Singapore is often overlooked as a holiday destination in Asia. Many people consider it to be a safe, sterile version of the ‘real’ Asia, and forgo it for other destinations that they consider to be more exotic. However, Singapore is a melting pot of different cultures and a vist to this island country can give you a taste of India, Malaysia and China in an non-intimidating environment, all with Singapore’s unique colonial twist.
Singapore makes an excellent introduction to Asia for those who have not before set foot outside of their own countries and offers the best of all worlds. Singapore is also ideally placed to be a hub for other Asian countries and the excellent airport and national airline means that many people pass through here on their way to other destinations. If you’re staying long-term in Malaysia or Indonesia, Singapore makes an excellent destination for a visa run.
There is a downside however – cost! Singapore is one of the most expensive countries in Asia and you’ll find your budget is quickly depleted if you linger here for long. The solution to this dilemma? Keep your trips to Singapore short. It’s a great location for a stopover or weekend trip from other Asian countries and budget airlines like Air Asia offer frequent flights. It’s very easy in fact to fly into Singapore in the morning, have a day of sightseeing and shopping and fly out again at night.
Here’s our guide to making the most out of 24 hours in Singapore:
Start your day by exploring Little India. Forget toast and cereal and enjoy a breakfast of dosa and masala chai at one of the many authentic Indian restaurants serving up spicy and affordable fair. Many things in Singapore can be considered expensive but food is not one of them – there are plenty of hawker stalls and open air food courts serving up a whole range of Asian cuisines for just a few Singapore dollars. While you’re enjoying your food, enjoy watching daily life go past. Little India is full of fabric shops, spice vendors, gold jewellery shops, mosques and Hindu temples. It’s the closest thing you’ll get to India apart from the real thing. After finishing off your breakfast, head to the Mustafa centre – a kind of budget department store selling anything and everything you could possibly imagine. Prices here are cheaper than anywhere else on the island so be sure to stock up on souvenirs while you’re here. The Mustafa centre is open 24 hours – handy if you arrive on an early morning flight and need to kill some time.
Before the sun hits its midday peak, head to the Botanic Gardens for a breath of fresh air in the heart of the city. The Botanic Gardens houses a small rainforest, an ‘evolution garden’, documenting the evolutionary story of plant life on Earth, a ginger garden, orchid garden, children’s garden and more. Take your time – there should be enough to occupy you here for at least a couple of hours.
Time for lunch! Singaporeans love to eat and there is no shortage of choice. If you’re not sure what you want to eat, head to one of the hawker food centres where you can take your pick from Singaporean, Indian, Chinese, Malay, Thai, Indonesian, Japanese and more! There are hawker food centres scattered all over the city and dishes usually cost just a few dollars.
The Maxwell Road Hawker centre is a good place to sample the cuisine and atmosphere of Singapore’s hawker stalls and you’ll be right in the heart of Chinatown. If you don’t know what to eat, try some of Singapore’s speacialities: hokkien mee (stir fried noodles, usually with sea food), Hainanese chicken rice, chilli crab or laksa (Malaysian noodles in spicy coconut gravy). You certainly won’t go hungry in Singapore!
As you’re already in Chinatown, it’s time to explore. There are some beautiful Buddhist temples which make for great photo opportunities and a street market selling everything from t-shirts to teapots. If you’ve got time, pop into the Chinatown Heritage Centre to get an insight into life in Singapore as on of the first Chinese immigrants. There are also of course lots of Chinese restaurants here but as you’ve just eaten lunch, you’ll probably want to pass.
You can’t visit Singapore without paying a trip to the famous Orchard Road and indulging in a spot of shopping. Orchard Road is an attractive tree-lined boulevard, flanked with designer fashion stores and upmarket department stores. The road is over 2km long and is packed full of shops, restaurants, department stores, bars and malls. It’s definitely a case of shop ’til you drop! If you don’t have the budget for shopping, it’s also a great place to grab a coffee and indulge in a spot of people watching.
Dusk is a great time to head down to Marina Bay and watch the sunset from the Singapore Flyer – currently the world’s tallest ferris wheel. The marina is also a great place to wander around and soak up the atmosphere and there are plenty of bars and restaurants if you’re in need of refreshment. Seafood Paradise specialises in chilli crab and makes a great place to eat dinner, with a view of the bay.
After dinner, head to the zoo. Yes, sounds a little odd but the Singapore Night Safari is the island’s number one tourist attraction. Special lighting allows visitors to observe animals going about their nocturnal activities in natural surrounding. There is a tram tour around the park and walking trails allow you to get up close and personal with leopards and wallabies. A 20-minute Creatures of the Night Show is performed every hour, showcasing some impressive examples of animal behaviour.
You’re probably ready to either fall into bed or catch your flight out, but you can’t leave Singapore without sampling one of the famous Singapore Sling cocktails. The Long Bar in Raffles Hotel is the birthplace of this iconic cocktail and is a great place to wind down and enjoy your last couple of hours in Singapore. It’s not cheap, at around $30 a drink, but many consider the experience to be well worth the price.