Singapore – Once an obscure trading port in the late 1300s, Singapore was conquered, raided and pillaged by many kingdoms throughout its lifetime.

In the 1800s however, this tiny island would find peace as the British took control of the island, slowly growing it into a bustling trading port with large Chinese, Indian and European communities settling in.

Today, Singapore is a modern city with over 5 million inhabitants. A clean city with many interesting sights to see – below we take a look at some attractions that are “less touristy” but more ‘authentically Singaporean.’

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Visit Haw Par Villa

Haw Par Villa

The largest ethnicity in Singapore is Chinese, accounting for nearly 70% of the entire population.

Thus, the strong presence of Chinese culture is ever-present in Singapore. That is especially so with one of the most iconic theme parks – Haw Par Villa.

Haw Par Villa, named after two Chinese-Burmese Brothers – is a theme park centered around Chinese mysticism and legends. It was founded in the 1950s to preserve Chinese principles and values – often a major attraction among local Chinese families to remind their children about traditional values.

Today – it is dubbed as the “Oriental-Disneyland” by many visitors as depictions of several Chinese deities from hell and scenes from many Chinese legends are displayed.

Haw Par Villa

Their most famous (or infamous) attraction is the ‘10 courts of hell’ tunnel – where they showcase how sinners are tortured throughout the different levels of hell. From sawing people alive to chaining people to piping hot poles – this attraction is definitely not for the faint of heart.

If gore is not on your itinerary, Haw par villa still has more to offer. The Ancient Chinese architecture, statues, and figurines of Chinese deities are already interesting enough for a visit.

In certain cases, events like playwriting competitions or guided tours are offered depending on availability if you fancy a challenge.

We highly recommend getting a guided tour as Chinese mythology is vast and complicated sometimes.

Points of interest:

  • 10 courts of hell
  • Journey to the West
  • Pagoda

Feel Classy at Marina Bay

Want to feel like a crazy rich Asian? Marina Bay Sands is the place to go!

From a gleaming platform, 55 stories high to an indoor canal with gondolas – Marina Bay Sands Hotel/Shoppes (The shopping center below) is the epiphany of luxury one could attain in Southeast Asia.

Boasting one of the largest collection of luxury retail stores – Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands has everything ranging from Dior to Balenciaga, to more exotic brands like Vacheron Constantin and Shanghai Tang.

Gleaming with an ever-present nightlife; walk your calories away by taking a stroll through the massive gardens at Gardens by the Bay, or dance away your calories at two of the most renowned nightclubs in Singapore – Ce La Vi (atop the shops) and Marquee.

If neither suits your interest and you want a taste of local culture – take a stroll towards Singapore’s downtown business district and uncover many affordable hidden gems scattered across the area. Street food at the nearby and famous Lau pa sat food court may be “touristy”, but it is abundantly delicious and worthwhile considering the exorbitant prices around the area.

Points of interest:

  • Shoppes at Marina Bay
  • Gardens by the Bay
  • Marina Bay Sands hotel
  • Marquee
  • Ce La Vi
  • Lau pa sat

Explore Bugis

Bugis is home to many interesting bars and pubs as well. Perhaps the most noteworthy of them all is the renowned Atlas Bar located in the Gothic-esque Parkview building.

Famed for its amazing decor with splendid cocktails – the Atlas bar is an elegant grandeur restaurant with golden etchings and suited up waiters reminiscent of the movie ‘The Great Gatsby’.

Serving fresh European cuisine and boasting some of the rarest collection of liquor costing $228 per glass (Booth’s High & Dry London Dry Gin (the 1920s)), this bar is a treasure trove not to be missed by the classiest tourist or the biggest alcohol connoisseur.

But if you are someone who prefers a more casual nightlife, Bugis is still your go-to place. Just opposite of Atlas bar, a series of shophouses featuring Meso-American graffiti line the winding roads of Arab street.

Inside these shophouses, exotic cuisines, shisha and cheap alcohol line the back alleys and walkways of this district. Crowded on Wednesdays and Fridays – this is the go-to place to meet young and social travelers/expats.

However, for the culture-seeker, Bugis is also a good place to visit during the day as the iconic Masjid Sultan Mosque stands tall with many novelty shops selling interesting Muslim goods nearby.

From bespoke perfumes, carpets, intricate ethnic attire and so much more – Bugis is also an area to visit for the savvy shopper!

Not to mention, the National Library, Bugis street (slightly overrated) and Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle (an affordable street-side Michelin star restaurant) is just a stone’s throw away!

Points of interest:

  • Atlas Bar
  • Arab street bars (Ophir Rd and Haji Lane)
  • Arab street district (Ethnic retail stores)
  • Masjid Sultan
  • National Library
  • Bugis Street
  • Hill Street Tai Hwa Noodles

Go Food Hunting at Farrer Park

Likely the greatest, yet most underrated food paradise in Singapore – the Farrer Park/Jalan Besar area is a very Singaporean neighborhood with little tourists in sight.

Just outside Little India (also a wonderful place to visit too!) is an unassuming collection of shophouses home to some of the best eateries in Singapore.

Here you can find these following eateries endorsed by locals and myself (a local for 21 years): Ming Chung Hokkien cuisine, Scissors cut curry rice, Mun Chee Kee King of Pig’s Organ Soup, Swee Choon Dim Sum, Sungei Road Laksa, Johor Road Boon Kee Pork Porridge and Ponggol Nasi Lemak.

These eateries are some of the best in town. I highly suggest bookmarking this list as this is quite literally a hidden gem in Singapore that only locals would know. Even younger generations tend to not know these locations well (with the exception of Swee Choon Dim Sum, very long wait lines).

From fresh seafood cooked to perfection to roasted pork belly that bounces succulently within your mouth – this area is food mecca to many Singaporeans as aromatically boiled pork broth, to freshly brewed Laksa broth clearing your throat in the morning is pure nostalgia to many.

Most importantly, these eateries are less than 7 minutes away from one another.

The food itself is very traditional therefore it is recommended that you are somewhat familiar with Asian cuisine. However, it is not overly flavourful or overpowering as these food items are what locals eat on a daily basis.

Points of interest:

  • Ming Chung Hokkien cuisine
  • Scissors cut curry rice
  • Mun Chee Kee King of Pig’s Organ Soup
  • Swee Choon Dim Sum
  • Sungei Road Laksa
  • Johor Road Boon Kee Pork Porridge
  • Ponggol Nasi Lemak

Take a Stroll Around Clarke Quay

Coming to Singapore, the biggest conviction one could have is not going out enough at night!

Settle down for a drink or two after strolling the enormous amounts of bars scattered across Boat Quay and Clarke Quay itself, as the area pops into life from its desolate daytime closure.

Much like Gardens by the Bay, the colorful nightlife at Clarke Quay is great for strolling as live music and the smell of fresh kebabs radiate through the bustling atmosphere. From Bars playing rock music to loud nightclubs dropping beats – the atmosphere itself is enough to make everyone hyped!

If you are not a party-goer or an avid drinker, take a boat tour across the Singapore river instead! Especially so at night – as beautifully lit skyscrapers and colorful boats sail past you every now and then!

If not – take a quiet stroll through Fort canning park in the daytime and explore Singapore’s colonial history! From old fortifications to a refurbished Hotel; Fort canning is a severely underrated tourist attraction with many picture-esque sights.

Points of interest:

  • Clarke Quay
  • Boat Quay
  • Singapore river cruise
  • Fort canning park 

Want a cultural experience? Visit these places!

We teased a bit about Singapore’s history as a trading port. But did you know this Island was first settled in 650 A.D?

Singapore has a long-standing history, often riddled with conflict from rivals vying for Singapore’s strategic location. Though never a regional power, Singapore’s location attracted a wide variety of trade from many different kingdoms.

The National Museum of Singapore is the best place to study and engross yourself in the vast history of Singapore and its region. From old sunken cannons to traditional Malay kampongs – this place covers everything from an academic perspective with little bias.

Another spectacular place to visit is the Kong Meng San Monastery. Highly underrated, this Monastery is much larger than the popular Buddha Tooth Monastery with many intricately crafted statues and effigies. Not to mention – the architecture and the atmosphere is simply amazing.

An interesting ethnicity that is unofficially regarded as ‘the most Singaporean people’ is the Peranakans. These people have Chinese/Malay lineage who practice and fuse Malay customs with traditional Chinese practices. Often, their food is severely underrated (but extremely delicious) by the local populace due to the influx of immigrants in the 1800s, but nonetheless, an interesting place to visit would be the Peranakan Museum located right beside Fort canning park.

Points of interest:

  • The National Museum of Singapore
  • Kong meng san Monastery
  • Peranakan Museum

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About the Author

Nicholas Yap

Guest Blogger

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