From its multi-award-winning airport to its sci-fi architecture and artsy enclaves, it’s clear Singapore loves intelligent design.
It’s an appreciation that filters through to its hotel scene, where you’ll find everything from grande dames to conceptualised boutiques. Raffles Hotel is, of course, the most famous of them all but a refurbishment means it will be off the radar for most of 2017. However, there’s no shortage of memorable alternative options.
Location isn’t an issue in this tiny city state — you can zip from one end to the other in under an hour — unless you want to zero in on a particular interest. For food and drink galore, stay near Chinatown, Club Street or the Jägermeister-fuelled Robertson Quay and Clarke Quay. Shoppers should head for Orchard Road, while Marina Bay and the historic centre are best for the city’s big-hitting (often free) attractions. The only downside? Singapore has the priciest hotel rooms in Asia. That said, business hotels often drop their prices at weekends.
For staying connected: Hotel Jen
A family-friendly bolthole, weekend getaway, post-shop flop… Hotel Jen will satisfy all-comers. The location is solid; smack-bang in the middle of shopping central, Orchard Road, attached to the ION Orchard mall, with an MRT station down below and the world-class Singapore Botanic Gardens a short stroll away. Rooms are on the small side (as is usual for Singapore) but Jen has nailed the necessities — good coffee, powerful showers, decent hair dryers, black-out blinds, loads of plug sockets and free fast wi-fi (which comes without a laborious login process). Elsewhere, there are cool sky gardens to hang out in, a flash rooftop pool to cool off in and a great little Malay-fusion restaurant for refuelling.
Rooms: Doubles from £135, B&B.
For artsy types: Hotel Vagabond
Found on gritty-glam Jalan Besar, between aromatic Little India and the colourful shops of the Arab Quarter, Hotel Vagabond is an art-filled bohemian wonderland. Behind its art deco exterior, Cubist paintings sit alongside scarlet sofas and polished parquet, antique telephones, golden elephants and banyan tree chandeliers. The 41 rooms are equally fabulous, with a chic Gallic-granny vibe: crushed velvet ottomans, painted floral panels and goose-y feather beds. Facilities are scant, but the service is super and the salon-like bar and Hot Buns & Thunder Balls restaurant are popular local hangouts.
Rooms: Doubles from £115, room only.
For swimming pools: Capella Singapore
Wrapped around the jungle-clad hillside on Sentosa Island, this remarkable hideaway is a mash-up of two former colonial-era military barracks with towering curved walls, airy interiors and three lagoon-shaped swimming pools. The spacious rooms (starting at a chandelier-swinging 770sq ft) are sleek, sensual affairs — all dark woods, warm, amber tones and touchy-feely fabrics. They also come with balconies (from which you can watch cockatoos canoodling in the treetops) and spa-worthy bathrooms. Dining is pricey but worth a splurge. The terrace at Bob’s Bar is the place to be at sundown.
Rooms: Doubles from £320, room only.
Bang for your buck: M Social Singapore
Think of Philippe Starck and you’ll probably think of ghost chairs, tripod lamps — and eye-watering price tags. But, at the golden one’s latest Singapore project you can bag an overnight stay for less than £100, including breakfast — no mean feat in the Lion City. Admittedly, the 205sq ft entry-level rooms are tiny, but they’re smart and stylish, with white-buttoned headboards and lighted mirrors pushed up against polished concrete walls, as well as 3G-enabled smartphones to help you navigate the city. Pay a little more (about £35) and you can move up to a cunningly designed duplex. Other perks include a 24-hour gym, rooftop swimming pool and free shuttle buses around town.
Rooms: Doubles from £98, B&B.
The wildcard: The Sanchaya Bintan
The antidote to Singapore’s big-city kicks, this island retreat a mere 45-minute ferry ride from the city’s shores. Ringed by ice-white beaches and the gin-clear South sea, days can be spent snorkelling with hawksbill turtles, playing croquet or floating in the 50-metre infinity pool — where loungers come with baskets of sun cream, cold towels and tiny flags to wave at the staff when you require another piña colada. Villas and suites are decorated in stylish colonial chic: cool whites, navy blues, dark bamboo and breezy porches.
Rooms: Doubles from £560, B&B.
For design buffs: New Majestic Hotel
One of the city’s first true boutique hotels and still one of the best. Inhabiting a charming former shophouse in Chinatown’s conservation district, the 30 rooms were designed by Singapore’s creative elite. While some bedrooms drenched in ruby-reds, others boast stepladders and tiny flower gardens. Whichever you go for, inside you’ll find baby-soft Ploh bedding, coconut-y Kiehl’s amenities and free juices and soft drinks. The Cantonese restaurant is less memorable, but the surrounding streets have their fair share of organic cafes and dim sum parlours.
Rooms: Doubles from £144, room only.
For pampering: Mandarin Oriental, Singapore
Situated in the Marina Square shopping and entertainment district, the Mandarin Oriental’s half-pyramid exterior looks dated. Inside, though, it’s a different matter: the lobby is a shimmering gold-and-black oasis with glass elevators in the atrium. Rooms are classy, never showy, in mauves, powder blues and teal greens, with wood panels, tasteful artworks and floor-to-ceiling windows for sensational views. Head to the fabulous spa to soak in the heat and water therapy rooms, or to the glam outdoor pool or serene yoga studio. Come evening, there’s a new bar and restaurant to discover every day of the week.
Rooms: Doubles from £229, B&B.
For foodies: The Club Hotel
The Club resembles the kind of trendy British inn you might find in Yorkshire or Bath, rather than the back streets of Singapore. Housed in a 1900s building, the 20 rooms have aged wooden floors, herringbone armchairs and fuzzy throws. There’s also a moody whisky bar, homey coffee shop, brasserie and Peru-inspired rooftop bar. Head for the Maxwell Street Food Centre, a two-minute walk away, for bucket-sized bowls of Singapore noodles, baskets of dumplings and chilli chicken rice for under £5.
Rooms: Doubles from £129, B&B.
For nightlife: The Warehouse hotel
This handsome new 37-room hotel on Robertson Quay — set in a 19th-century former godown (warehouse) — is a heritage hotel with a difference. No string quartets and afternoon teas here; instead, guests are greeted with warm pineapple tarts and spicy cocktails. Rooms feel distinctly metrosexual, with lashings of leather, dark rattans and polished stone walls, not to mention organic amenities from Ashley & Co. There’s also a rooftop pool and a great restaurant serving sexed-up Singaporean.
Rooms: Doubles from £257, room only.
For views: The Fullerton Bay
It’s eye candy all the way at The Fullerton Bay, from the crystal chandeliers in the dazzling white lobby and the glam clientele, who clip-clop across its marble floors, to the waterfront’s triple-towered Marina Bay Sands, the durian-shaped Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, and the pretty historic quarter. It’s all best soaked up from a poolside cabana at the chic rooftop Lantern Bar or lounging on the deck at Clifford Pier. Rooms are ogle-worthy: think burr-wood, bronze, top-tech and Frette-wrapped beds.
Rooms: Doubles from £265, B&B.
Published in the March 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)