Insider Guide: Best of Singapore

Singapore is all about the new -- like Gardens by the Bay's 18 "Supertrees," vertical gardens covered in bromeliads, ferns and tropical flowering climbers.

CNN Insider Guides are thoroughly checked for accuracy. Given the fluid nature of the travel industry, however, some listings may fall out of date before guides can be updated. The best practice is to confirm current information on official websites before making plans to visit any business or attraction.

(CNN)What Singapore lacks in size, it goes out of its way to make up for in everything else.

The global traveler is hard pressed to find a cleaner, more welcoming city.

But everyone knows that.

    Far more exciting is that Singapore has cast off its reputation as "Asia Lite" to become one of the region's top destinations for eating, shopping and entertainment.

    Got a few days? This handy guide will show you the way to the best of Singapore.



    Marina Bay Sands

    With 2,560 rooms and more than 10,000 staff, Marina Bay Sands is one of the world's largest and most profitable casino resorts.

    With 2,560 rooms and more than 10,000 staff, Marina Bay Sands is one of the world's largest and most profitable casino resorts.

    Marina Bay Sands (MBS) is arguably the most famous landmark in Singapore. (Don't tell the Merlion.)

    Featuring three towers with a connecting, boat-shaped rooftop that houses one of Singapore's hottest bars (Ku Dé Ta) and one of the world's most photographed pools (57 stories high), MBS is not your average luxury hotel.

    Nor is it a place for those who like their hotels small and quaint.

    The integrated resort has 2,561 rooms, broken down into nine different sizes and styles.

    On the ground floor down there's a shopping center, Singapore's biggest theater and moderate and expensive restaurants, including several celeb-helmed eateries.

    For local food, there's a food court in the lower basement, which also has gondolas, a mini-ice rink and that Sands must-have, a casino.

    Marina Bay Sands, 10 Bayfront Avenue, Singapore 018956 Singapore; +65 6688 8868

    W Singapore Sentosa Cove

    One of W Sentosa Cove's "Fabulous" rooms. Not to be confused with its "Wonderful" or "Spectacular" counterparts.

    Set in a massive glass structure that's lit up at night with purple lights, this 240-key property has 10 sizes of rooms and suites.

    The best of Singapore property gives travelers a reason to head back to Sentosa Island, one of Singapore's top tourist draws.

    W Sentosa Cove is a bit of a hike from the city center -- 15 minutes by car is considered far for Singaporeans -- so it's a good thing the food and beverage outlets shine. For great cuts of beef there's Skirt, while The Kitchen Table serves a range of Asian and international dishes.

    W Singapore's Woobar draws in partiers, locals included, with fantastic cocktails and international DJs, as well as the occasional Sunday pool party thrown in to cement its rock star image.

    W Singapore Sentosa Cove, 21 Ocean Way, Sentosa Island 098374 Singapore; +65 6808 7288

    Capella Singapore

    The romanticism of the British colonial era lives on at the six-star Capella Singapore resort designed by Lord Norman Foster.

    Sprawling 30 acres, the 112-room property lives up to its luxe reputation with extras like a personal butler per guest, a three-tiered swimming pool overlooking the South China Sea and rooms that feature Jacuzzis and slick interiors by designer Jaya Ibrahim.

    For the guest who can't live without man's best friend/accessory, the Capella's also a dog-friendly hotel (within size restrictions).

    Home to one of the best weekend brunches on Sentosa Island, The Knolls has a buffet table of Spanish-style suckling pig, roasted leg of lamb and an array of desserts good for lazing away a Sunday.

    Afterward, an afternoon of drinking at the windy Bob's Bar makes for a sublime capper as a live band makes its way around the day beds.

    Capella Singapore, 1 The Knolls, Sentosa Island 098297 Singapore; +65 63778888


    The Westin Singapore

    Just because this 305-room hotel is located in the middle of the CBD -- it's above Google's Singapore office -- doesn't mean it's lacking in pizzazz.

    All rooms come with glass-to-ceiling windows and the 32nd-floor lobby is (currently) the highest in Singapore. But the Westin's crown is the 35th-floor infinity pool that goes neck-and-neck with the pool at the Marina Bay Sands for the title of best in Singapore.

    The heavenly pillow menu hasn't been forgotten.

    Outside the room, the gastro pub Cook & Brew, with good drink deals, sees the suits congregate when the workday is over.

    The Westin Singapore, 12 Marina View Asia Square Tower 2, Singapore 018961 Singapore; +65 6922 6888

    Klapsons Hotel

    Funky, compact Klapsons is the antithesis of Singapore's big brand hotels.

    Klapsons has just 17 rooms, but it might be the most interesting accommodations in Singapore.

    Everything about this boutique property has been ingeniously thought out -- from the dome around the reception desk that amplifies your voice to the showers in the middle of the bedroom.

    The view might be mediocre, but onsite bar Fabrika serves some of the best drinks in Singapore -- the Ice Sphere cocktail is recommended -- and has a one-for-one happy hour from 10 p.m. to midnight, Monday through Thursday.

    Klapsons is a short walk from the metro (and only one stop from the central business district), a five-minute taxi to Chinatown and even closer to Club Street, which has some of the trendiest bars and cafés in Singapore.

    klapsons, The Boutique Hotel, 15 Hoe Chang Road #01-01 Tower 15, Singapore 089316 Singapore; +65 6521 9000


    Matchbox Concept Hostel

    Matchbox might be the world's coolest hostel.

    Singapore has plenty of cheap hostels.

    For those who want to forget they're staying in one, there's Matchbox.

    This place has one of the comfiest common rooms in the city, stocked with beanbag chairs, a TV, games and even a pair of swings.

    Given that Matchbox is within walking distance of bars, museums, cafés and Chinatown, you probably won't spend much time hanging around the property.

    But when you do finally stumble back in, you'll find the staff remember your name and are genuinely interested in your stay.

    The facilities are spotless and there's free breakfast all day (make it yourself -- toast and cereal).

    Matchbox does have private rooms, but the pod-like dormitories are so cool they might change your mind about sharing a space with strangers.

    Great value and convenient.

    Matchbox The Concept Hostel, 39 Ann Siang Road, Singapore 069716 Singapore; +65 6423 0237



    Pollen isn't a typical fine dining experience.

    This new Singapore restaurant by Gordon Ramsay protégé Jason Atherton sits in a climate-controlled environment in one of the world's coolest venues -- Gardens by the Bay.

    In fact, it's the only restaurant in the spectacular dome.

    Pollen serves Mediterranean-inspired modern European cuisine.

    The setting is ace; diners are surrounded by olive trees, herbs and vegetation, complete with a sub-20 C temperature, allowing diners to escape the Singapore heat and humidity.

    This is one of Atherton's four ventures in Singapore -- he also has a tapas bar, Esquina, British-inspired snack bar Keong Saik Snacks and its neighbor, password-only cocktail bar The Library -- and offers classics from his acclaimed flagship Pollen Street Social in London.

    POLLEN, Flower Dome, Gardens by the Bay 18 Marina Gardens Drive #01-09, Singapore 018953 Singapore; +65 6604 9988

    Maxwell Food Center

    Newly renovated, Maxwell is a great option for cheap eats if you're near Chinatown or want to squeeze in a quick meal before heading to the nearby bars.

    Maxwell is famous for several stalls, chiefly Tian Tian Chicken Rice (#01-10/111), which is among the best Hainanese style chicken rice found in Singapore.

    Other stalls to try are Jin Hua Sliced Fish Beehoon (#01-77), serving a soupy sliced fish noodle dish in milk broth, and the Amoy Food Centre Fried Kway Teow Stall (#01-01) famed for its "wok hei."

    The center is open 24 hours a day, but after 10 p.m. only select stalls remain open.

    Best of all, the stalls and restaurants don't charge "tourist" prices; a meal will cost around S$2-$5.

    Maxwell Road Hawker Centre, 1 Kadayanallur St, Singapore 069184 Singapore;


    Cocotte promotes communal dining. Problem is, you're not going to want to share.

    Cocotte hasn't been around for long, but it's already one of the city's best places for French cuisine.

    Set in Singapore's Wanderlust boutique hotel near Little India, Cocotte promotes communal dining -- that is to say you'll be sharing large portions.

    The roast chicken is a standout; marinated for two days the meat barely even needs the gravy -- the thickness and flavor is measured by the levels of guilt you'll feel for eating so much of it.

    Cocotte, 2 Dickson Street, Singapore Singapore; +65 6298 1188

    Jumbo Seafood Restaurant

    Jumbo Seafood's chili crab is a best of Singapore experience.

    Engage any Singaporean in a conversation about food and two things will happen.

    First, they'll talk your ear off -- food is the conversation topic of choice in the city.

    Then they'll ask if you've tried chili crab, the island's unofficial national dish.

    One of the top places to order this best of Singapore dish is Jumbo Seafood Restaurant.

    As the name suggests, the menu includes plenty of other seafood dishes.

    Also highly recommended are the razor clams and cereal prawns.

    There are six Jumbo Seafood outlets in Singapore, but Riverside Point probably has the best view and setting -- outdoors, riverside.

    Jumbo Seafood Riverside, 30 Merchant Road #01-01/02 Riverside Point #01-01/02, Singapore 058282 Singapore;

    Keisuke Tonkotsu King

    Near the Tanjong Pagar MRT -- a neighborhood filled with museums and Korean barbecue eateries -- Keisuke Tonkotsu serves some of the best ramen in Singapore.

    The line is often long -- a classic Singapore sign that the food is special.

    This small restaurant serves customizable ramen of different styles.

    Customers can choose how strong they want the flavor -- first timers might want to consider going with the "medium" option, as Keisuke's ramen really has a kick.

    Keisuke Tonkotsu King, 1 Tras Street #01-19 Orchid Hotel, Singapore Singapore; +65 6636 0855

    Red House Seafood Restaurant

    Lightly battered, then deep-fried and coated in a blend of milk, butter and kaffir leaves.

    Located in upscale Robertson Quay, Red House serves some of the best seafood in the area.

    Next to the river, Red House offers Chinese-style dining at round tables -- great for group meals but not necessarily for intimate moments.

    For seaside dining, there's also a Red House branch at East Coast.

    Red House Seafood Restaurant, #01-14 The Quayside, 60 Robertson Quay; moderate; +65 6735 7666; moderate

    Red House Seafood Restaurant, Robertson Quay 60, 238252 Singapore, Singapore 238252 Singapore; +65 6735 7666


    After a break from the culinary scene, local celebrity chef Sam Leong has made a comeback by way of Forest, a Thai-accented modern Chinese restaurant on the ground level of the Equarius Hotel.

    Open for dinner only, Leong's Discovery Menu wows with haute Chinese creations such as pan-seared foie gras with smoked duck breast on homemade crispy bean curd skin.

    Forest, Lobby, Equarius Hotel, Resorts World Sentosa, Sentosa Island Singapore; +65 6577 7788


    The view from Stellar takes in Marina Bay Sands, the Singapore Flyer and East Coast Park.

    The food at Stellar is top-notch and well presented, but you're mainly paying for the incredible view and atmosphere.

    The food is described as "modern cuisine focusing on artisnal methods of preparation."

    Window seats are a hot ticket, so reservations are recommended.

    At 282 meters, adjoining 1-Altitude is the world's highest al fresco bar -- for now, at least.

    Stellar/1-Altitude, 1 Raffles Place; +65 6438 0410

    Nox -- Dine in the Dark

    One of the island's more creative culinary concepts, not only do you eat in the dark, you're also prevented from bringing to the table anything that emits light (i.e., no mobile phone).

    If you're already beset by separation anxiety, don't be. The novel concept housed in the Arab Quarter is a dining experience you won't forget.

    We won't spoil the surprise for you (too much), but just know that the menu is modern European and it's a three-course set meal -- and no, they don't feed you anything too strange.

    NOX - Dine in the Dark, 269 Beach Road, Singapore 199546 Singapore; +65 6298 0708

    The Black Swan

    Happy hour at The Black Swan is all about liquor and oysters.

    Old becomes new again, so goes the current restaurant trend of new dining concepts taking over old environs.

    This art deco style restaurant is housed in the former Kwangtung Provincial Bank Building, erected in the 1930s.

    Serving modern European classics, recommendations include the happy hour oysters, baked bone marrow and the signature Black Swan Burger, served with a sunny-side up egg and a generous side of bacon.

    After dinner, customers are encouraged to venture upstairs to The Powder Room, a tucked-away cocktail bar with an exhaustive menu of drinks.

    We're partial to their Old-Fashion Cecil Sour, made with a smooth single malt and served with a side of dark chocolate.

    The Black Swan, 19 Cecil Street The Quadrant, Singapore 049704 Singapore; +65 8181 3305



    Opened in a block of renovated warehouses in 1991, Zouk remains one of the city's top nightclubs.

    Zouk is Singapore's most famous and popular club.

    Definitely a best of Singapore attraction.

    The global super club with a multi-million-dollar art collection consists of three rooms offering different club experiences, Zouk tries to offer something for everyone.

    For the most part, it succeeds.

    The main room, Zouk, has a dance floor with an upbeat party scene that plays host to foreign big-name DJs.

    Velvet Underground is more chilled out, billing itself as a bottle-service lounge that plays deep house.

    Phuture is a more avant garde club, dabbling in R&B and hip-hop.

    Zouk, 17 Jiak Kim Street, Singapore 169420 Singapore; +65 6738 2988

    Tippling Club

    The 45th best bar in the world according to the 2013 "World's 50 best bars" annual rankings, Tippling Club's drinks are among the city's most unusual.

    Well ahead of the current cocktail bar trend, many of Tippling Club's drinks are based on the elements of molecular gastronomy.

    The trademarked Juniper Sling is a good example -- it's based on the scent of Penhaligon's Juniper Sling fragrance.

    Served in a Penhaligon's bottle, the aromatic concoction of Grand Marnier, gin, cassis, homemade cherry bitters, juniper and cinnamon syrup took four months to formulate.

    After five years, it's moved downtown to trendy Tanjong Pagar Road where it now occupies a multi-green-hued three-story shop house.

    Our advice? Don't just go for drinks.

    You won't be disappointed by their Classic Menu (six courses for S$160++) or Gourmand Menu (12 courses for S$265++).

    Tippling Club, 38 Tg Pagar Rd, Singapore 088461 Singapore; +65 6475 2217


    Lantern sits atop Singapore's swanky Fullerton Bay Hotel, which opened in 2010.

    Sitting atop of one of the most luxurious hotels in Singapore (The Fullerton), Lantern offers decent cocktails, a swimming pool, great view (that's really why you're here) and comfortable seating.

    For added privacy, there are even sofa-beds on which to lie back and draw the curtains.

    Drinks are expensive, but it's a great place to start the night or have a romantic interlude over exotic beverages.

    Now that Lantern has a canopy, it doesn't matter if the sky decides to open up.

    Lantern, The Fullerton Bay Hotel Singapore 80 Collyer Quay, Singapore 049326 Singapore; +65 6333 8388

    Ku Dé Ta

    Sitting 200 meters atop the Marina Bay Sands, Ku Dé Ta has spectacular views of the city, as well as the hotel's famous infinity pool.

    To get the full experience it's best to arrive at sunset.

    You can stave off hunger with a platter of five Wagyu mini-burgers or chopped tuna tartare with flatbread while enjoying the nightly laser show.

    KU DE TA Restaurant, 1 Bayfront Avenue 39th Floor, Sathorn Square Building, Silom, Bangrak, Singapore 018971 Singapore;

    Ah Sam Cold Drink Stall

    Home is where your favorite bar is, and while we're reluctant to reveal our preferred watering spot it'd be cruel to deprive you of the opportunity to sample Sam Wong's creative concoctions.

    Mixing old and new Singapore together, Wong serves cocktails in vessels ranging from vintage glasses to scooping them out from a hawker center-style drink container.

    While he can expertly shake and stir anything from a French 75 to a Sazerac, the drinks to order are his own originals -- the Milo-infused rye and the Beaded Slippers, a rum-based chendol-style (local coconut milk-based dessert) drink served with a spoon of red bean paste.

    Ah Sam Cold Drink Stall, 60A Boat Quay, Singapore 049848 Singapore; +65 6535 0838

    La Maison du Whisky

    For the whiskey aficionado, this is the spot. In this spirits-and-whiskey bar and shop, you'll find just shy of 500 whiskeys sold and stocked from Scotland (where it's "whisky"), Ireland, Japan, Australia, India, etc...

    While the dark nectar of the gods is an obvious draw, La Maison also carries a varied range of gins, vodkas, calvados, cognacs and almost every other spirit imaginable.

    This makes drinking here a pleasure -- you can mix and match the cocktail you like with the alcohol of your choice.

    La Maison du Whisky, 80 Mohamed Sultan Road #01-10 The Pier, Singapore 239013 Singapore; +65 633 0059

    Shopping and attractions

    Orchard Road

    Singapore's main shopping hub, Orchard Road is a 2,200-meter strip crammed full of retail madness -- 22 shopping malls and six department stores, to be exact.

    Many venues, like Takashimaya or Paragon, specialize in high-end designer brands.

    There are also high street brands in Ion, while mixed-retail complexes such as Far East Plaza sell everything from electronics to sunglasses to cheap, fast fashion.

    Newly revamped Tangs Departmental Store is an emporium of everything you need fashion- and lifestyle-wise, with a well-stocked Beauty Hall and a multi-concept spa and beauty concept (Seviin) on the seventh floor.

    There are metro stations all the way down the road, which is lined by cinemas, restaurants and bars.

    It's pretty easy to get lost; many of the malls are connected in a confusing underground labyrinth.

    Orchard Road, Singapore Singapore;

    Haji Lane

    For vintage duds, Haji Lane is the place.

    Here you'll find rows of adorable boutiques brimming with local finds, many at great prices.

    Haji Lane can make for an unpredictable treasure hunt -- hardcore shoppers will want to put aside a good portion of time for the trip. Recommended shops are Dulcetfig, Loft, Soon Lee, tokyobike, KIN and dh sunglasses.

    Haji Lane, Singapore Singapore;

    Sungei Road Thieves' Market

    In colonial days, supplies looted from the British army mysteriously found their way to Sungei Road.

    If you're hunting for all things worn, torn and retro, the Sungei Road Thieves' Market won't disappoint.

    While not as swashbuckling as the name suggests (in this case the "thieves" hark to the 1930s), Singapore's oldest flea market stretches between Kelantan Road and Weld Road and offers a hot and cheerily disorienting shopping experience.

    Sungei Road Thieves Market, Sungei Rd, Singapore 208785 Singapore;

    Little India

    Messy, loud but alluringly vibrant, Singapore's Little India draws everyone from backpackers to locals on a last-minute shopping dash.

    With art galleries, authentic Indian restaurants and vegetable stalls crammed into a few hundred square meters, Little India is worth at least a few hours of exploration.

    Mustafa Center is open seven days a week, 24 hours a day -- here you can buy everything from gold bracelets to sporting goods, spices and even a car.

    Take the northeast MRT line to Little India Station and exit at Racecourse Road.

    Little India, Serangoon Road, Singapore Singapore;

    Wildlife Reserves

    Kai Kai lets out a yawn. Because being adorable is exhausting.

    Popular with kids, Singapore's Wildlife Reserves is the parent company of four separate attractions: the Jurong Bird Park, Night Safari, Singapore Zoo and the River Safari, home to Singapore's most famous expats, Kai Kai and Jia Jia.

    With a diverse range of species in clean, easy-to-navigate environments, all of the attractions are top-notch.

    After dark, zoo visitors can head to Night Safari and explore the park by tram or a foot trail through eight geographical areas.

    There are various shows and tours to enjoy --- great for a family outing.

    Singapore Zoo, 80 Mandai Lake Road, Singapore 729826 Singapore;

    Sentosa Island

    Universal Studios' Battlestar Galactica roller coaster ride.

    Good luck holding your lunch.

    A prime example of man-made Singapore, Sentosa Island was built on reclaimed land nearly half a century ago and designed specifically for tourists.

    And, man, has it come a long way.

    There are two main beach areas, although many locals discourage actually swimming in the water, claiming it's dirty.

    Given the constant presence of hundreds of tankers and ships about a mile offshore, few disagree.

    In addition to many bars (Tanjong Beach Club is a weekend favorite), attractions on Sentosa include a zip line, flow boarding wave pool, cable car and indoor skydiving experience.

    The grand dame of the island is Resorts World Sentosa, Singapore's other integrated resort.

    Here you'll find Universal Studios, Marine Life Park, a water park, casino, hotels and plenty of high-end restaurants and bars.

    Sentosa Island, 40 Imbiah Road; +65 1800 736 8672


    Perhaps the world's most orderly Chinatown, Singapore's version features plenty of shops selling Chinese souvenirs and sculptures, most of which are overpriced.

    It's still a beautiful area and a nice escape from the usual steel-and-glass high-rises that dominate most of the city.

    Though touristy, the restaurants are fantastic and serve cheap, Chinese dishes on Smith Street that are difficult to find anywhere else in Singapore.

    There are also some Chinese temples worth checking out.

    Chinatown, Crot Trengganu, Singapore Singapore;

    Singapore Flyer

    With 28 fixed capsules, the Singapore Flyer can hold up to 784 passengers.

    With 28 fixed capsules, the Singapore Flyer can hold up to 784 passengers.

    The world's largest observation wheel at 65 meters high, the Singapore Flyer opened in 2008.

    It's obviously all about the view here.

    Riders can take in Marina Bay Sands, the central business district and the F1 track, on which the Flyer is situated.

    No worries about missing out on anything as it's a pretty slow ride; the Singapore Flyer takes 30 minutes to make a full revolution.

    The Flyer accepts dinner bookings for those who want to eat while they ride.

    Singapore Flyer, 30 Raffles Avenue, Singapore 039803 Singapore; +65 6333 3311

    Gardens by the Bay

    Varying between 25 and 50 meters, each Supertree features tropical flowers and ferns climbing across a steel framework.

    One of Singapore's most popular attractions is Gardens by the Bay, a cutting-edge horticultural mega-project featuring 150-foot-high solar-powered "Supertrees" and climate-controlled biomes.

    Bay South Garden is the largest of the 101-hectare venue's three gardens and features, which include cooled flower domes, multiple heritage-themed outdoor gardens and two lakes.

    The highlight are the Supertrees. Ranging in height from 80 to 160 meters, the Gardens' 18 Supertrees are basically vertical gardens covered in bromeliads, ferns and tropical flowering climbers.

    The structures mimic the ecological functions of real trees through their environmentally sustainable features.

    Gardens By The Bay, 18 Marina Gardens Drive, Singapore 018953 Singapore;

    ArtScience Museum

    The ArtScience Museum is shaped like a lotus flower in bloom.

    One of Singapore's most interesting pieces of architecture, the ArtScience Museum is a lotus-shaped building that's become a popular backdrop for tourist photos.

    Inside are some of Singapore's top exhibitions, which change regularly.

    Artists who have been featured include Dalí and Van Gogh and more contemporary exhibitions by Lego and Chanel.

    The science portion of the museum provides interesting exhibitions for families and interactive games to keep children entertained.

    ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands, 10 Bayfront Avenue, Singapore 018956 Singapore;

    Resort World Sentosa's SEA Aquarium at Marine Life Park

    Singapore loves garnering accolades and it's done it (again) with Marine Life Park.

    Claiming a badge of honor as the world's largest aquarium, it's also home to the world's largest acrylic viewing panel -- all of 118 feet by 27 feet.

    Contained within are more than 100,000 marine animals spanning 800 species, including the aquarium's highly controversial bottlenose dolphins, more than 200 sharks and re-created habitats such as the realistic Shipwrecked Habitat, where Stellate Puffer fish, goliath grouper and Napoleon wrasse swim to and fro.

    Marine Life Park, 8 Sentosa Gateway Resorts World Sentosa, Sentosa Island 098269 Singapore;

    S.E.A. Aquarium, 8 Sentosa Gateway Resorts World Sentosa, Sentosa Island 099958 Singapore; +65 6577 8888