Singapore’s Changi Airport is such a popular hub it’s practically a site in itself. Singapore Airlines even offers bus tours from the airport for those with long enough layovers. But Singapore really merits a longer visit. We spent 3 really enjoyable days here, and didn’t even destroy our budget.
See our recommended 3-day itinerary for Singapore here and our Singapore budget here — including the lessons we learned and things we’d do differently.
1. Public transit is awesome
Public transit is a steal compared to major cities in the West, at just $11.20 for two days of unlimited rides. And I can honestly say I was amazed at how well the subway runs. It’s immaculately clean and signage is super clear. The trains themselves run very frequently — we never waited more than maybe 3-4 minutes and usually a minute or less — and transfers are a breeze. Changi Airport is also directly on the main subway service, unlike many major cities, which makes getting into the city cheap and easy, too.
2. Everyone speaks English
English isn’t just a language spoken by those in the tourist industry; it’s one of Singapore’s official languages. On signs and public transportation, English is the primary language, and we didn’t once have any trouble communicating.
3. The water is clean and the food is safe
Even in hawker centers — the cheapest way to eat in Singapore (check out our guide to hawker centers here) — food is totally safe, as sanitary conditions are enforced by the government. Tap water is also maintained at a level of cleanliness exceeding the World Health Organization’s standards. Both factors make this a great spot to get to know the food of Southeast Asia, allowing you to focus more on what exactly that shellfish is as opposed to whether it’s safe to eat.
4. Delicious food. Enough said.
Singapore is a melting pot of different Southeast Asia flavors, with influences from Malaysia, Thailand, India, China, and more. In a single hawker center you could taste foods from a dozen different culinary traditions. And all that competition means that even at less than $7 per meal for two, we never ate a bad dish.
5. The city is practically crime-free
I’ve got mixed feelings on this one … Singapore definitely gets a reputation for being a bit restrictive. But as a traveler, the strict laws definitely have their benefits. I felt safer than I did at home in New York City. There were a few areas of town that had signs warning of pickpocketing, but I never saw anything that made me uncomfortable.
6. Plenty of shopping options, if that’s your thing
Singapore is the land of shopping malls. If you’re interested in fashion, you will have your fill of shopping options from typical mall fare (Uniqlo, Mango) to ulta-high-end (Dolce & Gabbana, Louis Vuitton) in enormous malls that merit a look around in themselves.
7. Everything is clean, organized, and easy
Apart from the sweaty mess that you’re likely to be in this tropical city, Singapore is immaculate. There was even a bit of construction going on in some of the areas we visited, and yet, it was business as usual. Clean, well-paved streets, clear street signs, and friendly, helpful locals.
8. There are tons of beautiful public spaces
The parks in Singapore are ridiculously well-manicured and offer lots of seating, public restrooms, water fountains, and lots of places to get a snack. Every public park seems laid out for optimal beauty and ideal views of sites like the Singapore Flyer and Marina Bay Sands. You can spend hours just wandering these parks for free, which leads me to…
9. You’ll have plenty to do
There’s no shortage of sites, tours, and activities in Singapore. Yes, many of them are expensive, but you can certainly pick and choose those that offer the best value and get pretty good bang for your buck. See all of our Singapore sight reviews here.
Without a doubt, Singapore is a must-see destination on any Southeast Asia itinerary. The one caveat I would mention is that it can all feel a little fake. Between the ridiculously strict legal system and the parks so designed they feel like amusement parks, you don’t really feel like you’re getting a genuine taste of Southeast Asia, but rather visiting an elaborate theme park. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, we are tourists, and we’d be kidding ouselves to pretend we’re getting a completely authentic experience anywhere we go (try as we might). Despite that, I still say Singapore is a must — particularly as a way to dip a toe into the water of Southeast Asia.