Most people visiting Singapore think that the small island state has little to offer but I would argue against it. There are lots of places to visit, things to do and activities take part in Singapore to keep you busy for quite a few days. Visitors to Singapore should not be afraid to get trapped in a touristy list of things to do. You don’t have to see yet another temple and you don’t have to be reduced to shopping. What is more, a lots of things to do in Singapore will not cost you a dime. Because the best things in life are usually free.
The following list of things to do in Singapore is organized by area. Scroll through for the particular area you wish to visit. Singapore is not a large city and efficient public transportation makes it feel even smaller but it pays to walk around (though not too far as the heat is heavy) and see the city on foot.
- Things to do in the North of Singapore
- Things to do in the East Coast of Singapore
- THINGS TO DO IN SENTOSA AND WEST COAST
- Things to do in the Marina Bay Area
- Things to do in Chinatown
- Things to do in Bugis and Colonial Singapore
- Things to do in Little India and Kampong Glam
- Things to do in Orchard and Beyond
Things to do in the North of Singapore
Playing homage to New York’s Coney Islands, Singapore’s version is a newly opened park owned by the Haw Par Villa brothers. It is an entertainment hub and a place to have a fun day out. The park was closed in 1998 and has only reopened at the end of 2015 as an environmentally rich area. This is not an amusement park though, but a nature lover’s den. Bring repellent, sunscreen and energy to cycle or walk along the 50 ha island
A large park and reservoir MacRitchie is a fantastic place to spend a half day trekking through tropical forest. The longest trail is 12km long through sometimes-rocky signposted paths and thick jungle. It is a reminder that Singapore is mostly uninhabited and green. Beware of the vicious monkeys who will surely steal your lunch if you carry it visibly. The waters are filled with some fish and large monitor lizards. The jungle hides snakes and spiders as well as other animals and birds. The hanging bridge is also a cool walk.
This wetland reserve in the North of Singapore is far from the city but it is a convenient place to spot crocodiles and large monitor lizards. It is also popular with bird watchers with various watchtowers from where to wait for them to come. You can see Malaysia across the water
Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is home to 40% of Singapore’s flora and fauna and a great place to spot turtles in the wild. You can also walk all the way from MacRitchie Reservoir into Bukit Timah. The reserve tends to be less crowded than MacRitchie in the weekends and it is a great place to get back in touch with pristine nature.
One of the few (if not the only one) place you can buy local vegetables in Singapore. As nothing is grown locally, the area around Kranji, where Bollywood Veggies is, has a few farms where vegetables can be bought. Bollywood sells some of what is in season and it is a good place to see how most of the tropical varieties of fruit and vegetables look like in the tree.
Several of the animals at the Singapore zoo are nocturnal and can be visited at night, from 7pm. You can cruise around the zoo in a tram or on a boat in the River Safari. It is a great insight into some of the animals that are not usually seen in other zoos. More details here
Things to do in the East Coast of Singapore
An island only 10minutes away from the mainland on a boat is the latest vestige of Kampong life. You can rent bikes and cycle around the island as you descend back in time
East Coast cycling
East coast park stretches for 15km along the beach on the Eastern coast of Singapore. Apart from being a pleasant place to stroll, you can rent tandem bikes, regular bikes or skates. The beach is not great and the views over the maritime channel with all the container ships is not the best but the park is quiet and relaxing and miles away from the concrete jungle of the city. You can find more details here
Singapore’s Red Light District and Malay food mecca. Surprisingly, Singapore turns a blind eye on prostitution, despite the modest behavior of its citizens, and has zoned the area as an official and legal prostitution zone. Geylang used to be a marsh area filled with coconut plantations at the mouth of the Kallang River where sea gipsies and, later on Malays, used to live. Today, the area is a mixture of heritage shophouses with traditional colonial architecture from the turn of the 20th century, hawker centers with go-to Malay food, and shady streets, especially at night.
THINGS TO DO IN SENTOSA AND WEST COAST
Sentosa beach life
Manmade Sentosa is Singapore’s true beach life. You can enjoy food and rinks at any of the various restaurants, take a tour on a Segway, fly at iFly or simply enjoy the sand and water
Accessible by ferry about 30minutes from the Marina terminal, St John’s Island is relatively large and offers various picnic opportunities, some paths across the forest and a pretty crescent shaped white sand beach, Lazarus beach, popular with day yachters from Keppel and One15 Marina. Another of the Southern Islands is Kusu Island, accessible on the same ferry heading to St. John’s. The island is a good spot for a picnic and has a narrow beach but is interesting because of the temple on top of a few steps.
Haw Par Villa
A place to explore and experience Chinese folklore and mythology in a surreal landscape and architecture. This is a place to come with an open mind and to be wowed by the over 1,000 weird structures, sculptures and designs. It is hard to explain how you will feel but tales and stories won’t lack you after a visit. During WWII the villa was taken over by Japanese troops who used ti as a view point to watch for ships. The villa and sprawling grounds were built by the Aw brothers, the founders of the famous Tiger Balm ointment. The park was bought by the Singapore Tourism Board in 1985 and guided tours are now available.
Vivo City walk
Vivo City is a shopping mall with undulating outside spaces and a pleasant decked walk along the water towards the Resort’s World Sentosa
Southern Ridges walk
The Southern Ridges Park connects Mount Faber Park, Telok Blangah Hill Park, HortPark, Kent Ridge Park and Labrador Nature Reserve for 10km of walking trails. I especially like Henderson Waves, a bridge that is famous for its undulating shape. Very romantic at night.
Cable car to Sentosa
A cable car connects Mount Faber peak with Sentosa. The journeys flies over Resort’s World Sentosa and offers a bird’s eye view over this manmade achievement.
Spend a day at the spa
Pamper yourself and indulge in a 90 minute spa treatment followed by an entire day by the pool. Sofitel So Sentosa Spa offers the option to use the facilities for the entire day of your treatment. That means you can laze around the great pool, enjoy organic and healthy food at the restaurant, cover yourself in mud, chill in the waterfall pool, sweat it all out at the steam bath and enjoy some bubbles in their jacuzzi. A fabulous day to take care of yourself and yourself only.
Things to do in the Marina Bay Area
Gardens by the Bay
My most favorite part of the city is Gardens by the Bay, an incredible park with various hidden gems. I could spend hours there exploring the various gardens, the many benches, the sculptures, the river or the view on the city. The park is open until 2am and it is best visited at night when the crows have disappeared and the lights are on. It is a magical Alice in Wonderland place
Music and lights show
The 13 minute music and lights show has been playing day in day out since 2010. The best place to see it is from the seating area in the middle of the Marina Bay Sands promenade. It is played every evening twice and three times during the weekends. You can find more details here
Not necessarily an incredible activity but a new angle on the city’s Marina, the various Quays and the buildings. You can take a bumboat cruise from various stops along the river and get off anywhere you like. More details here.
The views from the Barrage
Very few come to the Barrage, the barrier protecting the Marina from the sea. This part of the city, behind the Gardens by the Bay, provides an incredible view over the city and the most jaw dropping sunset views. The Barrage building roof is a good place to lay down and enjoy the views
Level 33 Marina views
The views over the Marina can be seen from both sides of the water. On the one side, Marina Bay Sands offers great perspective over the Business District. On the other side, 1 Altitude provides striking views of the Marina Bay Sands hotel and rooftop pool. But from Level 33, you can see both sides. The bar also brews its own beer on the 33rd floor of the Financial Center
Explore the trading heritage of the city
Go on a walking tour of Singapore’s river heritage with Singapore Footprints. This is a free walking tour that explores the stories behind the Fullerton Hotel, the Padang, the River, Raffles Place…Did you know that most of what lies beyond the exit of the river into the Marina is reclaimed land? The Raffles Hotel once stood in front of the sea.
Theatre, auditorium and shopping center all in one topped with dining options by the marina. Esplanade is worth admiring from the outside for its unique and easily recognizable durian shape.
Art Science Museum
This iconic building in the Marina Bay area of Singapore is a Museum where you can find innovative, creative and modern exhibitions by the likes of Lego or renowned artists like Dali. The building stands out for its incredible architecture, very photogenic from the river onboard a River Cruise. At night, it is lit magically. Once a month, the museum also has chill out sessions with performances.
Ce La Vie
Skip the Skypark and, for the same money, get a drink at swanky Ce La Vie. Free drinks for the girls on Wednesday, like at many other places in Singapore, for Ladies Night.
Alright, so you are not a gambler. And you don’t like crowds. And you hate indoors smoking. Still, even if it is just from above, the Singapore casino is a lesson in organized gambling. Contributing to 2% of the country’s GDP and one of the Sands Group most successful casinos, before Las Vegas and even Macau, the casino attracts a lot of visitors to Singapore. Locals needs to pay. How paternalistic is that? You will find it inside the Marina Bay sands Shopping Mall.
At the Gardens by the Bay, the Flower Dome is a green house where you can find a collection of rare orchids and other tropical plants. It can get pretty hot inside in keeping with the temperature of the plants and flowers. The building is a beautiful design and the contents are also quite impressive
The symbol of Singapore is a half lion half mermaid spitting water like a fountain, across the water from the Marina Bay Sands hotel. It is best viewed at sunset time and at night when the background lights of the Business District make the water shine
Things to do in Chinatown
The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum
A newly built temple opened in 2007, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum houses a giant stupa weighing 3.5 tonnes and made from 320kg of gold, of which 234kg were donated by devotees. Inside, there is a Buddha tooth relic. Visitors cannot approach the stupa which is only accessible to the monks
Singapore is a multi-cultural society but the majority of the population are from Chinese origin. Chinatown is a thriving and historical part of the city. having its own website, Singapore’s Chinatown residents offer free walking tours to explore the city’s forefathers. You can sign up for a tour of Chinatown’s history on the site of Singapore footprints
Chinese believe in alternative medicine. Instead of taking a chemical pill, try with some herbal alternatives. The Thye Shan Medical Hall, opened in 1955 in Chinatown, is one of the oldest Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) shops. Tell the owner what ailments you have and wait to receive the prescribed concoction.
Thien Hock Keng Temple
Built in 1842, the Hokkien Thien Hock Keng Temple is one of the oldest in Singapore and it is outstanding for its architectural ingenious: the temple is built with no nails.
The facade and interiors are covered in phoenixes, carvings, intricate designs and the traditional green and red paint common in Chinese architecture. More details can be found on the website of the temple.
Chinatown wet market – Chinatown Complex
A fascinating place to see life go by and marvel at the many exotic species. Locals go to wet markets for better prices and fresh produce. At the Chinatown Market, at the end of Smith Street, you can also find weird species and food on sale, like shark, eel, frogs, sea snakes and interesting fruits. Look out (or smell out) for durian, a priced Asian fruit with a fool smell and a strange taste that is a polarizing love or hate food. Beware, as a foreigner-looking local, I was charged higher prices as many stalls do not have prices so you need to ask (or they are in Chinese) and I quickly realized I was being charged supermarket prices.
Lau Pa Sat
Lau Pa Sat is one Singapore’s most famous, and longest standing, landmarks. Located in the heart of the Business District, the market’s distinctive octagonal shape and beautiful columns were designed by British architect George Coleman. When the market was moved from its original waterfront location and rebuilt in 1894, Municipal Engineer of Singapore and Scotsman James MacRitchie added a graceful clock tower and a new cast-iron supporting structure. The market has been recently restored in 2014, and the original intricate designed of the columns and the ceiling are a stark contract with the surrounding tall glass office buildings.
But you shouldn’t come here just for the architecture. The market is now a hawker center with a buzzing satay street market everyday from 7pm on one of the border streets, and a wide range of Asian dishes to try.
Things to do in Bugis and Colonial Singapore
A Singapore institution and one I have stayed at, the Hotel’s interiors are not accessible to non guests unless you are booked at any of the restaurants for a meal or tea. The Hotel’s building is a throw back to the old age of British colonial times. You can stroll the arcade and the inner patios, where some of the bars are. The Long Bar is also home to Singapore’s famous national drink, the Singapore Sling, invented here at the turn of the century. Inside, the hotel’s heritage is visible in the noisy pipes and the old appliques, but also in the personal butler and the period furniture. It is a wonderful trip back in time.
Fort Canning Park was the site of the palaces of 14th century Malay Kings and served as the Headquarters of the Far East Command Centre and British Army Barracks. The decision to surrender Singapore to the Japanese on 15 February 1942 was also made on the hill, in the Underground Far East Command Centre, commonly known as Battle Box, which will reopen in 2016. Located in the middle of the city it is a great place for a break. The park plays host to a variety of festivals and other outdoor activities like Shakespeare in the Park. You can also visit the Spice Garden and the ASEAN Sculpture Garden.
National Gallery of Singapore
The newly opened building on the site of the old High Courts is a gift to Singapore’s art scene. Modern and contemporary artists are on display with installations as far fetched as foam structures, puppet shows and large paintings. The National Gallery is worth a visit even if just for the stunning 360 views over the Business District and the Marina. Here you will be able to see the sun set and observe the city from a different angle. Don’t forget to admire the architecture, especially the roof connecting the two buildings resembling Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia tree structures.
Asian Civilizations Museum
A fantastic place to explore Singapore’s ancestral cultures. Located by the Singapore River, the Asian Civilisations Museum showcases art from China, Southeast Asia, India, and the Islamic world. More recently, the museum has focused on the long historical connections between cultures.
Things to do in Little India and Kampong Glam
The markets of Little India
Little India neighborhood was set up during British Colonial times and still remains the area where most citizens of Indian origin live. The sounds of Bollywood dances, the fragrant smell of spices and jasmine and the shinny golden tone of the bangles dominate in a cleaner and more organized environment.
Thieves flea market at Sungei Road
From adaptors to TV sets from last century or kitchen appliances. Look for what you don’t need and you will find what you don’t want. The Sungei Thieves Flea Market may also disappear soon as the Government plans to use the are to expand the new subway line. Visit while it stands for a large dose of nostalgia and to buy those cassettes we had when we were kids.
You can find pretty much anything here from appliances to any sorts of food, clothes, furniture, snow balls, trainers, vegetables and perfumes. Mustafa Center is a Singapore institution, busy at any time of the day or night, a 24h shopping haven. Or nightmare, as you are most likely going to get lost in one of the many buildings and floors
Little India temples walking tour
National Geographic has a detailed self-guided walking tour of Little India that is great. Make sure not to miss the hyper-intricate Hindu temples of Shree Lakshminarayan and Sri Veeramakaliamman. At times of prayer both temples fill with lit oil candles, drums and singing. Make sure to remove your shoes before getting in. These temples, built during the British Colonial times, were the center of Indian culture and social gatherings and helped original settlers feel more at home.
Haunted Houses and forgotten places
Beyond all the glam and shine of the city Singapore is also home to lost gems and hidden places that locals and tourists never knew existed. My friends from Sunrise Odyssey uncovered six of these unreal places that look like they have been taken from a horror movie.
A small and narrow pedestrian lane in Arab neighborhood, Hajji Lane offers a few cafes and bars, including a good jazz club, Blue Jazz, and several hipster and local designer shops selling clothes and other accessories. The area around the lane is also known as Kampong Glam and it truly is glamorous nowadays. Hajji lane lines at the center of the Muslim quarter. But you won’t find any more shisha here, the Government sadly banned it in 2015. Discover the area through this self-guided itinerary.
Sultan Mosque is the shiniest and most easily recognizable mosque in Singapore. Its golden dome takes on a gold hue at sunset that is best seen from the rooftop bar at Maison Ikkoku. The small area around the mosque and Hajji Lane is the official Muslim/ Arab Quarter otherwise known as Kampong Glam Malay Heritage District. The mosque was finished in 1826 thanks to financing from Sir Stamford Raffles at the request of Sultan Hussain Shah, Ruler of Temasek, former name of Singapore.
Things to do in Orchard and Beyond
Ion Sky viewing point
56 levels and 218 meters above Orchard Road ION Sky gives a great view over the commercial heart of the city, for free. You can also see the city through the state-of-the-art BEHOLDTIM telescopes, the first telescope of its kind in Asia. Public access to ION Sky is from 3pm – 6pm daily. It pays to go late to see the golden hour sunlight.
Singapore’s shopping paradise is Orchard Rod. You can find all major brands and luxury stores as well as a buzzing place to people watch. The road is long, taking about 30minutes to walk the length of it. Avoid going on Sunday afternoon where it packed to the seames
Singapore has high rainfall very conducive for gold clubs and resorts to thrive. There are 13 golf clubs and 30 golf courses and, although expensive, they are also pretty beautiful. For a cheaper tee time, head to Batam, 30 minutes across the channel on a ferry. The most exclusive golf club in Singapore is the Sentosa Golf Club
Singapore’s only UNESCO site, the Botanical Gardens is a sprawling park featuring lakes, ponds, waterfalls, lawns, plants and flowers that expand xxx square meters. They are a wonderful place to stroll around, to read a book or to come for a picnic
Tiong Bahru tour
Tiong Bahru is the latest example of gentrification. A traditional neighborhood of Singapore that has seen renewed interest from bohemians and artists and has turned into the latest “hipster” area. You will find local designer shops, book stores, lovely cafes and a mix of old Singapore. The best way to explore the area is on a tour of Tiong Bahru which I have detailed for you. And don’t forget that Tiong Bahru has a fantastic hawker center even Anthony Bourdain visited when he was here. More about what to eat at Tiong Bahru Market on my post