Singapore is where old meets new. You'll find man-made parks atop sky-scrapers, indoor rain-forests and eerily clean city streets. But you'll also find colorful, 19th century shophouses, bustling hawker centers, and neighborhoods like Little India and Chinatown, where tradition and the past still dominate.
Singapore is a city of opposites, a clashing of ideals and a confusion of norms. A weekend there is fascinating, if a bit disorienting. If you've got two full days, I say dedicate one to the future and one to the past. You'll leave with a little bit of each, and maybe feel a bit more centered in your present.
Day 1: The Future
Orient yourself with a river cruise through the Singapore River, including the Boat Quay, the Clarke Quay and Marina Bay, where you'll spot the city's iconic Merlion. Afterwards, head to the Gardens by the Bay, a vast expanse of cultivated gardens on reclaimed land by the bay. Stroll through the gardens and admire the 50-meter tall concrete "supertrees," covered in tropical flowers (which are also quite a vision by night).
Escape the humidity by stepping into the Cloud Forest, an indoor tropical rainforest and then the Flower Dome, the largest greenhouse in the world. Have lunch inside the Flower Dome at Pollen, a Mediterranean restaurant by chef Jason Atherton, who uses vegetables and herbs grown in the Flower Dome for his dishes.
After lunch, explore the Singapore Botanic Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Watch the sunset 57 stories high, at Flight Bar & Lounge and eat dinner on the same floor, at Sky at 57. Head out after dinner at Ce La Vi (previously Ku De Ta) and dance the night away on top of the world (literally).
If you have kids (or even if you don't), an alternative plan is to drive about a half hour from central Singapore (or take the Singapore Cable car, from Mount Faber) to Sentosa, a futuristic island resort, visited by around twenty million people a year. In Sentosa, check out Asia's tallest freestanding tower, the Tiger Sky Tower (formerly the Carlsberg Tower), Underwater World and the Butterfly Park and Insect Kingdom.
Day 2: The Past
Head to Little India and get a dosa for breakfast at Komala Vilas, where you'll feel like you're deep in South India. Check out the Indian Temple, the Abdul Gaffoor Mosque, and stroll through the shopfronts. Try Gulab Jamun (a spoungy milky ball soaked in rose-scented syrup) from a street vendor and get henna on your hands, just to make sure everyone knows you're a tourist.
For lunch, head to the Lau Pa Sat hawker center for some traditional Singaporean cuisine, then walk (about ten minutes or so) to Chinatown. Check out the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum, buy some Chinese sweets at Tong Hen, and get reflexology at Bath Culture Foot Therapy.
Have dinner at Red Star Dim Sum, perhaps the most authentic dim sum in Singapore, and then hop into an Uber to the Arab Quarter, known for its colorful, narrow streets and the Sultan Mosque. Head to Nabins for drinks, hooka and belly-dancing, and end the night a few doors down at Blue Jaz Cafe, with some of the best live music in Singapore.