I’m quite lucky to call Singapore home. It doesn’t always feel this way, but having returned back from Australia (for uni) and then New York (for work) 10 years ago, I’ve began to appreciate Singapore a lot more. And now I see it through the lens of a parent, scouting for nice spots to immerse in nature with the kids, and then you realise how it’s not such a concrete jungle after all. This list will never be complete - but is just a starting point. It doesn’t contain any information on malls (because I generally try to avoid them unless I need something), but instead, highlight some of the spots and independent establishments/small businesses that give Singapore that little more soul. And if you chance upon this, I hope it helps in your exploration, and do let me know if you end up checking any of these.
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Singapore Botanical Gardens: Perfect for walks, runs, picnics, especially in the early mornings or evenings. It gets crowded especially during the weekend, but most of the crowd tend to be around the Symphony Lake area, and if you head further out to the other side of the park closer to the Circle Line, there are plenty of open spaces there for everyone.
East Coast Park: I generally recommend cycling along the scenic Eastern Coastal Route, and you can also do an extension and cycle all the way to Changi. There are plenty of pitstops along the way at East Coast Park, don't forget to stop for a coconut at the East Coast Lagoon Hawker Centre, or have a drink/picnic at the generous grassy lawn patch at Aloha Beach Bar while the sun sets - it’s one of our family favourites.
Hort Park: It’s never really busy here which is great. Definitely check out the nature playground, NParks did a wonderful job with this space. Early mornings or evenings are your best bet as there’s little shade/canopy.
MacRitchie Reservoir: Nice for a tropical jungle run, and kayaking is also available. If you’re with the kids, it’s great for a walk in the early morning or evenings. Close to the zigzag bridge, there’s often turtles (kids love sighting this), or if you’re along the boardwalk, you might be lucky to see a monitor lizard or two..
Fort Canning Park: Right smacked in the city centre and makes for a nice historical walk. Major plus: The Jubilee Playground (near the Fort Canning Station) - big hit with the kids.
Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve: A bit out of the way but so nice in the morning. While you’re there, make a visit to Bollywood Veggies and walk around their vast vegetable garden, and hop over to Hays Dairies to see some goats.
ARTS & CULTURE
Library@Orchard: is an oasis in the middle of Orchard Road. Not your typical tourist spot, but well-worth a visit if you like books, or appreciates good design. In fact, if you have kids, I think we have some of the best libraries for the little ones. Sassymama wrote a good article on that here.
National Museum of Singapore: It is a beautiful building with permanent exhibits of Singapore heritage and history. I love looking up at the dome the moment you step in to the building :) It also links to Fort Canning Park on the 3rd floor, which makes for a nice side trip.
National Gallery: It's a gorgeous building, previously home to the Supreme Court. Very nicely restored and has a number of good restaurants and an awesome programming / area just for the kids. All-time favourite.
Objectifs: If you enjoy photography and film, check this place out. They also have a store that sells books and films by local artists, and often holds exhibitions and talks/workshops.
Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall: This was the original home for the Singapore Symphony Orchestra before Esplanade and is my preferred venue (over Esplanade) for classical music concerts because it's just so much more intimate and the heritage building itself is a good reason to visit. You can get tickets for concerts that are held there via the Singapore Symphony Orchestra website.
The Projector: An independent cinema situated at Golden Mile Tower, don’t be fooled by the state of the building. Awesome place for people who enjoy a bit of your non-Hollywood blockbusters. Singapore needs more places like this.
I used to work at Borders for a year before going to uni and it was one of the best work experience. I love the smell of books. While lots of the big players have all gone out of business (Borders, Times, MPH), the smaller independent bookshops that has so much more heart and soul are the ones we should be supporting. Knowing how hard it is to survive in the print business, all the more we should support small businesses like that who dared to create a space for the community to enjoy.
BooksActually. This 100% local independent bookshop is a labour of love. You have to visit it. Well-stocked with local literature and other trinkets. Pair that with a visit to the Tiong Bahru Market and also a walk around the neighbourhood.
Huggs-Epigram Coffee Bookshop: Located at the side of the URA building, this bookshop stocks titles related to Singapore (but not necessarily just by Singapore authors).
Grassroots Books: This cosy bookshop stocks predominantly Chinese books but also has a small selection of English books. I love their selection for kids. Nice place to browse and have a coffee at the back of the bookshop.
Littered with Books: This is just 5-min from Grassroots Books and has a wide variety of books spanned over two floors.
Hook on Books: Located along River Valley Road, I love the customer service here at this predominantly Chinese bookstore for kids and the art and craft table.
The Moon: An independent bookshop with a focus on writers and artists of colour.
MATTER: Probably the most comfortable pants I have so far, I like and appreciate their philosophy of being inspired by tradition, sourcing heritage prints and styles, and reinterpreting them for the modern nomad. #buylessbuybetter
NAIISE: If you are looking for unique and tastefully designed Singapore souvenirs, you should check them out. They've got a great selection of lifestyle products, which makes for great non-kitschy gifts.
SUPERMAMA: Designed in Singapore, made in Japan. Beautiful homewares (made of ceramics) that often included symbols of Singapore. Flagship store is at Beach Road.
Rocket Eyewear: Prior to this I’ve not had a pair of sunglasses that I REALLY liked, until I found Rocket! No physical location (but sometimes they have pop-ups).
Our Second Nature: Very beautiful prints (especially for the kids).
Jigger & Pony: Great team, great service, great tapioca chips and great cocktails.
Idlewild: New-ish jazz bar situated at Intercontinental Hotel. Love the tapas and the live music.
Le Bon Funk: Good wine menu for an after-work/after-dinner drinks, and the open kitchen looks like it serves up pretty decent food options too. I love their branding.
Little Creatures: Our favourite Fremantle-brewery now with an outpost in Singapore!
Kafe UTU: African-inspired bar in the hip Keong Siak area. Head to the rooftop for a sunset drink. Very interesting cocktail menu.
The best way to try local food, is to head to a hawker centre. Tiong Bahru Market is a great starting point. Ocean Curry @ Telok Ayer has a kick-ass curry (avoid going between 12pm-2pm during weekdays as the crowd is insane). Visit Chomp Chomp in Serangoon in the evening for the best BBQ stingray (as well as a good selection of local fare). Jumbo for the chili crabs (I like the outlet at East Coast for the sea breeze and sea views). And my latest obsession - The Coconut Club which serves up awesome nasi lemak and the best chendol I’ve ever had. Over at Joo Chiat, One Kind House offers a private-dining experience at a shophouse helmed by Mummy Soh.
Tomi Sushi: Excellent quality sushi at a decent price
Yazawa Yakiniku: This Japanese yakiniku joint is my favourite Japanese grill place. Bit pricey, but excellent meat.
Suju: Really good traditional Japanese food with a focus on miso.
Ramen Bar Suzuki: Highly recommended by a Japanese friend.
Jypsy: More of a Japanese-inspired menu by the folks at P.S. Cafe. Beautifully done interiors with a great menu.
Other Asian Cuisines
Ding Tai Fung (Taiwanese): Everyone should try this at least once. Consistently good quality and service. To-die-for xiao long bas.
Basil (Thai):I love Thai food but have not found a really authentic one since the chef left at my favourite spot at East Coast. Basil serves up a decent Thai fare though. If you know of a good spot, please let me know!
Colombo (Indian & Sri Lankan): I actually don't enjoy the Boat Quay stretch that much but this particular restaurant is situated right at the top of one of the shophouses on the 5th floor and comes with a beautiful view of the skyline at night.
Annalakshimi (Indian vegetarian): Delicious Indian vegetarian meals and you pay what you think the meal is worth.
Home Bar & Kitchen (Indonesian): I love love love this place for the Indonesian food, and the friendly service. It’s located near Little India, and has a really nice homely vibe. The sambal is soo good.
Camp Kilo: Located near the Kallang Riverside is one of my absolute favourite joints in Singapore. It’s so casual, always play good music, has delicious grilled meats (and seafood and vegetables), and some seriously good vibes.
Burnt Ends: Bit heavier on the wallet but very good meats!
Bistecca: Known for steaks, but has equally good options for non-steak eaters. I personally love the loooooong shophouse layout.
Cicheti: I have good memories of good meals and conversations and Cicheti (Kandahar St), and the pasta bar at Keong Siak (Bar Cicheti) looks promising too.
Casa Rustico: A random find and surprisingly good.
Firebake: That angel hair prawn dish. The bread. The neighbourhood.
The cafe scene is burgeoning. Too many to mention but here’s a few to start..
Punch, Bundt at Havelock (not so much of a sit-down cafe, but great sandwiches, and to-die-for brownies), Mellower Coffee, Glasshouse, Hvala, Baker & Cook Dempsey (bonus points for having an outdoor playground for the kids), Chye Seng Huat Hardware.
So, over to you, what’s your favourites?
Last updated: 11 Aug 2019.