Singapore is just a stopover for most people, but this little city-state has tons to offer for those who are willing to give it a few days. Certainly, it’s more expensive than the rest of Southeast Asia, and at times it can feel like everything costs a fortune, but if you’re selective, you can get a taste of this vibrant city without busting your budget. Here’s our recommended itinerary for Singapore.
Traveling to Singapore? Don’t miss some of our top Singapore posts:
- 9 Reasons you should visit Singapore for more than just a layover
- The practical guide to hawker centers in Singapore
- Our 3-day budget for Singapore
If you’re arriving, as we did, after a long-haul international flight, you’ll want to get outside in the sunshine and get moving to start adjusting your body clock.
Newton Hawker Centre
Hawker centers are the best way to eat for cheap in Singapore. This one is on the way to the Botanic Gardens; stop for breakfast (if you’re an early riser) or an early lunch (as we did). Be sure to check out our guide to hawker centers here.
Singapore Botanic Gardens & National Orchid Garden
A must-see in Singapore, and a real steal at just S$5 for the orchid garden ( the rest of the Botanic Gardens are free). Spend 2-3 hours to see the gardens if you’re not a huge flower person, or you could even spend the whole day if gardens are really your jam. See our full review of the gardens here.
Stroll the Sentosa Boardwalk OR Explore Little India
Both Little India and the Sentosa Boardwalk are conveniently located on the Downtown Line, the same MRT line as the Botanic Gardens (though in opposite directions). Wrap up your day with an evening stroll in either location. The Sentosa Boardwalk is a long pedestrian bridge stretching from the Singapore Harbourfront across the water to Sentosa Island, where Universal Studios and several other amusement parks are located. It’s a pretty, free walk, though when we went on a weeknight it was a ghost town. It may be a better spot to visit on a weekend. Give yourself one to two hours to explore either location — more if you want to check out the shopping centers at either spot.
Whether you choose to explore Sentosa first or just meander through Little India, end your day with an authentic Indian meal on the streets of Little India.
Optional: Night Safari
If you’ve still got juice in the tank after dinner (and it fits within your budget), you could head to the Night Safari at the Singapore Zoo. I’ve read great reviews, but decided to skip it, because I don’t really like zoos, and we’ll be going to much wilder regions on this trip (which also cost less).
Head to your nearest hawker center for breakfast, then pack the sunscreen and head out.
Gardens by the Bay
The Gardens by the Bay are home to a large, free outdoor garden, as well as two enormous greenhouses (that’s an understatement, but the best description I can come up with of what they are). While the majority of the gardens, including the Supertree Grove, are free, the flower and tree conservatories are pricey (S$28 per person for the pair, and non-residents must buy both), which is why we recommend going to the National Orchid Garden first; we got our fill of conservatories and flowers for less than one-fifth of the price. Give yourself about 2 hours to see the free portion of the gardens, or longer if you plan to visit the conservatories. See our full review of the Gardens by the Bay here.
Maxwell Road Food Centre
Take the MTR from Gardens by the Bay to Telok Ayer, and head to Maxwell Road Food Centre for lunch then walk over the Chinatown. (If you’re feeling spendy, there are loads of cute bars and restaurants along Club Street en route from Telok Ayer stop to Maxwell Road Food Centre, but they were well outside our budget.)
Chinatown in Singapore is one of those places you simply meander and take in. The streets are lined with stalls selling everything under the sun, but unlike shopping area in many parts of the world, you won’t feel pressured to buy anything or harrassed by the stall owners. Smile, take your photos, and keep moving along. As the signs warn, keep an eye on your bag; I never felt unsafe in Singapore, but the tighter pathways here did make me more wary of pickpockets than other parts of the city.
After exploring the streets of Chinatown, head to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and/or Sri Mariamman Temple and take in the beautiful architecture and artwork. While both are free, you’ll need to pay to take in a camera at Sri Mariamman Temple. Allow a total of 3-4 hours for lunch, Chinatown, and the temples. See our full review of Chinatown here.
Marina Bay Sands
Head back to the Bayfront around sunset to take in the views. The Marina Bay Sands complex is enormous, and includes a casino, mall, access to the Gardens by the Bay, and the Marina Bay Sands Skypark observation deck. We had originally planned to head up to the observation deck and have a drink at the bar, but realized upon arriving that: 1. It was about to thunderstorm and the deck may close if there’s lightning nearby, and 2. The bar has a “smart casual” dress code. The observation deck is also S$23 per person. Instead, we stayed indoors and wandered the hotel lobby and the mall (there are gondolas inside!). If the weather is nice, you should definitely head over to the Gardens by the Bay to see the Supertree Grove lit up at night. Sadly, we couldn’t due to rain. Including dinner at the mall or drinks on the observation deck, allow 2-3 hours for your evening visit to Marina Bay Sands. See our full review of Marina Bay Sands here.
We saved ourselves some cash by staying in a central location (Little India) and skipping the MTR pass for our final day in Singapore. (A tourist MTR pass is S$10 refundable deposit for the pass + S$18 for two days.)
Arab Street is a lovely area to walk, and I found it less chaotic than Little India and Chinatown. Check out the Sultan Mosque, then eat lunch at Zam Zam Cafe. You can also get your MTR pass deposit back at nearby Bugis station. See our full review of Arab Street here.
This shopping mecca is a sight to behold. I would give you stats on how enormous it is, but I honestly couldn’t tell you based on our visit to this labyrinthine structure. Let’s just say, there’s a grocery store somewhere in the middle that has three entire aisles dedicated to rice. I found multiple departments selling peronal care products, electronics, and clothing, and there was even a fabric section that sold, among other things, sari kits. See our full review of shopping at the Mustafa Centre here.
Bugis Junction & Raffles Hotel
If malls are your thing, definitely check out Bugis Junction — it’s huge and really interestingly laid out (semi-indoor, semi-outdoor). Either way, head over to the iconic Raffles Hotel around happy hour.
In all honesty, there was nothing that special about the famous Long Bar, so in our opinion you could probably skip getting drinks at the Raffles. Singapore Slings are S$31 each, and the rest of the wine & cocktails are S$20-30, plus tax and service charges (S$60, or $42, for two drinks is expensive, even for former New Yorkers). For my money, I’d wander through the Raffles courtyard, snap some pics, and find somewhere else to have a few drinks. (You can read our full Long Bar review here.)
After checking out the Raffles, you can also cross the street to visit War Memorial Park. For Bugis Junction, a visit to Raffles hotel, drinks, and the war memorial, allow 3-4 hours.
Wrap up your day with dinner at your nearest hawker market, then pack up to head out.
Need to know:
Currency: Singapore Dollar, which as of our visit in January 2016, was worth $0.70.
Arriving/Departing: Changi Airport (SIN) is the only airport in the city. Buses arrive and depart from all over Singapore, including hotels and other local attractions, but the best bus stop in our location was the Queens Street Bus Terminal located between Arab Street and Little India.
Getting Around: The MTR is awesome! Get your tourist pass for 1-3 days at terminal 2 of Changi Airport or other select stations including Bugis, Chinatown, and more.
Weather: Singapore is hot year-round, and during our visit was prone to sporadic thunderstorms throughout the afternoon and evening. While you should bring an umbrella or rain jacket just in case, you’re probably fine just heading indoors and waiting out the rain.
Stay: Little India is packed with hostels, and convenient to the Downtown, Northeast, and East-West MTR lines as well as Tekka Market hawker center. We didn’t love our hostel, so I won’t recommend it — just head online and find the best price in the neighborhood.