The 12 Best Things to Do in Singapore
Whether you visit Singapore on a business trip or a family vacation, the Southeast Asian island city-state offers something for every taste. The so-called “Garden City” is a wild medley of modern skyscrapers, tropical rainforest, glitzy shopping malls, colonial architecture, street art and amazing hawker stalls – all wrapped in a blanket of Chinese, Malay and Indian traditions.
But Singapore wasn’t always the city it is today. Since Tony’s first visit in 1991, it has transformed from a coldly functional port-city to a fun, stylish metropolis which is constantly reinventing itself. The city has undergone a remarkable facelift in the last few years, reclaiming more and more land to add an unending stream of exciting new Singapore attractions. To help you organize your itinerary, here are some of our favorite things to do in Singapore.
Enjoy the Spectacular Views from the Sands SkyPark
Singapore is a vertical city. If you have cranked your neck up one too many times, you may want to head straight to the SkyPark public observation deck to change your point of view. The SkyPark at the Marina Bay Sands seems to defy gravity, balancing precariously like a curved surfboard on top of the three 55-story hotel towers. From a height of almost 200 meters (650 ft), you get fantastic views of the skyline and the Singapore Strait. And for a close-up view of the Sands’ famous infinity pool, stop by the Skybar for a cocktail (but be prepared to pay premium prices).
Dive into Singapore’s Bustling Chinatown
If you need a change of scenery from the urban steel-and-glass jungle of Singapore’s financial center, head straight to the hustle and bustle of Chinatown. The ethnic neighborhood of Straits-Chinese settlers attracts visitors with perfectly restored Peranakan-style shophouses, authentic foods, chaotic street markets, and the must-see Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. Make sure you climb all the way up to the fifth floor for the gorgeous rooftop garden and the giant prayer wheel. Our tip: A great time to visit Chinatown is during the Chinese New Year when elaborate celebrations pop up at every corner.
Go on a Tree Top Walk in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve
It’s no secret that much of Singapore’s endemic jungle has been replaced by glass and steel. Fortunately, to combat the effects of urbanization, Singapore’s government has created free parks and nature reserves to improve the quality of life for Singaporeans – and visitors. One of our favorite reserves is the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. Where else can you take a city bus to the rainforest? The reserve offers great walking trails and a fantastic tree top walk through the forest canopy via a 250-meter suspension bridge. While in the reserve, we spotted crab-eating macaques, monitor lizards, squirrels, and jungle fowl. Very cool!
Explore the Amazing Gardens by the Bay
One of Singapore’s latest additions to the cityscape is the Gardens by the Bay, a beautiful nature park along the waterfront. A sunset walk through the futuristic Supertree Grove during the daily sound and light show will blow your mind. Being surrounded by a cluster of 16-story Supertrees gives “urban jungle” a whole new meaning. While this experience is free of charge, Gardens by the Bay also offers fun for-pay activities. We loved the OCBC Skywalk, which connects two Supertrees and provides visitors with an amazing bird’s-eye view. Two other worthwhile indoor attractions with a focus on flora are the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest conservatories. Highly recommended!
Taste a Singapore Sling at the Famous Raffles Singapore
What’s greater than having a long drink after a long day of sightseeing? Honestly, not much. So in the spirit of fun and relaxation, we encourage you to find the perfect bar for people-watching and reward yourself with a delicious nightcap. Any cocktail should do, but we recommend trying a Singapore Sling. This refreshing gin-based cocktail is Singpore’s national drink and includes ingredients such as cherry brandy, Cointreau, Grenadine, lime, and pineapple juice. And what better place to try one than at the Raffles Hotel, a charming place where the Singapore Sling was invented. Great drinks and colonial flair at the same time!
Experience Singapore’s Colorful Little India
Singapore’s Little India is the perfect place to experience a very authentic but far cleaner take on India. The charismatic neighborhood north of Chinatown captivates people with the sights and sounds of the quintessential Bollywood street scene, including colorful sari shops, tikka stalls, rainbow colonial architecture and the brightly painted Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple. Visitors are welcome to stroll around the Hindu temple to observe the pooja rituals and listen to the chanting priests. Make sure to combine your temple visit with a culinary feast at the nearby vegetarian restaurant Komala Vilas for authentic Indian food (try their delicious dosas and mango lassis).
Spend a Relaxing Day on Sentosa Island’s Beaches
With over 60 offshore islands, Singapore offers more than just urban attractions. If you are in the mood for tranquil waters, swaying palms or a picnic by the sea, head straight for Sentosa Island’s gorgeous beaches. You can easily reach them via the Sentosa Express from Harbourfront Station. Our favorite beaches are the pretty Palawan Beach and the somewhat more secluded Tanjong Beach. Both are worth spending an afternoon. And just in case you want a little more excitement, Sentosa is also home to the Resorts World Sentosa, an entertainment venue with Universal Studios, the S.E.A. Aquarium, restaurants, hotels and two casinos.
Enjoy the Haw par Villa, a Theme Park for Twisted Minds
The Haw Par Villa’s ten courts of Buddhist hell is probably Singapore’s goriest attraction. Part of a larger theme park containing hundreds of statues and dioramas portraying scenes from Chinese folklore and mythology, the Haw Par Villa’s gruesome depiction of Buddhist hell is shockingly funny. For non-Buddhists that is. Everywhere, people are being sawed in half, crushed, squished, cut up, and dismembered. You do have to wonder what sick minds came up with this. Just in case you can’t get enough, there are similar Buddhist theme parks in Thailand, Laos and Myanmar that are well worth a visit.
Take an Evening Stroll along Singapore’s Picturesque Waterfront
If you are wondering where to go in Singapore at night, we recommend starting your evening at the spectacular waterfront. Viator offers some great night tours with dinner and cruise options, but you can also plan your own walking tour. Make your way from the Marina Bay Sands over the Helix Bridge toward the Merlion statue. En route, pick up some finger foods at the hawker center or take in a free outdoor concert at the Esplanade. Afterwards, make your way via Boat Quay to the historical riverside Clarke Quay. If you have worked up an appetite, this is a great place for dinner, drinks and people-watching. Tip: If you are in Singapore in September, the waterfront is also the place where the Singapore Grand Prix Formula 1 happens. If you would rather hightail it on the official Singapore Formula 1 track yourself, check out the tours section below.
Visit the Wildlife Reserves Singapore
Singapore is as much about nature as it is about shopping. One of the great natural attractions of the island is the Wildlife Reserves Singapore, comprised of the Singapore Zoo, the Night Safari, the Jurong Bird Park, and the River Safari. While all get great reviews, we have personally visited and can recommend the zoo and the Jurong Bird Park. We loved the zoo for its large animal enclosures, lush tropical landscaping and the close interaction between visitors and primates. We also thought the bird park was a blast. The large lorikeet and parrot aviary is a standout feature and offers visitors a chance to feed the birds with nectar and wiggly worms.
Meet Singapore’s Biggest Baby
Singapore is the ultimate playground for art aficionados and sculpture lovers. While you can take in art exhibitions at the Singapore Art Museum, the National Gallery or the ArtScience Museum, the best way to enjoy art in Singapore is outdoors. Make sure you don’t miss Marc Quinn’s giant sleeping baby named Planet in the Gardens by the Bay. The seven-ton sculpture is balanced on the child’s hand and appears to be floating in the air. This is one of the coolest pieces of art we have seen. Also, when you are out and about, check out Fernando Botero’s fat bronze bird at Boat Quay and Baet Yeok Kuan’s cool steel mirror balls on the front lawn of the Asian Civilisations Museum.
Try Authentic Street Food at the Hawker Center by the Bay
It won’t take you long to figure out where to eat in Singapore. Food is pretty much everywhere. One of the most convenient places for good quality and affordable prices is Makansutra Gluttons Bay, a hawker stall center at the waterfront north of the outdoor concert stage at the Esplanade. It offers all the classic Singapore dishes such as Hainanese chicken rice, laksa, oyster omelet, frog porridge, chili crab, barbecued stingray, satay, or fish head curry. All you need to do is dig in and enjoy the bay views. And if you want to go more local, try the deliciously authentic street food in the fun neighborhood of Geylang.
Plan Your Trip to Singapore
When to Go – Singapore’s weather can be described in simple terms: hot and humid. So deciding the best time to visit Singapore is really up to you. While rainfall is probably heaviest in December and January, it can rain pretty much any time of year. All you need to be prepared is sun cream and an umbrella.
Accommodation – Singapore accommodation options are plentiful, but are generally more expensive than those in other Southeast Asian capitals. While you won’t have problems finding 5-star hotels in Singapore, you may struggle a bit finding budget places. We recommend searching for great deals on HotelsCombined.com, a site which finds the best deals for you across numerous top hotel booking sites, including hotels.com and agoda.
If you intend to stay for more than a few nights, it’s cheaper and more comfortable to stay in an Airbnb apartment. We stayed in a small luxurious apartment in Geylang and loved it. If you haven’t used Airbnb before and you click through this link here, you get a credit toward your first stay. The amount varies, but it’s usually between $30 and $40. Not too shabby.
Tours – Singapore is small, compact and relatively easy to navigate on your own. However, tours are useful in many ways. There are many hidden treasures, and it’s easy to miss some of those great Singapore sights. Also, seeing the city as part of a tour can be a lot of fun and provides you with plenty of insider knowledge from an expert Singapore guide.
Viator is a good choice and offers a host of fantastic tours including walking and biking tours, cooking classes, spa tours, cruises, food tours, culture and theme tours as well as Singapore airport layover tours and airport transfers. One very special Viator tour is the F1 Street Circuit Driving Experience. Choose from a Ferrari, a Lamborghini, or a McLaren and put the metal to the pedal on the official Singapore Formula 1 track. This tour is available all year round.
Guidebooks – We always travel with Lonely Planet guides. They are great for historical and cultural information, maps, walking tours, highlights, and itineraries. For Singapore, we recommend the Lonely Planet for Singapore or the more visual DK Eyewitness Travel Guide for Singapore and Malaysia, which combines the two neighboring countries.