We first visited Singapore in 2009 and 14 years later a lot has stayed the same but also a lot has changed. For one, the food scene in Singapore is way more incredible than I remember – we ate so well and didn’t have a bad meal. Another thing that has definitely changed is the skyline, with way more skyscrapers and fancy hotels. But one thing that definitely hasn’t changed is the shopping! From huge malls to outdoor markets, Singapore is a shopper’s paradise. There is of course, so much more to see and do – here’s what not to miss in Singapore!
Unsurprisingly, Singapore has one of the best Chinatown’s in the world (and I’ve been to many!). As a historic area, you’ll find buildings dating back to the 1800s nestled among the modern high-rise buildings. Most of those beautiful buildings are now shops, restaurants and trendy coffee spots.
As well as traditional shops and markets, there are lots of fabulous cafes and restaurants in Chinatown. We actually had some of our best meals in Singapore in Chinatown. It’s a great area to walk around, explore the temples, eat at the Hawker Markets and do some shopping.
A must-see in Chinatown is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum. You can go on a guided tour for free and visit all the floors, as well as see where a part of Buddha’s tooth is housed.
Located just across the road from the Buddha Tooth Relic Museum was our favourite Hawker Market, Maxwell Hawker Centre, which is home to the famous Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice. We also had one of the best sugarcane drinks here too.
Visit Little India
Located just a few metro stops from Chinatown is the vibrant and colourful area of Little India. Formerly home to cattle herders, pineapple factories and lime pits, Little India is one of Singapore’s most historic districts. In fact, its streets are actually named after their 19th century residents – such as Campbell Lane which is named after British soldier Sir Colin Campbell.
Like all of Singapore, Little India is a melting pot of different cultures. As well as the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, built in the 19th century, you’ll also find other places of worship such as the Abdul Gafoor Mosque and the Buddhist Temple of a Thousand Lights.
Of course if you’re looking for authentic Indian food, you’ll find it here. There’s a food centre right by the metro station as well as plenty of restaurants along Serangoon Road and the surrounding side streets.
Take in the Skyline at Marina Bay at night
The Singapore skyline is absolutely breathtaking and is even more stunning at night. Head to Marina Bay and walk along the promenade for gorgeous views across the bay.
There are also some great spots to take photos, such as this big wooden SG with a sort of tunnel behind it and seating in front.
Explore Changi airport
It’s not often (ok, never) that I would recommend an airport as something not to miss in a city but Changi airport is incredible! It’s pretty much a tourist attraction in itself. I had left my tablet on our flight from Bali so had to go to the airport to collect it. We ended up staying for hours, and ate lunch there too, as there’s so much to do and see. One of my highlights was wandering around the Don Don Donki Japanese department store – it was awesome.
But of course the main attraction at Changi is the incredible HSBC Rain Vortex in The Jewel. It’s an amazing feat of architecture and engineering. And you can see it from below too.
Within different terminals there’s also a hedge maze, canopy bridge, butterfly garden, cinema, tons of shopping and loads of restaurants. You could honestly spend hours here!
Eat at a Hawker Centre
Singapore is really expensive when it comes to dining out but thankfully there are loads of Hawker Centers all over the city where you can eat well for not a lot of money. We tried four different Hawker Centres and our favourite was the Maxwell Hawker Centre in Chinatown, which is frequented by both locals and tourists. However, for a more local experience head to nearby Havelock Road Cooked Food Centre.
Another Hawker Centre we really liked was Lau Pa Sat, which is located in the central business district by Raffles Quay. It caters for office workers as well as tourists and was probably the most modern one we saw. It’s housed in a former ‘wet market’ that dates back 150 years.
At all the Hawker Centres you can get lunch for between £3.50 – £5 per person.
Have a Singapore Sling at Raffles Hotel
Have you even visited Singapore if you’ve not had a Singapore Sling at Raffles Hotel? We did this the first time we visited the city back in 2009 and I personally found the cocktail too sweet for my liking. It was a fun experience though as they serve you monkey nuts and you can just throw the shells on the floor!
If you don’t fancy a drink, you can still visit the hotel – it’s really beautiful inside. They also have a few shops that you can pop in to and browse or you can treat yourself to afternoon tea in the lobby area.
Walk around Arab Street
Arab Street is located in the historic Kampong Gelam area and is one of the city’s oldest urban quarters. The area was originally allocated to the Malay, Arab and Bugis communities by Sir Raffles. You can explore more of its history at the Malay Heritage Centre.
The grand Sultan Mosque is a standout landmark with its beautiful gold dome. It was built in 1824 by Sultan Hussein Shah and is one of Singapore’s most prominent religious buildings.
Today the area is very trendy, with lots of bustling restaurants and boutique shops – however you won’t find alcohol at all of them, in keeping with the Islamic culture many of the restaurants have voluntarily signed up to a no-alcohol policy. There’s also lots of fabulous street art in this area, some of which show its history and culture.
Go on a Heritage Trail
If history is your bag, you’ll love the free heritage trails offered by the National Heritage Board. Just head to their website and pick the trail you’d like to go on, then download the free booklet. There are so many to choose from, including the Orchard Heritage Trail which features Emerald Hill, which was a former nutmeg orchard that was established in 1837 by a postal clerk. The area was then bought in 1900 by a businessman who then sold parts of the land to people to build homes and shops.
Visit a temple
Singapore has many temples of different faiths that you can visit. We visited the Sri Mariamman Temple in Chinatown, which was built in 1827 and is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore. The temple is dedicated to the Goddess Mariaman, whose power helped cure disease and illnesses.
The temple is free to visit, although you can leave a donation if you wish. You are requested not to take photos or video inside the temple and you need to leave your shoes outside and dress appropriately (shoulders need to be covered and skirts and shorts need to at least cover the knees). When we visited there was a ceremony taking place and it was very interesting to experience it.
Whichever religious buildings you choose to visit, read up first on the etiquette.
See thousands of orchids at the National Orchid Garden
We visited the Botanic Gardens, which is Singapore’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, on our first visit to the city. Housed within the gardens is the National Orchid Garden, which has over 1,000 species and 2,000 hybrids of orchids and costs just $5 to visit. It’s really beautiful!
Check out Cloud Forest at Gardens by the Bay
Gardens by the Bay is one of Singapore’s biggest attractions. It’s a bit complicated working out the different options as there are a few attractions and instead of just charging one entrance price, you can choose what you want to see. Some, but not all, of the attractions can be combined for a cheaper price. When we visited, the weather wasn’t great and we were told that they might close the OCBC Skyway so we opted to just pay for the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest.
The Flower Dome takes you on a floral journey around the world and is the size of 75 Olympic swimming pools! It was worth the visit but it’s fairly similar to exploring the Botanic Gardens or Kew Gardens in London. They also have various exhibitions on, which showcase different countries and cultures.
Whilst we enjoyed the Flower Dome we definitely found Cloud Forest much more unique and interesting. Firstly, it has one of the world’s tallest indoor waterfalls, which is pretty cool as well as a mountain that features plants from all over the world.
When we visited it had an immersive Avatar experience, which was like stepping in to the world of Pandora. You could also ‘Avatar’ yourself in a special booth, which was quite fun!
The Cloud Forest also has aerial walkways where you can ‘walk among the clouds’ – and yes, it’s quite misty. At the end of the experience there is a special room where you can immerse yourself in the world of Pandora.
Whilst fairly expensive, it was a great afternoon out. Both the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest are covered so they are not weather dependent.
Explore the Quays
Singapore has three quays along the river – Robertson Quay, Clarke Quay and Boat Quay. All the quays were once used for shipping, with Robertson Quay being the biggest wharf. Today all three of them are tourist hot spots, with restaurants, bars and shopping.
Clarke Quay and Boat Quay are really close to each other and you can easily walk from one to the other in around 10 minutes or so. You could also choose to see them – as well as lots of other landmarks – via a river cruise.
Boat Quay in particular has many bars offering Happy Hour deals (ironically their happy ‘hour’ lasts several hours) although be warned that alcoholic drinks in Singapore are really expensive due to the import tax. Still, it’s a lovely spot to enjoy a drink and look out over the river. We also spotted a huge monitor lizard in the water as well as cute turtle.
Go on the Five Kings Walk at Fort Canning Hill
Fort Canning Hill has a 700 year old history and is a bit of an oasis within the city. Throughout its history it has also been called Government Hill, Singapore Hill and Bukit Larangan.
It was once the site of palaces of Kings in the 14th century and has also served as Headquarters for the British Army. In fact, the Old Married Soldiers Quarters still exists in the park today.
Pancur Larangan or ‘the forbidden spring’ is believed to be where women in the Royal household bathed. It’s a very beautiful spring and can be accessed via stairs or an escalator.
You can follow the trail of the Five Kings Walk to learn more about tales of their reign in the 14th century and about the plants that are woven into their history.