Top 10 things to do in Singapore
I only have a few days in Singapore. What should I do in Singapore? Where can I go?
This Top 10 list picks the key attractions and sights in Singapore so you may fit them into your short travel itinerary. Interest can be subjective so find what you like and be your own guide.
1) Merlion, Museums & the Civic District
Get there: Raffles Place or City Hall MRT
The Merlion is the biggest touristy cliché in Singapore. That being said, it is unavoidable. Just make that obligatory visit to the Merlion, take that obligatory shot, and upload it on your Facebook obligingly.
Close to the Merlion is the Civic District, which bears the legacy of Stamford Raffles (founder of modern Singapore) and Singapore’s colonial past. Iconic sites, restored historical architecture and century-old national monuments line up this Civic District. You can find the Raffles Landing Site, Victoria Theatre, Esplanade, War Memorial Park, Old Parliament House, Central Fire Station and many more in the Civic District.
The gazetted national monument status highlights the glorious past of the museums in the Civic District. These museums have reoccupied the sites of former institutions and government buildings.
Check out the good admission deals at these museums:
- National Museum of Singapore: Free admission to Living Galleries daily from 6pm-8pm
- Singapore Art Museum: Complimentary entry on Fridays from 6pm-9pm
- Peranakan Museum: 50% discount on Fridays from 7pm-9pm
2) Dine like a Local – Eat at a Hawker Centre
There are endless dining options in Singapore, but the hawker centre is the ultimate local eating experience. It is dining, stripped to the bones. The hawker centre in Singapore is traditionally an open-air food complex. It is usually located near public housing estates or transport hubs and offers a wide variety of stalls serving delicious inexpensive food.
In fact, some of the most popular local dishes like Chicken Rice, Char Kway Teow, and Fishball Noodles are found at the hawker centres. Other than the friendly prices and authentic tastes, the hawker centre is most importantly an authentic local eating experience to the visitor.
Hawker centres that are accessible by MRT (<10 min walk):
- Maxwell Food Centre (Chinatown or Outram Park MRT)
- Old Airport Road Food Centre (Dakota MRT)
- Tekka Centre (Little India MRT)
- Chinatown Complex Food Centre (Chinatown MRT)
- Hong Lim Food Centre (Chinatown MRT)
- Albert Centre Food Centre (Bugis MRT)
- Seah Im Food Centre (Harbourfront MRT) – convenient if going to Sentosa
- Lau Pa Sat (Raffles Place MRT) – commercialised but in most travel guides
3) Jump into the Little India Mayhem
Get there: Little India or Farrer Park MRT
Lonely Planet has consistently ranked Little India as one of the top sights in Singapore. A raucous mix of curry restaurants, spice stores, sari shops, backpacker hostels, and traditional Indian trades, Little India also houses several monuments and sites of cultural and historical significance such as the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple and Abdul Gaffoor Mosque.
There is a buzzing street culture in the areas around Dunlop Street, no doubt sustained by the hip and chic lifestyle businesses of bars and restaurants and its reputation as the unofficial backpacker drag in the area.
As Singapore’s foremost Indian enclave, the weekends see the largest congregation of foreign workers on the sidewalks and streets. Love it or hate it, Little India is easily one of the three core ethnic settlements in Singapore with the strongest cultural identity.
If you want to see a different side of Singapore, Little India is the place to go.
4) Singapore Flyer and the Singapore Food Trail
Get there: Promenade MRT
The Singapore Flyer is a giant observation wheel with one of the most scenic city views. As of September 2012, it remains the world’s tallest Ferris wheel at 165 metres high, beating China’s Star of Nanchang and UK’s London Eye.
The view is hard to match. The Civic District, Marina Bay, Gardens by the Bay, Esplanade, Marina Bay Sands and the city centre are in full view, including large parts of the Singapore island.
Located at the first floor of the Singapore Flyer is the Singapore Food Trail. It is a 1960s Singapore-inspired food street, where food stalls operate from seemingly makeshift carts by the artificial roadside. It is most certainly commercialised but still remains as a good look-back on Singapore in the 60s. Most of the stalls are famous too.
5) Kampong Glam & Haji Lane
Get there: Bugis or Nicoll Highway MRT
Kampong Glam was the home of old Malay royalty in Singapore and has been a Malay-Muslim ethnic settlement ever since. It is presently an interesting blend of the old and the new. The former home of the Malay rulers in Singapore is now the Malay Heritage Centre, which showcases the rich history of Kampong Glam and the Malay community.
One of the oldest and most important mosques is the Sultan Mosque, with historical links to as far as the founding of Singapore. The shophouse area of Bussorah Mall has a wide array of goods, mostly in the selling of souvenirs and items of nostalgia. It is all tradition at Arab Street with small stores dealing in Persian carpets, batiks, textiles, and handicraft assortments.
Just parallel to Arab Street is the hippie Haji Lane, where street graffiti, shisha, fashion outlets, and concept stores cluster together to create an alternative and offbeat vibe to too-serious Singapore. Bali Lane is where you can unwind with reasonably priced drinks at the many outdoor seating areas of the bars.
6) Clarke Quay and the Singapore River at Night
Get there: Clarke Quay MRT
Clarke Quay is one of the more popular nightspots in Singapore, as the home to the many restaurants, clubs and bars. However, whether you are a drinker or not, Clarke Quay at night is already attractive with the colourful night-lights and slow romantic boat cruises along the Singapore River.
Clarke Quay was one of the earliest designated compounds in the Raffles Town Plan. Merchants and traders operated from the warehouses along the riverbank. Today, these warehouses have been restored to house the various nightspot tenants. It is happy hour time.
7) Jurong Bird Park/Singapore Zoo/Night Safari
Jurong Bird Park (Boon Lay MRT followed by bus 194 or 251)
Singapore Zoo/Night Safari (Ang Mo Kio MRT followed by bus 138)
If you like birds only, go to the Jurong Bird Park. If you like other animals, go to the Zoo. If you like nocturnal animals, go to the Night Safari. These three attractions have won various accolades such as tourism and experience awards.
There are combination packages if you intend to visit more than one. The drawback is that they are all far from the city centre and slightly inaccessible so a visit has to be planned wisely. Do also try to plan a visit to catch the free animal performances at scheduled times.
8) Teh and Kaya Toast
There are hundreds of Teh and Kaya Toast chain outlets in Singapore – Ya Kun, Toast Box, Killiney Kopitiam, Coffee and Toast, and many more. There has to be something magical about this hot milk tea and toast bread with coconut jam combination.
What is certain is that it makes for perfect breakfast comfort food, a teatime snack or simply a casual conversation starter.
9) Visit the Old Town of Chinatown
Get there: Chinatown MRT
Chinatown, to the south-west of Singapore River, was allotted for the Chinese community in 1822. It was also in Chinatown that the iconic term “five-foot way” was coined – from the two and three-storey shophouses fronted by continuous verandahs.
Telok Ayer in Chinatown was the landing point for the many immigrants before land reclamation works. Therefore many of the oldest religious architecture in Singapore are found in Chinatown, preserved and still functioning today. Such examples are:
- Thian Hock Keng (oldest existing Chinese temple in Singapore)
- Fuk Tak Chi Museum (first Chinese temple in Singapore; now converted museum)
- Sri Mariamman Temple (Singapore’s oldest Hindu place of worship)
- Masjid Jamae (one of the oldest mosques)
- Nagore Durgha (one of earliest Indian Muslim shrines)
The mix of religious places of worship in Chinatown is also evident of the multicultural facet of Singapore, where people of different ethnicities and religions co-exist. Tourism commercialisation aside, Chinatown in Singapore can be comparable to Jonker Street and George Town in the UNESCO towns of Melaka and Penang respectively.
10) Sentosa the Island Getaway
Harbourfront MRT, followed by Sentosa Express monorail from Vivocity, or
Harbourfront MRT, followed by bus RWS 8, or
Cable Car via The Jewel Box at Mount Faber or HarbourFront Tower 2
As an island off the south coast of Singapore, Sentosa is probably the top one-stop family destination in Singapore. Children and young-hearted adults will adore the Universal Studios themepark in Resorts World, the dolphins at Dolphin Lagoon, the walk-through aquarium tunnel of Underwater World, multimedia extravaganza that is the Songs of the Sea, and the picnic and volleyball-friendly beaches.
Attractions are charged individually and a few attractions can be charged together in a price bundle. There is a local saying in jest that Sentosa stands for “So Expensive Nothing To See Anyway.”
This Top 10 list is not comprehensive of all attractions in Singapore. There can easily be a Top 30 for example. And yes, Orchard Road is missing. There are way too many malls in Singapore. This is also an independent guide free of agency or business interest. In fact, this guide is in the best interest of you – the traveller. Welcome to Singapore.