Lacking the rambunctious reputation of nearby Thailand or the surfer-friendly ocean vistas of Bali, the small city-state of Singapore often gets overlooked when travellers plan out their ultimate Southeast Asia travel adventure.
Spend just one day in Singapore though and you’ll see why it’s an absolute mistake to drop it out of the running. Even with its worldwide reputation for cleanliness and orderliness, Singapore’s hardly the boring city that some travellers imagine it to be.
From gawking at the futuristic jungle of Gardens by the Bay or washing down some of Southeast Asia’s best food with a signature Singapore Sling, all the best things to do in Singapore will keep you on the edge of your seat and inspire a return to the diverse and interesting Lion City again and again.
Table of Contents
- What to do in Singapore: Top attractions & best places to visit
- Marvel at the Gardens by the Bay
- Relax in Singapore Botanic Gardens
- Empty your wallet along Orchard Road
- Find the soul of Singapore in Chinatown
- Get a taste of Singapore’s Malay culture in Kampong Glam
- Chow down at a hawker centre (or several!)
- Dazzle at the evening skyline at the Marina Bay Waterfront Promenade
- See the city from (waaaay) up above on the Singapore Flyer
- Find after-dark adventure at the Singapore Night Safari
- Watch the silver screen come alive at Universal Studios Singapore
- Sip on a Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel Long Bar
- Hit the beach at Sentosa Island
- Make new friends at the Singapore Zoo
- Immerse yourself in Chinese folklore at Haw Par Villa
- Where to stay: The best hotels for sightseeing in Singapore
- Where to go in Singapore: A summary of the top points of interest
- Explore Singapore further: A quick list of more things to see & do
What to do in Singapore: Top attractions & best places to visit
Marvel at the Gardens by the Bay
It’s not a cliché: There really is no place on earth like Gardens by the Bay in Singapore. One of the world’s most ambitious and unique urban development plans, Gardens by the Bay opened in 2012 to much fanfare. After just two years, it saw over 6.4 million annual visitors—and once you’ve seen it, you’ll understand why that number only continues to grow!
Ringed with biodomes, botanical gardens, and its famous Supertree Grove, Gardens by the Bay spreads out over 101 hectares and is one of the most spectacular public spaces in the world.
Of the three main sections, the Bay South Garden captivates travellers most, particularly its Cloud Forest Dome and Flower Dome as well as the 18 Supertrees that are more reminiscent of what you’d see in a high-budget sci-fi flick than in a Southeast Asian city. (Check out this guide for what to do at Gardens by the Bay for more info.)
While you’re wandering around the Gardens by the Bay, don’t miss a chance to spring along the OCBC Skyway (S$8), a walkway sliding between six Supertrees suspended some 22 metres above the ground.
Getting to Gardens by the Bay: The closest MRT station is Bayfront. Take Exit B and follow the underground linkway to the exit. Cross either the Dragonfly Bridge or Meadow Bridge to find your way into the park.
Relax in Singapore Botanic Gardens
Along the Gardens by the Bay, travellers will love a chance to wander around one of the city’s other premier greenspaces, Singapore Botanic Gardens. Set a couple kilometres west of the shopping mecca of Orchard Road, Singapore Botanic Gardens features hundreds of plant species set into a world of manicured lawns, ponds, and, a rare primordial rainforest that managed to escape Singapore’s early development.
While you’re visiting Singapore Botanic Gardens, don’t miss out on the National Orchid Garden, the largest of its kind in the world. Over 60,000 plants call the garden home with about with over 1,000 species and 2,000 hybrids making a mesmerizing appearance.
Getting to the Singapore Botanic Gardens: The closest MRT is Botanic Gardens Station on the Downtown and Circle Lines, exiting onto the northern edge of the park.
Empty your wallet along Orchard Road
The myth of Southeast Asia as a bargain-basement destination gets completely debunked when you’re shopping along Orchard Road, Singapore’s high street. Stippled with air-conditioned malls and trendy high-end fashion boutiques, Orchard Road is among the best places to shop in Singapore and the perfect consumerist escape from Singapore’s more cultural attractions. (It’s also a great place to cool down in Singapore’s sweltering heat.)
Even if you’re not keen on dispensing with your entire travel budget in one glorious day of splurging, the area’s malls also feature some of the best food in Singapore. Here are some of the best places to check out along Orchard Road:
- ION Orchard: An modern architectural masterpiece that also happens to be one of the top spots in Singapore for high-end fashion. The massive food hall, featuring some of the best restaurants in Singapore including the popular Salt Grill & Sky Bar, serves decadent dishes from the city’s top celebrity chefs.
- Ngee Ann City: A landmark shopping centre that’s home to the famous Japanese department store, Takashimaya, and over 130 other top fashion boutiques like Christian Dior, Calvin Klein, and Gucci. The food court delivers everything from quick snacks to fine dining.
- 313@Somerset: One of the most popular picks among younger Singaporeans, this mall features top brands like Uniqlo, Levi’s, Zara, and Singapore’s own, Century 21.
Getting to Orchard Road: To experience the best shopping in the area, start your journey up Orchard Road from either Orchard MRT or Somerset MRT.
Find the soul of Singapore in Chinatown
With over three quarters of its population celebrating a Chinese heritage, the heart of Singapore lies in its eclectic Chinatown. Contrasted with the glitzy malls of Orchard Road and the glamorous high-rises of Marina Bay, colourful Chinatown couldn’t be any different, giving a quick reason why it’s among the best places to visit in Singapore.
From its unsurprising glut of cheap souvenir shops to its elaborate temples (not to mention some of the tastiest dishes in Singapore), there’s a whole ton of things to do in Chinatown whether you have one or four days in Singapore. Keep on the lookout for:
- Buddha Tooth Relic Temple: One of the top tourist attractions in Singapore, this lovely 4-storey temple is famous for its two-metre-high gold stupa housing its sacred namesake relic.
- Sri Mariamman Temple: A 19th-century Hindu temple that’s one of Singapore’s main centres of worship for its Tamil community. Built to honour Mariamman, the Hindu goddess of protection, Sri Mariamman Temple is one of the most colourful stops (and top photo spots) in Chinatown.
- Thian Hock Keng Temple: An eye-catching Taoist-Buddhist temple built in the first half of the 19th-century to honour Ma Zu Po, the Mother of Heavenly Sages. The delicately-painted doors and intricate rooftop dragons are a sight to behold.
- Chinatown Food Street: The (unofficial) name given to a stretch of Smith Street where some of the best street food in Singapore reigns supreme. Choose from delights like char kway teow (stir-fried noodles), satay (skewered meat sticks), and hokkien mee (egg and rice noodles in a flavourful prawn broth).
Getting to Chinatown: Hop onto the MRT taking the Downtown Line or the North-East Line to Chinatown MRT Station.
Get a taste of Singapore’s Malay culture in Kampong Glam
Cultural diversity is one of the most interesting features of the entire Malay peninsula. In Singapore, nothing give this more credence than a walk through the city’s Malay enclave of Kampong Glam. Once little more than a small fishing village and port, this colourful district sheds Singapore’s upscale reputation for one that flashes its Malay heritage.
Walking among the old merchant houses in Kampong Glam—slipping into boutique shops, cultural centres, mosques, and restaurants—is easily one of the best things to do in Singapore and a must for any serious Singapore itinerary. Don’t miss these worthy Kampong Glam attractions:
- Haji Lane: A narrow two-block-long walking street piercing through the centre of Kampong Glam that’s among Singapore’s most colourful corners. For its boutiques, cafés, and restaurants, it’s garnered a reputation among the city’s hipsters as one of the places to go in Singapore.
- Sultan Mosque: An early-19th-century mosque that’s not just the biggest in Singapore but one of the city-state’s most eye-catching buildings.
- Arab Street: The focal point of Singapore’s Muslim community, this lively street prepares some of the city’s most Instagrammable moments with vivid shophouses hiding the city’s best Middle Eastern restaurants and plenty of cool boutique shops.
Getting to Kampong Glam: The quickest way to start exploring Singapore’s Malay quarter is via Bugis MRT Station. From the station, it’s about a 5-minute walk to Sultan Mosque via Victoria Street, Ophir Road and North Bridge Road.
Chow down at a hawker centre (or several!)
Visiting Singapore without spending oodles of time scoping out the city’s best hawker centres would be absolute heresy. Singaporeans are obsessed with their city’s culinary scene as any quick glimpse at any one of these overgrown food courts will quickly confirm.
The best part is that, no matter where you find yourself in Singapore, you’re never far away from grabbing a delicious, cheap—and possibly life-altering—meal at one of these cultural hotspots. While you’ll find great dishes at any of them, here are few of the top hawker centres in Singapore to keep on the lookout for:
- Chinatown Complex Food Centre: The biggest in the city and also one of the best! As expected with its location, this hawker centre leans towards Chinese-inspired dishes. A few favourites to search for here include char kway teow, wonton noodles, and laksa.
- Maxwell Food Centre: Sitting on the edge of Chinatown, this food court has got a little of everything to please every palate. The most famous dish here is the chicken rice at Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice.
- Tiong Bahru Market: One of the newest and cleanest hawker centres in the city, this food court makes for an excellent introduction to the scene. In additional to the second-floor food stalls, there’s a first-floor wet market selling fresh produce.
- Old Airport Road Food Centre: Popular among locals, this classic hawker centre is a little further afoot than others listed here. If you find yourself in the area, be sure to check out the famous soya beancurd from Lao Ban Soya Beancurd or 51 Soya Beancurd.
Dazzle at the evening skyline at the Marina Bay Waterfront Promenade
Before you set your sights on the spectacular light show at Gardens by the Bay, don’t miss an opportunity to check out Singapore’s skyline at its best in Marina Bay. As the evening suns starts to set, the cross-bay view from the Marina Bay waterfront promenade to the central business district is simply breathtaking.
After wearing out your camera’s shutter button (or bombarding your Instagram with skyline-backed selfies!) at the boardwalk, there are plenty of other things to do in Marina Bay including droppin’ some dough on luxury brands at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, exploring the Red Dot Design Museum or enjoy a pint at LeVeL33, the world’s highest craft brewery.
Getting to Marina Bay: The closest MRT stop to the Marina Bay Promenade is Downtown on the Downtown Line. Walk out Exit A to get to the bayfront.
See the city from (waaaay) up above on the Singapore Flyer
Spending too much time at ground level? Tackle your fear of heights at the iconic Singapore Flyer. This giant Ferris wheel—which at 165-metres-high is the largest in Asia and second-tallest in the world—offers the finest bird’s-eye vistas you’ll find anywhere in Singapore. (Yes, topping even the nearby Sands Skypark Observation Deck!)
Besides delivering superb views, the Flyer’s 28 observation capsules are air-conditioned, giving you a much-needed break from the never-ending humidity and heat of Singapore.
Getting to Singapore Flyer: By public transportation, the quickest way to visit the Singapore Flyer is via Promenade Station (Downtown Line & Circle Line). From the station, it’s about a 5- to 10-minute walk from Exit A.
Find after-dark adventure at the Singapore Night Safari
Travelling as a family to Singapore? If there’s one attraction the kids won’t want to miss out on it’s the Singapore Night Safari. Founded in 1994, the Night Safari was the world’s after-dark zoo and has become a hit with tourists and locals alike with over a 1.1 million visitors per year.
The park is divided into six geographical zones, spreading out the over 2,500 animals spanning 130 different species. Among the stars of the show are Malayan tapirs, Asian elephants, Malayan tigers, leopards, Indian rhinoceroses, and Malayan flying foxes.
As you’d expect, the Singapore Night Safari only opens at night, between 7:30pm and midnight, 7 days a week.
Getting to Singapore Night Safari: The wildlife park is located to the north of Singapore’s city centre towards the Malaysian border next to the Singapore Zoo. To get there, take the MRT to Choa Chu Kang Station (North-South Line) and board Bus 927 to the safari. Otherwise, alight at Ang Mo Kio Station (North-South Line) and take Bus 138.
Watch the silver screen come alive at Universal Studios Singapore
Fancying a visit to Hollywood? No need to backtrack over the Pacific when you could just opt for a day at Universal Studios Singapore! Located on Sentosa Island, Universal Studios is one of the best family-friendly activities in Singapore and one that’s as fun for kids & adults alike.
The theme park is carved out into seven distinct areas: Hollywood, New York, Sci-Fi City, Ancient Egypt, Lost World, Far Far Away, and Madagascar. Each zone features action-packed rides and attractions inspired by Hollywood hits like Jurassic Park, Transformers, The Mummy, Battlestar Galactica, and Sesame Street.
If you’re a retro-gaming geek like me, the recent announcement of an new Super Nintendo Land to be added to line-up might just be enough push to plan yet another trip to the Lion City!
Getting to Universal Studios Singapore: The theme park is located on Sentosa Island south of the city’s downtown core. The quickest way is to take the MRT to Harbourfront Station (North East Line) and transfer to the Sentosa Express Monorail. Take the monorail south and alight at Waterfront Station, located at the park’s entrance.
Sip on a Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel Long Bar
Want to (literally) taste Singaporean history? Pull up a chair at the legendary Raffles Hotel Long Bar and cool off with a chilly glass of the city’s equally-legendary namesake cocktail, the Singapore Sling.
After a seemingly never-ending renovation, the good ol’ historical Long Bar at Raffle Hotel is finally back up serving its signature drink. It was at this very bar in 1915 when bartender Ngiam Tong Boon first mixed up his concoction of pineapple juice, lime juice, curaçao, and cherry liqueur to create, what’s now, one of the world’s most famous cocktails.
The bad news for budget travellers: Sipping on this slice of Singaporean history is gonna cost you a pretty penny.
Even in a city as pricey as Singapore, S$30 for a cocktail is a little steep. But, as those cheesy Mastercard commercials would whole-heartedly advocate, the experience of indulging in this classic drink among the rich wood grain decor and free-flowing peanuts shelled on the floor is absolutely priceless.
Getting to Raffles Hotel Long Bar: Find your way to the Circle Line, taking the MRT to Esplanade Station. The hotel is across the street from the station exit.
Hit the beach at Sentosa Island
Singapore’s reputation as a sprawling concrete jungle get thrown to the wayside when your travel plans spin down to Sentosa Island. Located to the south of the city centre, this island is where Singapore’s city-dwellers go to seriously unwind on all their sunny days off.
There’s a whole ton of things to do in Sentosa Island. Whether its hanging out on white-sand beaches, visiting a theme park with the kids or enjoying a round of golf, Sentosa is a fantastic place to catch the city’s lesser-known lazier side.
Getting to Sentosa Island: Take the MRT to Harbourfront Station on the North East Line. Walk into the VivoCity Mall, heading up to the 3rd floor. From here, follow the signs to catch the Sentosa Express Monorail (S$4 for a day pass), which will take you to the island.
Make new friends at the Singapore Zoo
Of all the things to see & do in Singapore for kids, none will get your little ones more excited than visiting the Singapore Zoo. Sprawling over 26 hectares, this world-class zoo is home to over 300 animal species spanning everything from primates to reptiles to to birds.
On your Singapore Zoo adventure, you’ll stroll through 11 distinct habitats housing some of the world’s most spellbinding species. What’s truly unique about the park is its use of natural barriers to contain the animals. Unlike traditional cages, the barriers blend into the environment creating both a more comfortable natural home for the animals and a better viewing experience for visitors.
Travellers will younger children will particularly love spending a day at the Singapore Zoo. The park’s more kid-friendly attractions include the Keeper Encounter, an interactive exhibit that allows children to learn about the duties zookeeper; and the Rainforest Kidzworld, an animal-inspired amusement area.
Getting to Singapore Zoo: The park is located to the north of the city centre. By MRT, navigate to Ang Mo Kio MRT Station (North South Line) and take Bus 138, exiting at the zoo’s bus stop.
Immerse yourself in Chinese folklore at Haw Par Villa
Thanks to its offbeat location, the quirky Haw Par Villa is one of Singapore’s lesser-known cultural attraction. This cultural park offers a colourful look at Chinese folklore and mythology through a series of over a thousand statues and 130 dioramas.
The most famous attraction at Haw Par Villa is its depiction of the mythical Ten Courts of Hell, set inside a sixty-metre-long corridor. A word of caution: The scenes in this exhibit are, at times, quite gruesome. If you’re visiting with younger children, you may want to give this part of the park a pass.
Admission to the park is free.
Getting to Haw Par Villa: The park lies just north of Haw Par Villa MRT Station on the Circle Line.
Where to stay: The best hotels for sightseeing in Singapore
For a city its size, choosing among the best places to stay in Singapore is surprisingly simple. Many of the top places to visit are in & around the downtown core. My own personal recommendation for sightseeing would be to narrow your accommodations search to Chinatown, Singapore River (Clarke Quay, Robertson Quay, Boat Quay), and Marina Bay.
Here are a few of top Singapore hotels to start you off:
- Champion Hotel City: Among the best budget choices in the city, this no-frills hotel occupies a fantastic location betwixt Chinatown and the central business district. Many of the top Singapore attractions are within walking distance.
- Park Regis: One of the best mid-range hotels in the city, this 4-star property offers excellent value in a city that’s know for its sky-high accommodations prices. Besides the stylish & comfortable rooms, the Park Regis shines in its outdoor area featuring a pool and loungers.
- Marina Bay Sands: This incredible 5-star luxury hotel is not just one of the top places to stay in Singapore, but one of the skyline’s most iconic buildings. In fact, visiting the 57th-floor observatory is one of the top things to see in Singapore! If you can hack the premium price point, you’ll not only get a room fit for a king but access to 20 on-site bars & restaurants and the world’s largest infinity pool.
Where to go in Singapore: A summary of the top points of interest
- Looking for the city’s best food? Let your tastebuds experience Singapore’s tastiest snacks as your snake your way through awesome hawker centres like the Chinatown Complex Food Centre and Maxwell Food Centre.
- Want to check out Singapore from above? While there’s no shortage of places to get amazing vistas, the views from the Singapore Flyer and Sands Skypark Observation Deck are among the city’s best.
- Craving a little history and architecture? To escape Singapore’s modern façade, marvel at the old Chinese heritage buildings of Chinatown or the Malay-inspired quarter of Kampong Glam to spot the city’s more traditional beginning.
Explore Singapore further: A quick list of more things to see & do
- Jurong Bird Park: An aviary located on the slopes of Jurong Hill. Featuring over 5,000 birds spanning 400 species, Jurong Bird Park is the largest of its kind in the entire world!
- Bukit Timah Nature Reserve: A small nature reserve sprawling across Bukit Timah, the highest point in the city-state. As one of the only patches of primary rainforest left in Singapore, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is an amazing place to escape the bustle of the city and enjoy outdoor activities like hiking or mountain biking.
- National Gallery Singapore: Art lovers shouldn’t miss the opportunity to visit the National Gallery Singapore, a museum curating the world’s largest collection of Singaporean and Southeast Asian art.
- Adventure Cove Waterpark: A popular aquatic amusement park occupying one of the corners of Resorts World Sentosa on Sentosa Island. Besides the 7 action-packed water rides, Adventure Cove Waterpark features unique exhibits like Ray Bay and Rainbow Reef where visitors can get close and personal with a dizzying array of marine life.
- Fort Canning Park: An interest swath of Singaporean history that also happens to be one of the city’s most relaxing greenspaces. WWII buffs shouldn’t miss a chance to check out the Battle Box, a military bunker and command centre used by the British during the Battle of Singapore.