Singapore is a thriving metropolis. It’s both a sovereign city-state and an island country. It lies only 1 degree north of the equator, meaning it has a tropical climate, rainforests and a beautiful mix of old-colonial and modern skyscraper architecture. All of this makes Singapore a really interesting place to visit.
This post is to share my top tips and experiences from Singapore. I’ve split it into three sections:
- General Singapore tips: Getting around and where to stay
- Top city spots, including a walking route to take in the top sights and my food highlights
- Top sights for nature lovers (separate post)
We planned our trip to coincide with the Formula 1. I know that’s not to everyones interest, so maybe I’ll do a separate post on that in the future.
General Singapore tips
Singapore has a really good public transport system. The jewel in the crown is the Mass Rapid Transit system (MRT). You can get pretty much everywhere using the MRT system and then a short walk to your destination. It’s clean, quick and relatively cheap with adult fares often just S$1.20.
The East-West line goes right from the airport in the East, so is a great way to get into the city when you first arrive. However, you may need small change. There are various multi-tickets available, including a tourist pass for S$10/1-day or S$20/3-days. Multi-passes like these can often be purchased from the manned-kiosk and on card (visa/mastercard etc).
However, if you want a single or return ticket, they have to be bought from the machines which only take small notes and coins. For example, 1 x single ticket from the airport to the centre of Singapore is S$2.40. The machines will only take S$5 notes or lower, or coins. When first arriving in Singapore its unlikely you’ll have change, so means you’ll have to buy a drink/snack before heading down to the MRT. Unusually you can’t eat or drink on the MRT, so the snack will have to wait until you’re at your destination, otherwise you could face a hefty fine!
Tip: Have small change (S$5 note and lower) before going to the MRT if you plan on getting a single or return ticket
During our 8-day stay in Singapore there was only 1 place we couldn’t get the MRT to: The Tiger Brewery tour (more on the tour later). The brewery is located to the West of Singapore, so we took the MRT almost to the end of the line and were then faced with a 15min walk or getting a bus/taxi. Given it was raining and we were short on time, we opted for a taxi…. well a grab.
There is no Uber in Singapore, its a company called Grab instead. So, we downloaded the Grab app, even found a voucher code and then requested a ride. It works just the same as Uber and we were at our destination with minutes to spare! Grab is also used in Vietnam, where you can even request a scooter rather than a car if you’d prefer (and you’re brave enough!).
In my opinion the best way to get around is to walk. We walked for miles during our visit, using our phone GPS to guide us. See the route we took on our first day, taking in lots of sights, old and new, here.
TIP: Check with your phone provider if you can use your phone in Singapore. I’m on three and could use mine at no extra cost. If you can’t use your tariff and have an unlocked phone buy a Singtel sim at the airport (or a newsagent) to get loads of data for as little as S$15.
Where to stay
As you’d expect from a big city, there’s no end of hotel options in Singapore. Many are located in the historic downtown area and around the marina, but thanks to the great public transport you really don’t have to stay right in the centre.
Singapore has two particularly famous hotels, Raffles (an old one) and Marina Bay Sands (a new one). Both are expensive and Raffles is closed until 2019 for a complete refurbishment. But if you can spend time at either iconic spot it’d make for great memories as we found out when we spent a night at the Marina Bay Sands.
For the rest of our stay we opted for an Airbnb studio apartment on Tras Street, close to China Town. During the formula 1 race weekend hotel prices can triple and I found the airbnb prices didn’t, hence we got much more for our money. The location was great – a short walk to Tanjong Pagar MRT for the East-West line (direct to the airport) and China Town MRT for the East-West and Downtown lines. Around the apartment was a range of bars and restaurants including some great Korean BBQ!
Top City Spots
These are my top recommendations for what to see on your first visit to Singapore. For additional options, take a look at great travel blogger and Asia-expert melisliving.com. Melis has been lucky enough to call Singapore home for seven months this year, so has the inside scoop. You can see Melis’ recommendations for how to spend 48 hours in Singapore here.
Get your bearings
For our first day I’d planned a walk around many of the sights, historical and modern. It was a great way to get our bearings of the city. The 4km route starts at Clarke Quay MRT and takes in major sights such as Old Hill Street Police Station (very instagrammable!), Victoria Theatre, Padang, the National Gallery and Supreme Court, St Andrews Church, City Hall, Raffles Hotel (Raffles’ Long Bar is an iconic place to stop off and enjoy a Singapore Sling), Esplanade theatres on the bay, the Helix Bridge and ending at Marina Bay Sands and Gardens by the Bay.
See the route we took here and let me know if you follow it!
Also nearby are the famous Gardens by the Bay. They’re one of the biggest tourist attractions in Singapore and are a selection of manicured themed outdoor gardens which surround two huge domes; flower dome and cloud forest. Read more about them on my Singapore Nature in the City post.
China Town / Tanjong Pagar
Some of our favourite places to eat were nearby our Airbnb. Particular favourites were:
- The Coconut club. This small restaurant is known for only one dish; Nasi Lemak (see picture for what that inolves!). Theres a few other things on the menu and some side dishes, but we’d been reliably informed by a friend-of-a-friend who lives in Singapore that we had to have the Nasi Lemak. So thats what we ordered along with a side of Sayur Lemak (veggies in coconut sauce).
- Korean BBQ. There were tons of Korean BBQ restaurants, practically next door to each other, but we chose to eat at Guiga Korean BBQ on Tanjong Pagar Road. Lee is an old hand at Korean BBQ, having been many times before on his business trip to Asia, but this was a first for me!
- Oxwell & Co was a great place for a drink and they even serve up a Sunday lunch with Yorkshire pud if you’re feeling homesick! Plus they have a pretty cool rooftop bar area.
Something different? Tiger Brewery
When researching things to do in Singapore I realised that Tiger Beer is made there. This is one of Lee’s favourites (and of course our dog is called Tiger) so it only seemed right that we booked a tour.
The brewery is out in an industrial area, close to the border with Malaysia so we got the MRT to Tuas West Road (40 mins) and then a Grab (taxi). If you want to do the tour, you must book in advance. There are numerous slots Tuesday-Sunday and they’re not over-subscribed, meaning you can usually just book the night before.
As someone who doesn’t like beer, even I found the tour entertaining. The ‘tour’ element was limited, but you did get to see inside the brewery and had a short education on beer and the history of Tiger beer. But after the tour came the best bit – the sampling in the ‘Tiger Tavern’ bar. To my pleasant surprise some of the flavoured lagers were really good! They had two; Tiger Radler lemon and Tiger Radler grapefruit that I really enjoyed. I think we were both suitably tipsy after using all of our tasting vouchers! 😂
Overall we had a great time getting to know Singapore, topped off by a fabulous grand prix! I hope you find some of this info useful – let me know if you do or if you have any questions. Don’t forget to have a read of my other Singapore posts too: Marina Bay Sands – Is It Worth It? and Singapore Nature in the City