Singapore can be overwhelming in scale but take it one building at a time to reap the rewards of this modern metropolis.
Every building here has a story, from the heritage shophouses and colonial landmarks that have been around for decades to the latest state-of-the-art complexes.
For grand buildings, you need to head downtown along the Singapore River. This district became more developed under British rule in the 19th and early 20th century, so as you explore the area you’ll come across many European-style buildings.
Perhaps the oldest government building left behind by the British is Old Parliament House, now known as The Arts House. Built in 1827, this distinctively Victorian structure was originally the private residence of a Scottish merchant. Today, it is a modern arts centre with a focus on literary works and it regularly holds talks, book launches, theatre shows, exhibitions and film screenings.
While you’re there, you'll find a secret of Singapore. It is studded with gorgeous French restaurants. Who would have thought? Make a beeline for French restaurant OCF on the second floor and enjoy the fantastic view of the river as you tuck into alluring Franco cuisine. Kick on at the live music bar Timbre downstairs.
Since it's nightime, go south along the river to the Fullerton Hotel, which is especially gorgeous at night with its neo-classical columns lit up. Reward your walk with a drink at the classy Post Bar which has original high ceiling and wall motifs.
Guests staying in this upmarket hotel enjoy an unobstructed ocean view, and it’s especially popular as a vantage point for events like the Formula 1 night race and New Year’s Eve fireworks. It’s also linked to One Fullerton across the road, a contemporary dining and nightlife hub popular among well-heeled locals.
Believe it or not there's also a lighthouse in Singapore, that is now an eating hotspot. The Lighthouse restaurant occupies the former lighthouse that once led ships into the port.
For glamour go to the iconic Raffles Hotel, built in 1887 that has played host to Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, but is open to all. Take in the theatre, courtyard, shopping arcade and museum of the hotel’s history.
Some of the city’s most forward-thinking shops and galleries are found here. Stop by Front Row for lots of cult indie clothing labels for women and men, and Chan Hampe Galleries to see the latest works by local and regional visual art talents. Of course, no visit here is complete without sipping on a Singapore Sling at Long Bar, where the drink was created.
If you travel up along the river, you’ll come across the curiously colourful MICA Building (pictured) which features more than 900 windows with brightly painted shutters. It now houses a handful of government ministries and an art courtyard.
It comes as no surprise that one of food-crazy Singapore’s most iconic colonial structures is the famous Lau Pa Sat hawker centre in the Central Business District. Order Singapore Chilli Crab.
Venture into nearby Chinatown and you’ll also see plenty of historical architecture, this time showcasing the Chinese heritage of Singapore. One of the most distinctive is People’s Park Complex, a bright green and orange high-rise building, one of the local housing board’s very first commercial developments in 1967.
Head west to the historic Baba House to learn about the Peranakan (Straits Chinese) community, whose colourful culture is a crucial component to Singapore (Baba refers to Peranakan men). T
More on this unique culture can be found around Joo Chiat, a traditional Peranakan community showcasing row upon row of shophouses and bungalows built in the early 20th century. The architectural style is unforgettable—expect a photo-worthy riot of candy colours, hand-crafted ceramic tiles and baroque details.
The area is also known for eateries specialising in Peranakan food, so if you’ve worked up an appetite, stop by Casa Bom Vento for home-style dishes with steamed rice, or dig into a hearty bowl of laksa (rice noodles in a seafood-heavy, spicy coconut milk broth) at 328 Katong Laksa. You can also pick up traditional sweet snacks and ethnic souvenirs at conserved Peranakan shophouse Rumah Bebe.
Another ethnic group that has shaped Singapore’s culture and architecture is the Malay community, the majority of whom are Muslims—and you can explore the Arab Street precinct for some stunning examples of their architecture. The pi√®ce de r√©sistance has to be Sultan Mosque, or Masjid Sultan, one of the most significant mosques on the island, with a history dating back to the early 19th century; be sure to dress modestly or wear a cloak if you’d like to enter the grounds.
Along Singapore’s famed commercial belt, Orchard Road, there are plenty of retail and entertainment complexes vying for shoppers’ attention. One of the most impressive buildings is undoubtedly ION Orchard, which boasts undulating exterior walls covered in shimmering glass and lights. Apart from tempting retail stores and art galleries, the mall even has an observation deck, ION Sky, on the 55th level. Head up here for an incredible view as you tuck into lovely Australian plates at Salt grill & Sky bar.
Pepper your walking tour with food, drink and shopping for a sensory experience of Singapore's architecture.