Let me tell you something, Singapore is one of the most underrated countries in the world. Most travelers I’ve spoken with write it off as bland, small, and lackluster. This set my expectations incredibly low but from the moment we arrived in the Southeast Asian nation via ferry I knew I was going to love Singapore. For being half the size of London it is an incredibly diverse, colorful, and culturally rich country. Here are 20 reasons why you need to travel to Singapore ASAP.
That passport stamp was euphoric for me, as it was my 50th country to explore. This milestone was incredibly meaningful me as never in my wildest fantasies did I imagine I’d get to pursue my dreams of traveling the world. Each new country and culture I am fortunate enough to visit leaves a lasting impression on me as a traveler, and as a human.
Singaporeans also have the chance to be incredibly well-traveled as they now hold the world’s strongest passport, surpassing both Germany and the States. Singapore offers many nationalities a free 90-day tourist visa on arrival. If you sadly only have a layover in Singapore head out on a private 4-hour tour of the best the city has to offer with a local guide for just US$30.
1. Singapore is insanely clean. We’ve all heard the no chewing gun rule but beyond gum stains on the sidewalk there is also very minimal litter floating around, and no cigarette butt’s at all. See for yourself how pristine the city is from a river cruise boat ride for less than US$20.
2. A big misconception is that Singapore is very expensive. Travelers should have no problem sticking to a budget there. Accommodation is the most costly bit, but that is typically true for most destinations. The public bus system is incredibly efficient with lines running down almost each and every street like clockwork every couple of minutes. The rate for a bus ride is based on distance and usually was the equivalent of 1 USD. The majority of the attractions we’ll detail below were free to enter, and there are even more no cost experiences to have in Singapore that we didn’t have time for. Dining out a restaurant will seriously hurt your wallet but instead opt for street food to taste the local flavors and get an idea about how the countries melting pot of cultures has impacted it’s ultra delicious cuisine.
3. Singapore is easily the greenest major city I’ve ever seen. And it’s entirely intentional. The local government has worked hard to promote green spaces and plant life across the country; they’ve even self-declared the nickname of Garden City. Much of the greenery is found in the sky–from hanging gardens, living walls, to rooftop parks. Singapore is green in the sustainable sense too, since 2008 all new buildings must follow a green code of eco practices.
4. I was fortunate enough to visit Singapore during the annual Night Festival where various pieces of light art pop up around the city that is free to explore. I loved the Untitled installation with rotating thought-provoking messages in neon lights such as “see yourself as you really are.” I was incredibly inspired by the Luna exhibit which featured the moon “up close and personal”. Although the Night Festival was temporary Singapore has various art and cultural events that take place around the year so be sure to check the local calendar listings during your visit.
5. Scope some amazing art free of charge at The Ritz-Carlton Millenia. Guests are invited to pursue the artwork on show in the lobby areas and are given a pamphlet of information about the collection for a self-guided walking tour. There used to be a Warhol painting on display near the restroom but it is now hanging in one of the private guest rooms. Photography is not allowed.
6. For one of the best views in all of Singapore head to the top of the Esplanade. Go an hour before sunset so you can lazily stroll to the roof garden and stop to appreciate artwork or performance pieces along the way. From one side you’ll be able to watch the skies changing colors reflect on the high rise buildings of downtown Singapore and the light show from the Marina Bay Sands hotel. From the other, you can witness the sunset as the sky erupts in color over Singapore.
7. A trip to Singapore wouldn’t be complete without visiting the Gardens by the Bay. Most of the experiences here are absolutely free of charge such as walking through the Bay East Garden, Dragonfly and Kingfisher Lakes, Far East Organization Children’s gardens, World of Plants, Heritage Gardens, Sun Pavillion, and the Supertree Grove. The musical light show takes place each night at 7:45 and 8:45. Head down a few minutes early to get a good spot at the base of a tree where you can lie down to watch the 15-minute show. The Supertrees come to life at night through solar power energy that’s collected throughout the day on each of the structures that range from 60 to 150 feet and are covered in more than 150,000 living plants. The Supertrees are truly the most phenomenal combination of nature and science, and I believe we will see more ‘plants’ like this in the future.
8. The Sultan Mosque is spectacular and free to enter except for prayer time. Unfortunately, the day that we explored this area the mosque was closed and we didn’t have the chance to make it back but really regret it.
9. The area around the Sultan Mosque is full of inspiring architecture, massive wall-sized street art murals, boutiques, cafes, and more on Arab Street, Haji Lane, and other streets and alleys in the vicinity. My favorite mural was a colorful one down a side street that depicted a superhero elephant.
10. Another beautiful mosque to see is Abdul Gafoor, which also allows visitors. The architecture is phenomenal with a golden yellow base and green accents. Outside of the mosque guest may find a series of framed images that tell the story of Islam. A very important read to further understand the Muslim community in South East Asia. Did you know that the majority of Islamic followers live in this part of the world? Even more so than the Middle East or Africa!
11. Singapore is home to a rather rare Michelin star dining experience. The Hill Street Tai Hwa street food stand was awarded the culinary honor for their pork noodle dish. My friend waited in line for an hour to have his first Michelin star meal…and didn’t love it! But it is certainly an experience and an affordable one too. Can you imagine not liking a Michelin star meal that cost well over 100 USD? Meanwhile, I had chive pancakes for about $3 USD and they were amazing.
12. The National Gallery was my big splurge while in Singapore as I absolutely had to see the Yayoi Kusama Lifes is the Heart of a Rainbow exhibit. This was easily the most expensive thing I’ve done all year in Asia, it cost even more than entering the Taj Mahal! But it was worth every penny as I’ve been a longtime fan of Yayoi Kusama and her curious art and stance on the world. The exhibit portrayed her iconic net, dot, pumpkin, and infinity rooms as well as many other unique, story-telling works of art. Over 120 works were gathered for Kusama’s first major exhibit in Southeast Asia. The exhibit ended in early September but Yayoi has a few exhibits in the States and around the globe at the moment. The National Gallery is always rotating guest exhibits from extraordinary artists so there will certainly be something interesting on display during your visit.
13. The Instafamous Old Hill Police Station, now the Ministry of Communications building, can cheer up any day with its colorful facade. I loved seeing all the block colors and can only imagine that one must be cheerful entering the office building for work each day.
14. Nearby the rainbow-hued Communications building is the oldest still-standing fire station in Singapore. The firehouse is located in a gorgeous brick building that has creative design elements such as a multitude of archways and bright red garage doors. In fact, the Central Fire Station was gazetted as a national monument in Singapore in 1998.
15. The beautiful Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum is just one of many stunning houses of worship that can be visited for free in Singapore. This one is likely the most popular of all of the temples due to massive gilded statues, its proximity to Chinatown, and believed remnants of one of Buddha’s sacred teeth which resides here. The temple is scattered with small placards which explain the importance of various statues. Here I learned about Guardian Deities, a concept I hadn’t been familiar with before. Basically, everyone has a personal Guardian Diety based on their Zodiac sign. The Guardian Deity is worship as a source of spiritual support and inspiration, in addition to Buddha. Another inspiring temple is the Taoist Thian Hock Keng.
16. After exploring the temples and admiring the incredible architecture around Chinatown head down any alleyway to find bustling restaurants serving Chinese delicacies or order a snack from one of the many street stalls. I picked up an assortment of mooncakes in all my favorite Asian flavors–pandan, sesame, coconut, lotus, and more. To get the full foodie experience go on a night food tour of Chinatown!
17. Singapore street food borrows many flavors from Malaysia, which is no surprise as the nation only gained independence from its northern neighbor in 1965. You can find most of the Malay dishes that we sampled in Kuala Lumpur and Penang here with a local twist. While we preferred Malay carrot cake to the Singapore rendition we absolutely couldn’t get enough of Singaporean Laksa. Luckily 328 Katong Laksa was located right next to Village Katong where we stayed. The Laksa here was sweet, smooth, sour, and spicy. Coconut milk mixed perfectly together with fresh seafood and fried peppers to create the most mouthwatering flavor. Another somewhat obvious must try is Singapore chili crab. There are many popular hawker markets but my favorites were the Gluttons Bay food court and Lau Pat Sat, a market of food stalls situated in a gorgeous Victorian style open-air building.
18. Explore the local Peranakan heritage in the charming Katong district. The iconic alley of lavender colored facades can be found here on Joo Chiat street. As you stroll around Joo Chiat stop into heritage shophouses such as Rumah Bebe to try Peranakan sweets or pick up some traditional painted porcelain serving dishes. A walking tour of Katong is the best way to learn about the history from a local, and ask your guide to snap some pictures for you!
19. Chijmes is a fun area to explore. The centrally located Catholic convent was built in 1904 and has since transformed into a shopping and dining destination. The architecture of the building is inspiring and many of the restaurants have reasonable happy hour specials on food and drink.
20. If you’ve ever had a Singapore Sling and want to try the original head down to the iconic Raffles hotel. The cocktail was concocted at the Raffles’s Long Bar back in 1915 to give ladies a modest way to consume liquor in public. The drink looks just like fruit juice and is equally sweet with ingredients like gin, pineapple juice, grenadine, lime juice, and cherry brandy.
Did I miss anything awesome about Singapore? If you’ve been to Singapore tell us why you loved it in the comments!
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