Singapore boasts more superlatives than the most popular kid in school. The Southeast Asian island city-state’s not only been named the world’s “cleanest” and “most successful” city, but also the “most competitive” and “most expensive.” And while that impeccable reputation comes at the cost of some seriously strict laws, Singapore is also one of the most fun places to visit, what with the world’s most Instagrammed swimming pool, a bustling arts scene, and an endless list of life-changing meals to be had.
Singapore’s world-class restaurant and bar scene is owed partly to vast wealth—half of its population is in the world’s richest 10 percent—but perhaps more so to the incredible diversity found in its unique mix of Chinese, Indian, Malay, and western cultures. While all three of its Michelin-star restaurants are French fine dining establishments, Singapore is also notably home to the world’s first-ever Michelin-starred street food stall, serving Hong Kong-style chicken and rice. If you’re the type who travels for food, there isn’t a dull moment to be had in Singapore. Here’s our guide to the island’s best coffee shops (called kopitiams), bars, street food stalls, and restaurants.
8:30 a.m.: Beat your jet-lag at Free the Robot
Centrally located on the historic Telok Ayer Street, Free the Robot is a solid choice for a morning pick-me-up. Coffee here is served in preparations both classic and creative—think a Kopi Cola, fusing a double-shot of espresso with a botanically-brewed Cola, and the house signature of coffee, milk, and coconut oil. Breakfast options include an acai chia bowl, corned beef sandwich, and an egg-and-mayo smoked salmon croissant. Once you’re adequately buzzed, stroll down the block to see the many temples and mosques built by Chinese and Muslim imigrants in the early 1800s.
10 a.m.: Grab a baked snack at Starter Lab
This Bali import has some serious star power behind it—the mind behind the bread is baker-consultant Emerson Manibo, who’s put in time at Per Se in New York and Tartine in California. Opened just last year on Havelock Road, the sustainable, women-owned bakery specializes in sourdough: loaves are fermented for at least 24 hours prior to hitting the oven (you can even watch the bakers hard at work in the open kitchen). On the menu, find an impressive selection of open-faced toasts including the standout Honeyed Mascarpone, layering house-made mascarpone with crushed walnuts, bee pollen, and sea salt on a seeded toast.
11 a.m.: Explore Chinatown’s beloved hawker stalls
Given that ethnic Chinese make up 76 percent of Singapore’s population, the city’s Chinatown is one of the world’s most interesting—featuring centuries-old temples, dozens of street art murals, a facelifted former red-light district, and of course, hawker centers offering hundreds of different mouth watering street food dishes. If you’re visiting for the first time, it’s hard to go wrong just by exploring random stalls, but arguably one of the most locally famous stalls is the Michelin-recognized Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice, opened in 1987 in the Maxwell Food Centre.
2 p.m.: Queue up for char siew at Foong Kee Coffee Shop
Not everything in Singapore is expensive. While you’re in Chinatown, head to Foong Kee. If the lines out the door are any indication, this 15-year-old institution is one of Singapore’s best destinations for classic Chinese-style meats. On any given day, locals and tourists alike pack the house for elemental platters of rice and noodles topped with fatty roast duck and crispy, charcoal-roasted char siew roast pork. The best part? It’s pretty much all sold for less than five bucks. For a truly decadent plate, however, go for the pork belly, which is served with a thick, savory-sweet barbecue dipping sauce.
4 p.m.: Treat yourself to high tea at National Kitchen by Violet Oon
Set in the historic former City Hall building, now home to Singapore’s National Gallery, the National Kitchen by Violet Oon offers a beautiful backdrop for an Asian-influenced afternoon tea ($56 for two people). Get cozy on the museum’s scenic outdoor veranda and choose from traditional kopi (coffee) or hand-blended tea from the Singapore Tea Company. To eat? Take your pick from Chef Violet Oon’s sweet dishes like tea cakes laced with gula melaka (palm sugar) and tapioca cake infused with coconut cream. Or...go savory, with slow-cooked pulled beef buns and turmeric glutinous rice topped with fried coconut flakes.
6 p.m.: Enjoy sunset drinks at CÉ LA VI
Give your Instagram fans the content they want by snapping a photo at this instantly recognizable 57th-floor hotspot. Situated amidst palm trees beside the world’s biggest rooftop infinity pool, the restaurant, bar, and club boasts sweeping views of the city skyline and Marina Bay below. Soak up the sunset along with a classic cocktail—perhaps a Singapore Sling?—and snack on small bites like cornmeal-crusted squid and Balinese chicken satay. If you’ve got time, don’t forget to swing by the Gardens by the Bay nearby to see those iconic Supertrees light up. Every night, at 7:45 p.m. and 8:45 p.m., the “trees” come alive in a synchronized light and music show known as the Garden Rhapsody.
8 p.m.: Splurge on dinner at Odette
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that some of the best French food outside of France is found in Singapore. Just look at Odette, 36-year-old chef Julien Royer’s love letter to French fine dining, inspired by his grandmother, Odette. Also set in the National Gallery, the seasonally-driven, locally-minded restaurant was named the best restaurant in Asia by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2019. The menu is an ever-changing, ever-delightful list of surprises but recent signatures have included the Foie Gras ‘Comme un Pho’—a France-meets-Asia stunner that nestles simmered Japanese abalone, foie gras, nasturtium, and kinome leaves in a fragrant broth. Be warned: a meal here isn’t cheap.
11 p.m.: Sip at nightcap at Atlas
Singapore is the birthplace of Asian cocktail culture, and leading the pack is Atlas, a world-renowned gin and champagne emporium set in the lobby of a landmark Art Deco office building. Inside, bartenders whip up classic and new cocktails in the shadow of a giant tower lined neatly with bottles of fine gins, whiskies, and wines. Do yourself a favor and start with one of their pitch-perfect classic martinis before moving on to excellent originals like the Rose-Coloured Glasses, fusing Japanese gin and elderflower with Greek vermouth and palo cortado sherry.