There’s a lot to love about Singapore. A modern city with a storied past, it’s a cultural melting pot home to an endless list of must-try food and unique experiences. From Hawker Centres to Michelin-Starred Restaurants, hidden rooftop views and secret speakeasies to a range of distinct neighbourhoods and heart-pumping fun, you’ll have no trouble filling your itinerary. To help get you started, here are 16 things you absolutely must do in Singapore! Best of all, these tips come from someone who used to live there (that’s me!) so, hopefully, you’ll find a few tips you haven’t read elsewhere.
But first, watch this…
1. Eat at Hawker Centres
Singapore is a destination made for food lovers! Eating is a favourite pastime among locals so, trust me, you haven’t had the full Singapore experience if you haven’t absolutely stuffed yourself with food. With so many different influences there’s no shortage of amazing dishes from a huge range of cuisines to try and the Hawker Centres are the perfect place to start. The food here is authentic, delicious and affordable!
Arriving at your first Hawker Centre can be intimidating as there are so many different spots to choose from, each offering a different type of cuisine or speciality. Keep your cool and don’t be intimidated! You want to start by staking out a seat at a table, taking note of the table number if it has one. Then do a lap of the Hawker Centre to see which dishes take your fancy and get to ordering! You’ll probably find most dishes range between SG$2.50 – $10 at most so it’s a good idea to order a few different things to share, family-style. In some spots, the vendors will ask for your table number and bring the food over to you. In others, you’ll need to wait for it to be ready or come back in 5-10 minutes to check. Just ask them and they’ll tell you.
There are loads of must-try dishes but some of my favourite recommendations include Char Kway Teo, Carrot Cake, Chicken Rice, Popiah, Roti Prata, Rojak, Satay, Chilli Crab and Ice Kachang! There’s a seemingly endless list of Hawker Centre’s to choose from but I love the East Coast Lagoon Food Village (Read: 11 must-try stalls), Maxwell Food Centre (Read: 14 must-try stalls), Chinatown Complex Food Centre (Read: 10 must-try stalls) and Tiong Bahru Food Centre (Read: 18 must-try stalls). You should also check out Lau Pa Sat which has an epic Satay Street set-up from 7pm to midnight where they shut down the street to traffic and vendors put out tables and chairs, enticing diners in with tasty bites.
2. Visit Rooftop Spots
One of the best ways to see Singapore is from above! It’s going to give you a chance to see the city from a new angle and provide a better perspective of the island, where everything is located and how small it really is. There are some great spots to check out including hidden ones like Pinnacle @ Duxton and Orchard Central Roof Garden as well as popular rooftop bars like Ce La Vi and 1-Altitude. For more details, you should read our guide to 11 Incredible rooftop views you must visit in Singapore.
3. Check out the East Coast Parkway
I used to live in Bedok so my family and I spent a lot of time at the East Coast Parkway. It’s become one of my favourite spots to go back to each time I visit Singapore. Most visitors, especially first-timers, will head to well-known central spots, which makes the ECP the perfect hidden gem for the intrepid! Here, you can hire bicycles and ride them along the waterfront, sit on the beach and eat at some fantastic local seafood spots too. It’s a great spot for sunset, with cheeky views of the city from certain angles too! At night, the horizon comes alive with sparkling lights from the container ships just offshore. Find the East Coast Parkway here.
4. Explore Little India
There are so many great neighbourhoods and areas to explore in Singapore but be sure to put Little India on your list. In terms of food, The Banana Leaf Apolo serves authentic and absolutely delicious Southern Indian Food, concluding their famous fish head curry and mango-prawn curry. My personal favourite place to eat is Komala Vilas, a low-key spot serving the very best cheap eats including the most divine paper masala dosai on the island! Take a visit to one of the oldest Hindu temples in Singapore, Sri Veeramakaliamman or Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple. The Tekka centre is great for cheap street eats and the wet market is a great spot to explore as well! I’d also recommend checking out Little India Arcade, a narrow maze of alleyways adorned with cool gifts and souvenirs. Find Little India here.
5. Try a traditional Singaporean breakfast
Singapore has a fantastic cafe scene with loads of great spots to visit for a delicious breakfast or brunch! But be sure to give yourself the opportunity to visit a Hawker Centre and sample a traditional Singaporean breakfast. Visit early in the morning and you’ll find only a few stalls are open, which makes finding the right one a whole lot easier. You’ll want to sample some of Singapore’s famous silk-stocking coffee, known as ‘Kopi,’ which is pretty much rocket fuel and comes in many different forms (this guide to ordering Kopi like a local is a must-read!)
You also need to try Kaya Toast, a local delicacy! Golden, crispy white toast is stuffed with a square of salty butter and spread with kaya, a custard jam made from egg, coconut and pandan. Usually, you’ll be able to order a set which comes with soft-cooked eggs on the side (splash a little soy over the top for the full experience!). If you see anyone selling fried dough sticks, known as youtiao, be sure to order one of those and dip it in your coffee for a jolt of local flavour.
6. Visit Tiong Bahru
Tiong Bahru is another really cool neighbourhood worth adding to your itinerary! Built in the 1920s, it’s one of Singapore’s oldest houses estates and the buildings here are really cool! Interestingly, it was known as the den of beauties as wealthy men were known to house their mistresses here. Now, it’s a hip neighbourhood with plenty to see and do! Explore the cool boutiques, grab a bite at the famous Tiong Bahru Bakery or a cool, hipster cafe and be sure to explore the Tiong Bahru Market. When we visit, there’s usually new street art adorning the buildings so keep your eyes peeled! Find Tiong Bahru here.
7. Wander through Gardens by the Bay
Honestly, Gardens by the Bay may seem like the most touristy thing to do in Singapore but it’s so awesome! I mean, I keep going back and visiting time and time again, it’s just so good! We love exploring the incredible cloud forest and flower dome then heading to the Supertree Grove for the incredible evening light show! Now, I know Marina Bay Sands is incredibly popular and a place on many people’s bucket lists, I haven’t included it on this list as a must-do as I haven’t stayed there, personally. Find Gardens by the Bay here.
8. Take a guided tour of the city
We did a guided tour with the guys at Monster Tours and, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting a lot. I figured cos I’d lived in Singapore, I knew and had seen it all! I was wrong. Our tour guide was amazing, sharing so much history about Singapore with us. What’s more, he ordered food I’d never tried before (like the BBQ stingray in the photo below), showed us some really cool hidden bars and gave us deeper insight into Singapore’s storied past. A guided tour is a great way to break down the barriers of a new city and we can’t recommend monster highly enough! Find Monster Tours here.
9. Marvel at Jewel
Since it first opened, Jewel and the iconic Rain Vortex have become a bit of an Instagram sensation and, honestly, I wasn’t quite sure it would be able to live up to the hype! But, when we visited, I was honestly blown away. To visit: you have to be on the land side of the airport, meaning you have to enter Singapore. It is NOT located within the airside of Changi Airport. You can access Jewel from every terminal but you’ll need a bit of time in-between flights to properly see and experience it without panicking about missing your flight. Read: The BEST guide to visiting Jewel at Changi Airport.
10. Check out Chinatown
Chinatown is another fantastic neighbourhood perfect for your Singapore itinerary! Now, right upfront, I do just want to say that there are some streets here that are super touristy so to get the full Chinatown experience you’re going to need to dig a little deeper. Personally, I love to explore the stunning Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and watch the Uncle’s play chess in the shaded areas outside. You should also check out the gorgeous Thian Hock Keng Temple, Sri Mariamman Temple and get a bite to eat at the Maxwell Food Centre. Be sure to try the dumplings, roast pork, pork rib soup and BBQ! Find Chinatown here.
11. Visit the Singapore Zoo and Night Safari
I’ve visited quite a few zoos in my time but none quite like the Singapore Zoo and Night Safari! The night safari, especially, is an awesome experience for big and little kids alike. The exhibits at both are just stunning and there are plenty of opportunities to learn about the animals who call the zoo home, including insight into conservation and some really cool close-up animal encounters. Find Singapore Zoo here and Find Night Safari here.
12. Find hidden bars
If you love a tipple at the end of the day you’re going to love exploring Singapore’s hidden bar scene! Now, right upfront, you need to know alcohol is quite the luxury item in Singapore. It’s heavily taxed so you’ll find prices are most likely more than you’d expect to pay in your home country. Armed with that knowledge, you can set forth to uncover the island’s coolest speakeasies and low-key spots. Be sure to uncover the very swanky 28 Hong Kong Street, tucked behind a nondescript door and the 1920’s-inspired Spiffy Dapper. Read: 8 of Singapore’s best hidden bars and speakeasies.
13. Wander the waterfront
If you’re an early riser or just love to soak in a great sunrise when you visit a new destination, be sure to get up early and head down to the waterfront near the Merlion and Fullerton Bay Hotel. Here, you’ll be able to watch the sunrise behind Marina Bay Sands. This is an experience most tourists don’t get to have as Singapore tends to be a destination you explore later in the day and into the night. Making the effort to get up early will allow you to see Singapore from a unique perspective!
Whether you get up early or sleep-in late you may like to check out more of this area, doing a loop to check out the Merlion, Esplanade Bridge, the Helix Bridge and around to Marina Bay Sands. Local operators offer Singapore Bumboat Cruises which will take you on a journey through Singapore’s waterways. Matt and I did one a few years ago and were surprised at how much we enjoyed it! It’s a great way to beat the heat while still getting in some sightseeing and the boats have pre-recorded voiceovers sharing key insight into Singapore’s fascinating history. Find Singapore River Bumboat Cruises here
14. Explore Mount Fabre Peak and the Henderson Waves
For stunning views make your way to Fabre Peak, where you’ll find a nook of trendy cafes and restaurants offering the very best vantage point for sunset drinks and great food. Be sure to wander around the area a little as you’ll find quite a few spots to snap photos of the island and gain a better understanding of its size and layout. While you’re there you should definitely check out the Henderson Waves, the island’s highest pedestrian bridge at 36-metres above ground. The bridge was designed to mimic the shape of a wave, curving high overhead and creating great spaces to sit and relax for a while. Find Mount Fabre Peak here and find Henderson Waves here.
15. Spend the day at Sentosa
You could easily spend an entire day at Sentosa Island and, if you want to really expand your Singapore adventure, could even book a stay at a hotel or luxurious beachfront resort and spend a night or two here as well. Sentosa is the home of fun with the Adventure Cove Waterpark, Mega Adventure Park, Universal Studios, S.E.A Aquarium, 4D Adventureland, AJ Hackett Bungy and so much more on offer! There’s also a wealth of beachfront restaurants and bars to choose from as well as low-key activities like the Fort Siloso Skywalk to fill your days. Find Sentosa here.
16. Dine at Ann Siang Hill and Club Street
I’ve shared a lot of local food spots but, honestly, that’s only half of Singapore’s incredible food scene! In addition to cheap eats at Hawker Centres, Singapore has a fantastic fine-dining scene with trendy restaurants dotted all over the island. One of my family’s favourite spots is the Ann Siang Hill and Club Street district. This area comes alive after dark with a string of really cool bars to choose from and loads of restaurants sure to tempt your tastebuds. Navigate your way along the winding roads, through the after-work expat crew and duck into any spot that takes your fancy. There are so many to sample including Cugini Trattoria Pizzeria, Fotia, The Coconut Club, L’Angelus and IZY. Find Ann Siang Hill and Club Street tips here.
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