Updated: Sep 28, 2020
Singapore has excellent shopping and fascinating museums; a wide variety of wildlife watching opportunities; world-class theme parks; a colourful nightlife and a huge choice of dining options – all packed into one small island nation.
One of the least challenging cities in the world to visit, Singapore offers tourists the most Western of all Asian experiences. A fascinating mix of contrasts, Singapore lies at the crossroads of East and West, and as a result, it hums with a unique culture that is equal parts oriental and western.
Tourists come to Singapore for many reasons and while the quality of shopping is important for some, there are many other reasons. Some like to experience Singapore’s spectacular attractions with their many parks and rides, other the delicious range of cuisines especially the local Chinese, Malay and Indian dishes; or it could be the variety of accommodation options including some exceptional hotels that is the draw; or perhaps the multiculturalism which can be explored in various districts such as Chinatown, Little India or Kampong Glam. There are also some amazing natural spaces that are home to a wide variety of plants and animals.
Leading the new direction in tourism are two integrated complexes of Resorts World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands that offer the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas as well as exciting theme park activities. This ensures that Singapore is no longer a place to transit through onto more distant parts although Changi International Airport is one of the world’s busiest. Despite its small size, Singapore offers a comprehensive range of holiday activities for extended stays.
And whatever the focus of your visit, you can rely on the fact that everything is run with great efficiency and destinations are reached with ease by local public transport. Multicultural Singapore offers a smorgasbord of food and dining options. Visitors can dine in celebrity chefs’ signature restaurants like France’s Joël Robuchon or slurp a bowl of Singapore noodles in hawker centres such as Newton or Maxwell Food Centres. Singapore is considered one of the world’s most vibrant food cultures with ever-changing culinary horizons.
While it’s possible to dine on food from around the world, local dishes are those that appeal most to Singaporeans as well as inquisitive visitors. From Nyonya to Chinese, Indian to Malay, the wonderful array of local cuisines is proof of the collage of cultures that make up Singapore’s population.
Singapore is a shopper’s paradise. Scores of shops at every turn offer almost unlimited choices. Whether you want to immerse yourself in the plush shopping arcades of Orchard Road or Raffles City, or scour the flea markets and back alleys of the ethnic quarters, Singapore caters to all tastes and budgets. Best known for its attractively priced electronics goods, such as computers, mobile phones and cameras, Singapore also offers luxury brands, art, antiques, curios, jewellery, and more. Away from the exclusive stores and boutiques, some of the most exciting shopping can be found in Little India, Chinatown, Arab Street, and Holland Village.
For its size, Singapore is rich in museums, gardens and a variety of other attractions for the entire family to visit. The museums focus on history, cultural traditions, artistic forms brought by the immigrants that made up Singapore’s early population, while Singapore’s parks and gardens range from the world-class Singapore Botanic Gardens to ‘Gardens by the Bay’, three waterfront gardens that showcase horticulture and garden art. Other popular attractions include the very impressive Singapore Zoo and Jurong Bird Park, one of Asia’s largest bird parks; the Science Centre, rated one of the top ten of its kind in the world and Haw Par Villa, a theme park based on macabre Chinese mythology.
The once-staid entertainment scene in Singapore has erupted into life, with new megaclubs and beach parties placing the city on Asia’s nightlife map. Singaporeans love their nightlife and its increasingly eclectic mix of venues – jazz clubs, blues bars, nightclubs, karaoke lounges, and traditional pubs – will satisfy all tastes. From small, poorly lit watering holes to thumping all-night clubs, the island has plenty to offer visitors looking for bars and clubs seven nights a week.
Any time’s a good time to go to Singapore. There are cultural events and festivals all year round, from fashion to film to food, and because Singapore is home to so many ethnic communities, you can hardly step outside without bumping into a festival. Practically on the equator, Singapore is constantly hot (the temperature never drops below 20°C), humid and gets fairly steady year-round rainfall. The wettest months are supposedly November to January, when it’s also a degree or two cooler, while the driest are supposedly May to July, but in reality there is little distinction between the seasons. Similarly, there is no high and low tourism season as such, though during local school holidays and major cultural festivals things become noticeably more crowded.
Getting Around Singapore
Even though Singapore is a relatively small country there are a multitude of ways to get around from buses, taxis, trains, ferries, transfers and flights. We highly recommend using the site 12Go.com to book these tickets well ahead of time as it saves money, time and the frustration of trying to find transportation in a highly populated and active country.
Top Places to Visit in Singapore
With historic districts and world-class resorts, Singapore blends the best of the old and the new into one nation. Make your visit exciting, entertaining and unforgettable by following our list of top places to visit in Singapore.
Singapore has always been a pit-stop destination for trips into Asia but, in recent years, this island nation has established itself as a destination in its own right. From fun-filled attractions and multi-cultural districts to glitzy world-class resorts and museums, there’s something for everyone here.
While not the cheapest, Singapore is possibly one of the least challenging cities in the world to visit. In one day, it is possible to trek through a rain forest, visit places of worship from a multitude of religions that exist together in harmony, and stop in a sleek mall on Orchard Road to buy a new outfit in time for a sumptuous dinner prepared by a Michelin–starred chef. Singapore has always been, and will always be, a nation that blends the best of all worlds into one nation.
Singapore hosts some of the finest museums in Southeast Asia – enough to take a week to explore, let alone the average two or three days most visitors spend here. The best ones are concentrated in the city centre, which makes it easy to hop between them. Two Singaporean favourites are the grand Asian Civilisations Museum, celebrating Asian civilisation, and the charming Peranakan Museum, which celebrates local Peranakan culture. The National Museum of Singapore, housed in an architecturally superb Victorian building and modern annex, is equally magnificent. Close by is the recently refurbished Singapore Art Museum which is also worth exploring.
The Raffles Hotel
Yes, yes, it’s a cliché, but it’s also hard to resist the allure of the magnificent ivory frontage, the famous Sikh doorman, the colonial elegance and the echoes of Maugham and Conrad and the days when Singapore was a swampy, dissolute outpost of the British Empire. The Raffles Hotel is best visited in the late afternoon or early evening, when the heat has been sapped from the day and the spotlights bathe the building in romance. Slip into the verandah chair at the atmospheric Bar & Billiard Room for an early evening aperitif, followed by one of the best buffets in the city: the incredible, stomach-popping Indian feast laid on nightly in the Tiffin Room.
Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
If the Botanic Gardens area an admirable exercise in managed vegetation, then the area officially called the Centre Catchment Nature Reserve is a masterpiece of urban wilderness planning. Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, the highest point on the island at 163m, is one of only two patches of urban primary rainforest in the world (the other is in Rio de Janeiro). Though it has been laid with a concrete path, side trails plunge deep into a forest so rich that one botanist estimated there are more plant species there than in the whole of North America. Hike the trails at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, where a cacophony of insects, roving monkeys and lush canopy hark back to a time when Singapore was mostly wilderness. Also check out the Southern Ridges, a 9km stretch of trails across shaded parks, hills and the stunning leaf-like suspended walkaways of the Alexandra Link.
Singapore’s very own rustic island getaway is the last chance to get a glimpse at the kampong (village) life that was a big part of Singapore as recently as the 1960s. The site of a traditional Malay fishing village, Pulau Ubin has a variety of flora and fauna that can only be seen here. By hopping aboard a chugging bumboat from Changi, visitors can experience Pulau Ubin’s old-growth mangrove swamps, then cycle past tin-roof shacks or rampage along a cross-country mountain bike trail and end the day with a seafood meal. If the great outdoors is not your thing, you can take a cooking class instead. If the easy island life gets you in, you can always stay a night or three at the local resort.
Singapore’s popular playground, Sentosa is an island of relaxing spas and resorts, thrilling water and land sports, and other attractions for people of all ages. The world-class resort island of Sentosa may look gaudy from the outside, but the opening of Resorts World means the entertainment and eating options at Singapore’s playground has been taken to new heights. Parents can let their kids go nuts at Universal Studios, then in the evenings live the high-roller life at the casino. Or you can lose the shirt off your back in a different way: by kicking back on the beach, cocktail in hand.
With every brand imaginable and over 20 malls packed into this 2.5km strip, you can shop till you drop, pick yourself up, and continue shopping some more. What was once a dusty road lined with spice plantations and orchards is now a torrent of blockbuster malls, department stores and specialty shops: enough to burn out the toughest shopaholics. It’s retail therapy at its decadent best. When you’ve stashed your purchases back at the hotel, duck out to Emerald Hill for its Peranakan architecture and happy-hour bar specials. The street also has many wonderful opportunities for eating and, if you’re there during Christmas, the breathtaking light displays.
Singapore Botanic Gardens
Singapore’s Botanic Gardens make a welcome escape from the bustle of city life. And like most things in Singapore, it’s immaculate and well-designed. Each area segues into the next, each with its own atmosphere, from the lazy serenity of the Swan Lake to the dense, humid greenery of the rain forest zone to the carefully pruned bonsai and orchid gardens. At the tail end of Orchard Road, this sprawling oasis is a great place to take a picnic and people-watch.
Or stroll through the orchid gardens, looking out for Vanda Miss Joaquim, Singapore’s national flower. The gardens host a food court and two of the most irresistibly romantic restaurants: Au Jardin Les Amis and Halia. The Singapore Symphony Orchestra gives free monthly performances at the pavilion.
The most atmospheric of Singapore’s historic quarters is as close as it gets to the old chaotic days. In fact, there is nowhere else in Singapore that matches it for street atmosphere, especially at night.
Little India is a ramshackle, colourful, disorderly sort of place, where life tumbles along with an unfettered liveliness largest lost from the rest of the city. Experience it with the masses on the weekends when it gets packed to the gills with Indian workers wanting a slice of home. The five-foot ways of the shophouses spill over with aromatic spices and colourful products, bhangra thuds from speakers, shopkeepers still paint signs on concrete pillars, irresistible food smells waft into the street and men clad in dhoti (loincloth) lounge around the market gossiping. It’s like India with all the confronting bits taken out.
Singapore’s central skyline has been forever transformed with the development of Marina Bay. Let your eyeballs swing from the soaring towers of the Central Business District (CBD) to the incredible architecture of Marina Bay Sands, a world-class resort and the Gardens by the Bay.
One of the best ways to get a bird’s eye view of Marina Bay is atop the Singapore Flyer, the world’s largest observation wheel overlooking splendid Marina Bay. Appreciate views that stretch up to 45km to Malaysia and Indonesia before enjoying impressive views of the city skyline and the harbour on the way back down.
Singapore Zoo & Night Safari
Let’s put it out there: this is possibly the world’s best zoo. The open-air enclosures designed to look like natural habitats allow for both freedom for the animals to roam and unobstructed visitor views. Dry and wet moats camouflaged by waterfalls and vegetation separate the animals from visitors. The Singapore Zoo is one of the few places in the world where you see rare animals such as the white (Bengal) tiger and clouded leopard or endangered species such as the Komodo dragon and the Malayan tiger. The zoo is also one of the few places outside of Borneo or Sumatra where you can stand under trees with orang-utans a few feet above your head, or where mouse deer and lemurs scamper across your path. As evening closes in, the Night Safari next door uses open-concept enclosures to get visitors up close and personal with nocturnal creatures such as leopards, free-ranging deer and Malaysian tigers.
Where to Stay In Singapore
If you have not noticed the Changi Airport in Singapore is one of the coolest and when you leave to go back home make sure to spend at least $20 at the airport at any of the stores, restaurants or venders. This will give a ticket to one of the coolest airport attractions ever - a giant slide that takes you to your gate. For those traveling to Singapore, make sure you invest some time learning about the amazing Changi Airport.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Consider tipping us and buying a cup of coffee for our hardworking independent travel journalists. Who knows, the life you save, may be your own.
Photos courtesy of Mike Enerio, Hu Chen, Taylor Simpson and Lilly Banse.