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 but there are enough attractions listed here to stretch this to a 3-day / 4-day or even 5-day itinerary of Singapore.
Table of Contents
Day 1 – Botanic Gardens, Sentosa and Rooftop Bars
Singapore Botanic Gardens
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. The octagonal gazebo, or the “Bandstand” is a popular spot for photos.
While here, check out one of the restaurants within the botanic gardens for brunch. I recommend Botanico which is open during weekends for lunch. Its alfresco dining area is a stunner and the food is equally great. If you are exploring the Botanic Gardens on a weekday, have brunch at The Halia for a semi-open view overlooking the gardens’ lush vegetation.
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. If you intend to visit a number of attractions in Sentosa, you might want to check out the Sentosa Fun Pass for a bundled price. It covers most attractions is the island but a notable exception is Universal Studios Singapore which needs to be purchased separately.
If fun rides or theme parks are not your thing, you can also explore Fort Siloso – a seaside fort and military museum containing plenty of memorabilia from World War II.
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. For a less known rooftop bar experience, check out Levant – located on top of a colonial shophouse in Tanjong Pagar.
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 – Singapore’s Ethnic Quarters
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!
After having your fill of the area, 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. Alternatively, you can head to Tekka Market’s hawker centre for some delicious Indian food if you are on a budget.
Bugis and Kampong Glam
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. Haji Lane is lined by plenty of independent shops and bohemian cafes. At any given time of the day, you’ll find some artsy folks just hanging around here. Gelam Gallery – located in between Baghdad Street and Muscat Street, is an outdoor arts space featuring murals by local artists.
For an atmospheric dining experience at the Arab Street area, check out The Malayan Council (71 Bussorah Street, daily 11AM to 11PM) with its distinctive array of westernized Malay dishes. The restaurant is located just a block away from the imposing Sultan Mosque with its impressive golden dome as well as the Malay Heritage Centre, a museum dedicated to Singapore’s Malay community.
Around 3/4 of Singapore’s population is of Chinese descent but the city’s Chinatown makes up the traditional heart of the community. Age-old establishments mix with relatively newer ones here, including the more recent Buddha Tooth Relic Temple standing in a sea of shophouses that are nearing 100 years old. Not far from there is the Sri Mariamman Temple. The Dravidian-style temple is Singapore’s oldest Hindu place of worship. For dinner or a late-night supper, you can check out Maxwell Food Centre which contains a number of decades-old stalls. If you are in Chinatown in the day, I suggest heading to Chinatown Complex Food Centre or Amoy Street Food Centre for your local food fix.
Day 3 – From the City Centre to Singapore’s Jewel
Singapore has a host of interesting museums. I personally recommend the National Gallery (discounted tickets here) or the Asian Civilisations Museum with its wide array of art works from around the Asia-Pacific region, especially from Southeast Asia.
To gain a better understanding of Singapore as a society and as a nation, head to the National Museum for a fun and immersive experience. This is definitely not one of those stuffy museums and will keep even the kids entertained.
For a coffee break, Kurasu (261 Waterloo Street, #01-24, 10AM to 6PM) from Kyoto opened its Singapore outlet in 2017 and it has proven to be a hit with its flavorful matcha and coffee that comes directly from Japan.
For a spot of dimsum or dinner, head to 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!
Shopping in Orchard Road
After having your dose of culture in the morning, it’s time to head to the famed Orchard Road for a spot of shopping. The whole stretch is home to plenty of shopping malls containing designer brands as well as specialty shops.
- Here are some of the major 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
- 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.
Walking Along the Civic Centre and Marina Bay
Immediately east of Orchard Road is the country’s government and financial district. 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.
Gardens by the Bay
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 Cloud Forest in particular, presents an otherworldly atmosphere when visited in the evening, especially when mist fills the surrounding of the tall indoor waterfall. You can purchase discounted tickets for Gardens by the Bay here.
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
Jewel Changi Airport
Evening is a great time to stop by Jewel Changi Airport. While officially part of the airport, this gigantic lifestyle complex is a separate building from the actual airport. Things to check out here include the amazing indoor waterfall rain vortex – the first of its kind in the world. It’s also illuminated in different colors at night. For a spot of shopping, there are also a number of shops here that you won’t find elsewhere in Singapore. Other than the rain vortex, you may also want to check out the family-friendly Canopy Park, a theme park within Jewel housing a couple of attractions such as mazes, walkways made of rope hanging in mid-air and better views of the rain vortex itself. You can buy discounted tickets for Canopy Park here.
Day 4 – Unusual Singapore
Immersing in Peranakan Culture in Katong
If you have more time to spare in Singapore, I would recommend heading east to the genteel neighborhood of Katong. This is the traditional home of the Peranakans in Singapore. Katong has gentrified as of late with many of the shophouses now housing chic cafes, specialty stores as well as bakeries. That said, it’s still a rather relaxing experience to walk down this stretch as it’s typically not as busy as the streets in the city center. A suggested walking route would cover Joo Chiat Road, starting from its northern end down to the southern end followed by a stroll down East Coast Road. Attractions to check out here include the row of colorful houses near the junction of Koon Seng Road and Joo Chiat Road, a house museum called The Intan as well as the stylized Peranakan Rumah Bebe.
Where to Eat: It was said that Lee Kuan Yew used to get takeaways from Peranakan restaurant Guan Hoe Soon (200 Joo Chiat Road). The venue has plenty of regulars who swear by specialties such as Itek Tim (duck soup), Ayam Buah Keluak (chicken with tamarind gravy) and more. Alternatively, Quentin’s (139 Ceylon Road) located 3 blocks from Joo Chiat is another great option for its rather fiery Eurasian cuisine.
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 half a day to visit these islands. You can get discounted tickets here.
Heading into either Kusu/St. John’s OR Pulau Ubin will minimally require a half day trip.
Haw Par Villa
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.
A Taste of Rural Singapore in Kranji
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. If you are just planning to explore for the day, a brunch stop at Bollywood Veggies is recommended for its farm tours as well as meals with organically-sourced ingredients.
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. A notable one in particular sits along Lorong Bachok and comes with several detailed carvings.
Where to eat: JB Ah Meng (534 Geylang Road, +65 6741 2418) may not have awe-inspiring ambiance but the local food is topnotch. Specialties include the San Lou Bee Hoon and White Pepper Crab. 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. Alternatively, Dream Lodge is known for its spacious pods and hotel-like beddings while maintaining a budget
Midrange – I can’t recommend Hotel Yan enough. Rooms are on the cozy side but are clean. The surrounding Jalan Besar neighborhood is also among my favorites in Singapore with its hipster scene. Alternatively, also check out the newly renovated Wanderlust Hotel which boasts of contemporary decor and an excellent restaurant.
Luxury – PARKROYAL COLLECTION Marina Bay is among my top picks for luxury accommodations in Singapore. It’s newly refurbished and 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 now requires short term visitors to purchase travel insurance with minimum coverage of S$30,000 inclusive of covid-19. I normally purchase from Worldnomads as they have quite an extensive coverage, even including personal accidents into their list of benefits. Even if it wasn’t required, having travel insurance is advised due to the high cost of healthcare in the country.
- 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 less than S$10 and gets you 100gb of data. Alternatively, you can get a bundled sim card with unlimited transport pass if you are traveling extensively within the MRT/bus network.
- 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
Airport Transfers – Singapore’s highly efficient transport system means all signs leading to the taxi stands are clearly marked when you arrive in the airport. However, actually getting a taxi may be another matter altogether as it’s known to be tough to get a cab or Grab ride for passengers arriving during peak or odd hours (past midnight for example). To avoid the potentially long wait or unavailability of taxis, you might want to consider booking a pre-arranged airport transfer instead. You can check for various options here.
Grab – For rides within the city, Grab, for the most part can be more convenient 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. You can purchase a pre-loaded ezlink card here which can be used for MRTs and buses. Fares are also cheaper with this card versus paying by cash.
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!