Singapore is a lively city full of rich history that really surprised me during my brief visit recently. I was astounded by the wonderful food, sights and people I encountered. While the city is known for being very expensive, it doesn’t always have to be! Below is a list of 10 things to do in Singapore, in no particular order, which won’t break the bank. If you need inspiration on how to organize the activities below into an itinerary, please check out my 3 Day Itinerary for Singapore!
1. Gardens by the Bay
Gardens by the Bay is one of the most famous attractions in Singapore. Even if you aren’t a huge fan of plants, these gardens that feature over 1,00,000 plants are sure to impress. Here are a few of the parts of the gardens that are not to be missed:
- Cloud Forest – This was my favorite of the two indoor conservatories. Open daily from 9:00 am – 9:00 pm, this garden showcases plants and flowers that thrive in cool, moist environments. Inside there is a gorgeous indoor waterfall (the tallest in the world!) that cascades right near the entrance. Take an elevator up to the top and work your way down through the Lost City, Crystal Cave and Secret Gardens. Absolutely breathtaking!
- Flower Dome – Completely different from the Cloud Forest, this conservatory is a flower-lovers dream. Featuring a never-ending spring-like climate, each section is organized geographically and showcases plants from all over the world that thrive in cool, dry environments. This dome is open daily from 9:00 am – 9:00 pm.
- Supertree Grove – These other-worldy trees stand tall in the center of the gardens and can’t be missed. They harness solar energy and have over 150,000 different tropical plants covering their trunks. Beautiful both by day and when lit up at night, these futuristic trees are a major highlight.
- OCBC Skyway – Located among the tops of the Supertrees, this walkway gives great views of the gardens and the skyline of Singapore. It also give you the awesome sensation of floating above the ground.
- Satay by the Bay – If you get hungry while strolling the gardens, head to Satay by the Bay for a bite. This place really picks up at dinner time when people flock to it before the famous Garden Rhapsody Show in the Supertree Grove.
Cost: It is absolutely free to walk around the gardens! If you would like to visit the indoor gardens, the cost for a combo ticket is S$28 for foreigners. Local residents are eligible for discounts. The skyway walk near the top of the super trees is also an additional charge of S$8 for adults (S$5 for children).
Insider Tip: Do not miss the Garden Rhapsody show daily at 7:45 pm and 8:45 pm! It is an amazing display of lights and music that is dazzling to see!
2. Altitude Bar
It would be a crime to visit Singapore and not venture to the top of the Raffles Place building where the highest alfresco rooftop bar in the world, Altitude, is located! Travel up 63 floors and emerge with breathtaking 360 degree views of the surrounding city. The best time to visit this spot is around dusk when the sun is setting and lights in the city start to twinkle on. Quite magical!
Cost: The cover charge to go up to the bar is S$30 and includes one drink. I chose a Singapore Sling because I was in Singapore, but they have a cocktail list at the door you can choose from, including a ‘cocktail of the month.’
Insider Tip: The bar opens at 6:00 pm, which is when I recommend heading there. After 9:00 pm, the cover charge increases to S$35. After 10:00 pm there is an age requirement for men over 25 (women over 21). Dress code is smart casual, with no singlets/sleeveless tops for men (shorts are okay).
3. Raffles Hotel
The Raffles Hotel in Singapore opened in 1887 and its classic colonial architecture remains perfectly preserved with lush tropical gardens throughout the property. Head there in the heat of the day to cool off with their signature drink, the Singapore Sling. Originally invented to allow women to drink in public, this famous drink became so popular that some consider it the national drink of Singapore. When I visited, the bar where the drink was invented, Long Bar, was closed for restorations, but the Bar & Billiard Room was serving up the delicious pink cocktail. I enjoyed the experience in the Bar & Billiard Room just as much – especially the custom of putting peanut shells on the floor! Also make sure to check out the liveried Sikh doorman at the front of the hotel – the outfit is quite impressive!
Cost: A Singapore Sling at the bar cost S$31.
Insider Tip: Some people will say that getting a Singapore Sling here is not worth it. I enjoyed the experience but admit that the cocktail was not cheap. That being said, the atmosphere is really cool and worth seeing. If you don’t fancy a Singapore Sling, they have a full cocktail menu you can choose from or bar snacks if you’re hungry.
4. Marina Bay
The Marina Bay is home to one of the most iconic and recognizable images in Singapore, the Marina Bay Hotel. It is worth taking the time during a visit to Singapore to walk around the Marina Bay where you can admire the view of the hotel and take in some of the sights that line the water. And its all completely free.
- Merlion – This statue stands at the mouth of the Singapore River and is the personification of the city. The fish tail symbolizes Singapore’s humble beginnings as a fishing village.The lion head reflects the original name of Singapore – Singapura – or ‘lion city.’ Snap a few pics of the statue and the backdrop or try and capture one where it appears the merlon is cooling you off by shooting water into your hands or mouth (a tourist favorite).
- Helix Bridge – Connecting to the Art Science Museum in front of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel from Marina Centre, the Double Helix Bridge has a beautiful architectural design. Walk across the bridge and take in the view of Singapore’s Central Business District skyline.
- One Fullerton – This row of bars and restaurants makes a great place to get a drink or snack in the late afternoon. Located right near the Merlion, the views here across the Bay are great. Another great time to hang here is in the evening when the Marina Bay Sands puts on a spectacular light show. Check with the restaurants if they offer happy hour deals (may depend on the day of the week).
- Marina Bay Hotel – The bottom of the hotel houses a shopping mall. Each tower of the hotel itself is not just filled with luxury hotel rooms but restaurants and bars as well. The rooftop bar is quite popular with tourists.
5. Explore Ethnic Enclaves
One of the coolest things about Singapore is the diversity of people that live and work there. Singapore is made up of three main ethnic groups: Chinese (who make up the largest percentage), Indian (second largest) and Malaysian. Most people in Singapore speak English and their own ethnic language, which is pretty cool! Located around the city are small areas where you can visit to get a deeper understanding of each group’s culture!
- Little India – Come to Little India for the amazing sights, smells, sounds and food! The main road through this area is Serangoon road where you can visit many of the authentic jewelry, pawn and spice shops on either side. The absolutely breathtaking Veeramakaliamman Temple is a Hindu temple that should definitely be on any visitors list: ring the bells as you enter and make sure to move in a clockwise direction as you make your way around and observe the locals praying and paying homage to their many gods. If you get hungry, the Tekka Centre has many food stalls offering up delicious Indian food as well as a wet market where the locals do their shopping. The new Indian Cultural Centre is worth a visit for those interested in learning more about the history of the area.
- Kampong Glam (Arab Quarter) – Home to the beautiful Sultan Mosque (one of the only mosques in Singapore allowed to play their prayers over a loud speaker), Kampong Glam (or the Arab Quarter) is an amazing little area of Singapore and one of my favorites. It was formerly the home of the Malay aristocracy who originally set up Singapore as a trading post under the British. Make sure to walk down Haji Lane, where visitors can find some of the cutest little coffee shops and beautiful street art! There are also dozens of restaurants and bars, making this a must-see when visiting Singapore. For those interested in history, the Malay Heritage Center is also located in this area.
- Chinatown – This area of Singapore is always bustling and has distinct Chinese elements that make this another must-see area of Singapore. Home of the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, Chinatown is an important area for the Chinese Singaporeans and is a fantastic place to shop for souvenirs or eat authentic Chinese food. For shopping, visit Trengganu Street which has shops on either side and transforms into a night market int he evening. For food, visit the Chinatown Food Street or Maxwell Road Hawker Centre. Again, for those interested more in the history of the area, make sure to check out the Chinatown Heritage Centre.
6. National Museum
The history of Singapore is a fascinating story that involves the growth of the island country from a port, to a British colony, a country under Japanese occupation and finally into an independent nation. The Singapore History Gallery does a great job of telling this story through interactive exhibits and fun facts. I learned so much!
On the second floor, the museum features exhibits that give more detail into living in the colony of Singapore, life under the Japanese, growing up and insights into being a kid as well as entertainment. In the Glass Rotunda, the museum currently has an exhibition of natural history drawings that have been brought to life. The walk through the glass rotunda is a beautiful and engaging display of art and modern technology. Well worth checking out!
The museum is open daily from 10:00 am – 7:00 pm. Last admission to the galleries is at 6:30 pm.
Cost: An adult ticket to the museum is S$15 and student/senior tickets are S$10. Admission is free for citizens, permanent residents and children under 6.
Insider Tip: Free guided tours are offered daily! Check their website for details!
7. Fort Canning Hill
Located just behind the National History Museum is Fort Canning Hill. After visiting the museum, take the short walk to the top of the hill to see the old fort, the Raffles House (former home of the famous Sir Raffles), and a few other historical treasures. If history isn’t really your thing, the park is still very beautiful with a few good views of the city.
Insider Tip: On the weekends, this park comes alive with locals as they gather to have picnics, talk, laugh and listen to music together. Grab some food and have a picnic yourself!
8. Marina Barrage
This dam built for Singapore’s fifteenth water reservoir seems like a strange tourist attraction, but is worth a visit. The green roof on top of the dam is home to lush green grass and a wide open space that attracts locals in the evenings who come to fly their kites. It also offers unparalleled views of Singapore and the Garden’s by the Bay. You won’t get a better view of the city or a better sunset!
Insider Tip: Head here at dusk after an afternoon at the Gardens by the Bay. After sunset, walk back to the Gardens to catch the music and light show garden Rhapsody in the Super Tree Grove! So magical!
9. Clarke Quay
If you are looking for a fun night out in Singapore, look no further than Clarke Quay. This bustling area along the Singapore River is full of restaurants, bars and clubs that stay open into the early morning hours. There is a wide range of food available and more bars than you could ever hope to visit. Zouk is one of the more well known and popular clubs, but if that is not your vibe there are plenty more! If you crave delicious seafood (and the famous Singapore dish of chili crab), then check out Jumbo Seafood or Red House, two of the most popular seafood restaurants (although quite expensive!).
Cost: Only spend what you want! Be aware that drinks are not cheap and many clubs charge covers.
Insider Tip: For a cheaper ‘night out’ in Clarke Quay, do as the locals do! Grab a few beers or alcohol at the 7/11 located across Read Bridge and enjoy your beverage sitting on the bridge with great views of the river!
10. Eat like a local
A trip to Singapore would not be complete without sampling the local dishes! With a blend of Chinese, Malay and Indian cuisines, there is bound to be something for everyone! Most of these dishes are not at all expensive and will leave you wanting more.
- Kaya Toast – A popular breakfast, this toast come with butter, sugar or peanut butter on toasted bread. Usually served with sweet coffee and soft boiled eggs, it is a go-to for many locals. Cost: Usually less than S$5 for a set.
- Prata – Another popular breakfast dish, it consists of Indian roti bread served with a small side of curry. Tear the bread with your hands and dip it into the curry for an amazing start to your day. Can be filled with lots of different things such as egg, cheese, mushroom or sweet options depending on the place. Cost: Around S$2-3 for one.
- Briyani – A traditional Indian dish of curry mixed with rice and a choice of meat. Cost: S$5-7 depending on choice of meat.
- Satay – Grilled meat on a stick served with peanut sauce. Cost: Around S$10-15 depending on how many skewers are in an order (usually between 7-10 minimum).
- Hainanese Chicken Rice – A hugely popular Chinese dish consisting of chicken and rice. The chicken can be ordered in a variety of options including roasted, plain or with a sauce. It is usually served with a broth. Cost: S$4-7 depending on size.
- Sugarcane Juice – Very sweet and very popular. Cost: Just a few dollars.
- Chili Crab – The most expensive item on this list but also one of the most delicious. A crab served in a savory, spicy sauce. Cost: Price depends on market value at the time. I paid S$60 for a kilo, but other places I asked were charging S$78 and up. Split it with friends to save money if you can.
- Walk – Singapore is a very walkable city. I did a lot of walking while I was visiting, but I generally enjoy seeing a city by walking around. The city is not huge and most sights are within easy walking distance of each other.
- Grab – If you prefer to get a ride everywhere, you can use the Grab app in Singapore. It is a company that operates just like Uber in Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia. Don’t have the app? Click here to sign up and get your first ride free!
- MRT – Singapore has a very good and pretty extensive train system that connects to the airport, making it easy to get to and from the city once you land. Known as the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) it has frequent stops in or near all of the locations you would want to visit in the city! To use it simply buy a ticket at the GTMs (General Ticketing Machines) which are located in each station. Next to the machine you can find a system map as well as a sign with fares depending on where you want to go. Buying a ticket is easy – choose the station that is your destination, put in your money, collect your ticket and go! Machines only accept smaller change (2 and 5 dollar bills as well as coins) but you can always get change at the counter.
- Bus – In addition to an excellent train system, the bus system in Singapore is quite extensive. If you plan on riding the bus and trains a lot during your stay, it may be worth investing in the Singapore Tourist Pass which gives you unlimited rides for the number of days selected on all trains and buses!
- Hop on/Hop off Bus – If you fancy getting a little history with your ride, you may want to check out Hippo Tours, one of the most popular sightseeing systems in Singapore. The bus company operates 7 different routes and can be used for unlimited rides for 24, 48, or 72 hours. Buses run every 15-20 minutes from 9:00 – 6:00 pm, making it a great and flexible way to see the sights. As an added bonus, they offer free walking tours of Chinatown every Mon/Wed/Fri from 10:30 am – 12:30 pm and Little India every Tue/Thu/Sat from 10:30 am – 12:30 pm!
- Chewing gum: Fun fact – importing and selling chewing gum is illegal in Singapore! If you are a lover of gum, you can certainly bring your own but you will not find it for sale in any stores in Singapore.
- Safe water: The water from the taps in Singapore is safe to drink. The country imports their water from Malaysia and treat it. Super smart! Don’t worry at all if you get thirsty and don’t have a bottle of water handy.
- Don’t litter: When you visit, it is very obvious that Singapore prides itself on being clean. There are hefty fines for littering, so make sure to put all trash into a waste bin. Unlike some countries in South East Asia, there are plenty of trash cans everywhere.
- Smokers beware: If you are a smoker be very careful where you light up in Singapore. There are strict rules for smokers on where you can and cannot smoke. Check your surrounding for no smoking signs – just because you are outside does not mean it is a safe place to smoke. If you do and get caught, you will be charged a heavy fine.
- Drinking in public – After the last riot that broke out in the city, due in part to public intoxication, the government passed a law stating that buying and consuming alcohol in public after 10:30 pm is illegal. Shops like 7/11 will stop selling alcohol at that time, so plan accordingly if you plan to pick some up. Bars and restaurants are not included in this law – feel free to drink the night away at these establishments.
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