Singapore has many things to offer: shopping, food, culture and world-class attractions. It’s a small country but it packs a punch. Here’s how you should spend your time!
Gardens by the Bay
This is absolutely at the top of my list of things to do in Singapore. This huge garden is located behind the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. There’s a series of different gardens that are free to walk around in. Then there’s the two enormous greenhouses – the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest. These cost to go in, but are worth every penny. The Flower Dome contains plants and flowers from all over the world. My understanding is that the flower displays change – when I was there, the theme was Lilytopia and contained, you guessed it, hundreds and and hundreds of lilies. There’s also a cafe inside. The Cloud Forest contains a manmade mountain covered in plants – giving a whole new meaning to vertical garden – and a waterfall. You can walk up the mountain via series of suspended walkways and it’s quite spectacular – especially if you’re in there for “misting” time where clouds form inside and essentially water the plants. An added bonus is these greenhouses are blissfully cooled so it’s a great activity to escape the heat and humidity outside.
Finally, time your experience well and be there at 7.45pm when the Supertrees in Supertree Grove put on a truly spectacular sound and light show – this is definitely not to be missed – trust me. The show goes for about 15 minutes or so and is completely free. Again, the theme changes, but I saw Garden Rhapsody – a medley of classical tunes that was honestly just magical. Try and get there early – and don’t be tempted to dwell on the stairs where everyone seems to congregate. Push through and be at ground level – there’s plenty of room to sit and marvel at these amazing structures, and the view is just as good, if not better.
When booking your ticket, go for the “with breakfast” option and spend your morning eating with the orang utans. It’s an awesome way to start your zoo experience. Now I won’t lie, I started with this and then a huge storm rolled in preventing me from exploring much of the zoo. But the small amount I did see was very impressive – and the grounds are stunning. My tip? ITake an umbrella, but also a raincoat or poncho – when the rain rolls in the umbrella will do little to keep you dry. Plus, packing your own means you won’t run the risk of the gift shop being sold out by the time you get there.
Think large island theme park. There’s a lot going on at Sentosa. There’s shops, there’s rides, there’s Universal Studios, there’s an aquarium, plus many many other attractions. It is definitely not a cheap day out. You pay to get the monorail out to the island, and each attraction has it’s own entry fee. I took it easy at Sentosa – only going into the S.E.A Aquarium. This place is truly impressive. There are some huge, really huge, displays of marine life. Everything from dolphins and sharks to stingrays and truly creepy looking jellyfish. I went on a Saturday during the school holidays and the queues for most attractions were very long. The waits for restaurants were the same. Eating in Malaysian Food Street gave us more options for seating, and escaping the crowds at one of the bars on the beach, to relax with a Singapore Sling, was a nice way to spend the afternoon.
Orchard road and the many malls
Orchard Road is the famous shopping stretch of never-ending malls. They all seem to join up so it’s possible to enter one shopping centre and keep walking and end up three shopping malls down the street. Don’t get me wrong, Orchard is great, especially if you’re after higher end stores. But, Singapore has a lot of malls away from the hustle and bustle of Orchard. Raffles City and The Shoppes (located at the Marina Bay Sands), and the plethora of others located throughout the city, have many of the same shops but less crowds. Customer service in shops is generally excellent too – so your shopping experience will be a good one.
If you want to shop outside of the malls completely, Haji Lane is my top recommendation. Located in Kampong Glam, also known as the Arab Quarter, this narrow lane has somewhat of a Melbourne vibe. It has cute little stores full of knickknacks and independent fashion labels – as well as cafes and small restaurants. Kampong Glam itself has a spectacular-looking mosque, Middle-eastern cafes, and Arab Street in particular is a haven for fabric shopping.
Not a big foodie myself, I am not going to pretend to be an expert on food in Singapore. But I will say, to me, there are two “types” of places to eat in Singapore. Hawker centres and food courts (the type you find inside shopping malls), or fairly expensive (again, my opinion) European food. The first has all your usual Asian fare, sold cheap, but at times, difficult to find a seat to enjoy the meal. By far, my most enjoyable experience was at Makansutra in Marina Bay. It’s on the small side, but there’s a good variety of hawker stalls to choose from, the food is delicious, and as the light fades, you can take a nice walk around the marina and take in Singapore all lit up.
Otherwise, you can take your pick from more upmarket restaurants, many of which serve up European-style food. For sure some are more expensive than others, but on the whole, I found dining in Singapore to be more costly than what I am used to in Melbourne. Of the two nights I didn’t eat hawker-style food, I ate at Jamie’s Italian on Orchard Road – the perfect place for your pasta fix and the dessert was incredible – and at Brotzeit at Raffles City. Here I ordered the veal goulash with buttered spatzle – usually the kind of dish I would love in the middle of winter, but this was so good I enjoyed every mouthful anyway!
- Taxis are cheap, but the MRT is cheaper. The MRT is a great way to get around Singapore. Not only is it super cheap, but it is quick and efficient and easy to navigate. It’s also very clean, air-conditioned and, unlike where I live, people actually wait for you to get off the train before they try and board. One thing to note though – there’s no eating or drinking on the train, or within the train stations. And you will get told off if you try.
- Get to know Singapore’s underground. No, I’m not talking about dark alleys and seedy characters. I’m talking about the series of tunnels that link large parts of the city. These underpasses stretch kilometres, are air conditioned and are lined with shops and cafes and small restaurants. I was able to walk from Raffles City down to Marina Bay this way.
- Sunday is not a quiet day. So if you’re thinking Sunday might be a day where queues are smaller and shopping centres are less crowded, think again. Sundays are just as hectic (especially if you’re around during school holidays like I was). So plan your activities carefully. The shops were a lot easier to walk around during the week when everyone is at work.
- Sleep in. Shops don’t open until 10.00. In fact, some didn’t open until 10.30 or 11.00. On the plus side, they stay open much later. So sleep in, have a leisurely breakfast and then head out.
- If you tend to feel the cold, carry a light cardigan with you – the air conditioning in most buildings can get very cold, regardless of what it’s like outside.
Of course, there’s many more things to see and do in Singapore – jump aboard the Singapore Flyer, visit the Merlion statue, have a cocktail at the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel. This is merely a snapshot of my most recent visit. What are your recommendations? Leave us a comment below.