Singapore is often dismissed as a superficial shopping mecca; a good place to give the credit cards a workout and then move on.
However, modern Singapore has a lot more to offer. The deeper you dig, the more you will get out of your time here. With lush environs and drool-worthy cuisine, an intriguing history to explore and world-class attractions on tap, this city-state is much more than a one-dimensional destination.
Enjoy this Singapore travel guide.
Let’s get this out of the way first — Singapore is still a great place to shop.
While the city is not the discount haven it once was, the shopping is amazing. Orchard Road is home to every fashion label from Mango to Gucci, and is undoubtedly one of the world’s premier retail strips. If you can’t find it here, it probably doesn’t exist.
If you are after something quirky and unique, head to Arab Street and Haji Lane. Create your own perfume, purchase bling, and pick up funky fashions and accessories. While you’re there, sample some Moroccan or Lebanese delicacies and spend some time in a traditional tea room, replete with the scent of mint, apple and cinnamon from the bubbling hookah pipes.
Singapore’s colonial history is on display all over town, but it is Raffles Hotel that truly epitomises the past.
As you stroll through Raffles’ historic lobby, relax in the manicured gardens, or sip away on a signature Singapore Sling, it’s easy to envisage the likes of Rudyard Kipling, Christian Louboutin or the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge doing the very same thing.
Please note: Raffles is currently closed for a complete renovation. It will reopen in late 2018.
To experience a different chapter in the city’s history, take a traditional bumboat from Changi Point Ferry Terminal to Pulau Ubin — one of Singapore’s last bastions of kampung (village) living. The island features next to no development, plenty of wildlife and some lovely scenery. Most people choose to hire a bicycle to navigate Pulau Ubin, but it’s equally pleasant to walk the seven kilometres’ round-trip to the Chek Jawa Wetlands.
To get the back-story on Singapore (and much of wider Asia for that matter), add the excellent Asian Civilisations Museum to your holiday to-do-list. Spend as much or as little time as you want perusing the thousands of artefacts on display. You’ll leave with a newfound understanding of where it all began for this modern economic masterpiece.
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Singapore is a true melting pot of cultural influences.
Head out and explore the various ethnic enclaves around the city, including Chinatown. The distinctive three-storey, pastel-coloured shop-houses and the atmosphere in general make this part of Singapore something really special. Just wander at will and take it all in.
While you’re in this part of the city, the Chinatown Heritage Centre is an immersive experience that transports modern travellers back to 1950s Singapore. It features recreated living quarters and workshops of the various Chinese industries that were key to Singapore’s early development.
Little India is another of Singapore’s cultural focal points that demands a closer look. Follow your nose to this colourful neighbourhood, which serves up superb fare from across the subcontinent. Again, the colourful architecture here is one of the highlights. A guided walking tour is a fun way to explore.
It’s fair to say that the cuisine is one of the top reasons to visit Singapore.
In fact, food is an intrinsic part of the city’s culture. As the late celebrity chef and gourmet traveller Anthony Bourdain once said: ‘What you do in Singapore is eat.’
There’s certainly no shortage of fancy-pants food options on offer, but why fork out for expensive nosh when there is an abundance of delicious and cheap street food available on every corner? The city is also renowned for its hawker centres (food courts), which serve up chicken rice, laksa and roti at great speed and with a low price tag. Be sure to check out the markets at Newton Circus and Maxwell Road.
Despite its image as a 24/7 world city, Singapore is a surprisingly relaxed and laid-back destination.
The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Singapore Botanic Gardens is a perennial favourite for locals and visitors looking to escape the concrete jungle and commune with nature. The National Orchid Garden is one of the must-sees and is home to around 1,000 species. A small admission fee applies.
Gardens by the Bay is the city’s newest green space. It’s a somewhat odd combination of the artificial and natural but is worth seeing. The skywalk provides panoramic views of the city, including the hard-to-ignore Marina Bay Sands complex.
To indulge in some seriously spectacular views, head to MBS and take the trip up to the SkyPark Observation Deck. Sadly, the infinity pool on the 57th floor is available only to hotel guests.
Across Marina Bay, the Singapore Flyer stands tall as one of the world’s largest observation wheels. At 165m high, you’ll get yet another bird’s eye view of the city. The three-level terminal is packed with dining and shopping options (of course!).
Wildlife lovers will love their time in Singers. There are four wildlife parks to cover — Singapore Zoo, Night Safari, River Safari and Jurong Bird Park. If you are planning to do them all, a four park pass is available.
Those looking for some serious ‘me-time’, should consider a stay on Sentosa Island — a man-made island off the southern tip of Singapore. The island is home to several resorts with white sandy beaches and a number of top attractions, including Universal Studios Singapore and S.E.A Aquarium.
Five tours we love
Discover Singapore’s fascinating colonial heritage on this 2.5 hour guided walking tour. Learn about the period of British rule and visit various remnants of the era.
Join your local guide for a leisurely pedal through Singapore’s oldest neighbourhoods and the picturesque Marina Bay district.
Learn the secret to preparing two of Singapore’s most popular dishes during this cooking class in the Clarke Quay district. You’ll learn how to make Hainanese chicken rice and sweet ondeh-ondeh rice balls.
Enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of Singapore by night! Start with a delicious dinner, before exploring the bustling Bugis Street night market. Your evening will end with a visit to Smoke and Mirrors rooftop bar.
Get social in Singapore on this popular pub and club tour. Visit a selection of bars and nightclubs, and make plenty of new friends along the way!
Do you have any tips to add to our Singapore travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Samantha Wasson is a freelance writer and former educator who lives in Sydney but whose heart remains in Vietnam, where she lived for three years. She has travelled extensively in Asia, Europe and the United States, with a brief sojourn in Africa. Highlights from Samantha’s international escapades include: studying German in Freiburg, volunteering with an elephant rehabilitation project outside Chiang Mai and travelling by motorbike through the Mekong Delta. Lowlights include: ‘climbing’ Mount Kinabalu, nearly dying on the Great Barrier Reef and being ripped off in Beijing. She has worked for MSN/Officeworks, Swinburne University, Deakin Business School, Aussie Home Loans, Seek, TAFE Queensland, ARI Registry Services, SocietyOne, Acquire, School Places, Ivanhoe Grammar, Australian Teacher Magazine, Lead Generation and 2SER. A lover of literature and travel, Samantha subscribes to Augustine of Hippo’s observation that ‘the world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page’.