Exploring the world's first
city in a garden
Contributing Travel Editor
I was astounded that just minutes ago I had been standing at the center of one of the most modern cities in the world, with skyscrapers and sci-fi architecture giving me cause to crane my neck. Businessmen were dressed on trend, and shop-fronts glistened as consumer temples, enticing passersby with luxury items.
Though now I found myself at the center of an ancient rainforest rustling with wild monkeys, in the middle of an 11 km trek.
Singapore is known as many things; a city of sharp and constant contrasts, and a melting pot of old and new. Temples and mosques sit next to luxe skyscrapers, megamalls are packed with catwalk couture, and ethnic neighborhoods are full of old-school shop-houses and hectic market towns.
But perhaps the most surprising thing about Singapore is its wild side. You don’t expect one of the world’s busiest concrete jungles to have an actual jungle on its front door; a tropical rainforest which spills into the city and makes this one of the greenest urban spaces on earth.
But Singapore is. An entirely urbanized island known for its megamalls and gleaming skyscrapers, the strategy since declaring independence has been to create a garden city. The government believes that environmental protection should not be at odds with economic development, and that people are happiest when close to nature. The city streets are a thriving green canopy, housing developments include atriums, green walls and lushly landscaped walkways, and as you look across the skyline, trees rise from rooftop gardens, and plants snake their way down building facades.
At some point Singapore stopped being a garden city, and became a city in a garden.
Of Singapore’s many nature reserves and billion dollar gardens (my monkey encounter was along the secluded hiking paths of Macritchie Reservoir Park, a short bus ride from the city), its most famous attraction is Gardens by the Bay. The world’s largest glass greenhouse is here – the Flower Dome – which houses an impressive collection of the world’s flora – over 400,000 plants. And it’s ironic; Singapore’s location close to the equator means it’s blessed with a tropical climate all year round. Though with hot and humid weather, it’s like you never leave the greenhouse.
The Flower Dome is open daily between 9am and 9pm and offers a ‘world of perpetual spring’. The changing display of flowers and plants reflect different festivals and seasons, and fills a space the size of 75 Olympic sized swimming pools. You have the opportunity to get up close with truly unique species like the African Baobab from Madagascar, and explore flora from South Africa, South America, Australia, California and the Mediterranean. A current display, “Tulipmania Inspired”, takes inspiration from the Netherlands, and showcases a vivid floral gallery of over 100 varieties of tulips.
Entirely different from the Flower Dome, the Cloud Observatory is also a must visit while at Gardens by the Bay; a cool mist conservatory showcasing floral gems from cloud forests and tropical highlands 2,000 meters above sea level. As you step through the mist you step into not an observatory, but a mysterious world with breathtaking mountain views and diverse vegetation, constructed to educate visitors of the geology and biodiversity of an environment which is quickly disappearing.
And then there’s Singapore’s famous grove of supertrees. An iconic symbol of the island’s greenery that reach as tall as 16 storey’s; futuristic steel structures which resemble trees, layered with lush greenery and technology that generates solar power and harvests rainwater for use throughout the gardens. While a visit during the day is a must, these supertrees come alive at 7.45pm and 8.45pm every night, in a free show called Garden Rhapsody; a dazzling display of music and lights which burst across the sky.
Singapore may be a thriving metropolis, though is an unexpected haven
for those who admire all things natural and green.
Award Winning Travel Editor