Singapore is often viewed as a layover destination, a quick stop to catch a connecting flight. However, the city-state has so much more to offer than just a brief respite. With its diverse food culture, rich and complex history, unique architecture, and stunning natural landscapes, Singapore is a destination that deserves to be explored beyond (but also including) the airport. Here are some reasons why:
Step into the future at the ArtScience Museum
The ArtScience Museum in Singapore offers a glimpse into the future of art and technology, and the limitless possibilities that arise when the two fields collide.
This iconic lotus-shaped building is home to many exhibitions that blend cutting-edge technology, interactive installations, and art from around the world. In the "Future World: Where Art Meets Science" exhibition, for example, there are interactive digital wall paintings that respond to your movements, immersive light installations that change with sound and touch, and you can even turn your own drawings into an animated art piece! It’s definitely a one-of-a-kind experience.
Awaken Your Senses in Chinatown
Chinatown is a cultural treasure trove with a fascinating history. As you explore the streets, make sure to read the various signs and plaques that explain what life was like here back in the day. You'll feel like you've traveled back in time as you admire the beautiful colonial-era shophouses.
Make sure to check out the wet market as well for a little insight into some typical Chinese cooking ingredients. You can find everything from exotic produce and fresh seafood to more surprising ingredients like live frogs and eels. Let’s just say it’s an experience for the senses.
Don’t leave without indulging in some of Singapore’s delicious food. The hawker center has been around for decades, and many of the vendors have been perfecting their craft for just as long. Some have Michelin recommendations and one even had a Michelin star until 2021.
Find Inner Peace and Cultural Riches at the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
This stunning temple is not only a beautiful architectural marvel, but it's also an important center for Buddhist culture and religion.
The temple gets its name from the Buddha tooth relic that's enshrined within its walls. According to Buddhist tradition, the Buddha's tooth was found in a funeral pyre after his death, and it's said to have sacred properties. While only monks can enter the room where the tooth is held, you can still see the relic from the public viewing area.
But the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is more than just a religious site. It's also a fascinating museum that showcases Buddhist art and artifacts from all over Asia. From beautiful paintings and textiles to intricate statues, the museum has a wealth of treasures to admire.
Soar Above the City on a Cable Car at Sunset
Not only is it a fun way to get from Mount Faber to Sentosa, but the cable car also gives you a unique perspective of the city and the surrounding sea. From high above, you'll be able to see some of the city's iconic landmarks from a whole new angle!
If you time your ride just right, the cable car can be an excellent way to watch the sunset. As the sun sinks below the horizon, you get a panoramic view of the city, bathed in a golden light.
Experience the Vibrant Riverside Life at Clarke Quay and Boat Quay
Clarke Quay and Boat Quay are fun and lively places to enjoy dinner or some drinks along the Singapore River. These two areas offer a plethora of restaurants, bars, and entertainment options that cater to locals and tourists alike. It’s a great place to take a leisurely stroll along the waterfront and soak up the atmosphere.
Clarke Quay is a bustling area that's known for its vibrant nightlife. From the moment you arrive, you'll be surrounded by neon lights, loud music, and the sounds of people having a good time.
Boat Quay, on the other hand, is a bit more laid-back. Here, you'll find a variety of restaurants and cafes that serve delicious food and drinks. The area is also home to a number of historic shophouses, giving you a glimpse into Singapore's rich heritage.
Discover a Botanical Wonderland at Gardens by the Bay
Gardens by the Bay is famous for its stunning Supertree Grove, a collection of towering futuristic-looking tree-like structures that light up at night, creating a pretty magical atmosphere. You can take a stroll along the OCBC Skyway, a 128-meter-long walkway that's suspended 22 meters in the air, offering spectacular views of the Supertree Grove and the surrounding gardens.
The Flower Dome and Cloud Forest conservatories are also a must-see at Gardens by the Bay. The Flower Dome is the world's largest glass greenhouse and is home to a vast collection of plants and flowers from Mediterranean and semi-arid regions. Meanwhile, the Cloud Forest is a surreal mist-filled environment featuring a 35-meter-tall mountain covered in lush vegetation, a stunning waterfall, and a variety of exotic plant life.
The free outdoor areas of Gardens by the Bay also house a variety of themed gardens with thousands of plants to admire, whether you are interested in learning about the world's diverse plant life, or just taking a leisurely stroll through beautiful gardens.
Explore the Soul of Singapore at the Hawker Centres
Singapore is famous for its hawker centers and they are the real heart of the country. These food centers are open-air food courts where you can find an incredible variety of delicious and affordable local dishes. Hawkers are a melting pot of different cultures and cuisines, offering everything from Chinese dumplings to Indian curries, from chili crab to Hainanese chicken rice. Many hawker stalls have been around for decades, with each stall specializing in a particular dish or cuisine, so the quality and authenticity of the food are hard to beat. No matter what you try, your taste buds will thank you!
Hawker centers are not only a great way to try the local cuisine but also a lively social hub, where you can mingle with locals and other travelers while enjoying some of the best food in Singapore. So if you want to experience the real heart of Singapore, make sure to visit a hawker center or two during your trip.
Uncover a Bizarre and Fascinating World at Haw Par Villa
Haw Par Villa is one of Singapore's most unique and offbeat attractions and an unmissable destination for anyone interested in the city's quirky and unconventional side.
Originally built in the 1930s by the brothers behind the Tiger Balm brand, Haw Par Villa is an outdoor theme park featuring over 1,000 statues and dioramas depicting scenes from Chinese mythology and folklore. From giant statues of dragons and gods to intricate depictions of hell and the afterlife, Haw Par Villa is a surreal and fascinating experience that is unlike anything else you'll find in Singapore.
Be sure to check out the infamous "Ten Courts of Hell" exhibit, which depicts the gruesome punishments awaiting sinners in the afterlife. It’s a pretty eye-opening and somewhat amusing trip exploring what sins are lumped in together - swearing and abducting people will both get you thrown onto a tree of knives! Ouch.
Walk on Water (figuratively) at Henderson Waves
Henderson waves is for nature lovers, photography enthusiasts, and anyone looking for a peaceful and scenic spot to take a stroll. This pedestrian bridge offers stunning views of the surrounding area, including the lush greenery of the parks surrounding it and the glittering skyline of the city in the distance.
But what makes the Henderson Waves Bridge truly special is its design, which incorporates a series of undulating waves that rise and fall along the length of the bridge, creating a stunning visual effect that is both beautiful and functional.
Experience Singapore’s Crowning Jewel
Ignoring that terrible pun… Singapore is one of the few countries to have the airport on its biggest attractions list. While the air-side terminals are also an experience in themselves, the Jewel is accessible without a flight ticket and many locals actually spend their weekends here. While there is there a large array of shopping and dining options, the most iconic attraction is the Rain Vortex. This impressive indoor waterfall cascades down from the roof and is surrounded by what can only be described as an indoor forest! It’s an excellent example of Singapore’s futuristic, greenery-focused architecture and visions for the future.
Explore where Vintage meets Modern in Haji Lane
Haji Lane is a trendy and colorful destination in Singapore. This narrow alleyway is known for its eclectic mix of independent boutiques and vintage stores. The shops here offer a wide variety of unique items, from one-of-a-kind clothing and handmade jewelry to quirky home decor and art pieces. And when you need a break from shopping, you can relax at one of the many charming cafes and restaurants in the area. The graffiti-covered walls and brightly painted shophouses add to the bohemian vibe of the area, making it a popular spot for Instagram-worthy photos.
Delight Your Taste Buds at La Pau Sat’s Satay Street
Located in the heart of the Central Business District, Lau Pa Sat is a historic building that has been transformed into a bustling food center. While it is certainly the most touristy hawker center of them all, Satay Street will always be on our must-visit list.
At night, the street beside La Pau Sat is closed off to cars and filled with tables and chairs, creating a fun atmosphere where tourists and the occasional local can enjoy delicious food out in the evening air. As you walk down the street, you'll be hit with the aroma of the sizzling meat cooking over hot coals, making it hard to resist the temptation to stop and try some. The satay stalls offer a variety of meats, such as chicken, beef, lamb, and prawns (shrimp), that are served with a delicious peanut dipping sauce.
Enjoy Elevated Craft Brews and Skyline Views at LeVel 33
Located on the 33rd floor of the Marina Bay Financial Centre (hence the name), the LeVel 33 microbrewery has quite a specific flex of being “the World’s highest urban microbrewery”. If that fact alone hasn’t knocked your socks off, the view of Marina Bay certainly will. Even if you’re not a beer drinker, this is one of the best places to watch the sunset!
Beer lovers can indulge in an extensive range of small-batch craft beers that are brewed on-site, ensuring maximum freshness and a little exclusivity. From crisp and refreshing lagers to rich and complex ales, they offer a diverse selection of beers that cater to all palates.
Get a Taste of Indian Culture in Little India
Little India is a vibrant and bustling neighborhood in Singapore that offers a glimpse into the country's Indian community, culture, and history. The streets are filled with the aroma of spices and flowers, and colorful storefronts selling everything from traditional saris to Indian street food.
You can also admire the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, a Hindu temple known for its stunning architecture and intricate carvings, or take a stroll through the lively and fragrant Tekka Market, where locals gather to buy fresh produce and spices.
Get Lost in the Labyrinthine of Mustafa Centre
While you’re in Little India, you have to visit Mustafa Centre. Open 24 hours a day, Mustafa Centre is a shopping mecca that truly offers a one-stop shopping experience. Even if you have no intention of shopping, just walking around it is an experience in itself. The mall has an incredibly vast selection of items, from clothing and jewelry to electronics and groceries, all at unbeatable prices.
One of the best parts of Mustafa Centre is its unique character. Unlike the sleek and modern shopping centers that dot Singapore's skyline, this center has a more eclectic feel. The center's layout is a bit labyrinthine with a chaotic mix of merchandise, and it can be easy to get lost among the many floors and departments, but that's all part of the fun!
Walk Amongst Singapore’s Iconic Landmarks at Marina Bay
This iconic area is the centerpiece of modern Singapore and there is no better way to explore it than on foot. As your stroll around Marine Bay, you can enjoy panoramic views of the most recognizable pieces of the city’s skyline.
The Merlion statue, a symbol of Singapore's identity, stands proudly at the mouth of the Singapore River. It’s a mythical creature with the head of a lion, representing the city’s original name - Singapura (Lion City), and the body of a fish, symbolizing the city's humble origins as a fishing village.
As you continue around the bay, you’ll pass the Esplanade (locally dubbed “the durians”) where there is often live music and performances at night. You can then cross over the Helix Bridge, a unique pedestrian bridge designed to resemble the structure of DNA, and a great place to take in the skyline views of the central business district.
Then you’ll be in front of Marina Bay Sands, possibly the most iconic of them all with its boat-shaped architecture and spectacular rooftop infinity pool. While you’re there, take a moment to appreciate the beauty of the ArtScience Museum, with its distinctive lotus-shaped design, which houses fascinating exhibits on art, science, and technology.
Journey Through Time at the National Museum of Singapore
The National Museum of Singapore offers a comprehensive look at the history and culture of Singapore. It explores the struggles and triumphs of the city's early settlers, highlights the impact of colonialism on the country, and explores how Singapore evolved into the dynamic and cosmopolitan city it is today. There are exhibitions that cover everything from architecture and design to food and fashion and even family dynamics. For such a small country, it has a very rich and fascinating history.
Encounter the Creatures of the Night at the Night Safari
As the world's first nocturnal zoo, the Night Safari takes you on an exciting journey aboard the open-air tram where you encounter nocturnal animals, including tigers, Asian lions, leopards, Sloth bears, and hyenas. It actually feels like you’re doing a night safari as you make your way along the track. You can then explore the rest of the park on foot to see some particularly special nocturnal creatures like Tasmanian Devils, Slow loris’, pangolins, and aardvarks. Unlike traditional zoos, the Night Safari is designed to showcase the behavior of nocturnal animals when they're actually awake and active, so it’s a pretty special experience!
Note: we do not normally recommend visiting zoos as we think it’s always better to see animals in the wild where they belong. This is our one exception because, for many people, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see some of these nocturnal animals.
Stroll Amongst the High-End Haunts of Orchard Road
Orchard Road is Singapore's premier shopping district, lined with high-end shopping malls, luxury boutiques, and renowned restaurants. Beyond fashion, there are plenty of other things to explore, from art galleries to specialty shops selling unique souvenirs. It’s a great place to take a leisurely stroll and enjoy the sights and sounds of Singapore's busiest shopping district, even if you're not planning to buy anything.
Discover an Island Stuck in Time at Pulau Ubin
Just a short boat ride away from Singapore's bustling city center, Pulau Ubin offers a refreshing escape to a simpler way of life. This small island is a throwback to Singapore's early years when villages and kampongs were common sights.
Rent a bicycle and explore the island's rustic charm, from the old wooden houses to the thriving mangroves. Pulau Ubin is also home to Chek Jawa Wetlands, an ecological gem with surprising marine biodiversity. There are around 500 species of marine wildlife and plants here. Make sure to visit at low tide when otherwise hidden ecosystems are revealed!
Indulge in Old-World Luxury at Raffles Hotel
Step back in time and indulge in a Singaporean tradition by sipping a Singapore Sling at the iconic Raffles Hotel. The hotel, built in 1887, is a national monument and a symbol of the country's colonial past. The cocktail was first concocted by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon in 1915 and has since become a symbol of Singaporean hospitality. The drink itself is a delicious mix of gin, cherry liqueur, Cointreau, pineapple juice, lime juice, and grenadine, garnished with a slice of pineapple and a cherry. Sitting in the hotel's elegant Long Bar, surrounded by fans whirring overhead and shelled peanuts scattered on the floor, you'll feel transported back in time.
Unleash Your Inner Child at Sentosa Island
This man-made island, just a few minutes from Singapore’s city center, is a playground for adults and kids alike. While it’s certainly not a cultural experience, it is a fascinating place to visit.
With luges, bungee jumping, ziplines, and even a Universal Studios and Madame Tussauds, this place is packed full of things to do. For a more leisurely adventure, you can enjoy the island’s lush tropical greenery, or soak up some sun at the beach. If you're a history buff, you can also take a stroll through the historic Fort Siloso and learn about Singapore's role in World War II.
Discover the Colorful World of Peranakan Shophouses
Peranakan shophouses are a unique architectural style found throughout Singapore, particularly in neighborhoods like Joo Chiat. These colorful buildings, characterized by their ornate facades and intricate details, are a testament to the Peranakan community's vibrant culture and heritage. The decor of each house tells its own story, so you can easily a few hours exploring the area and admiring the architecture.
Explore a Wildlife Haven at Thomson Nature Park
Tucked away in the heart of Singapore lies Thomson Nature Park, a hidden gem that was once the site of a Hainanese village. Today, it is a lush oasis teeming with life. For wildlife lovers, this is one of the best places to see the critically endangered Raffles’ banded langur, and the occasional Sunda pangolin has also been spotted here. You might also be lucky enough to see the mouse deer or colugos! Herpers, keep your eyes peeled for Waggler pit vipers and Malaysian Coral snakes.
If you’re interested in reading more about wildlife, check out our blog post on what you can find in Singapore here.
So, there you have it. If that’s not enough to convince you that Singapore is more than just a transit hub I don’t know what will! This city is a destination in itself, with its diverse culture, rich history, stunning architecture, and natural landscapes making it a fascinating place to visit. From the lively streets of Chinatown to the lush greenery of Thomson Nature Park and everything else in between, Singapore offers a unique experience that you won't find anywhere else. So, the next time you have a layover in Singapore, do yourself a favor and explore this incredible city!