A multicultural city
Few cities in the world pack as many different experiences and attractions in as little space as Singapore.
The Asian metropolis is a wild blend of skyscrapers, sustainable greenery and amazing cultural attractions.
The city is clean and well-functioning. It’s also an excellent hub connecting you (cheaply) to the rest of Asia.
We have been to Singapore twice: First, we spent four days in the city on our way to The Philippines in December 2017.
We had a great time discovering the diverse culture, the amazing attractions and the many areas. We also drank our share of specialty coffee.
At the end of our four-month trip to Asia, we revisited the city before heading back to Copenhagen.
In this guide, we have recommended 10 of the best things to do in Singapore.
Table of contents
- Why visit Singapore?
- 1. Chinese food and temples in Chinatown
- 2. A trip to India in Little India
- 3. Middle Eastern pleasures in Kampong Glam
- 4. The super garden of the future in Gardens by the Bay
- 5. A green walk in the Botanical Gardens
- 6. Historic riverside fun
- 7. Museums for the culturally inclined
- 8. Cheap, delicious food
- 9. A cup of third-wave coffee
- 10. Shop ‘till you drop
Why visit Singapore?
Singapore is an exemplary modern city and a fantastic melting pot of different cultures.
With the city’s ultra-efficient metro system you can go from eating authentic rotis in Little India to finding yourself in the shadow of the massive supertrees in Gardens by the Bay in just a few minutes.
Only one stop away you’ll find Singapore’s business district; a mini New York with high-rises and busy people wearing suits (even though it’s 40°C and the humidity is at 100%).
When your stomach starts rumbling, one of Singapore’s many hawker centres won’t be far away.
Here some of Asia’s most revered dishes are served at budget-friendly prices. Street food fanatics won’t be disappointed.
While the sun sets you can visit a Buddhist temple in Chinatown or enjoy beautiful art in one of the city’s many museums before grabbing a drink in Haji Lane while listening to a mix of Friday prayers from the mosque and funky music playing from the bars.
1. Chinese food and temples in Chinatown
Chinatown is one of Singapore’s largest ethnic enclaves. The lively area is filled with shopping opportunities, colourful temples and, of course, places to eat.
There are Chinese restaurants to be found everywhere in Singapore, but as the name also suggests, Chinatown is where to go for authentic Chinese food.
Steer clear of the tourist-oriented restaurants on Smith Street and head to Chinatown Complex instead. The entire first floor is dedicated to hawker stalls (food stalls) – including the Michelin-starred Hawker Chan.
If you want to try the famous hawker stall, it’s a must to queue up early in the day. If you get there when it opens, you’re probably already too late.
On the ground floor of the Complex, you can find cheap clothes, accessories and tons of other stuff you probably don’t need.
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum is located just opposite the Chinatown Complex.
Thousands of small Buddhas line the walls in the atmospheric red rooms quietly observing the Buddhists light candles and pray. It’s free to visit (but remember to dress appropriately).
Parts of Chinatown are less Chinese and more internationally oriented with modern coffee shops and cafés, usually found inside charming shophouses.
2. A trip to India in Little India
We have both (individually) travelled in India and agree that Little India truly felt like a bite of the real thing.
What reminded us that we were still in Singapore was the clean, relatively traffic-free streets absent of dogs, cows, elephants and dangerous home-made electrical wires dangling from the buildings.
The name Little India is therefore very fitting.
Take off your shoes and step inside the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, where Hindus come to pray to the many pastel-coloured gods that adorn the temple.
If you dress inappropriately (as in wearing shorts or skirts above the knees), it’s possible to borrow some coloured linen to cover yourself up.
After having inhaled incense in abundance, pay a visit to one of the many good Indian restaurants and order a curry with rice, roti prata and a mango lassi.
3. Middle Eastern pleasures in Kampong Glam
Kampong Glam is Singapore’s Muslim neighbourhood, and the area is where to go for mosques, Middle Eastern food and Persian carpets.
Tattoo shops and small designer boutiques are abundant in the graffiti-filled Haji Lane where you’ll also find hipster cafés, restaurants and bars.
The street really comes to life in the evening when many of Singapore’s expats come to hang out and partake in the fun.
Shawarma, falafel, hummus and other Middle Eastern delicacies are served with a smile on Arab Street.
The street ends (or begins) with the Sultan Mosque; the meeting point for a large part of Singapore’s Muslim inhabitants.
4. The super garden of the future in Gardens by the Bay
One can hardly think of Singapore without imagining the giant, luminous supertrees that can be experienced at the waterfront.
Gardens by the Bay has become iconic to Singapore in record time, and the Supertree Grove, home to 12 of the park’s 18 supertrees, is one of the city’s most Instagrammed locations.
During the day, the supertrees can be enjoyed in the sun, and at night they light up in spellbinding colours.
The fascinating supertrees are reason enough to visit Gardens by the Bay, but you can also experience Flower Dome, the world’s largest glasshouse as well as the world’s tallest indoor waterfall inside Cloud Forest.
It’s free to stroll through the large garden with the supertrees (open from 05:00 to 02:00), but there are separate entrance fees for Flower Dome, Cloud Forest and OCBC Skyway.
5. A green walk in the Botanical Gardens
Singapore’s UNESCO-listed Botanical Gardens is home to an incredible amount of thriving plants and flowers.
And it’s completely free to visit.
Before the rest of the city awakes, the garden is the perfect spot for a refreshing promenade through its many exciting areas.
Discover Evolution Garden, where the plant life and geology mimic life on earth when it all started, or the six-hectare big primary rainforest, where more than 300 plant species live.
All kinds of orchids are found in The Orchid Garden; a beautifully maintained part of the park with nice trails and more than 2,000 colourful flowers.
The entrance to the Orchid Garden costs 5 SGD (~ 3.6 USD).
If you’re crazy about orchids, there’s also a dedicated orchid gift shop.
6. Historic riverside fun
The three quays along the Singapore River, Clarke Quay, Robertson Quay and Boat Quay, were once the centre of Singapore’s trade.
Today the old port areas house a rich array of restaurants and bars instead of shipyards and warehouses.
Historic, colourful houses line the waterfront at Clarke Quay, the most famous of the three.
The setting is charming, but the area has become quite commercialized.
There’s popular music blasting from the restaurant speakers, an excess of western food options and beer offers (that put quantity before quality).
It’s probably a good place to go out in the evening, but if you’re looking for local experiences you might be better off further down the waterway.
We did not visit Robertson Quay, but we heard that the atmosphere here is more laid back.
7. Museums for the culturally inclined
Unfortunately, we did not visit any museums in Singapore, but the city has an impressive amount of options if you’re interested in antiques, modern art or natural history.
One of the most popular museums is the ArtScience Museum, located right next to the Marina Bay Sands shopping centre.
In the permanent exhibition Future World: Where Art Meets Science, visitors can experience interactive art installations (including one of Singapore’s most sought-after Instagram spots).
The lotus-shaped museum collects rainwater for an indoor fountain and the toilet facilities.
At the National Gallery Singapore, you can get your fill of modern Asian art.
With more than 8,000 objects from the national collection, the museum holds one of the world’s largest collections of contemporary South Asian art.
If you are more into historical stuff, visit the Asian Civilization Museum.
The museum aims to offer an insight into the diverse Asian cultures through its permanent exhibitions on China, India and Southeast Asia as well as the Islamic world.
The National Museum of Singapore, established in 1849, is the country’s oldest museum.
Here you will find a large selection of objects and exhibits that tell the exciting story of Singapore.
Instead of by chronology, the exhibitions are linked together by topics such as film, photography, fashion and food along with interactive videos.
8. Cheap, delicious food
Singapore takes its food culture very seriously, and the city offers countless opportunities for grade A street food.
The main flavour influences are from China, Indonesia and Malaysia, but it’s also easy to find Indian, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese and Middle Eastern dishes.
Get in line and order like the locals; the most popular eateries will have a queue to show for it. To skip the line, pay a visit during the afternoon instead of during lunch break.
9. A cup of third-wave coffee
Starbucks is heavily present in the cosmopolitan parts of town, but if you want real hipster coffee (or so-called third wave coffee), you need to know where to look.
The third wave coffee shops are often a little difficult to find; hidden from plain view inside shopping centres and office buildings.
Our favourite coffee shop was Papa Palheta.
They choose their beans with great care from cooperatives and single estates and then roast them in-house.
They also have an exciting (but rather expensive) menu consisting of breakfast, snacks and desserts.
10. Shop ‘till you drop
When the heat gets too intense, shopping therapy is always nearby in one of Singapore’s many air-conditioned shopping centres.
On Orchard Road, there are 22 shopping centres and six department stores with thousands of brands – in other words, plenty of shopping for all tastes.
In The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, you can find particularly expensive European luxury brands but also stores like Zara and Adidas.
If you need extra energy for your shopping-spree, the food hall prices are very reasonable.
Thanks for reading!
We hope you’ll have a great time in Singapore.
If you’ve been to the city before it would be lovely to hear your best tips in the comments. If you haven’t been yet, please don’t hesitate to ask us anything. We’re glad to help.