Also known as the Lion City, the confident and dynamic city-state of Singapore surprises many visitors with its striking blend of Asian cultures, ethnicities and cuisines. Although the remnants of the British colonial era can still be found in some fine 19th century architecture, above all modern Singapore is a high-tech metropolis where Asian traditions are adapted to embrace both the benefits of global tourism and the challenges of tomorrow.
Although earlier settlements had existed on the island, Singapore’s development was kicked off with – and has been defined by – mass immigration from across Asia in the 19th century. As a result, today it is home to an ethnic mix of Chinese, Malays and Indians as well as expats from all over the world.
The gleaming skyscrapers that tower over Singapore shield a plethora of older buildings, including the Chinese and Hindu temples and Islamic mosques that stud this multicultural city. Helpfully for foreign visitors, these different groups tend to use English as their common language.
From its world-beating Changi Airport to its superb museums, tourism facilities, heritage architecture and natural attractions, Singapore is a beacon of efficiency, cleanliness and high technology. But it would be a mistake to think that means that it’s dull: Singapore boasts an exciting nightlife and some truly exceptional places to eat. In fact eating well is a local obsession, and you’ll find outstanding examples of everything from Chinese street food to classic French cuisine. It isn’t the cheapest place to visit, with accommodation pricier than in most other Southeast Asian countries, but at least you can fill up cheaply on tasty food if you’re on a budget.
Long gone are the days when Singapore was valued mainly as a stopover, and perhaps for some shopping in its enormous malls. Today it has a great deal to offer as a destination in its own right, and the buoyancy of its tourist industry is reflected in the building of major developments such as two huge casino complexes, Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World. The latter was an addition to the already popular Sentosa Island, home to many theme parks and museums; the former is part of an ambitious reclamation project which also includes stunning new gardens. Speaking of which, it’s surprising just how many green spaces exist in Singapore – so if you’re looking for an escape from the humid city streets, then you’ll find plenty to like.
These constant rounds of building and redevelopment mean that Singapore’s skyline is always being redefined; an extensive new National Art Gallery, for example, is scheduled to open in 2015. This dynamism has also helped Singapore to attract some heavyweight international events, with the Formula One motor racing as the jewel in the crown. Many of the central streets are closed during the night race, and it comes with a full programme of musical performances and other events. Add to all this a constant flow of more traditional festivals and events in the ethnic quarters of Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam, and the result is one of Asia's most compelling cities.