Singapore has been growing on me. My last few visits there have elevated the city state to one of my favorite places in Asia. During the past two years I’ve traveled to some interesting, but very dirty, chaotic, and at times unpleasant big cities in Asia. These experiences have helped me to appreciate the organization and order of Singapore.
But, Singapore is not so clean and orderly that it’s boring. Its multi-culturalism and obsession with eating out means Singaporeans are out enjoying themselves throughout the day and night.
I wanted to give you a walk-through of my favorite four-day itinerary of Singapore. It’s the one I use for my Singapore & Malaysia Food & Culture Tour.
Take a walk through Kampong Glam, the Malay Heritage District. Stop inside the Sultan mosque for a look around. If you forgot long pants, you can borrow a robe to enter. When we visited on a Sunday morning we were lucky to catch the photo session of a Malay wedding.
Kampong Glam’s streets are lined with restored shophouses, some of which have been converted into cafes, restaurants, bars, or hostels. The neighborhood’s Heritage Center offers free guided walks at 11am.
Between Kampong Glam and Little India is a great little Hawker Center on Jalan Bersih to stop for lunch.
Following an afternoon rest at the hostel, take a stroll through the outdoor market near Bugis. The market spreads along the back street along the Albert Hawker Center, which is a nice place to eat dinner.
From 6-8pm every evening, the National Museum opens its Living Galleries exhibit for free. Take advantage of this to learn about the history of hawkers in Singapore and the evolution of the city’s favorite dishes. An exhibit showing old National Geographic photos will give you an idea of what it was like here back in the colonial era.
A return walk though nearby Little India is a good way to fully embrace the 3rd-most-populous ethnic group in Singapore. Little India is a bustling neighborhood with good eats, shopping, and a festive atmosphere. We visited in October when the streets were lit for Deepavali. Little India is particularly crowded on Sunday nights when the city’s south Indian migrant workers, mostly in construction, spend their day off hanging out here.
On the start of Day 2, it may be a good idea to purchase a three-day SMRT Tourist Pass for $20 (plus $10 deposit). We picked ours up at Bugis station, but they can be purchased at the airport and a few other main stations (see below: Transportation).
The morning is a good time to explore Chinatown. This Chinatown is not bustling like other Chinatowns around the world. Come here to do some souvenir shopping and to spot some nicely restored architecture. You’ll also find an active Hindu temple and an old mosque built in an atypical style.
Chinatown is a good place to sample Chinese snacks and desserts and have lunch at the massive Chinatown Complex at Smith St. After lunch, check out the old Chinese men that congregate outside daily to play Chinese chess.
From here it’s a 20 minute walk (or quick ride on the MRT) to the Singapore River. Clarke Quay is a pulsing nightlife district after dark and Boat Quay has a more steady flow of diners and drinkers throughout the course of the day.
Continue to the Financial District where you can view some public art pieces along the river including one by Salvador Dali and another by Colombian artist Fernando Botero.
From here you’ll continue to one of Singapore’s icons: the Merlion. Where the half-lion, half-fish is spewing its water, you’ll see families and tourists congregating for photos. Turn the other direction and you’ve got a fantastic view of the other-worldly Marina Bay Sands Hotel.
In the evening, if you’ve still got energy, have a stroll around Bugis Junction mall to get a feel for what gets these mall-crazed Singaporeans excited.
I put Jurong Bird Park on this itinerary just to add something fun and less-serious to all the food, architecture, and history-heavy first couple days. It’s cooler in the morning and you can catch a few of the shows each hour. The hornbills are my favorite.
Jurong East Mall has a more-than-adequate selection of lunch options before you take the MRT back to the center.
Gardens by the Bay is a very impressive addition to the Singapore sights circuit. Two remarkable structures house desert plants from around the world as well as a whole cloud forest ecosystem. Ascend the photogenic super-trees for the complete experience. Save some extra time to walk around the gigantic greenspace that was created from reclaimed land.
If you’ve still got energy left and are wearing smart dress, get a drink with a view at the bar on top of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel.
Singapore has a surprising amount of green space. It doesn’t get the nickname of Garden City for nothing! To enjoy a bit of Singapore at its most un-urban, head to the Southern Ridges. You can start by taking the bus to Alexandra Arch, next to HortPark.
Take the leisurely hike along the Southern Ridges, through several interconnected parks. The climax of the walk is undoubtedly the Henderson Waves Bridge, which you’ll cross, although its genius is best viewed by heading way down below. The hike finishes at HarbourFront where it’s easy to find lunch at the outdoor hawker center or inside the mall.
If you’re not all botanized out, visit the free Botanic Gardens near Orchard Rd. before stopping by the original Killiney Kopitiam for a vintage afternoon kaya toast & tea or coffee.
During our time in Singapore, we based ourselves at Bunc Hostel in Little India. Bunc is a clean and modern hostel inside a restored historic shophouse. The hostel has plenty of common space, helpful and friendly staff, an excellent social atmosphere, comfy beds with reading lights, lockers, a kitchen, and a free breakfast. Bunc is located a 10-minute walk from either Bugis or Little India MRT station—very convenient for sightseeing.
Singapore has an outstanding culture of food. My advice is to head directly to one of the many hawker centers to get a taste of the local specialties. Eating out is a favorite pastime of Singaporeans and the hawkers cook up the cheapest and most delicious renditions of chicken rice, char quay teow, wantan mee, bah kut teh, among others. Singapore’s food carts were once on the street, catering to the overwhelming majority of bachelors that worked here. Those times are long gone and the hawker centers have been built to house the food stalls.
Singapore has an excellent public transportation system which is efficient, clean, and well-priced. Visitors should take advantage of the 1 (S$10), 2 ($16), or 3-day ($20) pass which is valid for unlimited travel on Singapore’s basic bus services, MRT, and LRT trains for the duration that it is valid. Be careful, use starts the moment you by the card. A $10 deposit is collected at the time of purchase which can be refunded when you return the card after use. The Singapore Tourist Pass can be purchased at any of following TransitLink Ticket Offices: Changi Airport, Orchard, Chinatown, City Hall, Raffles Place, Ang Mo Kio, HarbourFront, Bugis, or Lavender.