Situated at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, the republic now known as Singapore gained independence from Malaysia in 1965, and is now the world’s only island city/state. A mix of modern architecture and verdant parks, Singapore prides itself on being both a “city in a garden” and the financial hub of Southeast Asia, reputations reflected in its nicknames the “Garden City” and the “Lion City.” Its 60-plus islands constitute a mix of languages and cultures, predominantly Chinese, Malay, and Tamil, with most residents speaking both English and their native tongue. Located just one degree north of the equator, Singapore enjoys year-round tropical temperatures averaging 22-35C/72-95F, with the wetter monsoon season occurring November through January.
THE CITY’S CULTURE
About a third of the population is Buddhist, with a mix of other religions reflecting the city’s diverse ethnicities. Singapore boasts one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, making it expensive to live in but affording a high quality of life. A testament to the Lion City’s forward thinking, Changi has been rated the world’s best airport many times over and is more miniature city than transport hub, with movies, koi ponds and butterfly gardens, and numerous other entertainments for visitors. In the past, stories of high fines for such seemingly benign activities as spitting in public earned Singapore a reputation for being rigid and uptight, but the country is now looking to change that image, with the hopes of becoming a “tropical version” of Paris or New York.
Singapore is notable for its green spaces, including the Botanical Gardens, National Orchid Gardens, and the 250-acre Gardens by the Bay, which includes a domed cloud forest bursting with tropical flora. With its flourishing economy, the Lion City is notable for over-the-top experiences, such as the Marina Bay Sands resort, whose unusual architecture dominates the skyline and which features the ArtScience Museum and SkyPark, known for its enormous elevated swimming pool with views of the city. The colonial-style Raffles Hotel, founded in 1887 in honor of Singapore founder Sir Thomas Stanford Raffles, is an upscale establishment that was declared a national monument on its centenary.
WHERE TO EXPLORE
Each of the city’s main ethnic groups has a district showcasing its culture. The largest of these, Chinatown, has seen an influx in trendy bars and restaurants in recent years. In Little India, the main thoroughfare of Seragoon Road bustles with shops selling spices and saris, while the area surrounding Arab Street has become the epitome of cool, even as the grand dome of the Sultan Mosque looms overhead. The Esplanade waterfront acts as a cultural hub, with an enormous concert hall, a mall, and two outdoor performance venues. Plentiful shopping abounds on Orchard Road, the city’s retail and entertainment hub. For outdoor adventures, East Coast Park offers a beach, numerous sporting facilities, and even dining.