Singapore City Guide [Updated 2018]

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Singapore: not only is it one of the world’s last remaining city-states, it’s also the second most densely populated sovereign nation in the world – housing around 7,600 people per square kilometre across its landmass.

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Though you might think things could get bloated and crowded here, Singapore is often ranked among the cleanest and best-looking destinations in the world – attracting millions of visitors each year. Of course, many of the state’s visitors are just passing through; Singapore is one of Asia’s – and the world’s – most important aviation and transhipment hubs, with thousands upon thousands of people travelling through the city-state every day.

A vast tapestry of cultures, Singapore’s multicultural melting pot is replete with unbelievable food, storied history, and plenty of cultural sights to see. Fast becoming a must-see city, we’ll dive into its history, attractions to check out, culinary highlights and the best secret spots.

Fun fact #01

Singapore’s national anthem is printed in microtext on the back of its $1,000 note. They’re pretty rare though, so good luck tracking one down.

If you’re one of the many cruise passengers facing a 12-hour layover in Singapore before embarking on an unforgettable cruise through South East Asia, here’s a brief guide on how to make the most of your time in this most majestic of stopover destinations as well as a little Singaporean history lesson.

What to see in Singapore

Whatever you’re looking from your visit, Singapore’s vibrant, multi-cultural mix of people and places means there’s something for everyone. Hit the streets for a spot of the real Singapore; a bustling, energetic environment filled with lively markets and street food vendors plying their wares. Not your cup of tea? Head to one of its green areas for something more serene and enriching; you’ll find plenty of walking trails, wildlife sanctuaries and treetop bridges to saunter across. All part of Singapore’s commitment to a greener, more sustainable city, be sure to walk a little further afield to check out these verdant retreats, nestled comfortably away from the rest of Singapore.

Fun fact #02

The city has changed its time zone six times since 1905.

To see the best of what Singapore has to offer, you’ll need to familiarise yourself with how to get around. Thankfully, it’s a breeze to navigate. Singapore’s bus system reaches all corners of the island, providing an efficient, regular service that makes exploring the city-state as straightforward as possible. They require the exact change to ride (unless you have an EZ-Link card), but they’re cheap and get you about anywhere – they even run into the small hours on Friday, Saturdays and on the eve of public holidays.

The Mass Rapid Transit system is the easiest way to get around. Operating frequently, even at peak times, and running until midnight, make sure you get a Singapore Tourist Pass – they offer unlimited train and bus travel for a day and are an absolute must for visitors.

For a more novel way of getting around Singapore, pay for a trishaw ride and see the city in a different light, with cars whizzing by and the wind in your hair. Be sure to barter the fare with the driver beforehand: typically, a journey costs around $40 for half an hour.

Baba House

Showcasing Singapore’s pre-technology past, Baba House is one of the best-preserved examples of Peranakan architecture in the city. Oozing charm and heritage from its vibrant antique façade, this beautiful 1920s shack will leave you longing to learn more about the nation’s simple, humble history. Managed by the National University of Singapore, a touch-and-interact policy is encouraged – making it a suitable attraction for youngsters.

Singapore Botanic Gardens

botanic garden singapore

Escape the busy Singaporean streets with a quiet stroll around the city-state’s world-famous Botanic Gardens. Established over 156 years ago, this 180-acre tropical garden is the only site of its kind to receive UNESCO World Heritage status – thanks in part to its abundance of rare flora and charming, oriental-inspired architecture and design. Complete with a rainforest, waterfall and dedicated Orchid Enclosure; the Singapore Botanic Gardens is unlike any park you will ever visit – don’t miss it.

Little India

At the other end of the spectrum, Little India makes up a large portion of Singapore’s Chulia Kampong district, and takes its name from the thousands of Tamil immigrants who were relocated to the region under British colonial rule. With its evocative architecture, fragrant street food and abundance of independent fashion retailers – Little India evokes the spirit of the country from which it takes its name.

singapore city guide

Best kept secrets

It should come as no surprise a city the size of Singapore has more than its fair share of things to do and places to see that are off the beaten track. If you’ve been to Singapore before and are well-versed with its most famous attractions or just love discovering hidden gems then the city has a plethora of local eateries, rustic markets, clandestine bars and quirky boutiques to check out while you’re here.

Fun fact #03

According to the British Council, its citizens are the fastest walkers on the planets, clocking up an average of 18 metres in 10.55 seconds.

Don’t forget to ask the locals for tips and recommendations if you’re looking to go beyond the usual Singapore hotspots. Roam around its streets and strike up a conversation with street vendors and shop owners and see what off-the-beaten-track treats they recommend.

Fun fact #04

The largest fountain in the world can be found in Suntec City and cost an estimated AUS$8 million to build in 1997.

Souvenirs

The vibrant clash of cultures means there’s plenty of interesting pieces to take back home for loved ones.

Kaya

singapore city guide

There are plenty of edible souvenirs to bring back with you, and this delicious coconut jam makes an excellent little gift. Enjoyed across the nation on toast, Kaya is a wonderfully flavourful spread made from eggs, sugar, coconut milk and pandan leaves. It’s available across the city from supermarkets and Ya Kun Kaya Toast shops.

Singapore Sling Mix

singapore guide

The ever-popular Singapore Sling has been knocked back across the city’s bars since the 1930s – bring back a bottled version for your loved ones bought from Raffles Hotel, the place it was originally created at all those decades ago.

Gold plated orchid

singapore best souvenirs

For that special someone, a replica of Singapore’s national flower gilded in 24 karat gold is a superb souvenir to bring home. Full of the spirit of Singapore, you can find all manner of earrings, pendants, necklaces and brooches from any RISIS store across Singapore.

Miniature Merlions

singapore best souvenirs

Another icon of Singapore, the Merlion is a lion/fish hybrid that symbolises the city’s origins as a fishing village, as well as its original ‘lion city’ namesake. The man-made creature adorns all manner of souvenirs, including key chains, fridge magnets, snow globes, picture frames and just about anything you can think of.

Fun fact #05

Beware the Durian! The world’s smelliest fruit is very popular here, and locals like it to be as pungent as possible. Those with a weak stomach should avoid the whiff at all costs.

Tips from the experts

Megan Jerrard, Travel Writer at MappingMegan

Singapore’s location close to the equator means you’re heading into a tropical climate. The weather is hot and humid, so keep in mind that if you plan to walk around a lot, you may end up feeling a little damp (having a change of clothes on hand can be helpful).
There is also plenty of rainfall throughout the year, so be sure to have an umbrella or maybe a lightweight raincoat on hand. It’s also important to stay properly hydrated so you avoid dehydration.

Traditional dishes

There are plenty of decadent dishes to enjoy during your stay in Singapore, here are a few of our favourites.

Laksa

The ultimate Singaporean dish, this fragrant, aromatic soup is about as hearty as they come. Made with a base of coconut milk and stock; shrimp, fish, chicken and egg add to the robustness, strengthening the dish’s depth of flavour markedly. Impossible for rumbling stomachs to resist, head to 328 Katong Laksa for arguably the best version: fiery, creamy and very, very filling. As the locals say “die, die, must try”.

souvenir best dishes

Hainanese Chicken Rice

Incredibly popular across the city, this simple, subtle dish is a comforting, delicious meal that’s considered something of a national treasure here. It’s essentially steamed chicken with rice, but what it lacks in flair, it more than makes up for in flavour. There’s a premium placed on the quality of ingredients, sit down at Yishun 925 for an exceptionally good version of the dish.

singapore best dishes

Chilli Crab

Incredibly popular across the city, this simple, subtle dish is a comforting, delicious meal that’s considered something of a national treasure here. It’s essentially steamed chicken with rice, but what it lacks in flair, it more than makes up for in flavour. There’s a premium placed on the quality of ingredients, sit down at Yishun 925 for an exceptionally good version of the dish.

best food in singapore

So, there you have it – the perfect way to spend a 12-hour stopover in Singapore. If you’re interested in booking a cruise through South East Asia and feel Singapore could be the perfect port destination, check out our Cruise1st Singapore cruise holiday deals or use our search tool to browse a complete range of cruise holidays visiting Singapore.

The footage used in these videos is licensed via Creative Commons and has been modified from the original. Credits: Singapore Flyer – View from inside the capsuleSingapore Merlion Park Time Lapse, A table for twoSingapore has balanced the need for density with providing public spaceUnreasonable At Sea: Timelapse – Singapore, Inspiration

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