Singapore might be known as many things – garden city, a foodie’s paradise, Little Red Dot among others – but there are plenty of other alternative and unique things to do in this island city-state, if you know where to look.
1. Master a local dish on Pulau Ubin
Taking place in a 100-year-old house on stilts on the quaint island of Pulau Ubin, this unique cooking lesson takes you back to 1960s Singapore. Self-taught cook Ruqxana Vasanwala of Cookery Magic shows you how to gather herbs from the nearby gardens and prepare dishes such as nasi kerabu (herbed rice), sambal belacan tumis (stir-fried shrimp chilli paste) and butter prawns served on cut banana leaves. End the meal on a sweet note with your very own ice kachang (shaved ice dessert).
2. Tuck into zi char at a colonial bungalow
A 1920s colonial house on Upper East Coast Road is where you’ll find the unpretentious Hua Yu Wee Restaurant. Comforting, home-style fare is served in an old-school setting featuring nondescript plastic chairs and well-worn tablecloths. Dine alfresco to fully take in the casual, communal atmosphere. Must-try dishes at this zi char (stir-fried dishes that are cooked to order) restaurant include the restaurant’s signature chilli crab, crispy fried duck and flattened roast chicken that are decades-old favourites.
3. Have kopi gu you for breakfast
Not only does the humble Heap Seng Leong serve up a quintessential local breakfast of fresh kaya (a sweet, creamy spread made with coconut cream, eggs, sugar and pandan leaves) toast with eggs, it is one of the few places in Singapore where you can order a glass of kopi gu you (coffee with butter). While that might sound odd, the stick of butter lends a smooth, caramelised note to the rich, aromatic coffee. The bonus: with weathered cupboards, old tiles and coffee still made the old-school way (passed through a sock), this 1950s coffeeshop nestled among the public housing flats along North Bridge Road offers a visual journey back in time.
4. Escape to the countryside with a farmstay
For a nature-packed respite from city life, book a stay at Gardenasia’s Farmstay Villas, nestled in the Kranji countryside. The three one-bedroom lodgings are modelled after Singapore’s black-and-white British colonial houses, with marble-tiled bathrooms. In addition to the lush landscape and swimming pool, there’s an on-site bistro that whips up meals using local farm-fresh ingredients. Hop over to any of the nearby farms, such as Hay Dairies and Bollywood Farms to watch goats being milked and experience an unique farm-to-table meal.
5. Have a smashing time
To release pent-up grievances or just experience the unbridled joy of destroying things without consequence, The Fragment Room is the place to go. Sign up for one of its packages and blow off steam alone or with some friends. You’ll get safety gear as well as a crate of everyday items, from plates and glassware to printers, and a baseball bat. Pulverise away to a song list of your choice for a hugely satisfying 30 minutes.
6. Meet traditional craftspeople
Even as Singapore powers forward in technological advancements, old-school ways of doing things still persist. To find out more about traditional businesses and to gain an insight into Singapore’s past, sign up for Tribe’s Disappearing Trades tour. You’ll see the workings of an old-fashioned bakery and chat with makers of paper objects for Chinese prayer rituals before stopping by a traditional coffee-roasting factory.
7. Keep calm with flotation therapy
The world and all its noise are shut out at Palm Ave Float Club, which offers flotation therapy. You’ll step into a futuristic pod filled with warm water that contains enough Epsom salt to make you buoyant and relax your muscles. Soft music and darkness send you into a meditative state, and just one session is said to deliver reduced stress and greater clarity.
8. Duel like a Jedi
Ever fancied yourself in a lightsaber duel like the epic showdown in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace between Jedi Masters Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi against Sith Lord Darth Maul? Now you can make that dream a reality! The Saber Authority teaches padawans aged 15 and up their Combat Saber System, which is derived from Pekiti-Tirsia Kali, a type of Filipino martial arts that focuses on evasion and efficient strikes. Join them for a Sunday trial class and fulfil your Star Wars fantasies.
9. Explore the darker side of Singapore’s history
Go on a journey with Triad Trails to uncover the intriguing history of gangs and drugs in Singapore. This walking tour through Chinatown is led by ex-offenders, so you’ll get to hear all about their authentic experiences and be inspired by their stories of change as they take you around this storied neighbourhood. End the night with a no-holds-barred conversation with your guides over dinner, where you’ll get to ask them all your burning questions – and find out how they now work to be a force for good amongst their peers.
10. Take a trip to hell
While most theme parks are fun and sunshine, the eclectic Haw Par Villa is instead home to gorier scenes inspired by global traditions and beliefs about death and the afterlife. The park’s most iconic attraction, Hell’s Museum, features graphic representations of punishments in the afterlife, while the park itself contains over 1,000 statues depicting scenes from Chinese mythology and literary works. Do note that Hell’s Museum is not recommended for children under the age of nine, and parental discretion is advised due to the graphic nature of the scenes.
To learn more about Singapore Airlines’ flights to Singapore, visit the official website.
This article was first written in Aug 2020 by Joy Fang and updated by Wenting Ang in Nov 2023.