One of the greatest perks of living in Asia is accessibility to some really great destinations; a weekend in Osaka, vacation break in the Philippines, bank holiday in Beijing – it’s all on your doorstep and for the most part financially viable. If you feel like escaping the craziness of your current city or just need a change of scenery in general, Singapore might just be the perfect destination for a well-deserved city break.
In fact, given the island’s relatively small size and excellent public transport network, you really can pack a lot in over a few days. Whilst many complain that there is nothing to Singapore beyond shopping malls and restaurants, that is simply not the case. The must-see list for the Singapore first timer is quite a long one and whilst impossible to squeeze it all in, we have compiled a “best of” list to ensure you catch all the highlights on offer (including shopping and eating options too of course)! You can visit Singapore any time of year due to the constant tropical climate, but June, July and August are considered the best months to plan your trip.
- Orchard Road
The majority of tourists make Orchard Road (one of Singapore’s most famous streets) their first stop and it certainly is a must-see. Orchard is consumerism in all its brash glory. All the luxury brands and fashion houses feature here; Chanel, Gucci, Mark Jacobs, Louis Vuitton who sit neatly next to high street giants like H&M, Topshop, Uniqlo and Zara. The main attraction here is undoubtedly ION Shopping Mall. This 66,000 square metre retail giant has more than 300 shops and restaurants to choose from, with an array of designer boutiques, gift shops, electronics stores, international brands and local designers, it will be a shopping excursion like you have never experienced before.
A morning making your way down Orchard Road will surely lighten your pockets. When you have spent your money and hammered your credit card into oblivion, it’s time to head out to the suburbs, as this is where Singapore’s real charm lies.
- Botanic Gardens
In true Asian style, most malls, stores and coffee shops stay open until quite late in the evening and therefore tend to move at a slower pace in the morning and most places open at or just after 11am. A lovely way to spend a morning in Singers (before it gets too hot) is the Botanic Gardens. Nestled at the top of Bukit Timah Road, it is a chilled out, clean, fresh air filled retreat amid the chaos. You’ll see joggers, al fresco yoga classes, tai-chi practitioners and dog walkers in abundance, while you stroll and enjoy the scenery and lush green trees. There are a number of excellent dining spots within the park too and the Laksa (local dish) at Casa Verdi restaurant is among the best in Singapore. Head there when you have seen the Orchid Garden, which is the garden’s main attraction, featuring more than a thousand species of orchids.
Geylang is Singapore’s “Red Light District” and given the sterility that the city is frequently accused of, a trip to this atmospheric suburb situated on Singapore’s east coast is highly recommended. If you are not there to take in the weird and wonderful seedy sights, this is the place to sample the local cuisine; which is some of the best you’ll find on the island. Here you can do as the locals do, eat claypot rice and frog porridge washed down with a Tiger beer in one of the many restaurants adjacent to a brothel.
Stepping off the subway and into Chinatown feels like you have been transported back in time. Although the scars of development are present, Singapore’s Chinatown still contains pockets of genuine authenticity. The streets are lined with Chinese shophouse and markets. Amongst the many markets you will find the Heritage Centre which is filled with wonderfully recreated 19th Century houses and scenes. If you do only one cultural activity or visit one museum in Singapore, make it this one. When you are done with the Heritage Centre, hit the markets for some requisite tack and then head over to neighbouring Club Street for some happy hour beers.
- Singapore Flyer
One of Singapore’s newest attractions is the Singapore Flyer. It is the largest ferris wheel in the world, standing almost 30 metres higher than the London Eye.
The 30-minute ride offers you a breath-taking panoramic 360 degree view, giving you excellent opportunities for a city snapshot – and apparently on a clear day you can see as far as Malaysia. But at $30 Sing dollars that’s a dollar a minute; so it’s not cheap. Keep an eye out for deals on Groupon where you can snap up half price admission tickets.
- Sentosa Island
Sentosa Island is Singapore’s answer to an Asian island beach resort and while it is predominantly man-made and a little contrived, it is not without its merits. You can take a cab, bus or the cable car (my personal recommendation) from Mount Faber to the island and its collection of parks, restaurants and beaches. The beaches stretch 3km along the southern shore of the island and are divided into three separate beaches. The best one is Tanjong Beach; it is an ideal spot for those looking for a bit of peace and quiet and given the favourable climate in Singapore, you can lay back and enjoy the sunshine. The island also hosts two of the city’s best attractions, the underwater aquarium and Universal Studios.
- Singapore Zoo
Singapore Zoo has a slightly different concept from other zoos, comprising mainly of open spaces and enclosures where animals can live in a similar setting to their natural habitat. This “open concept” zoo makes for a wonderful day for animal lovers and children alike. It is a thoughtful approach and even those who don’t generally care for zoos will be impressed. The zoo contains over 300 species so give yourself some time to take it all in. If you are an early riser, you can make it over for breakfast with the orangutans. Animal shows and feedings run throughout the day and Splash Safari featuring penguins and sea lions is a definite highlight.
- Arab Street
An afternoon spent wandering the streets of Singapore’s Arab Quarter is one well spent. This area was once the site of an old Arab Kampong. It is now lined with vibrantly coloured shops selling fabrics, carpets, perfume and Muslim wonders. You’ll easily spend a few hours meandering from shop to shop. Like Little India it is one of the most atmospheric areas of old Singapore and features the most impressive Sultan Mosque. When you are finished window-shopping or chatting with locals, stop at one of the many cafés, have a lime juice and listen to the hum of the call to prayer in the background as you take it all in.
- Clarke Quay / Boat Quay
For all things expat, head to Boat Quay or Clarke Quay (or both) for drinks and general revelry. This area really is Singapore’s playground. Boat Quay is a pedestrianized row of waterfront bars and restaurants, whilst its neighbour Clarke Quay (within walking distance) is a louder, later affair. Both are filled with young clubbers, executives, couples enjoying a date night and tourists. It is worth noting that Boat Quay is the more sedate of the two and whilst both can be accused of being tacky, no trip to Singapore is complete without checking them out.
- Eat at a Hawker centre
Finally and perhaps more importantly eat at a hawker! Do you really experience a city if you don’t sample the local cuisine and eat as the locals do? Singapore has arguably the widest selection of Asian food on the planet. Local favourites include chicken rice, chilli crab, frog porridge, laksa and nasi lemak – try them all at Singapores Hawkers (which are cheaply priced, open air food complexes) They are hundreds all over the city – Maxwell Road, Lau Pa Sat or Newton Hawker are some of the best and most tourist friendly and they are much kinder on the wallet then restaurants in the city.
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Tags: Singapore, things to do in Singapore, highlights of Singapore
Key Words: Singapore, things to see in Singapore, restaurants in Singapore, sightseeing in Singapore, shopping in Singapore
Description: Singapore is a great location for teaching or for a short break with great shopping, attractions and entertainment on offer, as well as a vast array of food and drinks to sample in the many bars and restaurants