Oh, Singapore! With a surface of just above 700 sqm, it’s an exquisite place, an impressive city-state that will attract even those grumpy city-haters. When I started researching it, I knew that during our year of traveling we would only have a weekend to travel in Singapore. But I was feeling comfortable with this amount of time, thinking that there couldn’t be that many places to visit in Singapore given its size. But God was I wrong!
Singapore tourism has increased in the last years, with more than 17 million international visitors only in 2017. That’s because there are so many things to do in Singapore! However, although there are tons of options for getting a Singapore tour package, most travelers prefer to travel independently. It is such a friendly and easy to visit destination that you can easily elude the Singapore packages and merely organize your own Singapore tour itinerary.
Things to know about Singapore
Getting to Singapore
Well, if you decide to visit Singapore and get there by flight, I’ve got some exciting news for you! Changi International Airport has been named the best airport in the world for six years now. It deserves its own place among other Singapore tourist attractions due to its excellent amenities. And Singapore Airlines has just dethroned Qatar Airways and is now the number one airline in the world. Not bad for such a small state!
Best time for your holiday in Singapore
Before researching your Singapore tour itinerary, you will probably ask yourself the famous “When to go?” question. If you think that you can arrange so as to enjoy your Singapore sightseeing without any heat or humidity, then guess again. There is no such thing as the perfect dry season there.
As such, expect high temperatures and especially high levels of humidity pretty much all year round. However, be mindful that from November to January, which is the wettest period, but also the coldest period, the number of travelers is at its highest. And yet another period when it gets really crowded is between June and July. However, you should consider avoiding a Singapore city tour during April or May, as the temperatures are the highest.
Because Singapore is a mix of ethnic groups, it has not one, but four official languages – Malay, English, Mandarin, and Tamil. So yes, as any Singapore travel guide will tell you, English is spoken everywhere so you won’t face any problems.
For traveling in this fascinating state, you will need dollars – the Singapore dollars (SGD). Fun fact: Singapore has had its share of dollars! From 1845 to 1939, there was the so-called Strait dollar, which was then replaced by the Malayan dollar. This has been used by the British in Brunei, too, and it has been replaced by the Malaya and British Borneo dollar.
The best way to explore all the Singapore tourist places is by train, respectively the famous MRT (mass rapid transit). You can easily buy a pass, the Singapore Tourist Pass, which also includes bus transport. It comes as one-day unlimited travel for S$10, a two-day at S$16 or a three-day one at S$20.
This is the least of your concerns during your Singapore tour. That’s because it is considered one of the safest major cities in the world. This also has to do with their severe punishments and strict enforcement of these. It is even illegal to drink alcoholic beverages in public places during the night – from 10:30 pm to 7 am.
Was there a lion in Singapore?
Singapore comes from Singapura, the Sanskrit word for Lion City. The legend goes that the ruling prince of the Srivijayan Empire, searching for a capital for his empire, landed on present-day Singapore. There, he went hunting, and for a short moment, he saw a lion that quickly disappeared. He thus decided to name the city Singapura. Unfortunately, studies have proved that there weren’t any lions in Singapore.
How to organize your Singapore tour itinerary?
When it comes to organizing an itinerary, there are a lot of things you need to consider. Whether you want to include any museums, if you would instead focus on outdoors, street food versus restaurants, walking or public transport, and so on. But it all comes down to one thing – how much time you have for a particular place and your budget.
In our case, we wanted our Singapore trip cost not to hurt our budget significantly. However, we were pretty sure that one weekend in Singapore would prove to be 10 times more expensive than let’s say, in our beloved India. But the truth is that we managed to lower our costs by not paying for accommodation. We were invited there by a fantastic friend, and she hosted us.
There is always the possibility of couchsurfing, and you will actually be surprised to know that there are tens of thousands of hosts eager to accommodate travelers. So, this is the best way to save some money, especially given the high rates of accommodation there. It provides a great way to familiarize with the local culture.
Leaving the budget aside, it was pretty tricky to decide on a Singapore itinerary for one day. Because although we were there for a weekend, we also wanted to spend time with our friends and not just running around from one attraction to the other. So, we pretty much decided to focus our Singapore day tour on both must-see places, as well as some not so popular ones. And to walk a lot!
We have decided to share with you our Singapore tour itinerary, a step-by-step guide to our day spent in Asia’s perfect city. But beware though! It involves a lot of walking. We are known for our love for walking, and given that there were no hikes in sight, we had to compensate with some city-walk.
One day Singapore sightseeing tour
Before you start exploring our proposed itinerary for your so-called one-day Singapore vacation, bear in mind that you won’t cover everything. Singapore is a great city that deserves much more time. But then again, if this is your only option, we will walk you through it. And we have also included some extras, in case you have time to reach them.
This is probably the best start for your walking one-day tour around Singapore. It’s the heart of the Financial District and it will give you an excellent introduction to the city. You will start wondering whether you are not instead in New York than in Asia, as the sheer number and architecture of skyscrapers is impressive for anybody.
There aren’t many things to do at Raffles Place, other than walking around and maybe checking the shops. Raffles City Mall has some great amenities, or perhaps you just want to cool a bit and take advantage of the AC inside.
What’s in a name? I am always curious to find out why and how did a particular place get its name. And Raffles Place was no exception. I was pretty sure it was a person’s name – but Raffles definitely didn’t ring any bell in my ears.
With some help from holy Google, I was able to find out that Raffles was actually a British administrator, a founder of Singapore as a port city. He landed there on January 29, 1819, and established the port of Singapore. This means that 2019 will be an excellent year for a Singapore local tour, as the city will have its 200 year anniversary.
Getting there: Raffles Place MRT station
Raffles Place Jetty – Boat Quay
After you’ve had enough of the financial district and feel your neck is hurting from all the staring at the sky, then head towards Singapore River. Once you reach Quay, you will see two bridges on your right: Cavenagh Bridge and Anderson Bridge. If Cavenagh Bridge doesn’t look that interesting to you, know that it is one of the oldest bridges in Singapore, dating from 1870, and also the only suspension bridge.
But the biggest tourist attraction for the quay is not the bridges, but the boat ride. If you want to see the city from aboard a cruise ship, then you might want to try the Singapore River Cruise, a 40-minute ride that will take you along the Boat Quay and the Marina Bay.
Although it might seem a bit expensive, at S$25 per adult (S$15 for kids), you get to go on a bumboat, which was used as cargo boat or for transporting goods in the early times of Singapore.
Chinatown and temples
With or without the boat cruise included in your itinerary, our suggestion is to start heading towards Chinatown. All big cities have a Chinatown, and you definitely shouldn’t miss the one in Singapore.
Getting there: As I have already warned you, the best way to get to Chinatown from the Boat Quay is by walking. If you want to add another stop, you should take Telok Ayer Street and then turn right on Cross Street and left on Club Street. It’s around 1km from the quay so not that big of a deal.
Following our above instructions will take to Ann Siang Hill Park, named after a wealthy Chinese businessman. This area used to be popular for rich men gatherings, filled with social and business clubs (hence the name of Club Street). It’s a chill walk away on a small hill, but it provides an excellent perspective on the area. It’s a short walk, but the shade it provides will surely attract you.
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is just across Ann Siang Hill Park, so you will be there in no time; simply cross the street on South Bridge Road. This is a new temple, built in 2007, but it attracts tons of visitors due to its treasure – Buddha’s canine tooth. However, the tooth is believed to have been recovered from Kushinagar, India, from Buddha’s funeral pyre. But no, you will not be able to see the tooth, just the container
Admission to the temple is free of charge, and it is opened daily from 9 am to 6 pm. But if you do decide to enter, make sure you are respectful, you cover your shoulders and legs, and don’t bring inside any pets of non-vegetarian food.
Sri Mariamman Temple is only a two-minute walk away from the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. And any Singapore trip planner will say that it’s a must-see as it’s the oldest Hindu temple in the city. Its style will immediately make you think of Southern India, and it is not something unusual, given that its influence roots from that area. The temple plays an essential role for the city’s Hindu minority, which is pretty numerous, represented by the South Indian Tamils who immigrated to Singapore.
Michelin star street food
If by the time you are done “temple-ing” around, you start feeling your stomach in agony, then you might consider grabbing a bite at (prepare for a long name) Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice Noodle restaurant. It is probably one of the few Michelin rated places in the world that provides excellent food for just a couple of bucks.
It is actually one of the first two street food stalls in the world that got awarded a well-deserved Michelin Star. It’s just 300m behind the Sri Mariamman Temple, so it’s worth a stop. However, if you are not friends with patience, you might want to reconsider eating there. That star made it so famous that during lunch, the cues are pretty much humongous.
Peranakan tiles on Everton Road
It’s time for some off the beaten track Singapore sightseeing. You can also decide to skip this stop if you find other places more appealing to you. But for us, it was a nice walk in search of the Peranakan tiles.
In case you haven’t heard of the Peranakan tiles, don’t feel weird – it’s not you, it’s us. I had read about them in an in-flight magazine, and they got stuck in the back of my head. But what does Peranakan mean? The Peranakans are the descendants of the Chinese immigrants who arrived in the area that is now Singapore somewhere between the 15th and the 17th century. And most of them represented the elites in Singapore.
The tiles we wanted to see arrived in Singapore via the British and it seems that the Peranakan community started to incorporate them into their buildings. As such, you can now find some magnificent buildings, most of them showing affluence and wealth, decorated with these delicate Peranakan tiles.
Getting there: a great way to see houses decorated with these tiles is heading towards Everton Road and Blair Road (1.2km from Chinatown).
Lunch with a view – Marina Square
We are definitely the last persons to recommend eating in a mall. In any other of our destinations, you won’t find such a recommendation. However, in Singapore’s case, it was different. Based on our friend’s suggestion, we decided to include in our Singapore tour itinerary a lunch at the food court of Marina Square. It provides a great variety of all kind of cuisines, including local cuisine, Indian, Chinese, Malay, Japanese, etc.
But the best part about having lunch here (besides the free AC) is the view! You can enjoy your meal while gazing toward the famous Marina Bay Sands, the iconic building.
Getting there: I won’t torture you and say that you can walk from Everton Road to Marina Square. So you can take the train from Outram Park station and reach Esplanade Station.
Marina Bay Sands
Before seeing it, I thought that it’s an overrated building and it’s probably just another tall and imposing building. Well, I was kind of wrong, and I couldn’t keep myself from staring at it! Just imagine a luxury hotel with more than 2,500 rooms, a museum, a mall, a rooftop infinity pool, the world’s largest casino, and incredible restaurants.
It’s hard to describe how imposing this building is. So don’t say no to that highly touristic ride up to the observation deck, 200m above ground, spoiling you with incredible views over entire Singapore.
Unless you are a guest in the hotel (lucky you!) or less than two-year-old (I highly doubt this one!), you will have to pay to get to the Observation Deck: S$23 per adult (S$17 for children). And sorry to disappoint you, but the access to the Infinity Pool is restricted to hotel guests.
Explore the intriguing Gardens by the Bay
Do you know those famous photos with some artsy trees made of steel? Well, they depict one of the many attractions found at Gardens by the Bay. The Gardens by the Bay is just another example of extraordinary engineering, urban planning, electric, and architectural wonders.
Covering a vast area of 101 hectares, the park is split into three waterfront gardens and filled with exciting activities and amenities. From exploring the largest glass greenhouse in the world, the Flower Dome, to the rare plants found in the Cloud Forest, from walking in the Heritage Gardens, to admiring the 40 sculptures from around the world spread all over the site, Gardens by the Bay is the perfect oasis.
And there is no better way to end the day than by heading straight to the Supertree Grove, where the magnificent trees provide a fantastic night show, each evening from 7:45 pm and from 8:45 pm. With music from Pirates of the Caribbean, of Jurassic Park, the trees become alive and light up in thousands of colors that dance on the music’s rhythm.