When I first came to Singapore in 2011 as a junior high school student, what I was thinking back then was Singapore is very small, and boring. I thought “there is nothing much to see in this little island…” but after a long 7 years dwelling in this academically-grueling country, I realized my past self was wrong. Singapore, an island nation with only 719.9 km2 area (New York City is larger than Singapore, 789 km2) is actually very packed with tourist-friendly places that any foreigner who travels here should not miss.
I have been here for 7 years, and these Singapore’s destinations never fail to make me feel like a tourist. And here are my top 10 choices of Singapore’s must-visit locations which are great for both newcomers and familiar locals.
Accessibility level: High (Bugis MRT, Bras Basah MRT, and in a walkable distance from Dhoby Ghaut)
Instagenic: not really
Highlights: Shopping heaven for low to middle upper income and a food heaven.
Bugis has its own unique vibe. You can hardly find any other “Bugis” in other countries – an affordable shopping district for almost everyone with a tinge of luxury. There are two big shopping building: Bugis Village and Bugis Junction/Bugis+. The very affordable Bugis Village is an air-conditioned fashion and souvenir market with a price range of $10-$30, but even though they are not branded, the quality should not be looked down that easily – you can even bargain prices there. Bugis Village street food is a must-try too, because they mostly sell Singapore old school street food such as old-style bread, muah chee, and pia. Across Bugis Village, there is Bugis Junction (connected to Bugis+), which is a modern shopping mall with global brands such as Topshop, Uniqlo and Guess, and this is where Bugis’ tinge of luxury comes from. This is also the right place for foodie because Bugis offers a lot of great eating places, inside or outside the malls. Personally, I found the best ramen, fish soup, and old style bread here.
Accessibility level: High (Chinatown MRT, in a walkable distance from other tourist areas such as Clarke Quay and Little India)
Vibe: Chinese Vintage
Highlights: have a myriad types of food, cultural landmarks, and budget souvenirs
This place can be suitable for kungfu or chinese vintage movie as a backdrop. And if you are on a budget trip, this is one of the places to get cheap souvenirs. The chinese food here are (of course) worth-trying – because this is Chinatown. The street food in the area of People’s Park Centre are (I think) pretty authentic chinese snacks such as chinese bread with pork meat and chicken feet. However, not all areas of Chinatown are Insta-worthy, because this area also has textile market. However, the district close to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and the temple itself are gorgeous and it’s worth to bring your camera. The government reserved the architectural landscape of this area as original as possible, so the Chinatown you will see in this era is about the same as in the early age of Singapore (just more polished and clean, of course).
8. Haji Lane/Kampong Glam
Accessibility level: Medium (Nearest MRT is Bugis MRT)
Vibe: Melayu/Muslim Vintage and Hipster
Highlights: Halal and hipster-friendly
This is one of the first few destinations where I would take my Muslim friends to, because this was the area of Malay Muslim culture in the past, and now it is full of Halal eating places with the additional of local designers’ boutiques, hipster cafes and funky murals. The murals and vintage low-rise buildings are highly Instagrammable, so this authentic place will make many youngsters and photographers happy. The food here is not so pricey so it is budget-travel friendly too. For those who are tired of fast fashion and popular brands, Haji Lane boutiques are the right destinations to shop. If you walk deeper, you would find a golden mosque and Istana Kampong Glam (a Sultan palace).
7. The Three Quays: Clarke Quay, Boat Quay, Robertson Quay
Accessibility level: High (Clarke Quay MRT, Fort Canning MRT, a few bus stops away from City Hall/Bugis/Dhoby Ghaut, and in a walkable distance from Chinatown area)
Vibe: Chill and windy (day), vibrant nightlife (night)
Highlights: ideal for both family and party animals.
These are located at both sides of Singapore river, hence it is a very nice place to stroll around by the river. You can’t swim in the river, unfortunately, but you can take the river cruise to see the three Quays. This place is a good place for you to walk and burn off your calories while looking at worth-it sceneries and architectures such as Fullerton Hotel, Asian Civilisations Museum and MICA Building. There are endless choices of food types and eating places, and it will only get more exciting after the sun sets, because that is when the party starts. Zouk, Singapore’s biggest nightclub is located in Clarke Quay. If you don’t drink or party, don’t be disappointed at this place. You can have your night bungee jumping or enjoy the great dining places. My personal favourite is Keisuke Ramen at Clarke Quay.
6. Orchard Road
Accessibility level: High (Orchard MRT, Somerset MRT, a few bus stops away from City Hall/Bugis/Dhoby Ghaut)
Vibe: Chill and windy (day), vibrant nightlife (night)
Highlights: Shopping heaven for everyone.
From $2 Japanese items to five or six-digits handbags, from gadgets to groceries, all you want and need are here. There are endless shopping malls to discover – the sides of this road is basically covered with shopping malls. And don’t worry about meals. The malls’ food court are usually above average quality and the restaurants are great, so feel free to adjust your Orchard Road experience to your budget. If you hate walking indoors and see no point of shopping or window shopping, Orchard Road is very pedestrian-friendly and have lots of outdoor seasonal decoration for your Instagram feed. It is a very popular tourist destination, especially during Singapore Great Sale, and I have never got bored of it for 7 years.
5. Botanic Garden
Accessibility level: Medium (Botanic Garden MRT, but this place is slightly far away from other tourist destinations)
Highlights: The best natural garden in the city
Probably, this is the best and well taken-care garden in South East Asia. You will enjoy tropical plants, live music (if you are lucky, because I have never experienced it but my friends did), orchid garden, and fancy restaurants in the middle of tropical forest if you are not on budget. Everything is free entrance, except for the orchid garden, which requires you to purchase a $5 ticket, which is worth-it (the most instagrammable spot is here). Feel free to sit on the grass, have a picnic, or play frisbee. Whenever I am inside this garden, I feel like I am so faraway from the city: tranquil and only is embraced by mother nature. Oh, a great place to have a romantic day too 🙂
Accessibility level: Medium (Harbourfront MRT, but to reach the Sentosa Island, you need to take another transportation such as bus and rail, but you can also walk by feet for probably 10 minutes)
Highlights: Universal Studio Singapore, Resort World Sentosa, and the man-made beaches are here.
Sentosa has the best beaches in Singapore, with a lot of attractions, shops and restaurants. The food can be on the more expensive side and the place is far from the city center, but the clean creme sand, adventure areas, and amusement parks are worth-visiting. Don’t expect this place to be as fancy as Disneyland, but this place indeed has its own authenticity as both tourist and local destination. You’ll be surprised how well-made this artificial island is. The nearest shopping mall, Vivocity, is a good shopping and eating place as well.
Accessibility level: High (Esplanade MRT, City Hall MRT, within walking distance from Marina Bay Sands and City Hall)
Vibe: Modern artistic
Highlights: A performing arts centre with artistic decoration and picturesque landscape.
This is not a shopping mall nor food hall, but a performing arts centre with unique shape of a durian. There are cafes and a food court, but the main highlight of this place, if you don’t want to watch any performances, is the breathtaking view of Singapore skyline by the bay (with free live music or performance rehearsal if you are lucky). You can enjoy the city view from the rooftop garden of Esplanade building as well. If you are bored with it, you can simply walk to Marina Bay Sands or City Hall. The area and building may not offer many varieties of experience, but the beautiful architecture, interior, and view are enough to make anyone I had brought here happy.
2. Gardens by the Bay
Accessibility level: Medium (Bayfront MRT, but this place is slightly far away from other tourist destinations)
Vibe: Futuristic Nature
Highlights: World award-winning garden. Enough said.
Let these pictures say it all. Don’t you want to see this out-of-this-world garden? If you are lucky, there are great food market during special celebration such as Mid Autumn Festival.
1. Marina Bay Sands
Accessibility level: Medium High (The nearest Bayfront MRT is not the most convenient train stop, but it can be reached by feet from Esplanade and City Hall)
Vibe: Futuristic luxury
Highlights: Breathtaking architecture, a whole-new level of shopping experience, casino, museum, and art exhibition
Don’t hope to find fast fashion brands such as H&M or Topshop, because MBS shopping mall is occupied by high-fashion brands such as Chanel, Christian Dior and Fendi. Louis Vuitton even has a whole “floating” building on its own, right at the bay. The architecture is breathtaking from the inside-out, so it is instagrammable at almost every corner. The food court is pretty expensive, but they sell only quality food (of course). If you are not on budget, you should taste their chef restaurants and award-winning branches such as Bread Street Kitchen by Gordon Ramsay and Mozza from the USA. However, this place never stops improving. Hi-tech art installation is newly made in the mall, and you can experience world-class futuristic and international art exhibition at the nearby Arts Science Museum. The best of the best (with a high price too) can be enjoyed in this place. But really, even if you are on budget, you still have to see this place.
All prices are in Singapore Dollar currency. Transportation here is relatively cheap for a developed country (the highest fare of a single ride is $2), so don’t worry about transportation. Just enjoy the nation 🙂