The history of Singapore is long, and fairly complicated. Suffice to know that it has been inhabited since the 11th century, but the period after colonization (by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819) really put this island nation on the map.
It became an important port on the trade route to India and China, which started its prosperous period of growth and population. It grows by the day, and is one of the most prosperous countries in the East.
In 1942 Singapore was occupied by Japan- until 1945. Changi Prison Museum is worth a visit if you are interested in the Japanese occupation.
Millions of Chinese came over from the mainland.
Indians and Malaysians made their homes here.
Having been colonised by the British, many came as entrepeneurs- and never left.
The cultural mix is as rich and diverse as the culinary delights which tease the palates of visitors, even today.
The shape of Singapore has changed- witness the reclamation of land. Once upon a time the sea was situated across the road from Raffles Hotel.
Singapore used to be a hub for international travel. It still is, but in days gone by, when many famous people called Raffles Hotel home, it was a different world.
It is one of the busiest ports in the world- the sea lanes have a never ending queue of tankers and cargo ships , awaiting entry. Changi Airport buzzes, day and night.
If shopping is your favourite pastime, it has shopping paradises, huge steel and glass centres with all the luxury brand named boutiques. Raffles City is just one example.
I was walking along Orchard Road one steaming afternoon, and came to the conclusion that Singaporeans are addicted to shopping because of the humidity and heat. Those blasts of cool air that tempt as the store doors open.
It has markets galore. Bugis Street (which was once a seedy hangout for transvestites and other such colourful characters) is now totally commercial, and packed like a sardine can every night. Here, there is no air-con, just fresh air.
For good bargain shopping, wander along Orchard Road and pop into Lucky Plaza. You will find fake copies of just about everything. I of course do not promote the buying of fakes. But I would bet that almost every visitor has at some time or other been tempted. Those Gucci bages are so divine!
Most people speak English in Singapore. The plethora of overseas visitors have almost made it mandatory .
If you like fun times: Sentosa Island can fulfill your every desire.
If you enjoy natural history, flora and fauna, there is something for everyone.
So, go visit, enjoy Singapore. It has much to offer. You may or may not want to return. Having a holiday in Singapore is not cheap. But if you do your homework, you can have a lot of fun.
Here are the best things to do in Singapore:
1. Sentosa Island
If you are staying in Singapore, and want to see beautiful beaches and nature without travelling too far, then it is very easy to get to the Sentosa Island. The island is connected to the city of Singapore by a bridge, so you can either travel by taxi, take the Sentosa Express train from the Harbour Front underground station, or take the cable car which is also departing from the Harbour Front.
The trip from the Harbour front to Sentosa only takes around 10 minutes.
On Sentosa island you also have Universal Studios and other attractions, and if you want to go there, taking the Sentosa express train is a good choice. The train stops at the various theme parks, but if you just want to go to the beach, you must get off at the end station, the Beach Station.
Once you are on the Sentosa island, there are plenty of small tourist trains or busses that travel around the island if you don’t want to walk.
2. Little India
It’s a small district – not much more than a few streets filled with Indian grocers, jewelry stores and some of the best Indian restaurants in the region. But the sights, colours and smells are reminiscent of India, but with all the staid rule following of Singapore… well almost. There’s a touch of the chaotic everywhere in Little India – from the waiter desperately trying to keep track of all the patrons in his busy restaurant, to customers falling over stacks of okra in the shambolic grocers, to the adults taking up residence in the children’s playground, to chat on their phones in the shade and getting in the way of the children who try to enjoy themselves.
3. Universal Studios
The transformer ride is a fantastic 3D roller coaster rides with all its twist and turns. The 3D visuals are amazing good, and it was definitely a wonderful experience!
The story goes as we sat on one of the robots, and our mission is to help the Autobots. The part I loved most about this ride, is when we were ‘falling’ from the building. It was exciting and mind-blowing! Absolutely love it!
I think anyone who come into the park should not miss this ride!
4. Songs of the Sea – Sentosa Island
Songs of the Sea was the highlight of our Sentosa experience. There were only two shows per day (you will know why when you get there) – One at 7:40pm and the other at 8:40pm.
We arrived by bus just as the first show was about to end. So then, we were able to get a good seat for the second show. If you happen to chance upon someone asking you for a quick survey regarding your Sentosa experience, don’t hesitate. Be nice and respond honestly as you can. Besides, you don’t have to tick any mark on the paper at all. The one who asks will gladly do it for you. In the end, you will get a free Sentosa bag. My dad received just that after he willingly answered some honest, simple questions about our Sentosa experience earlier that day.
The Songs of the Sea was amazing. It was the best show I have ever seen. It was magical. I couldn’t for any moment happen to imagine how they ever did the synchronization of the lights and the water, and the fireworks all at the same time. Everything happened pretty smoothly fast. The characters of the story were great. There were a lot of singing and ooohs and aaaahs.
You might want to buy an Oscar plush toy. We hurried after the show to catch our group so we weren’t able to stop by among the people who were selling these cute toys near the exits. There were around 10,000 people on that day on the island itself and so, we just kept on rushing back to our bus.
5. Orchard Road
Orchard Road and the surrounding area is the most popular shopping district in shopping mad Singapore. Taking a bus down this road is to watch a tide of humanity going from one shopping mall to the next. The shopping malls line the 2.2 kilometers (1.3 miles) road, stretching up to the sky and disappearing under the road in complex warrens of underground passageways, shopping alleys and mall links. Take a big wallet, a consumeristic lust and just get lost in shopping.
6. Underwater World
It’s a different experience all-together to walk through the glass tunnel with fishes swimming above your head. You are surrounded by fishes from all the sides. From Sting Ray to Sharks, you have a lot of marine life around you. Moreover the entire experience of walking through the glass tunnel is overwhelming.
Other than the tunnel they also have big separate tanks for fishes. You also come across some rare species of fishes. There are smaller and separate tanks for delicate fishes like jelly fish, sea horse, etc.
Spider crabs are something you shouldn’t miss. These crabs look like giant spiders with an average size of 1.5 feet (0.4 meter). They have also mummified remains of a gaint Spider Crab having a record size of more than 3.9 feet (1.2 meters). People having arachnophobia should definitely avoid it. It would give them creeps.
There is a huge cylindrical 20 feet (6 meters) high tank which is in the center of the spiral staircase. Hence as you climb upstairs you can take a view from different heights.
7. Jurong Bird Park
Jurong Bird Park is a lovely way to spend a few hours. A monorail operates which gives you an overview of the park. From the beautiful bird displays to the lovely landscaping, you will enjoy yourself even if you are not a bird fanatic.
8. Chinese & Japanese Gardens
The Chinese and Japanese Gardens are in walking distance from “Chinese Gardens” MRT station, which is on the (green) east-west train line. The entrance was free. There was a lot of construction going on when we were there, and it seems that more Chinese style buildings were under construction.
The Chinese gardens include stone statues of all of the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac, as well as some beautiful pagodas, and some statues of famous and influential Chinese philosophers such as Kongzi or Confucius as he is widely known around the world.
The Japanese Gardens feature some perfectly manicured trees in the bonsai style, beautiful bridges, and temple entrances.
We visited during the week and it was not overcrowded. I can imagine though that these gardens are very popular for families and couples looking for a romantic spot on weekends.
Bicycles are not permitted.
Make sure you take a cool drink with you, if possible, as it can get extremely warm walking around the gardens.
9. Bugis Street
Bugis Street and Bugis Junction is Singapore’s Version of Hong Kong’s Iconic Mong Kok Shopping area albeit on a smaller scale. There are assorted shops, stalls and even a local market selling all kinds of local and foreign stuff and the prices here are way lower than in Orchard Road. They also have a big MRT stop in the middle of Bugis Junction Area.
10. National Orchid Garden
This offers the largest display of orchids in the world. Over 1,000 species and 2,000 hybrids are now found in the garden’s collection, and every year more vibrant and enduring hybrids will be added on.
Chosen to be the national flower of Singapore, the Orchid was discovered by Miss Agnee Joaquim in her garden in 1893.
Opens at 8.30 a.m. and closes at 7 p.m. (last ticket sales at 6p.m.)
Admission fee for adults: 5 dollars and 1 dollar for students. Free for children below 12 years.
11. Clarke Quay
The Singapore river has been an important spot for trade ever since Singapore was founded in 1819. At Clarke Quay and Boat Quay, the traders came in with boats and sold their goods to shops and inhabitants.
Nowadays the area has transformed into a nightlife scene which is the best in Singapore. Five blocks are filled with restaurants, pubs and nightclubs with many different styles. You can choose to sit next to the river for a dinner or a beer, or head into one of the side streets for more options. The whole area is vibrant and full of people both day and night. It’s colorful and full of happenings and events.
Due to the status, prices are a bit higher than normally in Singapore, and that means pretty high. The alcohol tax in the country makes sure you’ll get a rather big hole in your wallet after a night out.
It’s a safe and nice area.
Along the river are plenty of nice restaurants. My favourites when it comes to bars is Beer Market where the price settings works like in the stock market. When a beer/drink is popular the price goes up, but if you instead choose a drink that less people want, you can find it for a lower price.
The Clinic is also a cool place, where you’ll be seated either in a wheelchair or in a hospital bed. And why not get your drink served in a needle? No worries though, you’ll put it in your mouth, not in your arm…
12. Merlion Park
The Merlion was first designed as an emblem for the Singapore Tourism Board way back in 1964. It’s a lion’s head with a fish body sitting on the crest of a wave and it quickly became one of Singapore’s icons.
At 8.6m (28 ft) high, the Merlion statue is built from cement and weighs 70 tonnes. A second and much smaller 2m (6.5 ft) Merlion statue can be found very close by.
With a bit of fun and a dash of imagination, you can get some very interesting pictures there.
13. Arab Street
This is the traditional centre for Singapore’s Muslim community. Along Arab Street you can find seemingly endless stores selling textiles, carpets and jewellery. You can also find money changers, prayer mats, camel skin products and a number of restaurants and cafes.
The Sultan Mosque looms large from the adjoining block and this makes for a unique stroll in this district of Singapore.
14. Boat Quay
You can go to Boat Quay for a number of reasons; to relax, to sit on the riverbank and watch the little bumboats come by, to eat, to drink… well, anything really! And the great thing is, you can stop by Boat Quay whenever you like, there’s always a place serving food and drinks!
Boat Quay has a large variety of outlets, ranging from simple pubs to great restaurants! Stop by Boat Quay anytime for anything!
Exploring Chinatown: Amoy Street
When Chinese migrants disembarked from the sailing junks which had brought them in search of their fortune, they tended to settle in the area around the present Amoy Street and Telok Ayer Street. In those days, Telok Ayer Street ran close to and parallel to the shoreline and Amoy Street was a busy commercial hub.
The migrants came mostly from South China, particularly Fujian province. Amoy Street was named after the Chinese port from which the earliest settlers set out. (Amoy is the colloquial name for Xiamen.)
Today, there are a number of Korean restaurants in this street.
Golden Buddha Tooth Temple
This is a very ornate modern temple, completed in 2007. It may not be old, but the sheer magnificence makes it worth visiting. The temple was built at great expense to house a relic of the Buddha (which later turned out not to be authentic, but then that is a common problem with ‘relics’). Notices on site give lots of background information, but I didn’t see any that specifically mentioned the tooth. The architect took the mandala as his inspiration.
Notices inside explain how meritorious it is to give a flower and lamp offering. Lighting a candle before a Buddha ‘brings you a bright and smooth journey’, whilst offering fresh flowers brings ‘good human relationships.’
Pre-booked guided tours are available.
16. Esplanade – Theatres by the Bay
The Esplanade theaters are two building shaped like durans that are situated in the center of Singapore right by the harbour.
The architecture of the buildings is very modern.
They fit the modern part of Singapore very well.
17. Singapore Flyer
When it was built, the Singapore Flyer was the highest Ferris Wheel in the world. It remains now second only to the High Roller, a mere 2.6 meters (8.5 feet) taller, in Las Vegas. It’s a good 30 meters (98 feet) taller than the London Eye. There are 28 capsules on the wheel, and each capsule can hold 28 passengers. The capsules move continuously, but slowly, and take about 30 minutes to go full circle.
18. Zoo, Gardens
Singapore Zoo is world renowned, and there are good reasons why. For some, the ‘old school’ style zoo (compared to plains styled zoos) might be offensive. However, on this crowded, small island nation, it’s pleasing to see how well they keep their animals compared to many of the world’s zoos in places where space isn’t at such a premium.
This is definitely worthy of at least a half day, although anyone who gets ‘hands on’ might spend longer. There’s a Night Safari option for anyone who wants to ride around in a trolley car spooking the wildlife at night! Actually, it is a better way to see some of the nocturnal creatures in fairness.
Great place for kids!
19. Fort Canning Park
This hill overlooks the colonial area of Singapore and is said to be the site where the pre-colonial Malay leaders of Singapore were buried. The site was converted into a fort by the British and is now a park with historical sites and a few museums.
20. Sri Mariamman Temple
Sri Mariamman Temple is the largest and oldest Hindu temple in Singapore. It was first built in 1827, and was at that time just a wooden hut. In 1843, it was reconstructed and dedicated to the Goddess Mariamman, who is believed to protect against disease and death.
Over the years, Sri Mariamman Temple would serve as a refuge for immigrants while they were looking for work and a place to stay. In 1973, it was declared a national monument and has since become one of the most visited places in Singapore.
Important thing to know: anyone can visit the temple, but before entering, you must remove your shoes.
21. Raffles Hotel
Unless you have S$1,000 to spend for room and beverages, you may just want to do a day visit of this famous historic icon of Singapore, the venerable Raffles Hotel.
Raffles Hotel was established back in 1887, and since then has become known as one of the worlds grandest hotels – a century later it was actually deemed a National Monument.
Undeniably very swish, and regularly catering for the rich and famous, it is still the kind of place where you can feel free to wander its beautiful gardens and courtyards, with garden bars, fountains and verandahs.
Raffles Arcade consists of dozens of boutique gift shops selling everything from clothes and fragrances to jewellery and art. Be warned though, prices do not start cheap, so either bring a well-padded credit card, or be content to window shop!!
22. Marina Bay
I’m not a big fan of shopping when on holiday at all. But this shopping mall at the Marina Bay Sands complex is so over the top, it’s worth seeing in its own right.
At lower ground level, the (excellent) food court is based around an indoor skating rink.
On the main level, there are many designer boutiques, if you like that sort of thing. There is also a canal, with boats for hire. We stopped for tea at a very fancy tea shop (delicious, though pricey, but despite what they say, one pot between two people is perfectly adequate). When we finished, the centre of the boating lake had turned into a waterfall – it felt like being inside a plug hole when the bath water is running out!
Art Science Museum
This is one of those museums (like the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester) where the architectural design of the building is the most important feature. This particular museum looks stunning from the outside, like a giant lotus flower.
They have solved the problem of content by using it for travelling exhibitions rather than a permanent display. Admission charges vary according to the exhibition in question. When we visited (in July 2014) there were two exhibitions: one on the life and work of photographer Annie Leibovitz and one on dinosaurs. We opted for the Annie Leibovitz one, which proved to be interesting, and also gave us an opportunity to explore the inside of this fascinating space.
Open daily 10.00 a.m. to 7.00 p.m.
23. Fountain of Wealth
At the center of Suntec City’s 5 towers is the Fountain of Wealth, certified by Guiness as the World’s Largest Fountain. The water shoots up from different points along the circular tube that is set almost a story above ground. The bottom is accessible from inside Suntec City, and you can go up to ground level where there’s a park and benches surrounding the fountain.
The fountain is not turned on the whole time, so you have to wait until the set interval to see it in full blast. It can go up to a height of 9 stories. They say that walking around the fountain three times and touching the water will bring fortune.
24. Botanical Gardens
Apart from the National Orchid Garden, admission to the Botanical Gardens is free, and they are well worth a visit. Established in 1859, the gardens are one of the most visited botanic gardens in the world.
There are a number of separate themed gardens, including the Ginger Garden (you will be amazed at how many different species belong to the ginger family), the Healing Garden, the Fragrant Garden, The Foliage Garden, and the Evolution Garden.
There are also several lakes. Symphony Lake, which is overlooked by a statue of Chopin, has a concert stage in the middle of it. Also in the middle of this lake is the ‘Greenwich Arrow’, which marks the spot where scientists from the Royal Observatory conducted experiments into the Earth’s magnetic field.
Swan Lake has a sculpture of swans in it, as well as live ones. There is also a notice requesting visitors not to dump aquatic animals in the water. I later noticed a number of terrapins in the lake.
Another landmark is the Prisoner-of-War brick steps, which were constructed during the Japanese occupation.
There are a number of food and beverage outlets in the gardens, but we didn’t try them (other than buying a soft drink at a kiosk). The gardens are open from 5.00 a.m. to midnight.
25. Dolphin Lagoon
Your Underwater World ticket price includes a visit to the Dolphin Lagoon. You will get to see the highly intelligent pink Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphins in their natural environment.
See them do the hula-hoop, touching the hanging balls and dancing on the water surface.
Lucky visitors might even get a kiss or a chance to wade next to them, fully supervised by the trainers.
“Meet the Dolphin” sessions take place at 11am, 1.30pm, 3.30pm & 5.30pm daily.
- Featured image: Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas, via Wikimedia Commons
- 1. Sentosa Island: Michael Spencer from Perth, Western Australia, Australia. [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 2. Little India: Deepavali at Little India, Singapore. Taken by User:Sengkang of ENglish.Wikipedia in Oct 2006. GANESH
- 3. Universal Studios: Rojypala [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 4. Songs of the Sea – Sentosa Island: Bruce Tuten [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 5. Orchard Road: Niall Sohan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
- 6. Underwater World: User:Sengkang [Copyrighted free use], via Wikimedia Commons
- 7. Jurong Bird Park: Lorius_domicella_-Jurong_Bird_Park,_Singapore-8a.jpg: kwang chongderivative work: Snowmanradio [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 8. Chinese & Japanese Gardens: Erwin Soo from Singapore, Singapore [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 9. Bugis Street: Bahnfrend [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 10. National Orchid Garden: Shiny Things. [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 11. Clarke Quay: William Cho [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 12. Merlion Park: fad3away. [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 13. Arab Street: Zairon [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 14. Boat Quay: chensiyuan [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 15. Chinatown: Ypsilon from Finland. [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 16. Esplanade – Theatres by the Bay: Basile Morin [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 17. Singapore Flyer: Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas, via Wikimedia Commons
- 18. Zoo, Gardens: Nachoman-au [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 19. Fort Canning Park: Teddy Sipaseuth. [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 20. Sri Mariamman Temple: AngMoKio [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 21. Raffles Hotel: Velela. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
- 22. Marina Bay: Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas, via Wikimedia Commons
- 23. Fountain of Wealth: Taken by User:Sengkang of ENglish.Wikipedia.
- 24. Botanical Gardens: Velela [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
- 25. Dolphin Lagoon: Terence Ong [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons