Home to some of the world’s most innovative green spaces, hippest bars, superb museums and next-level hawker food, today’s Singapore is anything but dull.
A futuristic skyline looms over a famously clean, increasingly green city-state rich in history and culture that oozes from Singapore’s bursting food courts, incense-scented temples, and heritage shophouse-lined streets. And thanks to a slick public transport system, getting around the city is a breeze too. Here are the best things to do during your visit.
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1. Tour Singapore’s iconic gardens
There are some wonderful parks and gardens to explore in Singapore. At the very least, you’ll want to put the two most iconic on your itinerary. Established in 1860, the 82-hectare Singapore Botanic Gardens is a Unesco-listed tropical wonderland brimming with lush themed gardens including a ginger garden showcasing more than 550 species. Don’t miss the incredible National Orchid Garden within the complex, and the Gallop Extension that includes an excellent botanical art gallery.
Across town in Marina Bay, Gardens by the Bay is an even larger fantasy land of misty biodomes, high-tech Supertrees and whimsical sculptures. The Supertrees burst into light for the Garden Rhapsody show twice each evening
Planning Tip: For panoramic views over the Bay area, buy a ticket for the observatory at the top of the tallest Supertree.
Taste incredible dishes at one of Singapore’s hawker centers © 2p2play / Shutterstock
2. Eat at Singapore’s hawker centers
Hungry? You’ll want to be when you arrive in this Southeast Asian culinary hub. While there are many fine restaurants to be found across Singapore, its hawker centers are legendary. So central to Singapore life are these bustling food courts that hawker culture was inscribed on the 2020 Unesco Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. And there’s no better way to tap into Singapore’s psyche than to tuck into a serving of spicy laksa, flaky murtabak (stuffed savory pancake), nutty satay, or barbecue stingray – to name just a few of the mouthwatering dishes on offer at the 100-odd hawker centers dotted around the island nation.
Planning Tip: Not only is hawker food a fun way to eat in Singapore, it’s also among the cheapest. Bring cash, ideally small notes.
3. Visit Singapore’s superb museums
Singapore now rivals the world’s top museum cities with its ever-expanding array of cutting-edge cultural institutions. Blockbusters include the Asian Civilisations Museum, an engrossing ode to Asia’s cross-cultural connections; the National Museum Singapore, which traces Singapore’s history; and the National Gallery Singapore, the world’s largest public collection of Singaporean and Southeast Asian art.
There are many more smaller and quirkier museums to discover, from the Peranakan Museum that celebrates the rich culture of the unique ethnic group that arose from the meeting of Chinese and Malay peoples; to the Changi Museum & Chapel that highlights the stories of the POWs and civilians interned in Changi Prison during the Japanese occupation of Singapore.
Spend time relax in one of Singapore’s many lush gardens and wild green spaces © Tang Ming Tung / Getty Images
4. Soak up Singapore’s other green spaces
As well as Gardens by the Bay and Singapore Botanic Gardens, there are more than 350 parks and gardens dotted across the verdant city-state. Five of them are connected by a spectacular 10km (6 mile) trail known as the Southern Ridges, featuring Singapore’s highest pedestrian bridge. You can also take a tree-top walk at MacRitchie Reservoir, step back into history at Fort Canning Park and hike to Singapore’s highest peak in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve – and that’s just the beginning.
5. Explore Singapore’s historic neighborhoods
Singapore’s historic neighborhoods offer a fascinating glimpse into the early days of the island nation. Start in atmospheric Little India, where shophouse stores spill over with aromatic spices and colorful saris. Serene temples sit side by side with hip bars and restaurants in buzzy Chinatown, while the Colonial District is packed with grand buildings constructed during the British administration.
Home to the wealthy elite in the late 19th to the mid-20th centuries, the recently revamped east coast village of Katong is home to some of the city’s prettiest shophouses, while tucked behind Chinatown, the 1920s housing estate of Tiong Bahru is now a hipster haven of boutiques and cafes. And there are plenty of other interesting neighborhoods to discover beyond.
With its balmy weather, Singapore life thrives after nightfall with bars, clubs and hidden speakeasies © f11photo / Shutterstock
6. Dive into Singapore’s nightlife
From sultry rooftop bars to moody hidden speakeasies, pulsing nightclubs to relaxed craft beer bars, Singapore’s ever-expanding collection of nightspots – combined with its balmy year-round weather – make it a great city to hit the town. Singapore’s best watering holes are dotted all over the city, but with a sizable contingent found in Chinatown, this is the place to kick off your evening. And have you even been to Singapore if you haven’t sampled a Singapore Sling at Raffles’ historic Long Bar? The recipe for the national drink received an update in 2019 to bring it in line with contemporary tastes, which most will agree is a step up from the ultra-sweet original.
7. Escape to the island of Pulau Ubin
Nestled between mainland Singapore and Peninsular Malaysia, this rustic island getaway offers a glimpse of the kampong (village) life of Singapore’s olden days. Hop aboard a bumboat (motorised sampan) in Changi for the 15-minute ride to Pulau Ubin, where you can hire a bike to explore the sleepy island. Cycle past old-growth mangrove swamps, lotus-covered lakes, tin-roof shacks, and ramshackle shrines, topped off by a simple seafood meal by the sea.
Planning Tip: Bicycle is the best way to get around the island, and there’s a mountain-bike trail to tackle if you fancy something a bit more challenging.
8. Enjoy a day out on Sentosa Island
Connected to the mainland by a bridge, Sentosa Island is one of the best places to visit in Singapore for a break. It’s an all-ages playground – a sprawl of theme parks, luxe resorts, beach bars and even a subterranean casino. There are rides and shows at Universal Studios, giant tanks full of marine life at SEA Aquarium (a surefire hit with any kids) and WWII history at Fort Siloso. Palm-fringed bars flank Singapore’s best beaches while top restaurants look out over glitzy yachts.
Get an unforgettable view from the observation deck at Marina Bay Sands Hotel © 2p2play / Shutterstock
9. Splurge on a stay in a luxury hotel
From grand historic sleeps to modern marvels like the Marina Bay Sands hotel, which is topped with the world’s largest rooftop infinity pool, Singapore is home to some of the world’s most iconic luxury hotels. So if you’re looking to splurge, this is a memorable place to do it.
Raffles Singapore fuses the glamor of 19th-century Singapore with 21st-century amenities having reopened in 2019 following a lengthy renovation. The Warehouse Hotel has reimagined a historic riverside warehouse for the experiential modern traveler, while the Parkroyal on Pickering blends nature and luxury with cutting-edge sustainability initiatives.
Planning Tip: Budget travelers can also enjoy a slice of Singapore–style luxe at Adler Hostel. Furnished with Chinese antiques and feather-down duvets, this Chinatown sleep takes hostelling to new heights.
10. Visit Singapore’s famed wildlife attractions
While nothing beats observing wildlife in the wild, Singapore Zoo’s lush, open-air enclosures come a close second, and this zoo is well known for its conservation efforts. It’s one of the few places outside of Borneo or Sumatra where you can stand under the trees with orangutans swinging above your head.
In the island’s central north, Singapore Zoo is one of the wildlife attractions that forms part of the Mandai Wildlife Reserve, along with River Wonders, showcasing more than 11,000 aquatic and terrestrial animals and the nocturnal wildlife-based Night Safari. The existing Jurong Bird Park will become part of the Mandai Wildlife Reserve in 2023.
11. Shop and eat on Orchard Road
A 2.5km (1.5 mile) strip of magnificent malls, department stores and specialty stores, Orchard Road is Singapore’s own retail wonderland. You’ll find every brand imaginable within its blissfully air-conditioned warren of stores, from emerging local designers to global high-street heavyweights and European couture. But there’s more to do on Orchard Road than simply shop, with some of the city’s best restaurants also found along the strip, including contemporary European favorites Buona Terra and Michelin-starred Iggy’s.
12. Seek out Singapore’s quirky side
Singapore has a reputation for being somewhat straight-laced, but scratch the surface, and you’ll discover that it’s full of quirks. On the west coast, the Chinese mythology theme park known as Haw Par Villa might be the weirdest amusement park you’ve ever been to. There’s an entire museum dedicated to vintage cameras to explore in Kampong Glam, Singapore’s vibrant Muslim Quarter, and plenty of colorful street art to seek out across the city.