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An endless stretch of shopping centres, chain restaurants, and upscale hotels, Orchard Road is the shopaholic heart of Singapore. The name originates from the fruit and spice orchards that lined the street during the colonial days, but the plants died and the district was redeveloped as a commercial and residential zone for Singapore's elite — an apt description even today.

Not a city that clings to its past too tightly, authorities demolished the colonial buildings during Singapore's boom to make way for modern mega-malls. A few historical buildings remain — the Goodwood Park Hotel, the Istana palace, and the sprawling Thai Embassy — but no one goes to Orchard Road for a history lesson: it's all about the shopping.

Orchard Road is a shrine to consumerism. It measures 2.2 km long, yet there is hardly a gap between the malls. By our count, it's home to at least 25 shopping centres, 15 five-star hotels, four multi-screen cineplexes, three private hospitals, 13 Starbucks, and hundreds of places to eat (and, somehow, they're always busy).

Like most things in Singapore, Orchard Road is not cheap. There are more Dolce & Gabbana boutiques than dollar stores and Continental breakfast at the Hilton or Marriott costs more than a dorm bed in Little India. The best season for bargain-hunting is during the much-hyped Great Singapore Sale in June and July. The sales are nowhere as spectacular as the massive crowds would suggest, but you may get lucky and find a real deal. While you will certainly not get a 50% discount on that digital camera you've been eyeing, the store may throw in a free memory card and carrying case.

Most malls offer a "tourist privilege card" year-round that gets you small discounts at certain shops and a free coffee — bring your passport and collect it at the information counter. Remember that international tourists can also claim a tax refund on purchases over S$100, excluding meals and hotels.

Even if you lack the budget or luggage space for a real shopping spree, it's still fun to walk along Orchard Road while window shopping and admiring the public art. Or, for some Singapore-style role-playing, put on your nicest clothes, join the queue outside Louis Vuitton, and pretend you're an expat banker browsing for a new piece of luggage for an upcoming business trip.

Factoring in a couple of breaks inside the air-con comfort of a mall, it's possible to walk Orchard end to end in a couple of hours. Orchard is very pedestrian-friendly with benches, crosswalks, underpasses, and wide footpaths to accommodate the hordes of shoppers plus street musicians, sidewalk vendors, and random promotional displays. An Orchard tradition is to buy an ice cream (S$1) from one of the sidewalk vendors. Flavours include everything from tin roof brownie to durian and you can have it on a wafer, cone, or slice of bread.

Once you've had enough of the shopping frenzy, change pace with a visit to the nearby Botanic Garden or descend to one of the three MRT stations.

Orchard Road is a one-way street running from west to east. At its western end it curves into Tanglin Road, an expensive residential area and site of kid-friendly Tanglin Mall, and eventually passes the Singapore Botanic Gardens. To the east, Orchard becomes Bras Basah Road and leads into the Central Business District.

There are 3 MRT stations on Orchard Road: Orchard, Somerset, and Doby Ghaut. Orchard MRT is the westernmost station and located below the intersection of Orchard and Scotts Roads. A maze of underground tunnels connects the station to Ion, Wisma Atria, Wheelock Place, and Tangs Plaza malls. Somerset MRT is roughly in the middle of Orchard, opposite the Singapore Visitors Centre and Emerald Hill outdoor drinking area, and links to the new 313@Somerset Mall. Dhoby Ghaut Interchange, the largest of the MRT stations with connections to three of the four train lines, is at the far east end of Orchard Road beside Plaza Singapura Mall.

You're never far from accessing your money on Orchard Road and international ATM and currency exchange booths are everywhere.

Every mall has public washrooms and they're free and generally quite clean.

The Singapore Visitor's Centre is a wonderful resource with events listings, maps, brochures and computers that are free to use. It's located at the junction of Orchard and Cairnhill Road and open 09:30-22:30 daily.

Related reading

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Text and/or map last updated on 30th October, 2013.

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