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Singapore is both an island and a country, but perhaps its best description is that of city-state. Singapore has always been a crossroads from East to West. Once upon a time, its port swelled with Chinese, Arab, Malay, Indian and European traders who came to exchange exotic wares. Today, the city-state has expanded into one of the world’s busiest ports, and over time, as goods have been exchanged, cultures have mingled as well. To the casual observer, Singapore appears to be a clean and orderly mass of shopping malls and McDonald’s. But the curious who dig a bit deeper will find that the cultures of the original settlers are still very much alive and well in this truly multicultural melting pot.

Singapore is both an island and a country, but perhaps its best description is that of city-state. Like the great city-states of the past, it offers civilization and order in the highest degree. Its combination of Western-style development and Eastern-style order seems to present the best of both hemispheres: It’s a modern metropolis where you feel safe walking the streets, and it’s an Asian business center that’s a model of efficiency. Singapore is also a multicultural city, and close to one-quarter of its population are expatriates or foreign workers from all over the world. Known for its desire to become the technology hub of Asia, Singapore is the most wired country in the region.

Singapore’s dedication to preserving cultural heritage has created a number of excellent museums and thriving, ethnically distinct neighborhoods. Chinatown and Little India still retain some of their original cultural relevance for Singaporeans while attracting foreign visitors who marvel at the endurance of cultural identity. A wander through any of the city’s neighborhoods will reveal Taoist temples, Muslim mosques and Christian churches cohabitating peaceably side by side. Cultural intermingling has also produced unique Eurasian and Peranakan (Straits Chinese) cultures, each with its own fashion, furnishings and food. Speaking of food, with so much cultural diversity, dining in Singapore is varied and good—gastronomic experiences range from the finest Continental cuisine served with polished silver to delicious local dishes served in an open-air hawker center with plastic chopsticks. Small wonder Singaporeans love to eat.

GEOGRAPHY

Singapore’s strategic location at the southern tip of the Malaysian peninsula has ensured its importance, which is greater than its size might seem to justify. Singapore consists of the island of Singapore and some 63 islets within its territorial waters. The main island is about 26 mi/42 km from west to east and 14 mi/23 km from north to south. Total land area is 264 sq mi/683 sq km, about three times the size of Washington, D.C. It’s a mostly undulating country with low hills (the highest, 540-ft/166-m Bukit Timah Hill, is to the northwest of the city).

CLIMATE

Like most of Southeast Asia, Singapore is generally hot and humid. Average temperatures hover around 86 F/30 C and seldom dip below 75 F/22 C. November and December is the rainy season. June-August is considered to be the best time to visit, but even then it rains often. Don’t let the climate stop you from going, however. Most buildings are air conditioned (to the point that you may want to take a sweater), and pains have been taken to make everything as comfortable as can be, all things considered. When it does rain, it’s generally only for a short period.

DINING

Singapore has a well-deserved reputation for satisfying the most discerning gourmet. Cuisines range from spicy Indian favorites and tantalizing Chinese fare to Nonya (a combination of Chinese and Malay) delicacies, as well as the finest in French and Italian cooking. For a detailed restaurants guide with the best restaurants in Singapore, click here to Top25Restaurants Singapore.