Though synonymous with gleaming skyscrapers and pristine shopping malls, there’s much more to this bustling island city-state than modern high-rises and designer labels. Dig deep and you’ll discover a diverse culture and too-cool-for-school neighbourhoods, bars and eateries alongside incredible ethnic diversity in Singapore. And for the business traveller, there’s plenty on offer. Yes, Singapore may be one of the smallest countries in the world, but it packs a serious punch. And with Singapore Airlines operating 137 flights a week to Singapore from six Australian cities (Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney), there's plenty of convenient flight options to get there.
Read on for our guide to the best that the city has to offer from hotels with great business facilities and working brunch hotspots to after-hours hip cocktail spots – it’s all you need to know.
Base yourself like a boss
When it comes to neighbourhoods, you can’t beat the famed Orchard Road belt for exploring everything the Lion City has to offer. With easy access to the corporate offices in the downtown area, great dining options on hand, and with the potential to squeeze some shopping in between meetings (this is a hotbed for malls) it’s a great all-rounder. And the best check-in on the road is Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore.
The maiden property of the luxury brand, the property was also a recent part of the setting for the mother-of-all business meetings between Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un with the US president choosing the hotel as his base during the historic encounter. But the sprawling property is no stranger to former US presidents and high-flyers with the likes of Barack Obama and George Bush also among previous guests.
Buried within a leafy, tropical 6ha of manicured gardens, facilities include a 24-hour gym, tennis courts and large swimming pool. For business travellers specifically, the newly renovated Horizon Club Lounge boasts unparalleled panoramas of the city skyline, expert concierge services, included afternoon tea and cocktail hours, plus complimentary suit pressing and shoeshine services.
Business brews and brunch
While historically Singaporeans have an age-old tradition of kopi (coffee), it's only in the last seven years that the city was bit by the contemporary, Australian-style, coffee-culture bug. Seeking to replicate Melbourne’s cafe model in Singapore, independently owned and operated cafes have sprouted with ever-increasing frequency and they’re the perfect place for a quick coffee, brunch or lunch meeting.
Once the historic seat of Malay royalty in Singapore, Kampong Glam is the city’s Arab quarter, and the area around Haji Lane has become a hipster haven, housing a raft of quirky cafes and brunch spots. One of the frontrunners – and still one of the best – is Maison Ikkoku. Here, homesick Aussie expats and visitors alike come to get their flat white and all-day brekky fix. The house special of brioche eggs benedict is a safe bet.
Another winner is Strangers' Reunion. Also a hipster cafe pioneer, after an exciting reopening last year it’s better than ever. Helmed by award-winning baristas, the coffee here is easily the best in the city and their perfected all-day brunch menu is delectable. Opt for the buttermilk waffles or the signature crab cake reunion dish. Yummy!
While the colonial-era Long Bar at Raffles Singapore hotel – aka the home of the famed Singapore Sling – is on most tourists' hit-lists, serious cocktail connoisseurs should veer away from the pack and head to one of the many small bars that are steadily gaining a foothold in the city. This burgeoning craft cocktail culture has seen some seriously quirky watering holes open their doors, which make for great after-hours business meeting debriefs.
For novelty alone, head to Chinatown’s Tippling Club where you’ll be served 12 homemade gummy bears before ordering. Tagged as the ‘world’s first edible cocktail menu', each bear is flavoured to correspond to various cocktails to help you decide which drink to choose.
For artisan drinks that draw inspiration from local heritage and other South-East Asian nations, head to Native. Ingredients are carefully mixed and matched to showcase the flavours of these countries and feature appropriately authentic garnishes.
If you’re out to impress, take your client or big boss to the Regent Singapore’s Manhattan bar. Scooping the number-one spot at last year's Asia's 50 Best Bars, the drinks here are the best in Asia, and that’s official. The lengthy drinks list pays homage to the 19th-century speakeasies of its New York namesake containing creations inspired by the Big Apple’s boroughs.
Tempt your taste buds
Singapore’s love for food runs deep. Renowned for its dizzyingly diverse foodie scene, hungry business folk will appreciate the array of great cuisine that can be had here, much of it for a pittance.
For authentic street eats, hawker centres are the go-to, but what many tourists may not realise is that several of these stalls have now been lauded by the loftiest culinary authority in existence: Michelin. Yes, a few of these humble stalls now offer one Michelin-starred dishes for under $3. Another local favourite is Sin Huat Eating House in the former red-light district-turned-eating hotspot, Geylang. Its signature crab noodles (crab bee hoon) are made up of huge, juicy crabs resting on a bed of noodles, soaked in a top-secret sauce – though this lip-smacking meal comes with a hefty $100-plus price tag.
For slick dining that pairs authentic Singaporean food with fine dining, head to the newly opened Warehouse Hotel on the banks of Robertson Quay, specifically to its flagship eatery, Po. Meaning ‘mum’, Po reworks nostalgic, comfort food and local classics with premium ingredients. You can’t leave without trying the signature wrap-it-yourself popiah, which has been created via several recipes perfected over generations.
Be a culture vulture
If you’ve clocked off and have half a day or so to explore, then hitting up a few of Singapore’s (many) galleries or museums is the way to go. Singapore has reinvented itself as a beacon of culture, transforming itself from a stopover into South-East Asia’s newest arts hub with the government pumping millions of dollars annually into the city's arts scene and the new $500 million National Gallery is easily the jewel in the city’s creative crown. New York has the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Paris has the Louvre and now Singapore has its very own flagship arts space to rival these established, international powerhouses.
Laying claim to both the largest public collection of modern art in Singapore and South-East Asia, in addition to holding the largest display of modern South-East Asian art in the world, visitors can expect regular exhibitions in partnership with international centres, including the Centre Pompidou in Paris and London's Tate Britain.
Another winner is the ArtScience Museum in the iconic Marina Bay Sands hotel complex. Designed to resemble an open lotus flower, its structure has become a loved addition to the Singapore skyline. Featuring more than 20 gallery spaces, across three levels with a total area of 6,000sqm, the museum has become a go-to venue for many of the world’s major touring exhibitions and houses a constantly changing lineup of major international touring exhibitions, through collaborations with the likes of American Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Institute. Not only limited to artworks, previous shows have included sets and costumes from films such as Titanic and Harry Potter.
All images: Getty Images