Whoever came up with the phrase ‘good things come in small packages’ must have been thinking of Singapore when they said it. The ‘Red Dot’ as it’s known to globetrotters all over the world, may be small, but it packs a punch when it comes to tourist attractions. So, without further ado and in no particular order, here is a list absolute must-know things if you’re planning to visit this wonderful city state:
You’ve decided to make a pit stop in Singapore – good for you. However, as with every place, there are some things you need to know to make your stay even more enjoyable.
No matter which phone sim you end up getting, Singapore has one of the fastest and cheapest internet packages (something you will realise after you’ve left the country). No wonder you’ll see almost everyone engaged in their smartphones on the MRT. Be sure to get a good package with enough data for when there’s nothing better to do than stand on the metro. And don’t cheap out on a good pair of headphones. Nothing gets you in the mood for travelling quite like a good playlist.
If you need to change your foreign currency or buy something cheap, there’s only one place you need to go: Mustafa Centre. It’s open 24 hours a day and is a one-stop shop for all your needs. Just be sure not to get lost in there or you’ll leave with half the store.
What you wear will determine how you feel throughout the day. Singapore can get hot and stuffy during the day. Although you’ll find air conditioning everywhere and you’ll hardly be outside for too long, it’s still advisable to wear shorts and t-shirts. That being said, be sure to keep a jacket or a light sweater in your backpack because it gets cold inside. For your feet, flip flops are recommended; however, for extensive walking, a good pair of running shoes will do the trick.
Make sure to get your Singapore Pass to enjoy free entrance to 45 tours and attractions, plus 1 premium selection such as Universal Studios.
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Where to stay in Singapore
Although not legally allowed, there are Airbnb options in Singapore. Otherwise, you can get decent lodgings at $20-$40 a night depending on which part of the city you decide to stay in. You’ll find cheaper options around Little India and Chinatown. Bukit Timah and the surrounding area is generally the more upscale and pricier part of the city. We have also written an extensive guide on Where to stay in Singapore.
If you’re lucky enough to find lodging with a friend or family, or you landed a couch at someone’s place, familiarizing yourself with good Singaporean etiquette will get you in their good books: It’s generally frowned upon to bring your outside shoes inside the house. Although the locals are too polite to ever say anything, it’s advisable to take off your shoes at the door.
Getting around Singapore
Boasting one of the most elaborate and efficient subway systems, the SMRT is the pride and joy of Singapore. An EZ-Link card gives you access to the subway, which is functional from 5am until midnight. It’s economical as you can easily get one for $12, which includes a usable credit of $7. However, if you don’t want to get caught up in the early morning rush hour, it’s advisable to avoid the Red Line.
SMRT is undoubtedly the best and cheapest way to get from one point to another. For seniors and anyone travelling with a kid, it’s even better, since it’s local custom to give up one’s seat for seniors, people with kids, and people with injuries.
If you’re in no particular hurry and want to enjoy the city and see the spots, opt for the bus system, which is also accessible through the EZ-Link card. Get a map of the city along with one of the SMRT stations, sit back (preferably on the upper section of the double-decker bus) and let the universe decide where you get off.
Singapore is a walker’s delight. There are pathways for people travelling by foot or bike. Rain is always a possibility in Singapore and the weather changes from one area to the next, so be sure to always keep a collapsible umbrella, available at any 7-eleven or Cheers shop, with you.
Bike sharing apps are easy to download. If you and your loved ones are fitness freaks, there’s nothing like seeing Singapore by a bike. There are racks of cycles not only outside every station, but practically all over the place. Ofo, Mobike, and SG Bike are some of the more popular ones, but there are others too. Just download an app, turn on Google Maps, and peddle away, my friend!
Where to eat in Singapore
In Singapore, you can eat in peace knowing that nothing harmful or impure will enter your system. The food authorities are very careful about making sure that all ingredients are pure and not in any way harmful.
If you want to see the vibrancy of the city, you should grab a bite at any of the roadside food joints. Clarke Quay is always a tourist favourite with bars and restaurants along the river. You can find any cuisine there that you desire, from the weird to the wonderful – there is even a café that lets you pet cats while you drink coffee! The Shiraz is a must-have if you are craving Mediterranean food. And if nothing else is to your satisfaction, you can never go wrong with Burger King, McDonalds, or KFC.
For Muslims, there’s good news as almost every food place serves halal food. If you’re travelling on a budget, food courts, known in Singapore as ‘hawker centres,’ are spread all over the city and have a variety of cuisines from Western to Chinese to Thai to Indian – all under one roof and for very cheap. The ‘Nasi Lemak’ is a very popular Malay rice dish available at every hawker centre. Another famous dish is the ‘Murtabak,’ which comes in all sorts of flavours. If you’re craving something sweet, order the chocolate murtabak. However, if it’s something meaty and filling you’re looking for to sustain you for the better part of a day, then look no further than the chicken murtabak.
In beverages, although all sorts of sodas and carbonated drinks are available, it’s recommended that one try the local favourites. If it’s a caffeine dose you need, try the local version of the cold coffee which is stronger and waterier, but it hits the spot. Bear in mind that coffee is called ‘Kopi’ in Singapore. If you’re more of a chocolate buff, try the ‘Milo Dinosaur,’ which should last you much longer. Iced tea is another popular drink.
An average meal would cost you around $6. One must eat at a hawker centre, if not for the food, then at least for the opportunity to witness a remnant of an old Singapore that is slowly fading with the previous generation. Some of the hawker centres are really beautiful buildings that hark back to the colonial past. At the top of the list amongst these is Lau Pa Sat, which is situated in the heart of downtown Singapore.
Ice cream sandwiches are a Singaporean thing with old people selling them outside MRT stations. You haven’t really been to Singapore until you’ve had an ice cream sandwich.
Recommend food tours in Singapore:
- Singapore Hawker Center Food Tour and Neighborhood Walk with Hotel Transfer
- Experience Singapore: Singaporean Cooking Class
- Singapore Hawker Center Food Tour in Chinatown
- Private Sky Dining on the Singapore Cable Car
- Singapore Pub Crawl
- Katong Morning Food Experience
- Traditional Home-Dining Experience in Singapore
Nightlife in Singapore
Singapore is known for its expensive alcohol, but there are always ways around it. Clark Quay is the place to be if you’re looking to party within the limits of your wallet. It’s packed with bars and pubs, and more often than not, there’s a discount offer or two available somewhere. Wednesdays are ladies’ night all over bars and clubs in Singapore – no cover charge, and ladies get free drinks all night! Even if you’re going as a couple, going on a Wednesday night reduces your cost by half. Be on the lookout for concerts happening at Clarke Quay, which you can enjoy free of charge. You can look up the theme or the night’s events ahead of time, as almost all the clubs and bars have social media pages. It’s always advisable to make a booking to save you from paying a cover charge at the door.
Attica, Prive, and McGettigan’s are some of the more popular places. Cuba Libre boasts one of the biggest and most-liked mojitos. But there are no hard and fast rules; it’s better to walk around, see the crowd, and listen to the playlist before deciding on a place.
Another budget-friendly trick is to buy your own drinks and drink them on the stairs by the river. Once you’re done, you can party at the club. This will save you a considerable amount of money that you can spend elsewhere. Always make sure that you keep a track of the time as the SMRT makes its last trip around midnight, and most of the buses stop running at 1am on weekends. Cabs are a bit expensive and it’s advisable to have the Uber and Grab apps downloaded on your smartphone – but there’s no guarantee that you will get one.
Orchard Street is the heart of Singapore in terms of vibrancy and excitement. Boasting some of the biggest brands and shops, most tourists go there just to sit and enjoy the sights and sounds. There are almost always street performances and brand launch events happening there. It’s also a great place to take pictures as it resembles the hustle-bustle of Times Square, but with a distinct Singaporean touch.
Recommend nightlife tours in Singapore:
Things to do in Singapore
Singapore boasts some of the most beautifully preserved flora and fauna. If you’re a nature lover, there are attractions by the dozen. From the UNESCO Heritage Botanical Gardens and McRitchie Park to Gardens by the Bay and many more. Ideally, you should set aside a whole day to cover the whole of the Botanical Gardens as they are huge and very well maintained. It’s recommended that you pack a picnic basket and spend a whole day by the numerous lakes in the park and revel in the beauty of the well-maintained ecosystem. Do not miss out on the turtles that come out to bask throughout the day or the swans. The Gardens also host the occasional musical performances – most of the time, they’re free.
If you love visiting beautiful buildings. Singapore is a photographer’s delight. From Arab Street to Chinatown, you’ll be left spellbound by the colourful buildings and exquisite murals and paintings. If you want to observe local culture, you can visit the many temples, mosques, and churches all over the city.
For movie fans, Singapore’s Universal Studios requires a whole day to get the full experience. Be sure to reach as early as possible as the ticket lines can at times be long. For fans of the franchises, be sure not to miss out on The Mummy, Transformers, and the Jurassic Park rides. However, if you’re really feeling confident, try the ‘Cyclone’ – a rollercoaster ride that leaves you screaming your lungs out.
There are plenty of family-friendly rides too, such as Madagascar and the Kingdom of Far, Far Away, where your little ones can have a wonderful time. Wear plenty of sunscreen as it can get hot, and drink lots of fluids throughout the day to keep you and your loved ones hydrated.
Singapore has many malls, but they are pricey and not-so-easy on the budget. Chinatown is the shopaholic’s best bet when it comes to buying a variety of cheap stuff.
A good place to just sit and relax is the Merlion Park. You’re not considered a Singapore tourist until you have had a photo taken of yourself with the water sprouting Merlion fountain in the background. Enjoy the light show or the fireworks around the river edge and immerse yourself in the multiculturalism of Singapore. Extra brownie points if you learn ‘Singlish,’ the local lingo. Adding ‘lah,’ which is a term of endearment, will not only get you a smile but maybe even deduct some digits of the price for whatever you’re buying.
Relax after a day of sightseeing at Sentosa, where you can walk and unwind on the beach. Build sandcastles with the kids and family, or enjoy water sports such as parasailing and boat rides; however, the prices might be a bit steep compared to neighboring countries.
Recommend tours in Singapore:
- Singapore Flexi Attractions Pass with Universal Studios Option
- Singapore Night Tour: Gardens by the Bay, Marina Bay Sands SkyPark, and River Cruise
- Singapore Zoo with Transfer and Optional Breakfast with Orangutans
- City Sightseeing Singapore Hop-On Hop-Off Tour
- The Singapore Pass with 3 or 5 Attractions and optional Universal Studios Entry
- Sentosa Island Afternoon Trip Including Madame Tussauds and Tiger Sky Tower
- Singapore Night Sightseeing Tour with Singapore River Boat Cruise
- Singapore Formula 1 Driving Experience
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