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 itinerary.
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.
Want to start exploring? Here are the 5 best things to do in Singapore…
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 traveller 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.
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.
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 best food 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.