Normally I would write about places I have holidayed to, not somewhere i am currently living. However, lately I have had a number of requests for ‘what to do whilst in Singapore’ and it has made me realise that there is a good amount of knowledge I could pass on about how best to enjoy the city for first timers, or for short breaks.
Depending on how much you want to see and do (and how much time you have available) I’d generally say you need a minimum of 3 days to get a good feel for the city. Remember, Singapore is easily accessible so you can always come back if you feel you need more time.
This blog will be a list of some of my favourite things to do as a first time visitor but there is a real mixture of activities to do here depending on whether you are travelling with children or for those that have been to Singapore before.
Gardens by the Bay, and the Big Tree walkway is a must for all itineraries. You can get an excellent view over the gardens and towards the spectacular Marina Bay Sands complex. I’d spend a good hour just strolling around the gardens. If you have more time then the 2x Domes are also great to check out (I especially love the cloud forest dome with an indoor waterfall!) but if short on time, you can always save the domes for your next visit to Singapore. It can get pretty hot walking around the gardens so I recommend visiting either morning or pre-sunset time of the day.
Check out the Marina Bay Sands complex either by walking a loop of the marina on ground level, or if you don’t fancy walking in the heat (like me), then take it all in from above. For a drink with one of the best view in town, head to Marina Bay Sands rooftop bar CÉ LA VI. It will cost you $20 entrance fee, but this is essentially a voucher redeemable towards the bar bill. After 6pm, a dress code applies so best to check out the guidance on the website. A great view of the city especially for sundowners!
A nice and relaxing way to see some of central Singapore is to hop on a Bumboat cruise that takes you on a loop around the Marina and down the Singapore River. Boats run all day and evening and the loop takes approximately 20 minutes all up. Just pay for a ticket at the various booths located at the ‘hop-on hop-off’ points, and jump onboard. This is a great way to sit back and take in the beauty of the blend of colonial buildings alongside Singapore’s impressive modern architecture.
Botanic Gardens – you probably don’t need to see both Gardens by the Bay and the Botanic Gardens in the same trip (unless you REALLY love gardens), but where Gardens by the Bay impresses with its modern structures, the Botanic Gardens shows you Singapore’s lush tropical plant life in a more natural setting. I especially love The National Orchid Garden which has an entrance fee of $5 per adult, but it is definitely worth paying to see all the beautiful orchid varieties. All in all, a very nice location to stroll around, but do make sure you visit in the morning as it gets super hot and humid.
Haji Lane – is a street art hub full of hip little cafes and little boutique shops. Bali Lane (which runs parallel to Haji) is also good to attach to the itinerary, and a visit to Arab Street to see the beautiful Masjid Sultan mosque, is a must-do. I would recommend exploring in the late afternoon, allowing you to grab dinner at the various restaurants and bars in the area. If you’re looking for a pre dinner drink, and enjoy a craft beer or two, head to the Good Luck Beerhouse.
Chinatown located in the heart of the city (and equipped with its own MRT station) is perfect for night market exploring & dinner from the outdoor Chinatown Food Street. An absolute must eat is the roast duck from Tiong Bahru Meng Kee Roast Duck stall. Order the succulent duck with noodles or rice, or mix it up and order the combination plate with duck, pork belly, and roast pork (all of which are melt in the mouth delicious).
There is a huge cafe scene in Singapore at the moment. From traditional kopi stands to trendy brunch joints, but for a first time visit to Singapore I would recommend to do as the locals do. A Kaya toast set is a great local Singaporean breakfast option: choose whether you want coffee (kopi), tea (teh) or milo as your drink (hot or cold), which is served with white bread toast, kaya jam (coconut jam), and a soft boiled egg. I highly recommend making your way to one of the oldest traditional coffee shops in Singapore: Tong Ah Eating House on Keong Saik Road.
Check out my Singapore’s Best Coffee post for more tips on the coffee & cafe scene in Singapore.
Satay Street located outside Lau Pau Sat hawker centre on Boon Tat street is where you will find a delicious array of meats-on-a-stick being flamed grilled on street side BBQ’s. We tend to go to the guys at “Best Satay 7 & 8”, for consistently well cooked prawns, chicken, and beef skewers. Boon Tat Street becomes ‘Satay Street’ after 7pm as the road closes to traffic and fills up quickly with plastic tables and chairs for diners. Wave down the Tiger beer ladies whom will bring you a refreshing jug of larger to your table, or the Paratha man for his delicious flatbreads. If you dont like satays, you can always grab food from inside Lau Pau Sat Hawker centre and eat outside on the street too. I can recommend trying the Wanton Mee aka pork dumplings with noodles (ask for dry noodle, its better than the soup version), served up with a few Asian greens and a soy based sauce.
When in Singapore, you have to make sure you try the famous Singapore Chilli Crab! Head to either Jumbo or Red Dot Restaurant (both have restaurants located along the river between Boat and Clarke Quay), and are well known for serving up really delicious chilli and pepper crab. Make sure you check the price of the crab you are ordering, as it is generally based on weight and can get quite expensive. As such I would recommend sharing your dishes and include a crab with a side of fried bread rolls (perfect for dunking into the moreish chilli sauce), steamed rice and a side of greens.
Miss Pho – if you’re after Vietnamese, this is the place to go. Its a relatively small space, so best to go with max 4 people (perfect for a couple), and you may have to queue for a table during busier times. As such, I would recommend visiting around 6-6.30pm to beat the crowds. Specialities include the Pho (obviously), summer spring rolls (aka cold rolls), bun thit nuong, and glass noodle chicken soup. No alcohol sold here but the Vietnamese iced tea is great. Cash only.
Level 33 – for the highest craft beer brewery in the world! This place also doubles as a nice restaurant with great food, and views of Marina Bay Sands. Bit pricier but nice for a special treat. You can always just head up for a drink; they offer beer tasting paddles which you can stand outside and enjoy overlooking the marina & city skyline.
Newton Hawker Centre – is located a MRT ride out from the CBD, but is another open air food market with an array of tasty eats. Food here is more seafood focused, but really delicious. A must-try is the stingray with chilli sambal, and Popiah which is a local version of Vietnamese cold rolls – yum!
- Most Hawker Centres generally except cash only. Otherwise Cards are widely accepted in restaurants, bars, shops, and there are loads of ATMs about.
- Take your own tissues / wet wipes for the hawker centres … they don’t provide napkins and all the locals in the know will be well prepared with their own supply!
- Use the MRT – its airconditioned, cheap and really clean and safe. Grab a single ticket or ask for an EZ-Link card ($5 for the card and then another $10-$15 for travel should cover you for 2-3 days).
- Taxis or Uber are pretty cheap too, but keep an eye out for peak times of the day when prices can surge!
- I recommend getting out and exploring the city in the mornings and the evenings, then spending the afternoon pool side to avoid the worst of the heat.
- Always keep an eye out for happy hour, as alcohol is expensive in Singapore. Generally 5-9pm. Remember prices that are stated with ++ next to it means you need to add GST and service charge to the price quoted (generally 17% in total).
And don’t forget to give “Singlish” a try. The locals will love you all the more for it……. CAN LAH!!!