The phrase “caters to every type of traveler” has become an increasingly overused cliché when it comes to describing destinations. While there may be a number of cities that fulfill the needs of different travel personalities, there are a rather limited number of cities that can really claim to be a leader in so many travel categories.
But whether you’re a business traveler, backpacker, foodie, adventure seeker, eco-tourist, or traveling as a family, you’re guaranteed to love Singapore.
As one of the world’s top 5 most visited cities, Singapore has managed to create a safe, vibrant, and state of the art city. It’s also a “green city” where many of its buildings and skyscrapers have been transformed into living gardens.
This culturally diverse city has become a hub for business travelers, offers plenty of parks and attractions for families, is a melting pot of exotic culinary flavors, offers world-class shopping, and still somehow manages to conserve tracts of nature filled with wildlife.
If you’ve never been to Singapore, check out this Singapore travel guide for first-timers to get the low-down on where to stay, eat, shop, and play (and join this Singapore Facebook Group for travel planning).
Ultimate Singapore Travel Guide for First-Timers
Where to Stay in Singapore
Singapore is generally thought of as being an expensive place to live and travel, but there are plenty of affordable options for backpackers and other budget travelers despite the big luxury hotels garnering most of the attention.
Singapore offers up some of the world’s fanciest hotels as well as a comprehensive list of mid-range hotels and budget-friendly hostels. Though if you plan on visiting for an extended period or becoming an expat I suggest researching your Singapore house rent options.
For Luxury Travelers
As for Singapore hotels, let’s start out with the lavish heavy-hitters. At the top of the list for cashed-up travelers is Marina Bay Sands, Fullerton Bay Hotel Singapore, Raffles Hotel, The Rits-Carlton Millennia Hotel, JW Marriott Hotel Singapore South Beach, Swissotel The Stamford, and Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel.
Most of the high-end 5-star hotels can be found in Marina Bay and near Orchard Road. Those staying in Marina Bay will be rewarded with great views of the bay and city and can easily access many of the city’s top attractions. Those staying along Orchard Road will have access to the city’s best shopping and great high-end restaurants and bars.
Marina Bay Sands is hard to miss and is an attraction in its own right. The giant resort hotel looks like a futuristic cruise ship on stilts, offering up floors and floors of guest rooms, restaurants, shops, a casino, and what is probably the world’s most famous elevated infinity pools which is only open to hotel guests.
Both Marina Bay hotels and those found on Sentosa Island are great for families due to the area’s theme parks, zoos, and other family-friendly attractions. Architecture lovers may want to stay in the Colonial Historic District which in addition to its gorgeous architecture offers easy access to historic Fort Canning Park.
For Budget Travelers
Budget travelers looking for nice hostels should stick to areas like The Quays, Chinatown, Little India, and around Arab Street. Notable hostels include The Pod-Boutique Capsule Hostel, CUBE- Boutique Capsule Hotel @ Chinatown, and BEAT. Capsule Hostel @ Boat Quay.
In addition to these areas providing budget-friendly accommodation, they are also great for foodies looking for cheap exotic cuisine and nightlife.
Wherever you decide to stay, I recommend you book your Singapore accommodation in advance as rooms across the city can easily sell out throughout the year. Booking early also avoids the potential of having to pay top dollar for rooms as they begin to sell out due to large business conferences, special events, and general peak travel seasons.
Where and What to Eat in Singapore
You’d be hard-pressed to eat your way through all of the dishes on offer in Singapore. The city is packed with restaurants ranging from Michelin-starred fine dining establishments to small hole-in-the-wall joints.
There are dishes to suit every palate and you can easily eat your way through a wide range of Asian flavors including Indian, Malay, Indonesian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Thai cuisine. So delicious is the food in Singapore that locals will often admit to eating upwards of five to six meals per day!
While Singapore is home to dozens of well-known Michelin-starred restaurants, some of the cheapest eats in the city are often the best. Rice, noodles, and seafood are three ingredients that make up a large number of Singaporean dishes.
There is also no shortage of spicy flavors to excite your taste buds. Hainanese chicken rice is regarded by many to be Singapore’s national dish and can be found nearly everywhere so there’s no excuse for not sampling it.
Other must-try dishes include juicy chilli mud crab, spicy fish head curry, fried kway teow, kaya toast, and fired carrot cake. Wash any of these down with a can of local Tiger Beer which comes in either a light or dark lager as well as a wheat beer.
Also, be sure to try some durian fruit if you can get past the pungent smell.
While the top restaurants in the fancy neighborhoods are great, don’t miss out on the experience of dining at the bustling open air hawker centers which are basically like giant food courts filled with all kinds of budget-friendly flavors.
Singapore’s kopitiams (coffee shops) are popular for breakfast. And if you like the communal vibe and street food of the hawker centers but want smaller crowds, check out the cze char open-air restaurant stalls.
Where to Shop in Singapore
You’ll probably want to bring an extra empty suitcase along during your first visit to Singapore, because it’s almost inevitable that you’ll do some shopping.
Orchard Road is known worldwide as one of the best places to shop. Home to multi-story shopping centers and high-end goods, you’ll find all the top luxury fashion brands at places like ION Orchard with its selection of roughly 300 stores including Cartier, Prada, Giorgio Armani, and more.
Shop for deals on electronics at Orchard Road’s Lucky Plaza or check out the 2.5-storey Design Orchard building which sells goods from local Singaporean designers and craftspeople.
Ngee Ann City is home to Kinokuniya, Singapore’s largest bookstore. Other notable shopping centers in Orchard Road include the Paragon Shopping Centre, Orchard Central, and Far East Plaza.
For cheap souvenirs and bargains, head to Chinatown, Little India, Mustafa Centre, and the Bugis Street Flea Market with its roughly 800 stalls. These places allow you to pick up accessories like hats and sunglasses, spices, saree fabrics, jewelry, footwear, and various trinkets at bargain prices.
The boutique stores of colorful Haji Lane are great for vintage goods and the Anchorpoint Shopping Centre offers up generous discounts on luxury items. Of course even Changi Airport offers up more than enough shopping if you don’t get around to shopping in the city itself.
Singapore also hosts an annual event called the Great Singapore Sale which has been around for more than 25 years. Run by the Singapore Retailers Association, the GSS allows tourists to score giant discounts on brand name goods and various city activities.
The annual sale was forced to switch to an online format during the pandemic but will no doubt be back in action as normal once restrictions ease.
Where to Play in Singapore
Singapore’s many attractions are all easily accessible and cater to just about every interest you can think of. Simply walking the different neighborhoods is exciting, as places like Marina Bay, Little India, and Chinatown will engage all your senses.
There are beautiful temples, churches, mosques, and synagogues spread throughout the city and a number of intriguing museums to gain a better understanding of Singapore’s history and appreciate its local artists.
Two of the best museums to explore are the National Gallery Singapore and National Museum of Singapore. It’s also quite hard to miss the giant ArtScience Museum that’s shaped like a lotus flower at Marina Bay Sands.
Often referred to as “The Welcoming Hand of Singapore”, the museum and its “ten fingers” features 21 different galleries and hosts large exhibitions. Past exhibitions have featured dinosaurs, Egyptian mummies, and the Titanic.
When it comes to family fun, Singapore offers up Universal Studios with its seven themed zones, thrilling ziplines at Mega Adventure, and Adventure Cove Waterpark’s water roller coasters.
Business travelers can discuss big deals outside of the boardrooms by taking to one of Singapore’s beautiful golf courses such as Marina Bay Golf Course or The Sentosa Golf Club. History buffs will want to take a walk through Fort Canning Park which played a role in WWII and was once home to Malay Kingdom royalty.
You could also simply relax and take in the city’s beauty by hopping on the 165-meter-tall Singapore Flyer, one of the largest observation wheels in the world.
Play: Nature & Wildlife
Singapore’s living jewel is Gardens by the Bay with its SuperTree Grove made up of futuristic 50-meter-tall man-made trees.
Walk the OCBC Skyway to get an aerial view of the gardens or keep your feet on the ground and check out the enormous Flower Dome glass greenhouse and its 35-meter indoor waterfall. Don’t miss the gardens’ nightly Garden Rhapsody sound and light show.
When it comes to wildlife, you can go the zoo route and assure yourself sightings of rare and endangered wildlife. The Singapore Zoo is home to a wide range of exotic Asian animals including the largest colony of free ranging orangutans in captivity as well as a herd of Asian elephants.
There’s also the Jurong Bird Park which features over 400 species of birds ranging from comical penguins to flashy flamingos. Other family fun activities revolving around animals include the River Safari and Night Safari tours as well as the S.E.A. Aquarium with its roughly 100,000 marine animals.
For a more wild dose of native wildlife, check out the MacRitchie Reservoir Park & Nature Trail which can be easily accessed via Singapore’s MRT. A walk through the park may provide sightings of long-tailed macaques, colorful butterflies, giant atlas moths, and pangolins.
Other great natural wildlife reserves surrounding the city include the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and Bukit Timah National Park. Many of Singapore’s parks and reserves are open to both hiking and mountain biking.
For a bit of nature in the city, check out the roughly 5.5-mile Southern Recreation Trail that links to five different parks. The lofted deck known as Henderson Waves is a highlight section of the trail.
Getting Around Singapore
Before you get around Singapore, you first have to get there. Thankfully this is quite easy since Singapore is considered to be the largest aviation hub in Southeast Asia.
Direct flights to Singapore are available from most major Asian cities, several European countries, the Middle East, North America, and Australia. And arriving and departing is a delight when you consider Changi Airport is regarded by many travellers as the best airport in the world.
The airport features loads of shopping, free Wi-Fi, free massage chairs, exercise bikes, restaurants, a swimming pool, indoor parks and gardens, free city tours that depart from the airport if you have a lot of spare time before your flight, and even a crazy-looking 40-metre-tall rain vortex.
Getting yourself into the city from the airport it quite easy thanks to the airport’s 24-hour Ground Transport Desk. You can take the Airport Shuttle service that brings passengers directly to the front doors of several downtown hotels.
There’s also the MRT and taxis, the latter of which will be far more expensive. You could also arrive in style by arranging one of their flat rate limousines to take you into the city.
I wouldn’t recommend renting your own vehicle. While roads are safe and most locals follow traffic rules, car rentals are quite expensive and with the MRT system so effective you can get where you need to go much more quickly and cheaper going this route.
Mass Rapid Transit (Singapore MRT)
Singapore’s MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) is the most comprehensive rapid transit system in Southeast Asia, is extremely reliable and easy to use, and is very cheap to use.
As a tourist, I recommend you purchase a Singapore Tourist Pass which allows for unlimited travel on MRT and select buses for a set number of days (1-3 day passes available). The pass also gives you discounts for various attractions.
I’d stick to the MRT over buses whenever possible as the buses tend to be slower and more difficult to pay for. You may want to opt for a taxi over the MRT if you are traveling as a family with older children or in any group of 3-4 people.
Taxis can often get you places a bit quicker and may end up being cheaper than the MRT. However, despite taxis being honest and reasonably priced, be warned that they can be really difficult to hail in the city at certain times.
Other modes of transport include rideshare services which can be accessed via Singapore’s Grab ride-hailing app. This app also features a Grabhitch where you can share a vehicle with strangers to save on costs.
In touristy areas of the city you can also hop on three-wheeled pedaled vehicles called trishaws and bumboats cruise the Singapore River to various drop-off points.