An island, city, and country all rolled into one. Singapore manages to pack all the features of a much larger country into just 277 square miles (719 square kilometers). Its reputation as an excellent travel and living destination is completely warranted. There is plenty to do on this little isle - countless museums, world-renowned resorts, numerous nature reserves and parks, beaches, theme parks, zoos, and world-class dining. Plus visiting is made easier because it has one of the world’s busiest and best airports and extensive, modern transit system.
Singapore’s reputation for being a strict and straightlaced country might turn some people off from visiting, but I think it’s been a bit exaggerated, and that this country is really a “can’t miss”. Singapore is a crossroad of eastern and western culture done right.
People also tend to get into their heads that Singapore is very expensive, and its listing as the world’s most expensive city doesn’t help. But this is mainly for people planning to live there as housing costs are sky-high. Yes, the country is a lot more expensive than other Southeast Asian Countries like Vietnam or Thailand, but you can still find great deals on food, clothing, and shopping and there are a lot of completely free things to do if you are trying to save money (just don’t try to buy a beer in a restaurant). So here is our Singapore guide broken down by your ideal budget level.
Backpacker / Thrifty
Singapore offers plenty for the thrifty traveler. For people from countries in the EU or places like Australia and the US, you will find the prices at the same level or even slightly cheaper than at home. So if you plan on visiting, budget accordingly. There are plenty of hostels in Singapore and while you won’t get a bed for $5/night like in other places, you still won’t break the budget either. Popular places are Beary Best! or Wink hostels. Another good option is a pod hotel if you’re not planning to spend your downtime indoors.
Getting around Singapore is so easy and surprisingly cheap even compared to places like Bangkok. The MRT system spans the island mostly by subway, but to some locations further out you will need a bus. Busses and trains come very often and the whole system is distance based so if you transfer from subway to bus you won’t be hit twice. You can even go all the way from and to the Airport making arrival and departure easy.
Your best food options will be the numerous hawker centers that dot the city. A Hawker center is basically a group of food stalls all combined under one big roof. They normally have a variety of cuisines and all the stalls are licensed and hygienic so you don’t have to worry. You can get almost anything your heart desires and for under S$5 you will walk away full. They often have cheaper beer here on par with the prices in the convenience stores or supermarkets. Most centers have at least one dedicated vegetarian stall so even if communication is tricky you can just ask them to pile up whatever’s is behind the counter without worry. You can also find stalls for other special diets too. The Telok Ayer Market Center downtown is a busy hawker center and has some unique options.
Your entertainment need not be a drain; in fact, the city has multiple options for free things to do throughout the day. Gardens By The Bay is a 101 hectare garden set in the center of the city, but it is so much more than that with numerous exhibits laid out amongst the beautiful plants. The main attraction for many people is the free nightly light and music show which brings out large crowds who find a space in the Supertree Grove to sprawl out and watch. There is also a hawker center located in the depths of the park for when you are hungry after the show. Continuing our garden theme, the Singapore Botanic Gardens is a must-do! It’s beautifully laid out, large, and admission is free. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon, if you want to see the National Orchid Garden, the Orchid being Singapore’s national flower, it’s just a S$5 admission.
While on the West Coast if you’re looking for something a little more off-beat you should visit Haw Par Villa. The villa was built by the Tiger Balm family fortune and can not easily be described, it just has to be seen. There are numerous life-size sculptures dedicated to Chinese morality, folklore, mythology, and many other scary/interesting/obscure things. If you don’t have lots of time to visit just hit the “10 Courts of Hell” a tunnel which has dioramas depicting the punishments that await sinners in hell (personally my favorite is the “Hill of Knives”). Just maybe leave the children outside for this one.
Surprisingly for a country that is almost completely urban, it’s the green spaces and parks that are the best attractions. The many many parks, are impeccably kept and are some of the best in the world. West Coast Park, appropriately named for its location on the West Coast, is one of the great ones. Its 50 hectares contain numerous walking trails, bbq pits, camping plots, a jungle walk, and a great view of the coastal ports. We stayed on the West Coast overlooking the park while house sitting and spent many hours here walking Pablo And Blake up and down the paths to the huge dog run at the south end of the park.
If you need some beach time Singapore is a little lacking but you can still find a nice man-made beach on the east coast. East Coast Park is the largest park in Singapore and in addition to its man-made beach it has a famous seafood center (the best place for Chili Crab), skatepark, and camping areas.
Mid-level / Flashpacker
For travelers a little less concerned about cost but who still want to get the most for their money, Singapore is a perfect stop. In addition to everything we mentioned in the Backpacker/Thrifty section, which you should visit no matter what your budget, there are some more options if you have a little more cash to spend.
The Singapore Zoo is a place to see exhibits of exotic species in gorgeous green setting. Prepare for a long hot day as you need a long visit to truly experience it. Don’t skip any of the shows, even if you think you won’t like them, as they are very well done. Most importantly the animals look happy and healthy which is always nice to see. The zoo compound also has two other parks, the River Safari and Night Safari. They are under separate tickets but absolutely worth the price of admission as they expand on the exhibits of the Zoo but also offer their own specialties. For shopping needs try the markets in Chinatown (souvenir central) or the shops of Arab Street (pashminas and rugs abound). In Chinatown, the temples are normally packed with tourists but the most popular is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple which is exactly what it sounds like. Near Arab Street, take a guided tour around the Sultan Mosque and for an interesting lunch try the Deer Murtabak at Singapore Zam Zam. It’s a culinary treat you can only find in Singapore.
After a long day out hit Holland Village. Self-described as “Singapore’s Bohemian Enclave”, it is the place to be for dining and drinking. A mix of visitors and locals crowd the bars that stretch out into the street and chow down at the hawker center. For some really good ice cream cross under the road and get a cone at Sunday Folks.
If Holland Village is too far out for you, then you can always hit Clarke Quay just north of Chinatown. On the banks of the Singapore River, this place explodes with crowds at night shuffling in and out of dance clubs, karaoke bars, and restaurants. The price of alcohol might throw you for a loop, but even if you just enjoy the river view and people watching it’s a good time.
If you are ready to splurge then there is no better place to do it than Singapore. With a mall on every corner (sometimes two) you will find plenty of places to spend your hard earned dollars.
For your lodging, Singapore has got you covered. The hotels here are top notch and not to be missed. The famous Raffles Hotel is the haunt of writers and celebrities (Ava Gardner, Rudyard Kipling, Noel Coward, John Wayne to name a few) and you can stay just like them in their eponymous suites. The Fullerton Hotel in the historical Fullerton Building offers travelers design, comfort, and location all in one. But the most recently built and well-known hotel is, of course, the Marina Bay Sands which contains in its grounds an opulent shopping mall, glitzy casino, bars and dining establishments, and a magnificent rooftop infinity pool. Exclusivity is the name of the game at Marina Bay Sands. The Conrad Centennial is highly rated 5-star hotel that won’t leave you completely bankrupt. It’s luxurious, but not obscene, and offers a great breakfast buffet, quick access to shops, and if you’re lucky, the best view of the Fountain of Wealth. The hotel is under the Hilton banner so great for those wanting to use or collect Hilton Hhonors points.
Get lost in shopping heaven as malls intertwine in Downtown Singapore. Whether it’s Raffles Place, Bugis, Suntec, or the numerous malls and shops on Orchard Road you should have no trouble finding your favorite branded stores next to boutique shops, fun restaurants, and even the occasional movie theater. Large, bright, clean, and excessively air conditioned, Singapore does malls right.
If you’re looking more to relax and have fun with the family then head to Sentosa Island. Sentosa is a man-made and reclaimed island off of Singapore whose raison d'être is entertainment and fun. When you think Sentosa think sun, sand, golf, theme parks, and attractions for people of all ages. Whether you stay at Resorts World or the Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa Resort you will find world class amenities and dining. The breakfast buffet at the Silver Shell Cafe is a particular treat. Take a spin around the Island on the shuttles, and for a really great day pick up tickets to Universal Studios. A compact but quality theme park which has some classic Universal attractions (think The Mummy) along with some original rides exclusive to the park.
For some of the best of Singapore’s hometown dish, Chili Crab, visit Momma Kong’s where you can even get the crab shelled for you (for a small fee) to cut out all the hard work. Get what is possibly the world’s cheapest Michelin star meal at the Liao Fan hawker stall. Chicken Rice, another Singapore special, is the only thing on the menu you need to worry about. And at just a few S$ a plate it can’t be beaten. If you’d prefer comfort, speed, and air conditioning they now also have a brick and mortar restaurant you can visit just a few minutes away. The dishes cost a little bit more, and they technically don’t have that coveted star, so maybe stick to the original if you want a good story to tell.
This is really just the beginning of the list of everything Singapore has to offer but hopefully, from these suggestions, travelers of all styles and budgets will find something to enjoy in Singapore.
The Roaming Blog
From Europe to Asia. From cities to villages. From mansions to cottages. Follow us on our journey as we celebrate a new type of travel - House Sitting. Learn how to start you house sitting career, tips for making the most of your travel, and the tricks for being the best house sitter you can be.
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