Singapore has been described as a playground for the rich, and it’s true that the small city-state does have a certain sheen of wealth. But Singapore offers more than just high-end shopping malls, luxury hotels, and fine dining (though it’s worth indulging in those a bit if you can). There is also a vibrant history and diverse ethnic quarters to discover, along with many family-friendly attractions and lovely public spaces that make visiting this slightly futuristic city worthwhile.
Singapore has an excellent public transportation system that makes getting around convenient and easy. Once you’ve gotten a sense of the metro map, you’ll have no problem zipping from one part of town to the next. English is spoken everywhere, and signs are in English as well. In fact, Singapore is one of the easiest and most comfortable countries to navigate in Southeast Asia. And as long as you’re not comparing prices to nearby Thailand or Vietnam, you’re in for a lovely stay. For ideas on things to see and do, read our list of the top attractions in Singapore.
1. Marina Bay Sands
The opulent Marina Bay Sands resort complex includes a high-end luxury hotel, a mall with a canal running through it, the ArtScience Museum, and the Marina Bay Sands Skypark Observation Deck—a vantage point for taking in the entire city. The Skypark’s viewing deck and infinity pool are found in the ship (yes, ship) that tops the hotel. Only hotel guests are allowed to use the infinity pool, but anyone can visit the observation deck.
From the Skypark, you can see the innovative double helix bridge, the port, the Gardens by the Bay (101 hectares of land converted into waterfront gardens), and the impressive skyline.
While up there on top of the city, guests can grab a snack or a coffee at the rooftop restaurant or pick up some keepsakes from the souvenir stand. You can purchase a photo of yourself green-screened in front of the massive hotel as it’s all lit up at night, but the cost is steep at 50 Singapore dollars—better to ask a fellow tourist to snap a photo of you if possible. The elegant opulence of the Marina Bay Sands exemplifies Singapore’s style and status as a major international city in Southeast Asia.
2. Gardens by the Bay
Once you’ve glimpsed this beautifully designed green space (from the top of the Marina Bay Sands, perhaps) you won’t be able to stay away. Wander through the Bay East Garden, perfect for enjoying the vibrant plant life and escaping the city bustle for a moment. You won’t want to miss Supertree Grove, where you’ll find a cluster of the iconic, futuristic structures designed to perform environmentally sustainable functions. Then, head to the Cloud Forest Dome to see the world’s tallest indoor waterfall and learn a bit about biodiversity. Check the website for ticket sale prices and tour times.
3. Botanic Gardens
Not to be confused with the Gardens on the Bay, the Botanic Gardens are also worth a visit. Singapore received its first UNESCO World Heritage nomination for its botanical gardens, and with good reason. The city can sometimes feel like a concrete jungle, albeit a clean and comfortable one, but the botanic gardens preserve pieces of Singapore’s wilder heritage. Here, a walking trail leads to the gardens’ heritage trees, which are conserved as part of an effort to protect the city’s mature tree species. Make sure to visit the impressive National Orchid Garden as well.
Other popular things to do include visiting the eco-garden, eco-lake, bonsai garden, sculptures, and several other formal gardens.
4. Singapore Zoo
Billing itself as the world’s best rainforest zoo, the Singapore Zoo is a pretty impressive place. The facility is clean and inviting, and the animals appear well treated, with plenty of lush vegetation and habitat space. The orangutans are particularly impressive, and visitors can watch as babies and adults alike swing high above their platforms and snack on fruits. There is also a large chimpanzee family, zebras, meerkats, a komodo dragon, mole rats, white tigers, kangaroos, and many other creatures.
Guests can observe feedings for some of the animals. Allow at least three hours to make your way around the zoo. If the zoo doesn’t satisfy your need for getting close to wildlife, there’s also the Night Safari, River Safari (including a giant panda forest), and the Jurong Bird Park. Park hopper passes are available if you plan to visit more than one of the wildlife parks. For a unique and personal wildlife experience, try the Singapore Zoo Breakfast with the Orangutans. This hassle-free tour includes transportation from and to your hotel, allows you half day to explore the zoo, and has an optional upgrade to enjoy breakfast in the company of the zoo’s much-loved orangutans.
5. Orchard Road
One could be forgiven for coming to Singapore and doing nothing but shopping, as this is a world-class city for style and designer chic. The Orchard Road area is a great place to start a shopping spree, as there are high-end stores at every turn. You’d expect nothing less from a neighborhood that boasts 22 malls and six department stores. There are also four movie theaters, including an IMAX cinema, and a KTV karaoke establishment. If you get hungry while burning through all that cash, there are plenty of eateries in the neighborhood serving international food.
6. Singapore Flyer
If the observation deck at the Marina Bay Sands doesn’t quite do it for you, try taking in high tea while looking out over the city from the Singapore Flyer, the world’s largest giant observation wheel. Choose from several different packages that allow you to be served and pampered while enjoying a view that encompasses not only the Singapore skyline but as far away as the Spice Islands of Indonesia and Malaysia’s Straits of Johor. There are several different ticket packages to choose from, and each includes access to the multimedia Journey of Dreams exhibit, which delves into Singapore’s history and the creation of the Singapore Flyer.
Flights last 30 minutes and run from early morning until late at night, so you can choose which view of the city you want to enjoy: the beginning of another bustling day or when Singapore is aglow after dark.
7. Raffles Hotel Singapore
This colonial building is one of the world’s last grand 19th-century hotels, once visited by literary luminaries such as Rudyard Kipling and Joseph Conrad, as well as movie star Charlie Chaplin. Built in 1887, the property has served as a city landmark for well over a century and continues to live up to its tony reputation with excellent food and service. The classical architecture and tropical gardens provide a refined setting and represent another facet of Singapore’s varied and rich history.
The Raffles Hotel Singapore is located in the city’s Colonial District, which is also home to several other historic sites, and a good place to base yourself in the city. Here, you’ll find the Raffles Landing Site, where Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, is said to have stepped ashore in 1819. The story has it that he saw the small fishing village but recognized its potential as a port, so he purchased the land from the Sultan of Johor and invited Chinese and Indian immigrants to move here. And so the seeds of Singapore’s multi-ethnic identity were sown.
If you’ve ever visited China, Singapore’s Chinatown neighborhood will bring you right back here. From the small mom-and-pop stores and authentic Chinese food to the bright red lanterns, there’s excitement and hustle in this district. You can visit the Chinese Heritage Centre and see the impressive and beautiful Sri Mariamman Hindu temple. Another temple worth seeing is the Buddha Tooth Relic temple. If you’re up early enough (think 4am), you can hear the morning drum ceremony. Or you can just check out the closing ceremony in the evening after viewing the relic.
Heritage markers have been installed throughout the neighborhood in English, Japanese, and simplified Chinese, so visitors can better understand the significance of the area. But this neighborhood is not just a testament to the influence of the Chinese throughout Singapore’s past. This is a progressive neighborhood (with free Wi-Fi for all), and it’s home to the trendy Ann Siang Hill area, where the quaint bistros and upscale boutiques could be at home in any Western city.
9. Sentosa Island
Singapore isn’t exactly known as a beach destination, but if you’re really craving some fun in the sun, Sentosa Island is the place to find it. Siloso Beach is a good spot for getting in beach time, and visitors can play volleyball on free courts or go kayaking and skimboarding. There are several other beach attractions as well, plus an Underwater World aquarium, where you can swim with dolphins.
A must-see on Sentosa Island is the Merlion, Singapore’s famous statue that has the head of a lion and the body of a fish. You can take an escalator to the top of the statue and enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding area. Adventurous types will want to check out The Flying Trapeze and the SeaBreeze Water-Sports @ Wave House, where you can try your hand at flying strapped to a water-propelled jet pack