Little India, with its sari shops on Serangoon Road, is the place to shop for fabrics and batik, and to eat spicy vegetarian food. The cafes in Kampong Glam sell succulent Indian meat dishes and Malaysian fare. Seek out the perfume shops on Arab Street for alcohol-free scent made from essential oils. In Chinatown, you'll find the exotic confection of the Sri Mariamman Indian temple and, close by, the beautiful green Jamae Mosque. There are several small Chinese Buddhist temples here, but ironically, the main Chinese Temple that covers an entire block was the last to be completed. Known for its markets, reflexology parlours, massage booths, noodle bars and exotic pharmacies, Chinatown is the best place in Singapore to shop for bargains.
Singapore also has superb Chinese, Indian and Malay food, plus a speciality known as Peranakan - a synthesis of Chinese ingredients and Malay spices. Two excellent Peranakan restaurants are Blue Ginger (97 Tanjong Pagar Road), modern and centrally located, and True Blue Cuisine (117 East Coast Road), housed in an exquisite example of a traditional Peranakan dwelling. As 70 per cent of the locals have Chinese roots, there’s excellent Cantonese food. The health-conscious can visit the Imperial Herbal Restaurant (41 Seah Street). Here, you'll find a range of Chinese cuisines prepared with health-giving herbs. You can even have a consultation with a Chinese medical practitioner, then order with the doctor's diagnosis in mind.
Head to Serangoon Road for breakfast in Little India and enjoy a masala dosai, a delicate crisp pancake filled with mildly curried potato and lentil gravy ($1.60). Local Malay food can be found in the cafes of Kampong Glam on Arab Street, where the towering Sultan Mosque is the local landmark. East meets West at My Humble House, on the first floor of the Esplanade Theatres on the Bay complex, where exquisite six-course meals - with dishes such as enoki mushrooms with crab meat in spinach broth – are served in Alice in Wonderland-style surrounds. When strolling along the banks of the Singapore River on Clarke Quay, make sure you stop at WineGarage, where you can drink excellent wine by the glass (rare in Singapore) and eat small plates of equally fine food. It’s next to Brewerkz, the city's famous "microbrewery", where you can drink ale on the river terrace.
There are more than 2500 marine creatures at Underwater World, where you can also dive with Gracie the dugong or swim with dolphins at the Dolphin Lagoon. Located on Sentosa Island, the best way to get there is by cable car from the top of Mount Faber on Singapore Island.
ARRIVAL: It couldn't be easier to get from Changi Airport to the city - clean, metered taxis take 15 minutes ($15-$20). The MRT (train) takes 15 minutes to get to the city ($1.80).
STAY: Novotel (www.accorhotels.com) - a new, stylish hotel on the river at Clarke Quay. Great pool terrace and modern designer rooms from $160 a night.
The Scarlet (www.thescarlethotel.com), a chic boutique hotel on the edge of Chinatown, has rooms from $220 a night.
The Fullerton (www.fullertonhotel.com), offers five-star luxury with views of the bay and Singapore River. Rooms are from $450 a night.