See also: Where to Stay in Singapore
Multicultural Singapore is bursting at the seams with rich heritage and green-wrapped modern luxuries. If you seek somewhere comfortable and friendly, safe and efficient, Singapore is the holiday spot of you’ve been waiting for. From the numerous temples (Buddhist and Hindu) to cultural districts like Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam, you’ll sample the bits and pieces that make up this diverse community. Along the breezy bayside promenade and outskirts are nature reserves and humble villages, toning down urban extravagances with grounded attractions. Here's our list of the best things to do in Singapore:
Cool down at Waterfront Promenade
After hitting high, ground your feet at the Waterfront Promenade for some heat-relieving mist sprays. Or maybe start here for daylight views across 3.5-kilometer walkway, fronted by a skyline of gleaming skyscrapers and unique architecture. Locals flock here to either rest their feet or engage in some outdoor yoga, free outdoor performances the soundtrack to their afternoon activity. Highlights include a water show called Wonder Full; the DNA imitate Helix Bridge provides an additional four viewing platforms along its pedestrian crossing.
Snap a panorama atop Marina Bay Sands on SkyPark Observation Deck
There is no missing the iconic three pronged structure of Marina Bay Sands and ship-like platform sitting atop. This expansive SkyPark Observation Deck towers over central city, a spectacular specter that oversees the bay, the promenade and skyline at 57 levels high. To get an idea of just how big the wooden-floored area is – it can hold up to 900 guests! Join a guided tour for commentary on the city’s history and insights on its landmarks, as well as complimentary access to the infinity pool. The SkyPark is stunning in daylight and electrifying at night; visit around sunset for the combination of both.
Green beauty at Gardens by the Bay
No doubt you’ve seen social media posts of Gardens by the Bay, Singapore’s greenest tourist vision to hit the internet. Living up to Singapore’s moniker as a “City in a Garden”, this innovative space spans 101 hectares, divided into Bay South Garden, Bay East Garden and Bay Central Garden. Nature and modern technology intertwine to form domes, futuristic trees and mystical corners; vertical gardens The Supertrees are prime examples that greet you at the door. Magical Cloud Forest bring you up high to a rushing waterfall, whereas the massive greenhouse giant Flower Dome transports you to the Mediterranean amid vivid ferns and blooms.
Pig out at Hawker centers
Food markets keep people fed and moving, and Singapore’s hawker centers are guaranteed sources of delicious sustenance. For distinctive architecture and cleaner status, visit the octagonal Lau Pa Sat located within the Business District. Whatever you make of its surroundings, this hawker center serves up the authentic, traditional dishes per its humble roots, and the post-work satay street market is something worth fighting the crowds for. If you seek the low-key food streets away from office workers, hit up Maxwell Hawker Centre or Chinatown Complex Food Centre.
Feel good at Singapore Botanic Gardens
Of course, pay a visit to the requisite UNESCO site: the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Created in 19th century by Stamford Raffles and developed over the years, it is a carefully cultivated sea of green. Think trellises wreathed in yellow, soft grasses lining walkways. Waterfalls, lakes and ponds bring in tranquil sounds of lapping water, inviting not just plant but animal life. Al fresco restaurants pepper the expansive grounds to offer special dining experiences, but we recommend a picnic out in the sun.
Get creative with the Art Science Museum
Iconic and innovative describe the Art Science Museum perfectly. With its structure flowering open like a palm or spring blossom, its architectural design alone is enough of a lure! Art connoisseurs and anyone who appreciates aesthetic things will no doubt flock here for photo ops and stunning exhibitions, where Lego and Dali pieces may be displayed side by side. The permanent Future World exhibition is a must-see, digital landscape paving way for traditional art mediums and technology to mesh in beautiful harmony.
Retail heaven along Orchard Road
One for all the travel books, Orchard Road is Singapore’s commercial heart for good reason. Stretching over 2 kilometers, this avenue is teeming with shopping malls, hotels and dining establishments. It might have originally be named for its orchard farms, but agriculture has long been replaced by modern luxuries; its name is now synonymous to glitz and glam. Lined with sparkling lights, Orchard Road is home to ION Orchard, Paragon, Orchard Central, Nghe Ann City and Plaza Singapura, offering up a myriad of high-end brands, bargain goods, bookstores and the noms in sleek packaging.
Water down with a Bumboat tour
Look out for these colorful wooden boats with painted personality – they’re often painted with faces that scout ahead for danger. Created long and with covering to shield you from Singapore’s blazing sun, bumboats are used for both quick transport and river tours. If you’re by the river front with no idea where to start exploring, why not hit up one of the two service companies (Singapore River Cruise and Singapore River Explorer) for a preliminary glance at the city? Cheap and efficient, river routes pass by the Esplanade, Boat Quay, Clarke Quay, Clemenceau and Robertson Quay, showcasing landmarks like the Merlion, Marina Bay Sands and water-adjacent sites.
Touring the National Gallery Singapore
An architectural giant, the National Gallery Singapore is a stunning building that hard carries the art scene. Modern and contemporary exhibitions make up the bulk of its mastery, artistic pieces celebrating more traditional mediums like painting alongside more experimental foam structures and puppet shows. It also provides a free panoramic view of Singapore from the rooftop, prompting camera work. Be sure to book your ticket online so you can head straight for the art pieces, no queue necessary.
Admire the blooms within National Orchid Garden
Celebrate Singapore’s national flower at the National Orchid Garden, a sprawling three hectares within the wider Singapore Botanic Gardens. Slopes of over 1,000 orchid species and hybrids splay out into four distinct zones, seasonal blooms separated by color scheme. Opening as early as 8:30 am, it is a prime morning attraction to help avoid rush hour crowds. If you are a flower lover, the guided tour brushes up on your Orchid knowledge; if you’re not, the Orchid Garden is still a place to clear your mind before a day exploring busy downtown.
Fort Canning: historical landmark mired in green
After several rebranding, Fort Canning Park settled into a historical park which has witnessed many momentous occasions. From being a seat of Malay royal ruling to a point of war-time surrender and occupation, to more recent entertainment conquests, Fort Canning Park has seen it all. Chock full of historical artefacts, there’s a Maritime Corner dedicated to Singapore’s evolution as a trading port and an underground World War II military complex now named the ASEAN Sculpture Garden and Battle Box. Fort Canning Green leans far from war ravages to provide green lawns and gazebos, a popular venue for stage and music performances.
Learn more at National Museum of Singapore
Singapore’s history is extremely interesting, and easily accessible thanks to the National Museum of Singapore. Opened in 1887, it is the oldest museum in the country, making it not just a historical menagerie but a historical landmark in its own right. Beautifully structured with wooden lattices, sharp load-bearing pillars and dome flushed in white, you’ll have a field day circling both outside and within this heritage site.
Take a heritage walk around Little India
Breathe in scent the spices and jasmine at Little India, eyes catching on the bright saris, Bollywood signs and lively stimulants. There’s so much to take in; the wet market, Tekka Centre’s market space, the crowded Mustafa Center and narrow lanes all coming together in an explosion of produce, appliances, clothes, furniture. The colorful House of Tan Teng Niah stands up to the equally photogenic street art, a photographer’s paradise. For more culture, visit Hindu temples such as Shree Lakshminarayan or Sri Veeramakaliamman (and remember to remove your shoes!).
Devoted prayers at Shuang Lin Monastery
Restoration work has allowed Shuang Lin Monastery to retain its beauty, the temples and monastery surviving wars and the wear of time since its 1898 conception. Considered a National Monument, the complex is tinted blue and red with symmetrical tiles on open squares. Not of the most ostentatious design, the Monastery weighs in on elegant and symmetrical infrastructures, where a balanced nine-storey pagoda sits as the crowning jewel.
Seek out the shophouses of old
Small shop on ground level and home on top, these two to three floored shophouses are remnants of what used to be a city full of workplace domiciles. Still, Craig Road has preserved some of these old architectures in periodical examples; where simple 1800s buildings are a façade of windows and door, 1900s add flair with ceramic panels and other embellishments. Then comes Art Deco buildings that wave goodbye to wooden shutters in contrast to Blair Road’s Peranakan Terrace Houses, where detailed tiles and colorful exteriors mark its European style.
Explore Chinese culture at Chinatown
One of Singapore’s selling points is its diversity and Chinatown is a tribute to its Chinese heritage. A fascinating mixing pot of old temples, historic buildings and traditional wet markets alongside hip bars and chic boutique hotels, this area pays off Singapore’s ‘preserve and advance’ attitude. For the most cultural highlights, visit Chinatown Heritage Centre for a recreation of then street scenes or haggle at the street market to feel truly local. When you’re done fueling up on dim sum, seafood and grilled barbecue, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple will stun you with its collection of Buddhist artifacts.
Spend a few hours at Universal Studios Singapore
Relatively compact and people free, Universal Studios Singapore is a great experience for those who have been wanting to visit the franchise but struggled with time or crowds. Ride queues are relatively short for a theme park, but do try and get there early for the more popular ones! You can expect the signature Galaxy ride alongside performance theatres and toy booths; check the website before your trip to see if there are any special events or themed nights during your stay. And of course, end the night with a bang of fireworks.
Photo op at Chinese and Japanese Gardens
Floating in Jurong Lake are the Chinese and Japanese Gardens. They may be plainly named, but beautifully crafted with traditional features of their respective origins. The Chinese Garden takes on influences of the northern imperial style, structured around pagodas, hero statues, pavilions and sporadic trees. The Japanese Garden focuses more on aesthetic composition, carefully positioning arched bridges, small waterfalls, stone lanterns and sand gardens.
Seek nighttime entertainment at Clarke Quay
Night in, lights out doesn’t apply to Clarke Quay as this thriving night spot comes alive at sunset. Neon glows wash up the riverfront district where historic warehouses have been repurposed into a collective of bars and restaurants. Feeling young and too wired to sleep? Avail yourself to refreshing river breeze as you sip away at refreshments, or burn some of that energy out on the dance floor. Depending on your music tastes, you can jam along to bands or sway with casual blues. Alternatively, take in the music that spills out of clubs onto the waterfront terraces for drinks beneath stars.
Catch a show with Singapore Dance Theatre
Spare the time for a performance by the Singapore Dance Theatre, the leading national dance company. Promising shows at various venues (and consistent performance seasons at Esplanade Theatre), these talented dancers put on classical and contemporary ballet pieces. It is the perfect evening activity for those who want to make the best of their time, but are tired from a day of walking around.
Relax on Palau Ubin Island
Visitors tend to pass up this traditional island when it is one of the most untouched spots in Singapore. For a taste of kampong life, drop by Palau Ubin for a clean break from electricity (and the internet)! Just 10 minutes away by boat, the island guarantees a natural respite where you can camp and bike. With only twenty or so households that still reside there; you know where the crowds aren’t.
Cycle at East Coast Park
Stretching out 15 kilometers is East Coast Park to get you away from the man-made. Sandy strips, clusters of palm trees and easy paved paths take you from the Marina all the way towards Changi airport. Families tend to sprawl around the area as you can cycle or roller blade, or picnic at the spaced-out tables. You’ll find enough bars and restaurants along the way for light refreshments and water breaks.
Visit the surreal Haw Par Villa
There’s nothing quite like Haw Par Villa, an abandoned complex revived in 1985 to bring you a series of weird sculptures. Chinese folklore and mythology come alive in surreal, goose-bump evoking scenery; bizarre figures, quirky structures and colorful designs stand in eerie solidarity. It is the permanent exhibition ‘Courts of Hell’ which answers to the name of “Scary Villa” however, displaying scenes of punishment that major offenders get in hell. Definitely not recommended for the small ones as it is pretty macabre, but adults may appreciate its unsympathetic depiction.
Heritage at Kampong Glam
Trying to survive Singapore’s modernization and hipster movement is the free-spirited Kampong Glam, the Malay and Islamic district of the city. You can easily spend a few hours exploring every crook and nanny (more if you fall prey to the mouth-watering food), taking in the traditional shophouses or picking up spices and fabrics. Live music, yoga nights and craft cocktails keep the hippie and bohemian culture alive. Hajji Lane is narrow and vivid, a cluster of cafes and local designer stores packing unique stories and items. The Sultan Mosque stands out with its golden dome, whereas the Malay Heritage Center is built with a 19th century, Malacca inspired style.
Conquering the Southern Ridges
Untouched jungles and green spaces gifts Singapore a unique edge, softening its metropolitan vibes with gentle walks and challenging trails. Southern Ridges Park is doubly so, linking up other parks and reserves to form 10 kilometers of forest and bridges. From undulating Henderson Waves Bridge to canopied sections and a suspended forest walk, it takes you up and down hills that intersect with historically significant sites that explore Singapore’s occupation during World War II.
Visit the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
Temple and museum combined, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is an accumulation of all things Buddhist in Singapore – a 2007 construct dedicated to all those that have come before it. An impressive stupa worth 320 kilograms of gold houses a Buddha tooth relic, the centerpiece around which the temple is built. Another eye-catching target of worship is the 10,000 Buddha Pavilion centered on a large prayer wheel engraved with Buddhist scriptures. Whether you’re visiting in worship or hoping to learn more about the religion, be sure to observe the right etiquette required. There’s also a rooftop garden for those in need of fresh air.
Combine MacRitchie Reservoir and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
Show appreciation for Singapore’s nature with a day out at MacRitchie Reservoir and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. This tropical forest will lead you through rocky paths and thick jungle to a suspension bridge with beautiful views, rounding off with some water fun down below. Connected to MacRitchie are the roaming lands that make up Bukit Timah, home to a third of the country’s flora and fauna. Hike the nature reserve for smaller crowds and chill turtles.
Holiday fun at Sentosa
Coined “Asia’s Favorite Playground”, Sentosa is an island of rest and recreation. Originally a 19th century fortress and World War II military base, this resort island has come a long way from its warring roots. Casinos, aerial obstacle courses, observation towers and beaches are only some of its varied entertainments; of these, definitely romp along the sandy excess of Palawan Beach, Siloso Beach and Tanjong Beach. Sentosa is also home to Universal Studios Singapore and SEA Aquarium, combining outdoor fun with theme park thrills. Where to start? Why, by taking the cable car from mainland to Sentosa.
Take flight at Jurong Bird Park
Fly free at Jurong Bird Park! Established in 1971, it is the first wildlife park in Singapore and home to over 5,000 birds. 20 hectares of verdant lands have been transformed into paradise for endangered species and other inhabitants. Take note of the Waterfall Aviary where 600 birds stretch their wings freely, and the Australian set of Lory Loft takes you close to the birds on suspended bridges. With an aim to protect, the Wings of Asia sector houses the endangered black-winged Starling, the Bali Mynah and Luzon bleeding-heart dove.
Singapore Zoo Part 1: Day time viewings
Designed for maximum freedom, Singapore Zoo is known for its open enclosures surrounded by moats. Home to over 300 species that include threatened families, the zoo prides itself on both conservation and protection.
Singapore Zoo Part 2: Night Safari adventure
Stay overnight and camp among the animals once the night-switch is flicked on! Wait out the night-time owls and bats that inhabit Singapore Zoo, levelling up on your animal watching adventure. Don’t worry, non-invasive barriers mean both you and the animals are safe.
Singapore Zoo Part 3: River Safari
The adventure never ends! Instead of the usual walk, ride a boat through the tropical forests and keep your hands to yourself; watch out for those crocodiles. Friendlier beavers and giant pandas will be minding their business along the banks.
The blue Baba House
The iconic blue Baba House deserves a quick mention! A heritage house built in 1895, it lends insight into the Peranakan community. This pre-war terrace house retains much of its original interior, displaying much of Peranakan antiques and decorative items that reveal much about the Straits-born, Chinese/Malaysian/Indonesian community. To tour the interior, you have to sign up in advance for a guided tour.