Singapore is one of Asia’s most popular destinations. As a small country, most just make it a pitstop to elsewhere in the region, dismissing it as boring and sterile compared to neighboring countries. That being said, Singapore is also a breath of fresh air (literally!) with its convenient transport network, clean and pleasant environment and well thought out infrastructure which makes it attractive to travelers.
Look beyond the stereotypes and there are actually quite a number of things to do around Singapore – from the quintessential experiences to the more far-out attractions. Whether you’re a first-timer, a shopaholic or someone seeking for something more unique, here are some of my Singapore itinerary suggestions on a 2-day trip to this city. I’ve made the duration 2 days to make it easy to execute during weekends.
Singapore for First-Timers
This itinerary takes you through a rundown on the must-sees in Singapore
Friday night or Saturday morning
- Fly in to Singapore
Day 1 – Botanic Gardens, Sentosa and Rooftop Bars
- Singapore is hot and humid all year round so the best place to get your bearings is at the UNESCO-listed Singapore Botanic Gardens. The place is no ordinary walk in the park as it contains an orchid garden, a rainforest, ginger garden and a small concert venue. If you’re lucky, you might catch a free outdoor concert by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra
- Time for brunch at one of the cafes inside the botanic gardens. I recommend Botanico which is open during weekends for lunch. Its alfresco dining area is a stunner and the food is equally great. Alternatively, you can continue on to Orchard Road. Even those not into shopping will be mesmerized by the gargantuan shopping malls sitting side by side in this part of town
- The closest thing that Singapore has to a resort island is Sentosa. It’s very easy to spend an entire day here especially when coming with kids. Universal Studios (check here for discounted tickets), the S.E.A. Aquarium and the Adventure Cove Waterpark are all here as well as a gigantic version of the Merlion. You can choose to enter the island by monorail, taxi or by cable car. If it’s your first time, I recommend going via cable car for some sublime views!
- The city has seen a boom in rooftop bars in recent years so a visit to one of them will allow you to take in some atmospheric evening views of the Singapore skyline. Lantern in Fullerton Bay Hotel, Ce La Vi in Marina Bay Sands and Level 33 in Marina Bay Financial Center are just some that you can consider. The views are breathtaking and are quite worth the relatively high prices you’ll have to pay for a cocktail or two.
Tip: If you’re planning to take the bus, do note that drivers do not provide change. You’re better off getting a prepaid ez-link card if you are visiting for a few days. Otherwise, bring coins!
Day 2 – Little India, Merlion and Marina Bay
Morning to Afternoon
- The city has plenty of ethnic neighborhoods but the most buzzing is undoubtedly Little India which is located within the city center. To see how the neighborhood is at its busiest, come on a Sunday when you’ll get to witness the local ethnic Indian community doing their weekend shopping. Not to be missed in this area are the Sri Veeramakaliamman and Sri Vadapathira Kaliamman temples, especially the latter with its impressive facade.
- Surprisingly, Little India is also home to a very well-known Buddhist temple, and that’s the Sakyamuni Buddha Gaya Temple with its larger than life statue of a smiling Buddha. There’s also a reclining Buddha housed in a small room just behind the large Buddha statue. If you do go there, don’t miss it!
- Where to eat: Have a unique barefoot dining experience at the Michelin Bib Gourmand Lagnaa (6 Upper Dickson Road, Number: +65 6296 1215) with its array of delicious curries and naan. The butter chicken here is a must-try!
Afternoon to Evening
- Go on a walking tour of the civic area of Singapore, covering the historic Raffles and Fullerton hotels, the iconic Merlion and the architectural marvel, the Esplanade. Afterwards, either walk or take a short bus ride to the other side of the bay for the marvelous Gardens by the Bay. Drop by in the afternoon but stay until the evening when the picturesque supertrees are lit up. The best way to appreciate Singapore’s buzzing lights in the evening is to go for a river boat cruise from Marina to Bay to Clarke Quay. You can also find some ideas here for a Singapore evening walking tour
- Singapore has a host of interesting museums. I personally recommend the National Gallery (discounted tickets here) or the Asian Civilisations Museum (tip: you can get cheaper tickets for these museums online or at the airport)
- Coffee and tea: Kurasu (331 North Bridge Road, #02-01, 9AM to 6PM weekdays / 12PM to 6PM weekends) from Kyoto opened its Singapore outlet in 2017 and it has proved to be a hit with its flavorful matcha and coffee that comes directly from Japan.
- Where to eat: Stop by Empress (Asian Civilisations Museum, +65 6776 0777) for some fine Chinese cuisine with fine views of the river. Don’t forget to order the amazing char siew while you’re here!
Singapore for Shopaholics
Many people flock to Singapore just to shop. Here’s a shopping itinerary that helps you go through some of the best shopping places in Singapore
Friday night or Saturday morning
- Fly in to Singapore
Day 1 – Bugis and Orchard Road
- The closest thing that Singapore has to a regular street market is Bugis Street which is made up of a few storeys of small shops selling mostly street/night market types of goods. Afterwards, walk to Arab Street and Haji Lane, the latter being Singapore’s hipster district.
- Where to eat: For a taste of authentic Singapore noodles, check out One Bowl Restaurant and Bar which is located in the area. The venue offers some genuinely delicious home-cooked style char siew noodles. You can purchase a prepaid voucher here for a 15% discount.
Afternoon to Evening
- Malls around the Orchard Road stretch
- Ion Orchard – probably the quintessential mall in Orchard Road. Big name luxury brands from the ground floor and up and more accessible brands in the basement floors
- Paragon – another high end mall with the same types of shops at Ion Orchard
- Tang Plaza – houses a huge department store. Check out the higher floors for its lifestyle zone, a collection of carefully curated items for millennials
- Ngee Ann City – another highly popular shopping mall. Houses the Takashimaya department store as well as several luxury brands. The basement is especially popular for its imported Japanese food items and food court.
- 313Somerset – highly accessible shopping mall just above Somerset MRT station filled with mostly mid-range brands
- Plaza Singapura – located at the other end of Orchard Road close to the Istana or the Presidential Palace. One of Singapore’s oldest malls, it carries mostly mid-range brands and is highly popular among locals
- The Cathay – a quieter mall just a short walk from Plaza Singapura. Has an attractive art deco facade. Carries a lot of independent brands. Most come for the cineplex or the eponymous Chinese restaurant
- Cathay Cineleisure – popular with young people. Carries mostly high street and independent labels
- Where to eat: PS Cafe at Palais Renaissance is an excellent place for brunch after a round of shopping.
Day 2 – Sim Lim Square, Marina Bay Sands and Vivocity
- If you’re coming to Singapore to shop for electronics, your best bet is Sim Lim Square. While Sim Lim Square was put in the limelight recently for shabby customer treatment, it’s still the cheapest place to buy computers and accessories.
Afternoon to Evening
- Some areas outside of Orchard Road have recently upped the ante in terms of exclusivity where shopping is concerned. The most prominent is Marina Bay Sands which has plenty of international brands not found elsewhere in Singapore. While here, you might as well drop by Gardens by the Bay, a futuristic botanic concept that you definitely won’t find anywhere else.
- Vivocity is Singapore’s largest mall. While it has many of the same stores as the malls in Orchard Road, mall-goers benefit with wonderful views of the coast and Sentosa Island
Check out these offbeat ideas for your next Singapore trip!
- Fly in to Singapore
Day 1 – Outlying Islands of Singapore
- Take a trip from Marina South Pier to Singapore’s outlying islands. Kusu and St. John’s islands are rarely visited by non-local tourists. There are interesting temples, beaches which are better than Sentosa’s, picnic spots and places filled with myths and folklore. Allow for at least an entire day trip to visit these islands
Day 2 – Haw Par Villa, Farms and Geylang
- Visit one of Singapore’s weirdest attractions – Haw Par Villa. Admission’s free of charge and one can expect to see some highly visual representations of the “Ten Courts of Hell.” Outside of that, the park in itself is pretty bizarre with random animal statues, sculptures from Chinese folklore and garish adornments that create a sort of Alice in Wonderland kind of environment
- Venture into Pulau Ubin and cycle along the many dirt (or well-marked) paths or kayak through the mangroves while witnessing village life in Singapore
- Alternatively, be a farmer for a day and head out to Kranji. There are no less than a dozen farms around here growing vegetables and other farm produce. It’s also possible to stay overnight in a farmstay type of accommodation
- For dinner, head out to Geylang to check out a local specialty (if you dare). Aside from being a red light district, locals come here to try the exotic frog porridge. For those who love Peranakan architecture, Geylang has one of the most underrated assortment of intricately designed shophouses in Singapore.
- Where to eat: JB Ah Meng (534 Geylang Road, +65 6741 2418) may not have awe-inspiring ambiance but the local food is topnotch. Come slightly before 6PM in the evening to avoid a snaking queue.
Where to Stay in Singapore
Budget – Wink Hostel is one of the first capsule hotels to open in Singapore and until today remains to be highly rated among budget digs. The clean, white look creates a pleasant feel while private pods are a bit more spacious than capsule hotels elsewhere in Singapore.
Midrange – I can’t recommend Hotel Yan enough. Rooms are on the cozy side but are clean while breakfast at Cafe Nido is generally excellent. The surrounding Jalan Besar neighborhood is also among my favorites in Singapore with its hipster scene.
Luxury – Pan Pacific Singapore is among my top picks for luxury accommodations in Singapore. It’s markedly cheaper than the Ritz Carlton and Mandarin Oriental next door while still affording guests that iconic Marina Bay view.
Not sure where to stay during your visit? Check out this area by area guide of the best hotels in Singapore or book the best hotel deals HERE.
- Travel Insurance: Singapore is the most expensive country in Southeast Asia. Getting travel insurance here makes more economic sense as even a routine doctor’s visit to a specialist could cost hundreds of dollars. I normally purchase from Worldnomads as they have quite an extensive coverage, even including personal accidents into their list of benefits.
- Changing Money: If you can’t get a good exchange rate to convert for Singapore Dollars in your home country, the Change Alley located in Raffles Place offers some of the best forex rates in Singapore. They accept several currencies, including all major world currencies and several Asian currencies.
- Local Sim Card: Singapore is a heavily wired country but finding that free wifi spot isn’t as easy as one may think. Most networks require passwords to access. You are better off getting a prepaid SIM card with data. Prices are quite cheap – a sim starts from S$11 and gets you 100gb of data.
- Weather: Singapore is a year-round destination though December tends to be the wettest with rain occurring almost daily but only for relatively short bouts.
Transport Options in Singapore
Grab – Can be quite useful especially if you’re coming from the airport. For rides within the city, Grab, for the most part can be cheaper than taking a taxi.
MRT/Buses – The public transport system in Singapore is generally efficient and inexpensive though it can get very crowded at times. Most areas within the city centre are well-covered by trains.
Taxi – Cab drivers in Singapore are generally honest and sometimes (overly) chatty. However, it’s not always easy to get one. Drivers are known to be extremely choosy and they’re often seen scouting taxi stands for destinations that are up to their liking. Taxis are also more expensive during peak periods (i.e. during morning and evening rush hour and weekends) in which case, it may be cheaper to take Grab.
Have you been to Singapore before? Share with us your itinerary in the Lion City!