Bustling Singapore is a country and city that delivers a diversity of food, culture, sights and activities, making it worthy of a stay that's longer than just a stopover on the way to somewhere else.
Here are 10 things to do in this colourful destination where the locals are friendly:-
Visit Gardens by the Bay
One of the most popular attractions in Singapore, and rightly so, you'll find Gardens by the Bay will have you in awe at the work that has gone into the creations and upkeep of this world of unusual plants where flowers never stop blooming. There's a lot to see and you could easily spend a day or two here. As a minimum, I suggest you check out the Flower Dome, the Cloud Forest, Floral Fantasy and the evening Garden Rhapsody light and music show at Supertree Grove.
The Flower Dome features a range of unique habitats, from the Mediterranean to the South African savannahs and a representation of Australian natives. Adding to this are the forever changing decorations during the year, based on season and various festivities taking place. During my visit in early January, remnants of Christmas were lingering whilst preparations for Chinese New Year and the Year of the Tiger were progressing. It's all well designed and set out to wander around from one garden region to another.
Upon entering the dome of the Cloud Forest, you'll feel an immediate and welcome drop in temperature, along with the cooling spray from the towering waterfall over a lush mountain clad with plants. As you walk past the spray, revel in the beauty of the Orchid Haven and other exotic plants, along with some interesting sculptures.
Venturing further, I realised the mountain was actually a building with a lift to various levels that took you to the aerial walkway, a crystal cave and other wonders that will have your head in the clouds.
Floral Fantasy is a smaller dome compared with the aforementioned domes, but is nonetheless beautiful. It's a bit of a magical hidden gem with its suspended bouquets and creative floral arrangements, a waterfall curtain and vivarium of tiny poison dart frogs in various hues. You can read more about it here in an article I dedicated to this attraction.
Be sure to plan some time for the Garden Rhapsody show in Supertree Grove, where the man-made Supertrees come alive at night in spectacular bursts of colour, accompanied by wonderful music. It's a mesmerising end to the whole experience.
Entry is free to the Gardens and some attractions, whilst others have a cost component which you can minimise by purchasing a bundled package. For information on opening hours and tickets, visit the Gardens' website.
If you love birds, then this bird park is the place for you with over 5,000 birds representing 400 species. It's a beautiful green space away from the hustle and bustle of the city, featuring a towering waterfall, suspension bridge, breeding and research centre, children's water play area, bird feeding sessions and shows.
The birds are grouped into zones - there's the African Treetops with turacos (known for their punk hairdos) and a variety of starlings and hornbills, Flamingo Lake, Penguin Coast, Pelican Cove, Birds of Prey, Lory Loft, Parrot Paradise, and more.
It's a huge spot to walk around and there are seats along the way to catch your breath and cool down from the heat, although the best way to conquer all there is to see here is to combine some walking with a tram ride that stops at 4 conveniently-spaced locations. You can hop on and off multiple times and it's an especially good way to do it for the elderly and those with very young children.
When you're looking for something to eat, there are a few cafes, a Pizza Hut Express and Wild Dining where you can lunch with parrots.
Jurong Bird Park is open Thurs-Sun and on public holidays and selected school holidays. You can get your tickets here.
Singapore is a wonderful place to explore the culture and lifestyles of the residents that call this country home. It's a melting pot of religions that come together in harmony, out of respect for each other and their differences.
The main cultural hubs to visit are those of Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam, where you'll find vibrant shophouses selling everything from perfume to silks and artefacts, colourful street art, street vendors and hawker centres, restaurants and trendy bars bringing unique experiences, all of which are flanked by the majestic architecture of surrounding temples and mosques.
There's a lot to enjoy in these neighbourhoods, which led me to write a separate article on the subject. You can view it here.
Drop in on an animal park
There's a few animal parks to traverse, the noteworthy being Singapore Zoo and River Wonders (formerly known as River Safari). They sit side by side in the north of the country, providing wild adventures into the lives of animals with thrilling encounters.
Singapore Zoo is the larger of the two parks with over 2,800 animals inhabiting a lush tropical rainforest. It's best known for its free-ranging orangutan exhibit, its centre for rescued wildlife and its dedication to conserving threatened primates and chelonians (turtles).
Both known animals and ones you've probably never heard of before grace the grounds here. See the white tiger and the babirusa in the Valley of Briosaurs, the serval and meerkats in the Great Rift Valley of Ethiopia, the Komodo dragon and giant tortoise in Reptopia, as well as African penguins, the elephants of Asia, the sun bear, and more. Children will also love the play zones, feeding bananas to elephants and melon to rhinos, and watching the animals perform in the various shows that run twice a day.
If you're not up for walking the whole 28 hectares, you'll be pleased to know there is a tram ride with 4 stops that makes your visit a lot easier. You can also hire electric scooters to get around (these are of the mobility type).
When you need a bite to eat, there's several options with a cafe, restaurant, bistros and a KFC. You can find these at the entrance and within the zoo.
Open 7days a week, 8.30am-6pm, tickets can be purchased online.
River Wonders, as the name suggests, is river-themed and it's both an aquarium and a zoo. Built over 12 hectares, this one is shaded, less tiring and great for those that have less time. It is nonetheless wonderful and will see you exploring those that live under the water and beside the water's edge.
There's a lot worth seeing from the giant pandas and the red panda in the Giant Panda Forest, to the Chinese giant salamander and sturgeon in the Yangtze River zone, the fish of the Ganges, Mekong, Mary and Nile Rivers, the African dwarf crocodile of the Congo River, the Amazon Flooded Forest and the red-bellied piranhas of the Amazon River Basin.
The Amazon River Quest is a boat ride that sees you passing by the red and black howler monkeys, the Brazilian tapir, a jaguar and flamingoes, amongst others that hail from the Amazon.
Wildlife experiences allow you to learn how animals are cared for, discover their traits, feed them and even dine next to the giant pandas. Food outlets are onsite and, as with Singapore Zoo, electric scooters can be hired.
River Wonders is open 10am-7pm every day and you can get your tickets online.
These gardens, located in central Singapore, showcase the best of tropical flora and provide visitor education in the Heritage Museum and through guided walks, tours, events and workshops.
Five different entrances provide access to a variety of wonderful sights and sounds, as follows:-
The Tanglin Entrance has an octagonal gazebo known as the Bandstand, a Bonsai Garden, Botany Centre, the aforementioned museum and the Green Gallery, Swan Lake providing a home to aquatic plants and fishes, and the Vanda Miss Joaquim (a vibrant pink orchid selected in 1981 as Singapore's national flower);
The Tyersall Entrance will have you wandering the Ginger Garden, the Keppel Discovery Wetlands, the National Orchid Garden, the SPH Walk of Giants elevated boardwalk taking you up close with a diversity of plants found in lowland rainforests, and the Learning Forest with collections of tropical bamboos and wild fruit trees;
The Gallop Entrance is the place to see artworks at the Botanical Art Gallery, for children to climb and swing on structures resembling plants at COMO Adventure Grove, to discover SIngapore's diverse forests or take a hike up Rambler's Ridge;
The Nassim Entrance is good for a bite to eat at the E J H Corner House restaurant or to enjoy the Evolution, Fragrant and Healing Gardens, as well as seeing the huge Palm Valley and Symphony Lake, and the rainforest with over 314 species of plants;
The Bukit Timah Entrance will take you to the Eco-Garden and Lake (that's perfect for birdwatching), the Foliage Garden with its ornamental plants and aquatic foliage, and the Jacob Ballas Children's Garden (an educational trip on the importance of plants in life).
Scattered throughout the gardens are a number of interesting sculptures, from frogs to birds, fountains to sundials, a clock tower, Chopin and female forms swinging. A trail map can be downloaded, making it easy to tick them off in a more timely manner.
Open all day long from 5am, entry to the gardens is free with the exception of the National Orchid Garden. It's open from 8.30am with varying ticket prices.
Not your usual theme park (there's no rides), Haw Par Villa contains over 1,000 statues and 150 giant dioramas depicting scenes from Chinese mythology, folklore, religion and history. Legends such as Chinese philosopher Confucius and Madam White Snake are represented through a labyrinth of stone sculptures and panoramic displays that tell tales, whilst Chinese classics like Journey to the West, Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Eight Immortals Crossing the Eastern Sea are brought to life in stunning detail.
Formerly known as the Tiger Balm Gardens, this enchanting 8.5hectare cultural park built in 1937 was the brainchild of Aw Boon Haw, who was the millionaire philanthropist and marketing extraordinaire that created Tiger Balm ointment. A captivating exhibition at the Jade House will have you learning more about the Haw Par Villa story.
The sculpture park is a treasure trove of Asian culture and is both quirky and enlightening at the same time. It's colourful and wonderful to explore and is Singapore's largest outdoor art gallery.
Inside this heritage gem, a darker side awaits at Hell's Museum. For thousands of years humans have searched for understanding and control over destiny in a chaotic world and have found answers through religions and belief systems. The curated displays here give visitors an insight into the commonalities in these systems and how different communities draw meaning from death and dying. This museum is the world's first of its kind exploring perspectives of death and the afterlife. The infamous 10 courts of hell provide an eye-opening experience and a hell of an interesting time.
For gifts, snacks and drinks, stop by the Visitor Centre, or unwind next to the Pagoda Pond at The Sixth Milestone, a new transport-themed bistro and cafe serving up simple local style kopi and teh, snacks and a range of beers.
Admission to Haw Par Villa is free (open 9pm-8pm, 7days) but to go to Hell (open 10am-6pm, Weds-Sun), you'll need to contribute some dollars. Get your tickets to the museum to discover how concepts behind the graphic representations of sins and punishments in the afterlife evolved as ancient civilisations shared their cultures across time and space.
Hit up the shops and indulge in delicious food
Shopping and food go hand in hand at many places and there's an endless array of both to choose from. The below places are just the tip of the iceberg, with many more options and surprises to be found by simply exploring the streets.
Orchard Road is Singapore's most famous shopping precinct with luxury retailers sporting the latest fashion trends, unique souvenirs and a myriad of other gems along its 2.2km boulevard. It's paradise for a wealth of reasons with entertainment and world-class dining options in the mix.
On the other end of the spectrum, Bugis Street Market is a mecca for bargain hunters and has just about everything you could want from T-shirts to jewellery, shoes, SIM cards and mobile phone repairs to knick knacks, food and beverages.
Other areas to visit include Chinatown, Little India, Kampong Glam, the waterside One Fullerton with views of Marina Bay Sands and The Merlion, Clarke Quay and Boat Quay at night, Suntec City and Funan Mall.
You'll find Singapore has everything from Eastern to Western cuisines with hawker food centres, markets, Michelin-starred restaurants and hip bars. If you like cocktails, don't forget to try the famous Singapore Sling, created in the early 1900's by barman Ngiam Tong Boon who worked at the Long Bar in Raffles Hotel. During my visit, the bar was closed but I managed to get the 'Sling' in Hooters at Clarke Quay and now I'm in love with cherry brandy.
A great way to relax and see some of the sights is by taking a journey up the Singapore River on a traditional wooden bumboat. Starting off at bustling Clarke Quay, you'll travel upstream past Boat Quay and onto Fullerton and Marina Bay as you pass under a number of bridges.
Interesting and iconic landmarks, such as Merlion, the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, the Singapore Flyer and many more, can be seen on this leisurely 40-minute cruise. I recommend booking the 7pm timeslot so you get to see the best of both worlds in daylight and as the sun goes down, taking you into the glittering night of lights shining bright.
Just a hop, skip and a jump away from mainland Singapore is an adventure on Sentosa Island that young and old alike will enjoy. You can do as little or as much as you like on this sunny island.
Attractions and activities include 4D Adventureland, Adventure Cove Waterpark, Universal Studios, Trick Eye Museum, Skyline Luge, Skyhelix open-air ride, Madame Tussauds, Singapore Butterfly & Insect Kingdom, Headrock VR, S.E.A. Aquarium, Wings of Time light laser show with water, and swimming with dolphins at Dolphin Island.
If you want to relax, then let the beaches entice you. There's the palm-lined, crescent-shaped Tanjong Beach for some tranquility or, for something more upbeat, Palawan Beach with its food stalls and bars on the south coast of the island and its floating aqua park HydroDash, and Siloso Beach where you can scoot around on a Segway Eco Adventure or float in the air at iFly Singapore.
Some of the above attractions and activities are free, whilst others have a cost with tickets available to purchase online.
Sentosa Island also has a number of hotels should you wish to stay close to everything, as well as award-winning spas, shopping, dining and lush rainforests.
Only 15-minutes from central Singapore, the island is connected by road (you can drive or get the Sentosa Bus or hop on hop off Big Bus), pedestrian boardwalk, Sentosa Express monorail and cable car from Faber Peak.
Check out Changi Airport
If ever there was an airport to get stuck in, you'd want it to be Singapore's Changi Airport. It's the most interesting, and an attraction in itself. Nature-themed gardens abound, dedicated to sunflowers, water lilies, orchids, cacti, butterflies, dragonflies, crystals and more.
The free Skytrain (light rail people mover) transports you between Terminals 1, 2 & 3, where the gardens can be found. But that's not all. Attached to the terminals is another building, known as Jewel Changi, which features a hotel, retail complex and dining options amongst a centrepiece known as the Rain Vortex. Surrounded by a terraced forest setting, it's the world's tallest indoor waterfall.
Other wonders at Jewel include the Canopy Park with canopy bridge, Manulife Sky Nets bouncing or walking, Foggy Bowls, discovery slides, mirror and hedge mazes, gardens and sculptures, and an augmented reality experience with dinosaurs. This particular Park attraction doesn't come free. Tickets can be purchased for individual attractions or as a bundle with various packages available.
To sum up Singapore, it's a bright recreational playground for all with friendly locals eager to help you.
Great article Irenke. Have been to Singapore five times and have only seen about five of your suggestions. Five on the bucket list for the next visit. Well worth a visit as it is clean, green and safe. Congrats on your gold.