If you’re zipping around Southeast Asia, there’s an extremely good chance that you’ll land yourself in the city-state of Singapore. While the city doesn’t always get glowing reviews from travellers used to the more compelling historical treasures elsewhere in the region, Singapore’s a fascinating place that deserves a second look—especially if it passed you by on previous trips.
In Southeast Asia, there’s no place quite like Singapore. On the surface, it’s an anomaly for the region. The downtown central business district teems with gleaming modern architecture that ranks among the world’s best skylines. Throw in two of its newest projects—the distinctive Marina Bay Sands and the space-age Gardens by the Bay—and you’ll see just why architecture nuts go crazy for this place.
But there’s more to Singapore than its modern façade. Dig just a little underneath and you’ll easily discover the city’s historical side. From the bustling heritage buildings of Chinatown to the colourful shops & restaurants of Little India and the old Arab quarter of Kampong Glam, start planning your trip with this quick & easy Singapore travel guide…
When to visit Singapore
While weather in Southeast Asian countries can get needlessly complicated thanks to varying climatic regions, the compact nature of Singapore simplifies things just a little bit.
You shouldn’t be surprised that Singapore’s weather ranges from hot & humid to hot & humid throughout the year. (No, that’s not a typo.)
The only thing that varies much in Singapore during any given month is the amount of rainfall. The year is split up into two (not-so) distinct seasons: wet season & dry season.
Overall, the best time to go to Singapore is between February and March. These months fall into Singapore’s “dry” season (yes, dry is a relative term here) between the Southeast and Northwest Monsoons. With “only” 13 rain days in February, it’s the driest month of the year and the best chance for you to enjoy sunny skies and all the outdoor activities this city can throw at you.
What to do in Singapore
Even if it’s not one of the region’s most popular getaways for travellers outside the region, there are plenty of things to do & see in Singapore.
From hunting down temples to prowling through hawkers centres for some of the region’s best food, this isn’t a city where you’ll ever go bored (even if you’ve heard otherwise).
Want to get started on planning what to do? Here are a few of the best places to visit in Singapore:
- Chinatown: One of Singapore’s most interesting quarters, Chinatown provides an interesting historical contrast with the modern developments in the CBD to the east. Low-rise heritage building hide small shops, restaurants & boutiques that harken back to the city’s humbler origins before turning into a global financial powerhouse. While you’re here, don’t miss out on the spectacular Buddha Tooth Relic Temple as well as the Chinatown Complex Food Centre and Maxwell Food Centre, two of the best places to eat in Singapore.
- Gardens by the Bay: It’s hard to imagine a time (it wasn’t long ago), that the Gardens by the Bay wasn’t part of the Singapore sightseeing experience. This stunning 250-acre park is one of the best places in the city to while away a few hours among its lovely biodiverse greenery including a flower dome and cloud forest. In the evening, though, is when the gardens truly come alive. Time your visit for the nightly light show at the supertree grove to see something that looks (quite literally) out of this world.
- Kampong Glam: Whoever said that Singapore’s short on historical sites clearly didn’t spend any time in the old Arab quarter of Kampong Glam. Singapore’s most Malay and Islamic-influenced area is home to a number of worthy attractions including the golden-domed Sultan Mosque and Haji Lane, one of the city’s hippest and most colourful streets.
- Orchard Road: If shopping’s on your agenda, then heading over to Orchard Road is a must. You’ll find all of the world’s top fashion brands here, spread among the area’s malls & boutiques. It’s also a fantastic destination for searching for some of Singapore’s tastiest food.
- Clarke Quay: Strolling along the lovely Singapore River is a must for any visitor. Along the way, you’ll walk past a number of historical riverside quays features colourful old merchant houses now housing a number of chill restaurants & bars. None of the quays is more popular than Clarke Quay, just north of Chinatown. It’s the premier nightlife destination in the city with a multitude of bars and restaurants resting among the riverbank. Even if you’re not into its raucous party scene, Clarke Quay is a great place to enjoy a quiet evening meal by the river before the volume gets ramped up to 11.
What to eat in Singapore
As much as Singapore’s top attractions make for a superb visit, what really tips the scales is the variety of food you’ll get to chow down on here. This is a city that takes its eating quite seriously, a fact you’ll immediately recognize as you prowl the streets in search of grub. In fact, I wouldn’t blame you—at all—for thinking that eating is one of the main reasons to visit Singapore!
Wherever you happen to be, you’ll never be far from one of the best hawker centres in Singapore where you’ll get to sample some of the region’s best delights in spades.
Singaporean cuisine is unique, reflecting the city’s three main ethnic groups—Chinese, Malay, and Indian. It’s diverse, flavourful, and, if you’re eating in the hawker centres, surprisingly budget-friendly for a city known for its sky-high prices.
Not sure where to start? Here are a few ideas for what to eat in Singapore:
- Laksa: If there’s one dish you need to try in Singapore, it’s laksa. This fragrant and rich seafood noodle soup is a staple in the region with every city putting their own spin on it. Throughout the city you’ll encounter any number of laksa variety, but keep your eye out for katong laksa, a truly Singaporean version featuring short-cut noodles that fit into a spoon (rather than relying on the normally requisite slurping).
- Char Kuay Teow: From the instant I tasted this dish, I was in love. Featuring a bed of broad noodles tossed in sweet dark soy sauce and served with a diverse set of ingredients including eggs, bean sprouts, cockles, pork fat, and fish cakes, char kuay teow is rich and tasty enough to keep you coming back for seconds on your trip to Singapore.
- Satay: Whether you’re in Malaysia, Indonesia or Singapore, you won’t go far without seeing this barbecued Southeast Asian classic cookin’ up on a grill. Whether you decide on the beef, chicken, pork or lamb variety of satay, the true test comes with the quality of the distinctive peanut dipping sauce served with it.
- Hainanese Chicken Rice: Originating from Hainan Province in China, this classic Singaporean dish consists of succulent chicken on top of a bed of flavourful broth-cooked rice. Add a little bit of sambal paste to give it that extra Southeast Asian flavour.
- Hokkien Mee: A Chinese-inspired noodle dish, hokkien mee one of the Malay Peninsula’s most popular street foods. Unlike the more famous Malaysian dark-soy variety, the Singaporean version of hokkien mee stir-fries wide egg noodles in a soy, vinegar, and chili sauce along with seafood like squid and prawns and topped with sambal and lime.
Where to stay in Singapore
One of the biggest challenges in planning a trip here is choosing where to stay in Singapore. The accommodations market is both wide and pricier than expected for normally budget-friendly Southeast Asia. That might be the biggest reason so many travellers skip Singapore!
Although Singapore’s a relatively large city, most of the points of of interest for travellers lie in and around the downtown core. When searching for your hotels, here are a few of the best areas to stay in Singapore:
- Chinatown: One of the most interesting areas in the city, Chinatown features a large selection of accommodations ranging anywhere between budget hostels to 5-star luxury hotels. For cultural sightseeing & foodies, there’s hardly a better base for exploring the city.
- Singapore River: Besides Chinatown, the quays around the Singapore River offer some of the best central accommodations in the city. For experiencing Singapore’s nightlife and mid-range to luxury dining, you can hardly beat the areas around Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay.
- Marina Bay: If you’ve got (more than) a little extra to spend, the city’s luxury hub of Marina Bay is top of the list. Many of the best luxury hotels in Singapore dwell in this area.
Transportation in Singapore
By air: With Changi Airport consistently rated as one of the world’s best, Singapore’s become a major transit hub for travellers intent on exploring Southeast Asia. Some of the most popular airlines flying into Changi Airport from Asian & international destinations include AirAsia, Jetstar Asia Airways & Singapore Airlines.
By bus: Singapore is well-connected to neighbouring Malaysia by bus. I’d recommend sticking to the more comfortable & reputable luxury bus services like KKKL, Aeroline or Luxury Coach. Sample destinations & times include Melaka (3.5 hours), Kuala Lumpur (6 hours), and Johor Bahru (1.5 hours).
Like many cities in Asia, getting around Singapore is a cinch thanks to its efficient public transportation system.
By MRT: For most travellers, the easiest way to get around Singapore is by the mass rapid transit (MRT) train system. The five major MRT lines (North South, East West, Circle, North East, Downtown) are located within walking distance of most of the city’s top tourist sites, making it a convenient alternative for sightseeing in Singapore.