As Southeast Asia’s great cultural crossroads, Singapore is a patchwork of contradictions. The smoke of incense rises from traditional temples in the shadow of towering architectural marvels. Lively “wet” markets keep the ever-hungry locals (and visitors) fed the old fashioned way, while space age artificial trees collect water for the island’s most ambitious botanical innovation. Three eco-friendly zoological parks give nature’s living treasures room to move, far from the go-karts and rollercoasters of man-made Sentosa Island. Hindu and Buddhist temples, mosques, and churches can be all be found mere steps from one another, while all-night hawker stalls (some of which now carry Michelin stars), rowdy bars and nightclubs, and reflexology centres operate right next door. These are just a few things you will discover on a Singapore vacation.
The label “Asia in Miniature” is often applied to Singapore, but with a unique blend of Chinese, Malay, and Indian cultures, there’s good reason for that. It’s also an ideal city for your first taste of Southeast Asia, with a super-efficient metro system and a more orderly pace of life than say, Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh City. Not sure how to fill in a day at leisure in this “city in a garden?” Let one of these four itineraries come to the rescue on your Singapore vacation.
Icons of Singapore
If you’ve only got one day to spend in Singapore, this busy itinerary will give you a crash course in the island’s history and culture, before offering you a glimpse of its future. Start at the National Museum of Singapore, where interactive exhibits bring the country’s colourful history to life. Then wander over to the iconic Raffles Hotel, where you can learn about the building’s storied past and browse its boutiques for some unique items. Note that the Long Bar, which claims to have invented the famous Singapore Sling cocktail, is closed for renovation until mid-2018. Don’t worry. You can still enjoy this sticky-sweet cocktail at one of any number of bars around the city. Head for Singapore River, finding lunch along the famous Riverwalk.
If you’re craving more history, dive into the Asian Civilizations Museum, or get your art fix at the new National Gallery Singapore. If you’d rather give your feet a rest, take a bumboat cruise up the Singapore River before heading to Marina Bay. Pose with the Merlion, and snap a photo of the impressive Marina Bay Sands and ArtScience Museum across the bay. Then cross to the other side, passing these incredible structures on your way to Gardens by the Bay. Wander the outdoor gardens, before diving into one or both of the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest conservatories.
Emerge in time for the nightly light and sound show that brings Supertree Grove to life. Then cross the Helix Bridge and board the Singapore Flyer, the world’s largest observation wheel, for an unforgettable night-time view. Dinner options abound near the Marina, or hit Chinatown’s Smith Street for fresh hawker fare until 11pm.
A One-Day, Whirlwind Asia Tour
Singapore is a crossroad of many cultures, but three in particular stand out with their own distinct neighbourhoods, all of which are worth visiting on your Singapore vacation. Kampong Glam secures Malay culture an enduring and colourful presence in Singapore. The Masjid Sultan rises above this lively neighbourhood, which is prime for casual exploring. Pop into the Malay Heritage Centre if you’d like to put things in context.
Afterwards, head to Little India, stopping to admire the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple. Then spend some time exploring, as the sounds of Bollywood emanate from nearby shops and restaurants. For top Indian hawker cuisine, drop by Tekka Centre, where you can also pick up your own colourful sari.
In the afternoon, take the MRT to Chinatown. Stop by the Chinatown Heritage Centre to learn about the district’s history, and how Chinese immigration has shaped Singapore as it is today. Then visit the Thian Hock Keng Temple, and the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum for a glimpse of the district’s spiritual side.
By late afternoon, consider joining a Chinatown tour for an in-depth look at the neighbourhood, or just wander and explore on your own. Choose one of the hundreds of restaurants for dinner, or order up a cheap, delicious plate of hawker food on Smith Street before capping off the evening with a drink at one of the lively local bars.
Singapore for Kids (Including Big Kids)
A Singapore vacation is a fantastic travel idea for families, or just the young at heart. Start early at Singapore Zoo, perhaps even joining the orangutans for breakfast. Seamlessly integrated with the surrounding forest, Singapore’s zoo and its adjacent “safari” parks use an open concept approach, ensuring as natural an environment for the animals as possible. As you wander the park, you’ll definitely feel like a guest in the animal kingdom, rather than the other way round. There are talks and feeding demonstrations throughout the day. A morning zoo tour can help ensure you make the most of your time.
After lunch, take a taxi to Haw Par Villa, one of Singapore’s more bizarre, but undeniably memorable attractions. Built in 1937 by the somewhat eccentric Aw brothers, this colourful theme park features over 1000 figures detailing legends and tales from Chinese mythology. It’s a fascinating and fun way to spend an hour. Just be mindful that these fairy tales, like most, were cautionary, and some of the dioramas may frighten very young children. Best leave the “10 Courts of Hell” exhibit to the big kids.
By mid-afternoon, head to Sentosa Island, home to Universal Studios Singapore (which closes at 6, so maybe skip Haw Par Villa if you want to allow enough time here), the Skyline Luge, Adventure Cove Waterpark, and Mega Adventure, a park offering sports such as zip-lining, rock climbing, and a free-fall jump. Choose the attraction that most interests you, or simply wander, basking in the sights, sounds, and fun of this reclaimed island, now Singapore’s favourite playground. Dinner options here are plentiful too.
The City in the Garden
Singapore describes itself as “a city in a garden,” and while the new Gardens by the Bay set international plant species against cutting edge eco technology, Singapore Botanic Gardens and the National Orchid Garden offer a more natural, laid back morning out. There’s 74 hectares to explore here, on your Singapore vacation, so take your time enjoying this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
From flowers to feathers, take a cab or private tour to Jurong Bird Park. These 20 hectares are home to thousands of birds across hundreds of species from all over the world. Over a variety of zones, guests can feed lorikeets, see birds of paradise and birds of prey, and even a third of the world’s penguin species on the Penguin Coast (also a nice place to briefly escape the Singapore heat).
After dark, embark on a uniquely Singapore experience at Night Safari, next door to Singapore Zoo. Showcasing animals that are most active after dark, this wildlife adventure is unlike anything you’ll experience elsewhere, as you come nose to nose with primates, predators, big cats, and other nocturnal creatures.
The three attractions on this day are quite spread out, so consider booking organized tours that can take you to both Jurong Bird Park and Night Safari.