This year marks my third year as a permanent resident in the heart of Southeast Asia. Though I am still totally in love with the region, sometimes it’s good to escape all the hustle and bustle and take a break in a city that is highly organized, but has that lively Southeast Asian vibe at the same time.
This is what Singapore means to me – a balanced mix of well-considered modern urban planning, fancy bars, beautiful colonial style architecture, lavish Buddhist and colorful Hindu temples, fabulous mosques and amazing street food.
Singapore might be young as an individual state – just celebrated its 50th anniversary two years ago – but has a very rich and diverse heritage. Before the 19th century the town had already played a significant role as a port in the trade routes of Southeast Asia. It was Sir Stamford Raffles who founded modern Singapore as a British trading post in 1819, and from that point the area started to grow into a well-established port city.
I wonder if he ever thought that in barely two centuries the city would develop into one of Asia’s top prosperous economies.
Having been a fast developing trading town, loads of people arrived from China, the Malay Peninsula and India in hopes of making their fortune there. They all contributed to making Singapore so vibrantly multicultural and incomparable as it is today.
Should you be an urban wanderer, an art lover, a foodie or a heritage nerd, Singapore can definitely offer plenty of things to satisfy your senses.
1.) Discover Modern Singapore
This is a place where everything serves its citizens` needs: evolving green areas, convenient public transportation and broad pedestrian lanes. Thanks to the famous Singaporean pragmatism, urban planners really made the Lion City a great place to live. Despite the sometimes suffocating humidity and heat, the best way to explore the city is on foot.
Gardens by the Bay
Kick off your day with a nice morning stroll in the newest and extremely popular urban escape, Gardens by the Bay. Having opened only a couple of years ago, it is already one of the best things to do in Singapore.
Gardens by the Bay occupies a territory of 101 hectares of reclaimed land and consists of three main parks: Bay South Garden, Bay East Garden and Bay Central Garden. This project not only provides inhabitants with refreshing greenery, but also showcases lush tropical flora and promotes sustainable energy.
Two cooled conservatories operating in an energy efficient and sustainable way give home to a unique dry climate and tropical flowers. There is no question that the main attraction is the futuristic Supertree Grove, a “forest” of huge tree-like structures which are built with environmental technologies that imitate the ecological function of real trees. They utilize solar energy as well as rainwater to maintain their lighting function and to feed the conservatories` cooling system with energy.
Watching the vibrant illuminated artificial trees at night, you really feel like you’re walking in the scene of a sci-fi movie.
For only 8 SGD, you may also admire Singapore`s fab skyline while taking a stroll on the 22m high canopy walk, the OCBC Skyway, that connects two of the Supertrees. The skyway is open daily from 9 am to 9 pm.
Click here to reserve your admission ticket to the Gardens of the Bay.
Observation Deck on Marina Bay Sands
In just a few minutes walk, you may drop by the viewing deck of Singapore’s famous landmark, Marina Bay Sands. The building, which houses a hotel, a casino, several restaurants and theaters, opened in 2010 and has since become a symbol of modern Singapore.
The design of the three main towers is inspired by a deck of playing cards. Luckily, you don’t need to be a hotel guest or put all your money on the roulette table to be able to visit the complex – for an admission fee of 23 SGD you can enjoy the breathtaking view from the observation deck.
Insider Tip: If you want to avoid the crowds, are less attracted by clichés and/or you simply are on a budget, there is an award-winning real estate development called The [email protected] which provides access to its viewing deck for only 5 SGD.
Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay
The Esplanade – also known as Theaters on the Bay – is a performing arts center that accommodates several world class shows in its concert hall and studio theaters.
One of the best things to do in Singapore at night is walk along The Esplanade while listening to an open-air concert and grabbing some yummy street food.
If you want to take it easy, pick a nice bar on the terrace and enjoy the night vibe. In case you crave some local treats, drop by Makansutra Glutton Bay nearby, a street food lane with a diverse selection of Southeast Asian cuisine.
The Esplanade also has the best photo spot to take a shot of the bay with the skyscrapers and Marina Bay Sands.
2.) Reveal the Charm of Old Singapore
Colonial Heritage Walk
Old Singapore deserves at least the same attention as the modern face of the city. Thanks to the mindful conservation work, a significant part of the heritage built from the British colonial era survived the decades.
Start the walk at one of the most beautiful examples of the colonial past, the stylish Raffles Hotel. Originally having been built as a private beach house, the hotel opened its gates in 1887. Its famous Long Bar was the birthplace of the national cocktail, the Singapore Sling.
Continue on North Bridge Road and stop by the fascinating St Andrew’s Cathedral. The neo-gothic Anglican church was built in 1862 after the original structure, dated from 1838, was destroyed.
Heading towards the Singapore River on St Andrew’s Road, you’ll pass by the old City Hall and Supreme Court – both have been converted into the National Gallery Singapore.
Right on the riverside there are two other beautiful buildings, each worth a visit: the Victoria Theater & Concert Hall and the Asian Civilization Museum. The latter has an extremely insightful permanent display on Singapore`s as well as Southeast Asia’s past.
Don’t forget to cross the river on Cavenagh Bridge right next to the museum. This is the city’s oldest and only suspension bridge, constructed in 1869 – it`s functioning today as a pretty walkway.
Food Tip: In about 10 minutes walk from the southern pillar of Cavenagh Bridge hides a beautiful Victorian cast iron market, Lau Pa Sat, also known as Telok Ayer Market. The octagonal hall is home to various street food vendors and small businesses. It’s a really stylish interior to enjoy Singapore’s best satay (grilled meat skewer).
Dinner at Boat Quay, Party at Clarke Quay
The two loveliest promenades of the city run along the Singapore River: Boat Quay is situated on the southern bank, while Clarke Quay occupies both banks upstream from Coleman Bridge.
As historical commercial centers, both areas have been declared conservation zones and were transformed into entertainment districts.
The Boat Quay, with its narrow shop houses, feels more like a small town in the jungle of skyscrapers, which makes it a perfect place for an intimate dinner at the riverside.
The Clark Quay, on the other hand, offers countless possibilities for a great night out. The reinvented colorful warehouses mixed with modern architectural elements give the whole district a very funky vibe.
You don’t experience all of the best things to do in Singapore until you visit Chinatown. This lively neighborhood originally was a division of colonial Singapore where Chinese immigrants used to settle down.
Besides taking a nice stroll under the arcades of vivid shop houses combining Neo-Baroque and Victorian style architecture (the most beautiful are Pagoda Street, Temple Street, and Pagar Road), Thian Hock Keng and Sri Mariamman Temple are also worth a visit. The first is a Hokkien Temple dedicated to Mazu, the sea goddess, while the latter is Singapore’s oldest Hindu sanctuary.
Food Tip: You wouldn’t want to miss one of the best hawker centers in town on Maxwell Road for cheap, but excellent local foods. The refreshing sugarcane juice is definitely a must-try.
Walking Tour Tip: The best way to explore Singapore`s cultural heritage is to book a walking tour. I had great experiences with SneakPeek Singapore, a tour organized by City Hall. They are not just providing especially thorough guidance, but they do it all for free! You can read more here.
Arab Street refers to a vibrant neighborhood packed with various restaurants and fine textile boutiques near the Sultan Mosque and Istana Kampong Glam. This is another great example of Singapore’s multicultural atmosphere and really is a must-see, especially in the evening.
Though the name may suggest otherwise, the majority of the inhabitants who used to live here were Javanese.
Should you be interested in Islamic Arts, Sultan Mosque should be at the top of your list of best things to do in Singapore. Istana Kampong Glam, a former Malay Palace, accommodates the Malay Heritage Center that will offer you an insightful journey through Malay life in Singapore. They offer free admission for all visitors on selected days, better to check their websites in advance.
3.) Wanna Have Some Fun?
Sentosa is a resort island boasting artificial beaches, shopping and entertainment centers, like Universal Studios among others. The island attracts circa 20 million people each year, thus it tends to be very crowded, especially on sunny days. You can reach it through a short causeway or by Cable Car.
This very well maintained and modern zoo spans a 28 hectares area on the margins of Upper Seletar Reservoir, a territory covered with dense tropical forest. The main attraction is definitely the Night Safari, where you can really feel like an explorer on a jungle expedition. Click here to get your Entry E-Ticket to the Singapore Zoo.
Still looking for a place to stay? Check out our list of the best hotels in Singapore. And don’t forget to also take a look at our detailed Singapore itinerary for more information on what to do, where to stay and eat, how to get around, and more.
Tours You Might Enjoy
Below are some popular tours in Singapore that you might enjoy doing.