I was really excited to go to Singapore! During my Pinterest sessions I saw tons of amazing pictures portraying this multicultural city-state with its wonderful attractions and its breathtaking skyline. We made a list of what we wanted to do in Singapore and five days (four and a half to be exact) would be plenty of time to see and do it all. Brecht booked us a stay at 85 Beach Garden Hotel, situated near an MRT station and not too far from the places we planned to visit. (Read more about our stay at this hotel in one of our next blogposts.) Singapore is often referred to as “sterile” and seen as no more than a “stopover”. To us it just felt clean and organized and during our five day stay we weren’t bored once. Although accommodation in Singapore is quite expensive, especially compared to the rest of Southeast Asia, we managed to keep all other expenses in check. It’s possible to experience Singapore without flushing your savings: public transport (MRT) is easy and cheap, hawker centres serve good food at decent prices and there’s a lot to see for free. Almost everything we did was free, unless explicitly mentioned otherwise. Check out our expense report for Singapore for more details!
What to do in Singapore, a multicultural city-state
We were amazed by the different cultures living side by side in harmony in Singapore. This multicultural city-state is mainly populated by Chinese, Malays and Indians. Visiting different districts almost feels like visiting different countries. Of course this is also reflected in Singaporean food. Read more about where to eat in Singapore in one of our next blogposts. On our first day in Singapore we took the MRT to Little India. We visited the Mustafa Centre, known as a shopping mecca opened 24/7. It’s not pretty or glamorous but they sell a lot of everything, stacked space efficiently in a four story building. We saw shoes, clothes, electronics, jewellery, toys, handbags, toiletries, a pharmacy, a travel agency, books, art, souvenirs, and fabrics. You name it, they sell it. There are money changers as well, offering rates that are hard to beat.
Tekka Centre is another multistory building housing shops and a hawker centre (a food court, different food stalls with common tables). Brecht was tired of “window shopping” (we can’t fit much souvenirs or extra clothes in our backpacks), so we didn’t look around and went straight to the food court. We had a very good Tandoori chicken with naan and delicious honey prata for dessert. Tekka Centre is right next to the MRT station, so this was the end of our short exploration through Little India. Next stop: Chinatown. The MRT station spit us out on Pagoda Street together with a bunch of other people. This walking street is lined up with stalls selling souvenirs, clothes, basically everything tourists can possibly need or want. We saw a sign advertising the Lion Dance Performance, which apparently is held every Saturday at 18h55 on Pagoda Street. Eventually we didn’t make it, but I can image it’s a nice show.
We paid a quick visit to the Chinatown Complex, known for its hawker centre, but we were not hungry yet. We only did the ground flour, filled with little shops selling mostly clothes. There should be a wet market as well. Outside of the Chinatown Complex, old Chinese men were playing some kind of board game, just like the China I know from movies. The last cultural district we visited is Arab Street. It’s perfect for some great pictures with its colourful shops (often selling fabrics) and buildings. We passed the Sultan Mosque which was stunning from the outside, but that day unfortunately closed for renovation works. Don’t miss the street art in Haji Lane!
Singapore essentials: Marina Bay
A definite must do in Singapore is a walk around the Marina Bay. You’ll get to see the famous Singapore skylines from different angles: truly impressive, probably even more at night. You’ll see the famous Marina Bay Sands Hotel, the one with the ship on top, and the futuristically looking ArtScience Museum.
We walked through Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, a fancy luxury shopping centre filled with designer shops. The Christmas decorations were wonderful, complete with a little Christmas town. Most shops exceeded my normal clothes shopping budget, but we found a Zara as well. You can even take a gondola ride through the shopping centre. Yep, that fancy! The next attraction on our walk around Marina Bay was the Helix Bridge. This pedestrian bridge connects both sides of the bay, making a walk around it possible. It has four viewing points overlooking the Marina Bay and is lit up beautifully at night.
On our way to the Merlion Park we passed the Float@Marina Bay, a huge floating stage, and Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay. Check out the Esplanade website for the schedule on free music and dance performances. The Merlion is the icon of Singapore, a creature part fish and part lion. The body of a fish represents the fishing village Singapore used to be, and the head of a lion refers to Singapura, the original name meaning lion city. It seemed they were performing renovations to this gigantic statue, as fences were set up all around it and it wasn’t spouting water. Every day at 20h an 21h30 (and on Friday and Saturday at 23h as well) there’s Wonder Full, a light and water show in front of Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. It is best seen from the Event Plaza at the Promenade (where the marker is on the map). It was a nice show with cool effects and spectacular lasers, but we could have skipped it. We liked the KLCC Dancing Fountains in Kuala Lumpur better, even though it wasn’t as fancy!
Disneyland with a death penalty
Brecht and I both love theme parks (especially the thrill rides), so we just had to visit Universal Studios Singapore! Even though we had some rain, we still loved every second of it. Read all about it in our guide to Universal Studios Singapore, explaining where to get your discounted entrance tickets (we paid S$56 instead of S$74), how to get there, what to bring and most importantly which attractions to do first and which to skip.
Singapore, city in a garden
Between the skyscrapers and futuristic buildings there’s a lot of green to be found in Singapore, the city in a garden. The well known Gardens by the Bay, with its wonderful Supertrees, are a popular attraction among tourists. This was the part of Singapore I was most excited to see. We took the MRT to Bayfront Station and walked straight into the park. We walked through the Japanese, Chinese and Malay gardens to the Supertree Grove. Wow, those Supertrees are truly magnificent! You can walk the OCBC Skyway connecting two Supertrees for S$5. When we arrived in the early afternoon there was no queue, but we decided to first take a look around “at ground level”. Unfortunately when we got back, there was a long line of impatient tourists, so we skipped the Skyway, probably missing out on a great view over the park and the Marina Bay.
Due to an incorrect piece of information, we missed Garden Rhapsody, the music and light show that make the Supertrees come alive. We don’t want you to make the same mistake, so here are the correct performance hours: daily at 19h45 and 20h45. On Friday and Saturday (not Sunday!) there’s an extra show at 21h30. We skipped the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest, as both require an entrance fee and are according to many not worth the money (S$28 to visit them both). There are a lot of dining options at Gardens by the Bay from which we chose Satay by the Bay, the food court. It was quite a walk to get there and extremely busy on the Saturday night we where there. Christmas was coming, which meant lot of Christmas decorations and extra events, which had probably something to do with the overcrowded food court. We had a spinach cheese pide (S$11) and a chicken pide (S$12), both delicious! After dinner we headed over to Meadow, basically a large lawn being Singapore’s largest outdoor garden event space. There would be some (free) music performances due to the SG50 Concert Series in the Park, organised by nParks in celebration of Singapore’s 50th birthday. It was really relaxed, everyone sat down on the grass enjoying the music. Although we didn’t know any of the artists, we had a great time! Brecht wanted to do some jogging and chose Fort Canning Park to do so. It’s a nice and quiet park with a lot of history. It’s on a hilltop, so you’ll have to conquer some steps to get there.
On another hot and sunny day we took the bus (S$3.50) to the Singapore Botanic Gardens for a stroll, some reading, and some jogging. It was about 12 minutes from Bugis to the Bukit Timah Gate. The park is very large with lots to see, from swans and turtles to spices, flowers and ancient rocks. It’s a beautiful park, full of life, laughs and picnics (we visited on a Sunday), but there’s always a quiet place to be found to enjoy nature or a book. We skipped the National Orchid Garden though, which required a S$5 entrance fee.
The only shopping mall with a seat in the United Nations
We were in Singapore during the Christmas period, so Orchard Road was decorated like a Winter Wonderland. Every year there’s a best dressed building contest, which explains the grandiose efforts. Orchard Road is the place to be to do some (high-end) shopping. It’s packed with shopping malls and luxury brand shops. There is a vast stream of shoppers at all times and if you can look past them, you’ll notice some art on the sidewalks as well.
We wanted to catch an outdoor movie with MovieMob, but unfortunately there were no screenings while we were there. As you can see there are a lot of free things to do in Singapore, so you don’t need to be rich to enjoy and explore this beautiful city-state. We loved it!