Nestled at the tip of the Malay Peninsula, rainforest remnants dot the concrete jungle of cosmopolitan Singapore and its collage of Chinese, Malay, Indian and British cultures. What was once a little fishing village is now a dynamic hub of eclectic architecture, a staggering range of cuisine, art, hip nightlife and seemingly countless family attractions where this colorful mix of global influences and time periods create experiences that are uniquely Singaporean.
My husband’s work often required trips the Garden City, also a major port and a leading financial center. Pre-parenthood, I eagerly tagged along on a mission to eat any dish that began with nasi and shop my way through the island with almost no rest in between. True, our early memories of Four Seasons Hotel Singapore include a few more “Singapore Slings” and late nights. But, experiencing the tiny country and chic hotel now with our six-year-old daughter in tow is a different kind of cool.
(There is also a Regent Singapore, A Four Seasons Hotel).
*Cultural diversity. A tumultuous history, geography and commercial success created a melting pot of ethnicity and religion. Most people speak more than one language and it’s neat to experience a place so globally cohesive that even kids notice.
*Incredible food. Leave the diet behind and embrace the opportunity to dive into decadent chili crab, nasi lemak, spicy laksa, char kway teow noodles, satay and more. Wash a meal down with teh tarak, tea and condensed milk tossed between mugs to create a thick froth. If you do only one thing in Singapore, eating should be it.
*Easy logistics. Virtually everyone speaks English. Taxis are clean, reliable and inexpensive. Singaporeans love kids and they’re welcome almost everywhere. Organic baby food, diapers and any cuisine imaginable is within walking distance of the hotel. Even Changi Airport has butterfly gardens, playgrounds and delicious food.
*Green and clean. There’s a reason why Singapore’s nickname is “The Garden City.” Litter is absent and eco-friendly practices are the norm. In addition to the world-famous Singapore Botanic Gardens, every available space is full of immaculately-pruned, dense tropical plants and palms, including expressway dividers. Admire it while there because it’s tough to replicate the look at home (at least in SoCal—I tried).
*A year-round draw. Singapore’s tropical rainforest climate lacks distinctive seasons because temperatures don’t fluctuate very much throughout the year. Rain is always possible; humidity is constant; but sweaters aren’t needed outside too often. Go ahead and visit any time.
*The rooftop pool. Rarely crowded—with shaded day beds, poolside treats and plenty of toys—this is one of my daughter’s favorite hotel pools. Two years ago, it helped cure her fear of swimming, likely due to its comfortable size and depth. For that, I’m eternally grateful.
*Wildlife Singapore Reserves: The famous Singapore Zoo, Night Safari, Jurong Bird Park and the new River Safari are all managed by Wildlife Singapore Reserves. If time permits, visit them all. Truthfully, I tire of theme parks, but these conservation-minded parks are an exception. Study the website in advance to time a visit during animal feedings and shows of interest.
*Half-day adventures at these parks are enough for small kids. Buy a park hopper pass online, which both saves money and skips ticket booth queues.
*Kids Sunday Brunch. It’s excessive, extravagant and may spoil you for a lifetime, but never, ever miss an opportunity to brunch in Singapore. Though at Four Seasons, plan on not seeing the kids much during this hearty meal. The supervised Kiddie’s Playland offers face painting, a bouncy house, kid-friendly eats and other entertainment. Your responsibility is to dine leisurely and sip bottomless bubbles in peace. Win-win, right?
*Amenities galore. With a pop-up tent, colorful kids’ table and treats, I was seriously worried about yanking my six year old out of our hotel room. After mentioning our day at Jurong Bird Park, these tasty cookies arrived later in the day for my daughter to decorate using her new-found bird knowledge.
*Shopping. Behind food, shopping is probably the next most popular Singaporean pastime. Steps from the hotel lies the glory of Orchard Road, a 2.2-km haven for global and local fashion mixed with entertainment, even the President of Singapore’s official residence. Grab a map from the concierge to navigate the area’s walkways and tunnels.
*Hawker centres: cheap, cheerful, ueber-casual and bursting with cuisine options, these open-air buildings full of food stalls are loved by locals and tourists alike. In this low-crime-rate city, some consider it a major offense to leave without experiencing Singapore’s famous street food.
*The spa: Book a 100% chemical-free, Asian-inspired massage, facial or reflexology treatment. Finish by noshing on a healthy bento tray. If you dare attempt to keep the kids quiet, it’s even possible to enjoy a massage in your room.
*Seasonal highlights. Special events happen year-round: discounts offered by summer’s Great Singapore sale, F1 racing in the fall… Chinese New Year is also a particularly festive time to visit; the majority of Singapore’s population is Chinese.
*Cool ethnic neighborhoods. Litlle India has colorful Hindu temples and great shopping for silk and gold. You can buy holistic medicine and dim sum in Chinatown. In Kampong Glam, there’s a Sultan Mosque and quirky shops with spices, trinkets and even Persian rugs. Joo Chiat and Katong Street are about Peranankan culture, descendants of 17th century Chinese traders who migrated to the Malay Archipelago. Ask the concierge for dining recommendations.
*Babysitting: Sometimes, it’s just easier to explore sans kids making the in-house babysitters a major blessing.
Arriving from a different time zone? The multiple Bvlgari clocks near the hotel’s One-Ninety restaurant will tell you what time it is across the globe. We had a look every day after breakfast.
Four Seasons’ Jiang-Nan Chun presents classic Cantonese fair in a luxe setting during lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. Try the five-course set lunch or signature dishes of braised abalone with kailan and double-boiled herbal soups.
Kids under age five eat free at One-Ninety which serves local and international favorites throughout the day.
Collapsing into comfy patio furniture at The Bar and Alfresco with a glass of wine for you and a smoothie for the kids is also a nice way to end the day, especially accompanied by satay and the artisanal cheese plate.
Try one (or more) of the 100+ stalls in Chinatown’s Maxwell Road Hawker Centre for Hainanese chicken rice and other local favorites.
If your itinerary takes you to the Botanic Gardens, stop by eco-friendly Food for Thought for lunch, where there’s a diverse menu and even a little kids’ play area near the tables.
1. Get close to wildlife
We are big fans of the special experiences on offer at the Wildlife Singapore Reserves parks. Breakfast with the orangutans at Singapore Zoo is a hoot, but on this trip we booked the Feeding Frenzy Tour at Jurong Bird Park, the world’s largest aviary. The privately-narrated tour by cart tempered the heat, and we fed bread and bananas to a variety of exotic birds.
You can get closer to wildlife in these parks versus similar ones around the world. A mere stick separates visitors from small kangaroos who are allowed to hop onto the walkway whenever they please. Do stick around for the 11 am lunch in order to feed and pet.
2. Sentosa Island
Especially with older kids, plan to spend time on this resort island, home to the region’s only Universal Studios and S.E.A. Aquarium, the world’s largest. Build sandcastles, play volleyball and swim in the South China Sea at festive Siloso Beach. Ride the cable car, swing from a trapeze, and even participate in water sports here.
3. Night Safari
Arrive to the world’s first safari park for nocturnal animals right when it opens at 7:30 pm. Head straight to the tram for the 45-minute narrated ride through the seven geographical regions of the world. If the kids have energy after the tour, wander the park and see a show. Or, be daring and let little doctor fish nibble on your feet at the park’s fish spa (giggles guaranteed) on the way out.
4. Enjoy the views
Board the Singapore Flyer, the tallest observation wheel in the world (yes, taller than the London Eye), for panoramic views of Singapore and even parts of Malaysia and Indonesia.
Or, pair a visit to the Sands Skypark Observation Deck on the 57th floor of Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort with a few hours at the nearby ArtScience Museum, where high-tech exhibits demonstrate the link between art and science.
As tempting as it may be to plan a full itinerary, embrace the slower pace dictated by the tropical climate. Half-day at a park mixed with rest and a little pool time worked perfectly for us. Plus, you’ll need downtime to digest all of the glorious food.
*Babies: A dip in the pool or stroll through the lush Singapore Botanic Gardens. Wandering Orchard Road in a baby carrier with mom (dare to dream?). A special crib, infant tub and other hotel-provided amenities. Hotel babysitting services available.
*Toddlers: Animal feedings at the Singapore Zoo, the beaches of Sentosa Island and feeding the swans at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Toys at the pool. Hotel babysitting services available.
*Kids 5-10: Any of the Wildlife Singapore Reserves parks. The hotel pool where kids’ meals arrive in cool car boxes. Hanging in the room with a hand-held game console or DVDs provided by the concierge.
*Tweens & teens: The OMG (Oh My Glow!) spa treatment specially designed for teenage skin. Thrill rides at Universal Studios, the MegaZip zip line and aerial ropes course and sky diving at iFly Singapore without the danger.
Read more on Singapore in Four Seasons Magazine.
Read our Concierge Recommendations for Singapore in Four Seasons Magazine.
Katie Dillon writes La Jolla Mom, a lifestyle site covering parenting, travel, cooking with kids, home management and local happenings. After seven years of expat life in London and Hong Kong (Four Seasons Place in Hong Kong was her home for four years), she is now grounded in the seaside community of La Jolla, CA with her husband and preschool aged daughter. You'll also find Katie active on Twitter and Facebook.
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