk Malay-Arab waves, craft and other items. There are plenty of trendy cafés (including Fika Swedish Café and Bistro) and boutiques. Several streets also house bars and drinking joints for a young and modern crowd.
In nearby Little India (offering a wide choice of Indian Muslim restaurants), steps away from Rochor MRT station, there is new boutique hotel duo to recommend for its personality and quality: The Great Madras/The Daulat; suitable both for business and pleasure, with an amalgamation of modern contemporary design and British colonial shop houses.
The Great Madras (34 rooms) comes with an outdoor plunge pool, and a barber service in the lobby offers a classic gentleman’s cut. The Courtyard Room has access to an outside sitting area.
Among the latter’s 16 rooms (all with a Nespresso machine and exquisite tea selection) the Loft Suite stands out. It comes with a separate sleeping quarter on a mezzanine floor, including tilted wooded ceiling, furnished with a queen size bed by the white-washed brick wall and accessible by a staircase.
Next hotel to highlight also comes with loft room options: M Social, situated upstream Singapore River in Robertson Quay, a residential area, these days with a number of good hotels and dining adventures. But few stays can be ‘a place to be’ like M Social, with its own rooftop pool, social restaurant zone and relaxed neighbourhood setting.
Being a creation by renowned interior designer Philippe Starck this contemporary lifestyle hotel impresses in every part. His description of it as “a stage dedicated to creative people” is hard to object to, with its experience-rich and inspiring hotel vibe. One can also see on the guest clientele that it succeeds in appealing to global travellers with a millennial mindset.
Standouts are: the lobby’s alabaster floor lit from the inside, recalling the effect of marble; the Loft Premier room with its upstairs bed and a fantastic design including glass, steel, sparkling silver blinds, mirrors, brown wood and beige leather; and concierge robot AURA who performs room service! Signature restaurant Beast & Butterflies offers modern Asian cuisine and happy hour, including the M Social Mojito.
From here the famous Regent Hotel is not far away, situated near where Orchard road starts. Regent Hotel has a number of F&B highlights, where the princess fairly-tailed Afternoon Tea (also Weekend High Tea Buffet available) is presented in the stylish, timeless setting this hotel is known for. This British tradition – how we love it in Asia, these days – here deserves praise for its the amazing tea selections, aside the ubiquitous scones and the rest of it!
The tea ceremony is based on finely tuned recipes such as: The Earls (Bergamot imbued black tea with choices Imperial, Earl of Regent, Russian or Flowery Earl); The Oolongs (Black Dragon tea of China with choices High Mountain, Tea Lounge, Darjeeling or Jasmine Green; or Greens and Whites (with choices: Sencha Fukujyu, Organic Health and Well-being Green, Fortune Flowering Tea Bali or Organic Jasmine Pearl). Writer’s choice: Harmony consisting in chamomile and mint tea.
Picks from the menu: finger sandwiches such as Squid ink focaccia with cocktail prawns; Seasonal quiches; and desserts, incl. Dark chocolate forest eclair, Granny Smith apple tart and Blackcurrant milk chocolate mousse in shooter.
Then, certainly with some exercise in-between, over to a must-do experience; namely Singapore’s first adults-only cocktail brunch at Manhattan bar, Regent Hotel. For starters Manhattan has been voted Asia’s Best Bar for two consecutive years and this means a stunning interior and a bartender team that is doing amazing things. Sitting at the bar offers up-close observation of the action and opportunities to chat with bartender artisans Cedric and Tim. Just the sight of when they cut out ice cubes, out of a huge ice block, with the Manhattan emblem “embedded” is quite something!
Then, the food – indeed not “an afterthought”, the cocktails and wine choices form a sumptuous and flavoursome journey that lasts four hours easily. Hot plates and starters seamlessly appear on the bar table nearly un-noticed.
Manhattan’s tireless attention to detail also extends to its custom cocktail glasses, handcrafted by one of the world’s oldest glass factories. This is also a bar that blends and stores, in-house, its single-cask cocktails in oak barrels! And of course it has its own elevated edition of the classic Manhattan cocktail…
In the neighbourhood, and for those visiting the famous Orchard shopping zone, the selection continues with one more dining recommendation, by going up Scotts Road and into Stevens Road. Soon you reach the new integrated lifestyle hub that is Novotel/Mercure Singapore on Stevens, hosting no less than 14 dining outlets and impressive large lap pools.
In focus is the stylish ‘Food Exchange’ featuring Thai, Indian, European and Singaporean cuisine. Its name comes from a local and global culinary “market place” exchange setting.
Overlooking one of the illuminated infinity pools, the evening buffet is lavish, including, among a multitude of choices, slow-cooked beef cheeks; European cheese and cold cuts; Waldorf salad for ‘Fawlty Towers’ fans; and awesome Indian cuisine.
A new vegetarian menu, with vegan (scrambled eggs) option, includes meatballs without meat.
Time for some back-to-nature excursion after all this food, shall we? Head to Harbourfront, and from there, the opportunity for shopping can be followed by trekking in Mount Faber, also home to Danish Seamen’s Church. Locate Bay Hotel and follow Temenggong Road up the hill behind it and then the trail, which follows a road up the hill.
Mount Faber’s flora and fauna is secondary rainforest terrain with impressive tree canopies, inhabited also by wild monkeys. On the mountain top the Singapore Cable Car ride to Sentosa Island starts. But the trek continues to Telok Blangah Hill Park, with Gillman Barracks, which alone makes this excursion worthwhile. This former British military compound is now the home to 11 international and local art galleries, shops, bars and eateries! Hence this is the perfect ending to a nature walk, though this park actually also connects to Kent Ridge Park, which ends up some just a kilometre from Norwegian Seamen’s Mission and near to Haw Par Villa yellow line MRT station. Heritage Trails & Guided Tours are also available at Mount Faber Park.
One other important heritage suggestion leads to the highly interesting Balestier/Novena district. This is one of Singapore’s most prized historical areas, where the ‘Balestier Heritage Trail’ presents the history and social memories of the places in Singapore that many may not be aware of. The American Consul to Singapore in 1836 planted sugar cane in swampy terrain and dense jungle there, followed by wealthy townsfolk who had begun to move out of city centre in late 19th century, building mansions. Pre-war terrace houses were built in the 1920s and 1930s, reflecting European neo-classical influences. Art deco shophouses became an architectural trend popular in 1930s and 1950s.
And Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall sheds light on the lesser-known details of Singapore and Nanyang’s involvement in the 1911 Chinese Revolution.
The founding father of the Republic of China, Dr Sun Yat Sen, played a very important role in the modern history of China and Singapore played a very important role in the contemporary revolutionary history of China, it states. Singapore pioneer and rubber magnate, Teo Eng Hock offered his villa to Dr. Sun to support his revolutionary activities. There is lots of intriguing history to learn more about in this memorial hall.
Rooftop and sky bars bring us back to Singapore’s contemporary attractions. From Balestier Road, walk up to Novena Square and head up in the lift of Courtyard by Marriott Singapore Novena. From level 22 continue in another lift to the rooftop Urbana Rooftop Bar for sunset happy hour cocktails. The view towards the north and Woodlands is impressive from here and on the opposite one sees the downtown skyline with sea as backdrop. On Thursdays enjoy one-for-one all night until 1 am.
Head downtown for a much more view up close of the harbour, Sentosa island and parts of the CBC from level Carlton City Hotel’s level 29. Graffiti Sky Bar is open from 3 pm, offering delectable bar snacks, aside extended happy hours until 8 pm (wine by the glass from SGD 10).
In terms of hotel bars Hotel Jen Orchard’s Lounge Jen is a third pick, not so much for the views as for the vibrant gathering of people there for evening drinks and happy hour, where
Watermelon Mojito and two cocktails with Havana Club 3 Years Rum, Bojio Banana and Uncle Kaya are among the selection.
Back to the heart of the financial district, where refurbished Lau Pa Sat (built in the 19th century) al fresco hawker centre/market is worth a visit both for the diverse and local food selection and its history and architecture. This true Singapore landmark was gazetted as a national monument in 1973. Correctly described as “an architectural gem”, the market comes with a distinctive octagonal shape and ornamental Victorian columns.
Next door, at So Sofitel Singapore luxury boutique hotel (housed within an iconic former telecommunications building and decorated with a perfect blend of both French style and chic Singaporean influences) the SO/ Afternoon Tea Set is served from 3 pm in the design-driven Xperience restaurant, which of course comes with delicious scones, the finest artisanal teas and gourmet coffee, priced at SGD 45 only. This is a perfect break between explorations of the neighbourhood.
Nearby Tanjong Pagar’s Duxton Hill is the last, off-the-beaten-track stop, where shuttered terrace houses and boutique shops dominate a web of smaller streets. It is there where well-known Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas have opened their first ever two city hotels.
Tanjong Pagar is known as Jinrickshaw Place named after the rickshaw pullers who used to gather by the station. Jinricksaw was introduced from Shanghai in 1880.
That Six Senses Duxton comes with a distinct personality feels like an understatement, where each of the 49 guestrooms and suites comes with a unique individuality. Large golden fans and strong hues of black, gold and yellow, layered with Oriental screens and calligraphy wallpaper from the designer’s personal collection dominate the amazing interiors.
The antiquarian-themed Yellow Pot bar servers up ‘Escape To Kaifeng’, the hotel’s signature cocktail of Tanqueray gin and chrysanthemum cordial, crowned with a yellow chrysanthemum.
Elsewhere, Swedish-operated Fung Kee Hotdogs SG has opened their second outlet at 68 Duxton Road, an evening joint serving delicious hotdogs, awesome cocktails and champagne! The whole area is great for socializing, dining, nightlife and shopping actually. Do also check out ‘Monument Lifestyle’, where for instance Hawaiian shirts, and other handpicked items and labels from the US made with passion, are being sold in this concept space that merges retail with a café.
All photos: Joakim Persson