Peering over the rooftop pool deck of Marina Bay Sands, shopping up a storm on Haji Lane, or ogling at the supertrees in Gardens by the Bay, it’s almost impossible to imagine Singapore was little more than a fishing village just over a century ago. On the eve of its golden jubilee, there’s no better time to discover the delights of the Lion City.
The big party
In 2015, Singapore celebrates 50 years of independence. The National Day Parade on 9 August will be bigger than ever, but the party will actually last all year. Starting with the countdown to 2015, key calendar highlights include the opening of the National Gallery Singapore (nationalgallery.sg), the launch of the Jubilee Walk walking trail covering historic locations in the civic district and the Marina Bay area, and existing annual events like Chingay and the Singapore International Festival of the Arts, which will be held in the spirit of Singapore’s golden jubilee.
The fabulous food
Flavours from Malaysia, China, Indonesia, India and beyond collide to create the delicious hybrid cuisine Singapore has become famous for. And while the queues for Tian Tian chicken rice at Maxwell Road Hawker Centre show no signs of dwindling, there are some impressive new players on Singapore’s food scene. In recent years weekend brunch – served everywhere from Australian-style cafes (try Common Man Coffee in Robertson Quay) to the city's top hotels (think gourmet buffets and free-flow champagne) – has become a religion, and celebrity restaurants are huge: Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street kitchen will be the eighth celebrity eatery for Marina Bay Sands when it opens in 2015.
The fancy new gallery
Singapore’s lotus-shaped ArtScience Museum and Gillman Barracks, a colonial army base transformed into a contemporary arts space, are barely three years old between them, but Singapore will get its biggest and best art space yet in 2015. Housed in two of Singapore’s most iconic national monuments – City Hall and the former Supreme Court building – the National Gallery Singapore will showcase the region’s largest collection of Southeast Asian and Singaporean art. With a ten-day festival dedicated to it's mid-2015 opening, it’ll be an occasion indeed.
The new green spaces
It's difficult to name another world city that boasts as many eco-attractions as Singapore. Building on its portfolio of iconic parklands such as the Botanic Gardens and the sleepy jungles of Pulau Ubin, the city-state has given birth to several new awe-inspiring green spaces in recent years, from Gardens by the Bay (don't miss the light show at 7.45pm and 8.45pm every evening) to the Southern Ridges, the Green Corridor to Singapore Zoo's new River Safari. It doesn’t stop there, either: tots will be able to play on one-of-a-kind giant slides at Admiralty Park when it reopens in 2015 following its redevelopment. Two other new green spaces at Jurong Lake and East Coast will reopen in 2016 and 2017 respectively.
The drinking scene
Singapore’s drinking scene has literally reached new heights. There’s now no better place to admire the expanding city skyline than from rooftop bars like Ku de Ta (kudeta.com/singapore) or Altitude before kicking on at one of the hot new ‘secret’ bars in the Chinatown/CBD area (try 28 HongKong St or Operation Dagger at 7 Ann Siang Hill). Daytime drinking, too, has been revamped, with dozens of hip coffeeshops (check out The Dispensary at 69 Tiong Bahru Road) now sitting side-by-side with traditional kopitiams across the city, and new operations opening almost weekly.
The new hip 'hoods
Singapore’s residential neighbourhoods offer a fascinating diversion from the CBD’s blockbuster sights. Just beyond Chinatown, retro-fabulous 1930s housing estate Tiong Bahru is peppered with enough boutiques (Nana & Bird have two stores here) to keep you busy well beyond brunch at one of the many cool cafes in the area (Whisk, at 58 Seng Poh Road, is one of the newest additions to the neighbourhood). Once patronised soley for its fantastic laksa restaurants, Katong, too, is emerging as a hispter playground thanks to the opening of slick new restro-bars like Immigrants and The Trenchard Arms. Everton Park is also having something of a moment, with some people already calling it the 'new Tiong Bahru'.
It still lags behind its Asia Pacific counterparts in affordability, but in terms of choice, Singapore is still a shopper's paradise. Once confined to the malls of Orchard Road, the city's shopping scene has exploded and diversified – Haji Lane and Tiong Bahru have emerged as hip boutique shopping enclaves, and the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands complex now houses one of the world’s largest collections of designer boutiques under one roof. Flea markets have taken off, too – from MAAD Pyjamas (Market of Artists and Designers) on the first Friday of every month to the city's weekly Sunday Artists Market. Visit forfleasake.com for city-wide listings.
Home to the world’s only Formula 1 night race (singaporegp.sg), Singapore is one of the world’s greatest Grand Prix hosts. And the city-state is beginning to attract more big fish in the sport world. A giant spaceship-like complex on the site of the former National Stadium, the brand new Singapore Sports Hub (named the world’s best new sports building at the 2014 World Architecture Festival) will play host to the 2015 ASEAN Games amongst a slew of other international sporting events in the New Year, from tennis to football, rugby to diving. With facilities like this, it’s no surprise there’s talk of a Summer Olympics bid on the horizon.
The hot new hotels
It's all about cutting edge interior design in Singapore's hotel scene at the moment – from the French-opulence-meets-Singapore-glitz Sofitel So Singapore (Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld designed its 'Lion's Seal' logo) in the CBD to savvy business traveller favourite Wangz (Tiong Bahru). Designed by world-renowned Jaya International Design, The Patina Capitol Singapore (Colonial District) is primed to be the city's hottest hotel opening of 2015 and, kicked off by the 2014 opening of the Shangri-La’s little sister, Hotel Jen Orchardgateway (Orchard Road), affordability, too, is having a moment.
With free city tours on offer to layover passengers at Changi Airport (head to the registration desk in Terminal 2), you don’t even have to stay overnight to get a taste of Singapore. Transiting through the world's most awarded airport will get even better in 2015, with more than 70 new perfume and cosmetics brands on offer in Terminal 3 from the end of January, and $40 Changi Dollar Vouchers available to Singapore Airlines passengers until 31 March (visit singaporeair.com for more information). Two new terminals, a third runway, and a mix-use biodome – complete with a cascading waterfall – are just a taste of what’s to come to Changi in the next few years.
Contributed by Lonely Planet Destination Editor Sarah Reid, one of Singapore's biggest fans. Follow her tweets at @sarahtrvls. Sarah travelled to Singapore as a guest of the Singapore Tourist Board (yoursingapore.com) and Singapore Airlines (singaporeair.com). Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies for positive coverage.
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