An isosceles triangle in the South China Sea just below Singapore, jungle-clad Sentosa is primarily for families with its theme parks and other kid-friendly attractions, although three palm-backed beaches pull in sun-seekers, too. Most hotels here are resorts, with Resorts World’s sprawling 121-acre plot including two casinos and the Universal Studios Singapore complex. Prices tend to be below those on the main island and with easy links to the city — there’s even a cable car for the intrepid — it can make a great, laid-back base.
We Recommend: Capella Singapore
If the abstract sculpture on the immaculate lawn is the first sign that Capella isn’t your typical colonial villa, the modern wing behind the neo-classical facade is the second. The work of Norman Foster, who paired a couple of 19th-century army mansions with a steel-clad contemporary wing set amid 30 acres of lush gardens overlooking the South China Sea, Capella Singapore is in a league of its own. Tasteful rooms — housed in the modern wing — are all beiges and greys, with dark wood furniture, monochrome bathrooms and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the jungle and sea beyond. Dotted through the grounds are 38 villas, each with its own outdoor shower and plunge pool, while the huge ‘manors’ come with their own lap pool. Golf buggies ferry you to the main pool area, which spills spectacularly down the hillside, or to the art-filled public areas, where your PA — or personally assigned concierge — awaits. Sentosa may be child-orientated, but this is definitely for grown-ups.
■ Rooms: Doubles from S$699 (£373), B&B. 1 The Knolls, Sentosa. T: 00 65 6377 8888. capellahotels.com/singapore
■ X Factor: The Auriga spa, which, as well as offering treatments based on the lunar cycle, has sound-wave loungers, a herbal steam room and scented showers.
Best for Families: Hard Rock Hotel
The name might imply unbridled hedonism, but in squeaky clean Singapore the Hard Rock’s large rooms and prime location beside Universal Studios (it’s part of Resorts World) make this a great choice for families. There’s a kids’ club and the sprawling pool area sports an artificial beach. Rooms are parent-orientated with sleek, boutique-style fittings, guitar-shaped toiletry holders, a purple colour scheme and monochrome rock-star photos on the walls.
■ Rooms: Doubles from S$235 (£125), room only. 8 Sentosa Gateway, Sentosa. T: 00 65 6577 8899. hardrockhotelsingapore.com
Best for Beach: Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa
Sentosa’s family-orientated atmosphere meets the zen-luxe style of the Shangri-La chain, here at the island’s westernmost tip. With beach to the front and jungle to the side, it’s Sentosa’s only resort situated plum on the beach — the tankers heading to harbour are practically within touching distance. Remodelled in 2011, the 454 rooms bring the outside in, with natural beiges, carved wood and pops of green. Outside, the lush, palm-cloistered grounds are replete with resident peacocks, monkeys and ornamental koi.
■ Rooms: Doubles from S$350 (£187), B&B. 101 Siloso Road, Sentosa. T: 00 65 6275 0100. shangri-la.com/singapore/rasasentosaresort
An easy cab ride away from Orchard Road, but with considerably more soul than the shopping malls, Little India is a throwback to the Singapore of old, its streets clustered with low-rise buildings and traditional shophouses. Just north of Downtown Core and blending into Kampong Glam — the Middle Eastern district — you can hop from temple and mosque to sari shop and shisha bar (while Little India has fantastic restaurants, Kampong Glam pips it in the nightlife stakes). Hotels here tend to be smaller, independent properties, and the area is a buzzy but down-to-earth retreat from the glamour of downtown Singapore.
We Recommend: Wanderlust Hotel
The exterior may be a little austere — the building is a heritage-listed former school — but inside, kooky is given a free rein, with barber chairs greeting you in the lobby, leading into industrial-chic French restaurant, Cocotte. Four local design firms were given the run of the building, meaning each of the 29 rooms is different, though they’re themed by category. Small, single-hued Pantone rooms come in a range of bold colours, each with a musical motif, from Purple Haze to Yellow Submarine; larger Mono rooms are divided into Origami — with undulating ceilings and adjustable lighting — or Pop Art, with trompe l’oeil fittings. It’s worth upgrading to a Whimsical room, though — large duplexes with a bathroom and living area below, and the bedroom above accessed via a ladder; themes include ‘spaceship’, ‘typewriter’ or ‘treehouse’, the latter’s ceiling adorned with a plethora of artificial leaves.
■ Rooms: Doubles from S$218 (£117), B&B. 2 Dickson Road. T: 00 65 6396 3322. wanderlusthotel.com
■ X Factor: Its upmarket chic: the toiletries are Kiehl’s, the breakfast buffet is a class apart, and there’s even a Jacuzzi on the second floor sundeck. Rainbow mosaic-tiled, of course.
Best for Extras: Moon Hotel
Past the futuristic glass-fronted façade and white-tiled lobby, lie Moon’s 80 rooms: small but sassy with patterned wallpaper, super-soft beds and open-plan bathrooms (not for the demure, but brilliant for saving space). But it’s the extras that’ll really make you over the moon: breakfast, wi-fi, minibar (containing beer as well as soft drinks) and nightly cocktails are all included in the room rates. Windows, however, aren’t a given, so make sure you request a room with a view.
■ Rooms: Doubles from S$146 (£78), B&B. 23 Dickson Road. T: 00 65 6827 6666. moon.com.sg
Best for Budget: 5 Footway Inn Project Bugis
If you’re prepared to relinquish a few creature comforts — windows, say — 5 Footway Inn is an excellent budget bet. Set in an old shophouse on the fringe of Little India, it’s an upmarket hostel with private, en suite rooms (bring earplugs — soundproofing isn’t great). Most rooms are pod-style — tiny and windowless — but many still contain a bunkbed, desk, sofa and bathroom. A simple breakfast is provided in the plant-filled dining room, and the nightlife of Baghdad Street and hip boutiques of Haji Lane are both nearby.
■ Rooms: Doubles from S$104 (£56), B&B. 10 Aliwal Street. 5footwayinn.com
East of downtown, where the Singapore and Kallang rivers flow into the South China Sea, modern Singapore shines around Marina Bay, with dazzling architecture, fabulous landscaping and an abundance of breathtaking views. A two-mile waterfront promenade, the Singapore Flyer giant ferris wheel and the SkyPark on top of the Marina Bay Sands are all popular, though the new Gardens by the Bay — pairing rare plants with modern architecture — may yet trump them all. But it’s not all cutting edge here — one of Singapore’s historic hawker centres, Lau Pa Sat, lies just inland, while Chinatown is a short walk to the west.
We Recommend: The Fullerton
A great wedding cake of a building wedged between the Singapore River, Marina Bay and the skyscrapers of the Central Business District, you’d never guess The Fullerton only opened in 2001. But while its hotel lineage may be recent, the building has been an integral part of Singapore since 1928, when it housed the General Post Office. Its history still shows in the vast, palatial atrium and the Post Bar’s coffered ceilings. In contrast, the 400 tech-friendly bedrooms are pretty modern, with butter-coloured walls and marble-clad bathrooms. Courtyard accommodation overlooks the atrium, but ask for a room with a view, and you’ll enjoy floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the river or Marina Bay.
■ Rooms: Doubles from S$440 (£235), B&B. 1 Fullerton Square. T: 00 65 6733 8388. fullertonhotel.com
■ X Factor: The location — in addition to the fabulous views it benefits from, the hotel is five minutes’ walk from nightlife hub Boat Quay, with Chinatown a little further along.
Best for Romance: The Scarlet
Singapore notoriously doesn’t do sexy, so while the Scarlet’s facade — a row of shophouses filing towards Chinatown — is nothing but traditional, inside it’s a riot of boudoir chic. Rooms teem with high, padded headboards, tasselled curtains, and chairs clad in crushed velvet (red, of course). Gold is liberally sprinkled throughout — from the bedroom mirrors to the huge chandelier dangling above the lobby. Too much? Take a breather at Breeze, the rooftop bar and restaurant.
■ Rooms: Doubles from S$180 (£96), B&B. 33 Erskine Road. T: 00 65 6511 3333. thescarlethotel.com
Best for Pools: Marina Bay Sands
‘Rooftop pool’ doesn’t quite begin to describe Marina Bay Sands’ SkyPark. ‘Skyscraper-top pool’, maybe. Perched 57 floors up, infinity edged and draped precariously over the resort’s three towers, it’s probably the most terrifying outdoor pool in the world. And this gargantuan resort has plenty more to flaunt, with numerous restaurants and cafes, a mall, convention centre, museum and casino all on site. In contrast to the facilities, the 2,561 large rooms are muted, letting the floor-to-ceiling windows and their killer views do the talking.
■ Rooms: Doubles from S$359 (£193), room only. 10 Bayfront Avenue. T: 00 65 6688 8868. marinabaysands.com
Clustered round the mouth of the Singapore River, sprawling Downtown Core encapsulates the city, with colonial-era buildings squaring off against skyscrapers. Nuggets of the past lie in every direction — from the ongoing archaeological dig at Fort Canning Park to the shops at Chijmes, a convent-turned-mall. A few of the hotels here are landmarks in themselves — visitors flock to Raffles for a Singapore Sling, or Fort Canning to see the spice garden planted by Sir Stamford Raffles himself. An evening among the bars of Clarke Quay, though, will bring you thoroughly back to the present.
We Recommend: Raffles
It could so easily go wrong. Expectations are sky high here, at one of the most iconic hotels in the world; luckily, the 126-year-old Raffles delivers, with delectable rooms, gallons of history, and impeccable service. It’s not, of course, for everyone — this is the kind of place where the dress code is strictly enforced. As for the 103 suites, they’re unashamedly old fashioned, with dark wood furniture, oriental carpets and teak floorboards. Yet that’s the joy of Raffles — as you sign the famous guestbook at check-in, you step back in time. Tropical gardens divide the property and although it’s in the middle of the city, the only disturbance on your veranda will be snatches of birdsong and the rustle of palms. Afternoon tea, the curry buffet, a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar — there are perhaps too many rites of passage at Raffles to chalk off in one visit. Luckily, staying here trumps them all.
■ Rooms: Doubles from S$840 (£450), room only. 1 Beach Road. T: 00 65 6337 1886. raffles.com/singapore
■ X-factor: The superb service. Staff address guests by name, and each suite has a service button to call the 24-hour team of butlers.
Best as a Hideaway: Hotel Fort Canning
Tucked away in the lush Fort Canning Park, this former military base retains its magnificent colonial facade but brings things thoroughly up to date inside. The 86 rooms lead out to a conservatory-like area, containing the bathroom, study, or even a sundeck. With acres of parkland to explore, you’re a world away from the city, yet just a five-minute taxi ride from Orchard Road.
■ Rooms: Doubles from S$360 (£193), B&B. 11 Canning Walk. T: 00 65 6559 6770. hfcsingapore.com
Best for Pizzazz: Gallery Hotel
In comparison to the hotel’s extraordinary exterior, with its colour-framed and neon-lit windows, the 222 rooms are disappointingly normal. Yet the public areas — including four restaurants, an al fresco cafe overlooking the Singapore River and a bar with a resident magician — are suitably flashy, while the glass-sided pool, extending into the ether from its fifth floor deck, is the hotel’s masterpiece.
■ Rooms: Doubles from S$170 (£91), room only. 1 Nanson Road. T: 00 65 6849 8686. galleryhotel.com.sg
Published in the May/Jun 2013 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)