If you’re traveling in Asia, why not stopover in Singapore? You might be surprised to find there’s far more to this proud island nation than a sticky climate and a Singapore Sling.
You’ll be blown away by the mix of cultures, the opportunity to try food from all over Asia, the contrast of urban and natural jungles and of course, the chance for some retail therapy.
Here’s all the important things to know before you visit Singapore.
- 1 Singapore: A unique blend of culture
- 2 Getting around Singapore
- 3 Small country; huge ambition
- 4 Hungry? Head to a hawker center
- 5 Singapore’s favorite pastime: Shopping
- 6 How about a drink after dark?
- 7 Back to nature
- 8 Get away from it all on the islands
- 9 Tourist attractions, museums, and arts
- 10 Where to stay when visiting Singapore?
- 11 Singapore – passport to Asia
Singapore: A unique blend of culture
One of the most unique things about Singapore is the blend of cultures. Singapore is one of the few places in the world where you see people of different origins, language, and religions living and working harmoniously alongside one another. There’s also a large expat population drawn like bees to the hive of the thriving economy.
This means Singapore is fantastically welcoming to foreigners. Be sure to take the time to chat with locals, especially the famous taxi-Uncles. It’s the best and quickest way to find out what’s going on and get to know the island and the people.
There are four official languages in Singapore: English, Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil. Most people speak enough English to at least get by.
You’ll also hear phrases affectionately known as “Singlish” which is a slang made up of words from all the different languages. You’ll know you’ve been in Singapore too long if you start putting “lah” on the end of your sentences, and saying, “can” instead of “yes”.
No trip to Singapore would be complete without visiting the cultural centers. Enjoy dim sum in Chinatown, luxuriate in the beautiful silks of Little India and chill out in the Muslim quarter (or Kampong Glam) with an aromatic coffee.
Getting around Singapore
Traveling around Singapore is really easy and convenient to do. You have many different choices depending on your time constraints and budget. The easiest way to get around Singapore is by using either Uber or Grab. These personal car-sharing services are available by using their apps and requesting a car.
If you’re looking for a more affordable option, then I suggest getting an EZ-Link card. This will give you access to utilize any of the cities buses and MRT train service.
Small country; huge ambition
Even if you know nothing about Singapore, you’ll probably recognize the iconic sight of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and the famous Super Trees at Gardens By the Bay.
The architecture in Singapore is stunning. Take an afternoon to wander around Marina Bay, marvel at the famous hotel perched like a stranded boat on top of the towers, and pop up to the Skyview for a bird’s eye glimpse of the marvelous Gardens By the Bay. Afterward, stroll across the Helix Bridge and grab an ice-cream to eat at the Merlion.
The best ice-cream, by the way, is the stuff being sold from handcarts in the street. Don’t worry about street food here. This is Singapore; it will be squeaky clean. An ice-cream sandwich is a typical Singaporean treat. If you’re feeling brave hold your nose and try the famous durian-flavored ice-cream. I’ll stick with vanilla, though, thanks.
As well as the space-age architecture you’ll see all around you, the history of Singapore also endures in the brightly painted shop-houses. The colonial past is present too in the beautiful old black-and-whites and buildings such as the iconic Raffles Hotel.
Hungry? Head to a hawker center
The unusual blend of cultures not only gives travelers the chance to experience the traditions of many nations on one island, it means the food is pretty good too.
As you can expect, with people from so many different cultures in one place you can sample excellent cuisine from all over the world and especially South-East Asia.
As well as Chinese, Indian and Malay food, there are large Korean, Japanese and Indonesian populations in Singapore, and you’ll get really good Vietnamese food too.
A Singaporean experience you must not miss is a visit to a Hawker Center. These are dotted all over Singapore. You’ll see a group of food stalls with a central seating area, usually with a roof to protect diners from the short-lived but torrential rains. The stall holders specialize in one or a handful of dishes, and the recipes have often been handed down from generation to generation of the same family, on the same stall, in the same spot for decades.
People choose a place at a table and save it with a packet of tissues while they get their food. If you want to stay on the right side of Singaporeans, find an empty table or buy tissues of your own to use as a place-holder.
Not only is this an opportunity to sample food the way many Singaporeans eat every day, it’s also great value which is a welcome change in a city that is known for its hefty price tag.
Singapore’s favorite pastime: Shopping
Speaking of price-tags, you can’t go to Singapore without visiting the famous Orchard Road. Today, there is no sign of the fruit farms from which it gets its name, but there are plenty of designer labels ripe for picking.
Shopping is more than a pastime for Singaporeans, it’s practically a national sport. Shopping malls are impressive with a large range of stores to suit every budget. They stay open late and are busy well into the night.
Even if you hate shopping, pop inside to enjoy the air-con and a food hall or two, another place to eat well inexpensively in Singapore.
How about a drink after dark?
After a hard day at the mall, you’ll be needing to get dressed up and hit the night spots. There are plenty of great clubs and bars on offer, and once the sun has gone down it’ll be cool enough to chill out at one of the many roof-top bars, which have magnificent views of the Singapore Skyline.
Probably the most famous and impressive bar in Singapore is at the 1 Altitude, the world’s highest outdoor bar. You reach it via a private lift in the One Raffles Place building and it’s known for signature cocktails, late-night DJ and 360 degree views of Singapore.
Back to nature
Singapore isn’t just an urban jungle. As well as Gardens By the Bay, there are many other beautiful parks, including the Singapore Botanic Gardens, the only Botanic Gardens in the world that’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
If you really want to get back to nature and get your hiking boots dirty there are plenty of opportunities in Singapore for trekking.
Top of the list is probably the beautiful MacRitchie Reservoir. You can either walk around the lake on the boardwalk or follow the trails through the jungle.
While Singapore is often referred to as “Asia-Lite,’ the monkeys, snakes and monitor lizards have other ideas. In MacRitchie be especially careful of the monkeys. Don’t snack as you walk as you might end up sharing unexpectedly, and keep your bags and cameras close.
The Kranji Marshes to the North are also beautiful, full of wildlife, and there’s a great walk along The Southern Ridges from Hort Park to Mount Faber over the impressive Henderson Wave Bridge.
Get away from it all on the islands
If you really want to get back to nature, visit one or two of Singapore’s 60 tiny islands. The best known and well-worth a visit is Pulau Ubin to the east of Singapore.
Pack your mosquito repellent, catch a bumboat for a few dollars from Changi Ferry terminal and hire a mountain bike to explore the island when you get there.
Pulau Ubin is one of the last places you can see the Kampong Life that was so much a part of Singapore’s history. There are a few bars and shops, but people mainly go there for nature, peace, fishing, kayaking and mountain biking.
If even Pulau Ubin is too busy for you take a boat from Marina Bay to the tiny islands off the coast of Sentosa. Lazarus Island, just off St John’s Island is the place to go for the ultimate white sand/crystal clear sea Instagram shot. Imagine the Maldives without the price tag (or the cocktails). There is, quite literally, nothing here but it’s great for swimming and trekking.
Kusu, or tortoise island, is so-called as it’s shaped like (you guessed it) a tortoise. It has religious significance for Muslims and Taoists, and there is a shrine where worshippers come to pay their respects. There are marine tours, a beach, and lagoons which are good for swimming.
Sisters Island gets its name from the local story in which two sisters were drowned escaping from pirates. Not the most cheerful tale, but it’s a good place for snorkeling. You could see giants clams, octopuses, sea horses and even black-finned reef sharks. Beware of the currents, though, which can be vicious.
St John’s Island also has an inauspicious past as a leper colony and rehabilitation center for opium addicts. Now it’s a picturesque island with corals, sea life, and trekking routes. There’s also a great alternative view of the Singapore Urban Skyline.
Tourist attractions, museums, and arts
If all that peace and tranquility is sending you to sleep, maybe a trip to Universal Studios will wake you up?
You’ll need to visit Sentosa, the home of Universal and the so-called Island of Fun, at least once. This small island to the south of Singapore can be reached either by monorail or the highly recommended cable car. To arrive in style, grab a taxi up to Mount Faber, ring the Bell of Happiness and catch the Cable Car all the way to Sentosa. You can then luge down to the beach at the bottom of the hill.
If you’re up for more adventure there’s a great zip line on Sentosa, a water park, and iFly. If you’re feeling hot and bothered after all that adventure why not head off to the beach to unwind? You can do a spot of paddle boarding at Palawan beach, or just chill at the beach clubs in Palawan and Siloso
Fort Siloso is also worth a visit. Wander through the jungle on elevated walkways to see the defenses built against the expected invasion by sea from the Japanese in WW2. Unfortunately for Singapore, the invasion came from the North instead where they were less prepared.
You might be surprised how many big tourist attractions there are for such a small island. As well as Gardens By the Bay, Universal, and Sentosa, Singapore is famous for the Night Safari where you can experience the nocturnal habits of the animals at the purpose-built zoo after dark. if it’s spectacular views you’re looking for, the Flyer is a giant Ferris Wheel.
If you’re looking for a spot of culture, the Asian Civilizations Museum is consistently voted in the top five of Asian museums each year, and the spiky durian-shaped Esplanade not only has excellent plays, concerts, and dance events, there are also some eclectic shops, a few nice bars and a program of free concerts.
Where to stay when visiting Singapore?
There are plenty of hotels to stay at in Singapore that it can be a bit overwhelming to decide. Since the island is not very large, you dont have to worry about the location of the hotel as much because traveling is really easy in Singapore.
The biggest consideration you will have when visiting Singapore will be your budget. That’s why I created two different guides for you:
- Singapore Luxury Hotels
- Singapore Budget Hotels
No matter your budget, you’ll definitely find the perfect one for you there.
Singapore – passport to Asia
Singapore is a great base from which to visit the rest of Asia.
As well as fantastic cheap internal public transport links, Singapore’s Changi airport is consistently voted one of the best in the world and is a central point for flights to most locations and for travelers with any budget.
It’s also possible to travel from Singapore to many Asian destinations by ferry, coach or taxi, and soon it will be possible to travel from Singapore to KL by high-speed train.
Few people know what to expect when they first come to Singapore, apart from the famous humidity. Take some time to explore and you’ll find a proud nation, a refreshing mix of culture, and the chance to experience the best of both urban life and the tranquility of nature. It’s astonishingly safe, easy to get around by public transport, there’s plenty to keep you occupied and it’s a great base to explore the rest of Asia.
Stopover in Singapore, you’ll love it!