A melting pot of culture, a futuristic metropolis, a city in a garden and a foodies heaven on earth – it’s no surprise Singapore is quickly working it’s way to the top of Asia’s most popular destinations. This tiny but bustling country is right in the middle of South East Asia and has one of the busiest airports in the world, so it’s no wonder so many people find their long haul flights are sliced in two with a stopover in Singapore popped in the middle. I spent a lot of time in Singapore back in my air hostess days, as well as visiting several times as an extra stop on my holidays or backpacking trips and I completely fell in love with the place. I strongly recommend making the most of a stopover here by extending your stay and soaking up all that this diverse place has to offer.
Here are my top things to do to make the most of a detour in Singapore:
- Chinatown & Little India
An assault on all your senses in the best possible way, Chinatown and Little India are two incredible pockets of culture in the heart of Singapore. Both of them feature huge markets packed with stalls of food, crafts, medicines, trinkets and souvenirs. Surrounding the markets are further shops, buildings and temples all designed in keeping with beautiful Chinese and Indian architecture respectively. You can find the most delish of snacks in both of these spots, just follow your nose to whichever stall takes your fancy the most. If your feet are feeling a little tired after all your exploring, there are plenty of places to get a quick massage or a fish-tootsie-nibble in the area.
- Singapore Zoo
The idea of zoos is often a strange one for me. Yes it’s great watching animals but no one really likes seeing them in tiny cages, until Singapore Zoo came along and blew that concept out of the water by letting most of their animals roam free! Tree huggers rejoice. The orangutans will literally be swinging over your head and lemurs will be running across the paths in front of you while you wander through the rainforest grounds. Sure, there are often moats of water in between you and the bigger animals but let’s be honest did you really want to come nose to nose with a rhino? Probably not.
The zoo is a good half an hour drive out of the city so it’s best to get a taxi there rather than buses or the MRT. As it’s so huge and there’s so much to explore, I’d recommend getting there as early as possible to make the most of the day and the $30 (USD) entry fee. Top tip: bring cash or pre-bought snacks because no where inside takes card. Also worth remembering, when it rains in Singapore it really does pour, bring a raincoat just in case because it’s a LONG walk from one end of the wet zoo to the other.
- Gardens by the Bay
A huge nature park along the waterfront, Gardens by the bay is part of the government’s strategy to increase the green space in Singapore to improve the quality of life. These gardens are amazingly beautiful and combine modern avatar-esque architecture that lights up at night with hundreds and thousands of natural trees and flowers. Entry is free and sunset is definitely the best time to go, as you get to see the gardens transform from daylight to darkness.
- Marina Bay Sands
Right next to Gardens by the bay you probably will have noticed the giant boat suspended 57 stories high across three towers – this is Marina Bay Sands. It will cost you $20 just to take the lift up to the top of this incredible building but the view is pretty spectacular. Most of the roof-top/boat-top is closed off to guests of the hotel who have access to the dreamy infinity pool, but the sky bar is still worth a visit for a few sundowners. I’d also recommend visiting the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands, they are currently hosting the ever-insta-popular Future World exhibition.
- Sentosa Island
Just a hop, skip and a jump across a few different MRT lines and monorails and you will find yourself on the manmade island of Sentosa, just south of the city and mainland. Self proclaimed ‘State of Fun’, Sentosa is a fairly bizarre place and extremely touristy, but if loud and fast activities are your thing this is worth checking out. To name a few attractions to keep you busy here: Universal Studios, Adventure Cove Waterpark, Butterfly & Insect Kingdom, Dolphin Park, Fort Siloso Skywalk, KidZania, Madam Tussauds, Tiger Sky Tower… you get the idea. If a beach is what you’re after, there’s actually a nice selection in this area (try Tanjong Beach if you want to escape the crowds) as well as heaps of places to eat and drink.
- Food markets
One of my favourite things about Singapore is the incredible food (shock). As it’s situated right in the middle of South East Asia, the cuisine on offer here is an amazing fusion of all of Singapore’s close neighbours – Thai, Malaysian, Indonesia, Indian, Japanese and Chinese. Yum. The best way to experience all that’s on offer is to head to a food market or hawker centre with an empty belly and make your way from stall to stall trying whatever takes your fancy. I like to try a few small dishes from a selection of stalls to get a good variety. There’s always tables and chairs about plus vendors with fridges stocked with ice cold beers. You can head to these places at any time of day, but dinner time definitely has the best atmosphere and the most stalls open. My top recommendations: Newton Food Centre and Lau Pa Sat Food Centre.
If fine dining is more your thing, check out the hundreds of bars and restaurants located in the snazzy areas of Clarke Quay or Orchard Road, or head to the beautiful Raffles Hotel for a Singapore Sling.
A few more tips…
- Singapore is quite expensive, save money by eating at food hawker centres, taking public transport and doing your shopping at the markets
- The best and cheapest way to travel around the city is the MRT (a much slicker version of the tube), once you get the hang of it it’s super easy and beats sitting in traffic in the back of a taxi
- If you’re not sure how long to go for, I’d recommend 3-4 days. Enjoy!