How To Visit Singapore Like a Local

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March 16 arab street kampong glam singapore

“Around every corner, incredible experiences are being crafted, cooked, painted, designed, grown, or built by locals who share a common trait: passion.”

Beneath its highly efficient and no-nonsense veneer, Singapore is a city of genuine warmth and soul, if you know where to look.

As with other major cities, authentic Singaporean encounters are most often found in back alleys, side streets, and suburban neighbourhoods. The bonus: many destinations in Singapore are less than an hour away from the city centre even by public transport, and explorations can go on at all hours of the day—and night—in this easily navigable and low-crime city.

haji lane singapore

To experience and visit Singapore through the eyes of those who know it intimately, take your cue from the locals by supporting their creative endeavours and visiting their favourite haunts.

1. Best Places to See in Singapore

gillman barracks singapore

Singapore’s best-known museums are those under the purview of its National Heritage Board. The country’s specialty museums, on the other hand, are completely under the radar—often, even locals are surprised to learn of their existence. Three specialty museums you should visit are DECK (an arts space repurposed from shipping containers), the Vintage Cameras Museum (housed in a camera-shaped building that will please photo hunters), and the Singapore Musical Box Museum (home to about 40 vintage music boxes, many of which are still in working condition).

To get acquainted with the local arts scene, head to The Substation (Singapore’s first independent contemporary arts centre), The Arts House (a multi-disciplinary arts venue, situated in an almost 200-year-old building that served as Singapore’s first Parliament House), and the Gillman Barracks (a visual arts cluster at a former British military camp).

national library victoria street singapore

Singapore’s National Library on Victoria Street

Singapore’s public libraries host more than just literary events—their activity calendars are packed with exhibitions and workshops catering to all interest groups, from history and culture to business and health and wellness. If you would like to browse works by Singaporean writers, visit independent bookstores Books Actually and Ethos Books.

Should mega-malls leave you with a sense of ennui, revive your spirits with a walk along the indie-trendy Haji Lane (one of US actress Gwyneth Paltrow’s stops when she visited Singapore in 2014) and its adjacent streets, all of which harbour pleasant surprises. To bring home a Singapore-designed outfit or fashion accessory, refer to the shopping guide by lifestyle site Honeycombers.

Meet the movers and shakers of the local maker movement at MAAD (Market of Artists And Designers), which is held regularly on weekends, in front of the Red Dot Design Museum along Marina Bay. To get creative yourself, join a local sketching event to capture your memories of Singapore—Urban Sketchers holds monthly “sketchwalks” in various neighbourhoods around the country. Or simply venture into any of Singapore’s suburban neighbourhoods to eat and shop alongside the local community.

2. Eat like a Local in Singapore

chicken rice hawker centre singapore

“Nobody in Singapore drinks Singapore Slings. It’s one of the first things you find out there. What you do in Singapore is eat. It’s a really food-crazy culture, where all of this great food is available in a kind of hawker-stand environment,” proclaimed celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain after a visit to Singapore. “On any 24-hour trip here, you’d be foolish to not plan at least three meals at any one of the hawker centers.” (Read his other Singapore tips here.)

Begin your foray into local hawker fare with the Singapore Michelin Guide’s Bib Gourmand list for 2017, which features stalls located at ABC Brickworks, Holland Drive Market and Food Centre, Tiong Bahru Market, and Amoy Street Food Centre. Or track down Bourdain’s personal recommendations, which include Tiong Bahru Hainanese Boneless Chicken Rice and Teck Seng Soya Bean Milk.

Also on the 2017 Bib Gourmand list is New Ubin Seafood, a casual mid-range eatery located in an industrial building in the suburban Hillview estate. Apart from fresh seafood and local delicacies, New Ubin Seafood lists its most popular signature dishes as the US Black Angus rib-eye beef steak and the German-style pork knuckle. View the menu here, and if you choose to visit in the day, use the opportunity to discover other hidden gems in and around the area.

For an award-worthy meal, make a reservation with any of the establishments that earned their Michelin stars in 2017. But to follow the fine-dining recommendations of a credible local food writer, refer to this 2017 list instead—do call ahead beforehand, as some restaurants on the list may no longer be in operation. Burnt Ends (a modern Australian barbecue restaurant) and Bincho (a hidden Japanese yakitori bar) are good places to start.

dim sum brunch at hai tien lo restaurant

Also try Hai Tien Lo (traditional Cantonese dining) at at Pan Pacific Singapore, awarded “best restaurant” titles by Wine & Dine and Singapore Tatler.

3. Where to Go in Singapore at Night

clarke quay singapore nightlife

Planning to bar-hop? Be sure to cover the six Singapore bars featured on the 2017 edition of the World’s 50 Best Bars list: Manhattan Bar, Atlas, Native, 28 HongKong Street, Operation Dagger, and Tippling Club. Or take your pick from City Nomads’ local Bar Awards winners. If dancing is on the agenda, turn your attention to TimeOut’s selection of the city’s most prominent party spots.

If you need nightlife ideas sans alcohol, be assured that non-drinking options in Singapore are aplenty, and just as colourful. For one, Geylang Adventures is a social enterprise and walking tour provider, which helps participants to “discover Singapore’s most notorious [red-light] district through delicious food trials and meaningful social projects.” To contact tour guides to customise a tour, look for “local experience” portals such as CityUnscripted or look up the popular night tours on Tripadvisor.

For a family-friendly experience, spend time at a local pasar malam (i.e. a night market, listings here), which offers snacks, cheap (and often kitschy) goods, and pure browsing bliss—many of these pop-up marketplace events are held near the country’s public train stations and are therefore easily accessible.

To partake in late-night local comfort food (and a back-alley dining experience), head to Rochor Original Beancurd for beancurd, soybean milk, and fritters. Or make your way to other popular supper spots favoured by locals. For true-blue insomniacs, Starbucks has 24-hour outlets in the city centre, where you can sip your coffee and feel alive beyond the witching hour.

Welcome to Singapore! For more articles on the beautiful places in Singapore that should not be missed, visit our blog. While planning your Singapore holidays, be sure to speak to our team at Pan Pacific Singapore to enquire about our latest offers for rooms and suites.

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