Identifying as a country, city, island, and perhaps the cleanest place on Earth, Singapore is a sparkling gem. When the quote “cleanliness is next to godliness” was coined, I can only assume it was referring to Singapore. Seriously, talk about a clean pristine metropolitan machine. This pint-sized nation is a glorious land of contrasts where traditional customs merge with futuristic and cosmopolitan ideas and cultures. From its ornate temples and towering skyscrapers, its immaculate green outdoor spaces amid a gleaming concrete jungle, to its delicious feast of fusion flavors, Singapore appeals to each of the senses in all the best possible ways.
My best friend Amy and I spent four days in Singapore as part of a trip that included Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Singapore. Due to Singapore’s compact size, we felt that four days was an adequate amount of time; of course there’s always more to see and do, especially in a place as dynamic and spectacular as Singapore. But that’s why travel is so fatal to insatiableness, isn’t it? No matter how many incredible places you visit and amazing experiences you have, it’s never enough…you’re always craving more. Clearly I’m not alone here, right? I didn’t think so.
Whether you have four days or four weeks (lucky you!), don’t miss the following must-dos during your visit to Singapore.
Strolling these meticulously manicured gardens is a lovely way to spend a few hours. The beautifully arranged gardens offer a wonderful reprieve from the city with plenty of exotic flowers, statues, ponds and foliage to marvel at. The incredible Orchid Garden is not to be missed!
A small ethnic district that is reminiscent of bustling and brilliant India. I’ve written extensively about my love affair with India here and here so it’s no surprise that I also fell head over heels for this vibrant neighborhood. Perhaps its greatest attraction is the stunning Sri Veermakaliamman Temple located in the heart of Little India. Characterized by the rhythms of pulsating drums and flaring trumpets, this incredibly ornate temple is as lively as its surrounding neighborhood. Take some time to meander the vibrant streets and markets of this little pocket of Singapore and soak in its vivid colors, intoxicating aromas, and infectious energy.
THIAN HOCK KENG TEMPLE
The oldest Chinese temple in Singapore, this colorful and decorated sanctuary is visually stunning. Its splendor lies in its intricate artistry, symbolism, and history. The temple is dedicated to Mazu, the Goddess of the Sea, and is considered to be a living monument and architectural masterpiece.
This is not your average zoo, people, I assure you. Widely recognized as one of the best zoos in the world, this zoo blew us away. Occupying 69 acres of land, this beautiful zoo is home to over 300 species of animals, some of which are considered threatened species. What is so alluring about the Singapore Zoo is that there are no cages and cruel enclosures so it feels like you are seeing the animals in their own habitats–animals roam freely in landscaped areas and in some cases you can even feed them. Known as the Open Zoo, this wildlife park uses various tactics in containing their animals including psychological restraints, and physical barriers disguised as various things including moats and waterfalls. A definite highlight of our visit–who would have ever thought that I’d be so in love with a zoo?!
Just in case you haven’t had your fill of animals, I dare say that Singapore Night Safari is equally as impressive as the Zoo. Seriously. There’s just something about seeing the animals up close at night that’s an entirely different experience than seeing them during the day. To reduce costs and travel time, I’d suggest visiting the Safari the same night as the Zoo (so yes, be prepared for a bit of an animal overload). The park is well managed and taken care of and taking the tram is an easy way to see their six geographical zones of the world. In addition, there are a number of walking trails that are worth exploring, including the leopard and fishing cat trails.
Similar to Rodeo Drive, Orchard Road is Singapore’s premiere shopping boulevard, and known as one of the world’s greatest shopping districts. Orchard Road features a wide variety of shops ranging from budget-friendly H&M and Zara to more higher-end prominent stores like Harry Winston, Cartier, Prada and Valentino. In addition to shopping, it’s a great place to grab lunch, drinks, and people-watch (particularly the exquisitely dressed passerby’s—Singaporeans have some serious style!).
BOAT QUAY & CLARK QUAY
The thriving waterfront scenes of both Boat Quay and Clark Quay offer a plethora of restaurants and bars to choose from. A great place to stroll, enjoy a Singapore Sling (or any drink for that matter) and dine while surrounded by beautiful views. Take a river cruise or river taxi, which travel between both quays, Marina Bay, and past the iconic Merlion statue, which is regarded by many as the mascot of Singapore.
TAKE A HALF-DAY CITY TOUR
It’s worth spending a few hours with a local guide to explore and learn about Singapore’s history, landmarks, and culture. Oh, and for an added bonus, if you spend time with a guide, you can ask him/her all about Singapore’s mind-boggling strict laws, like the fact that selling gum is illegal and is subject to a $100,000 penalty (not kidding) and feeding pigeons can result in a $500 fine (again, not kidding). The amount of severely enforced laws here will blow you away.
Old Supreme Courthouse
CUISINE & FOOD STALLS
Singapore boasts a deep and diverse food scene that primarily draws upon influences from Malaysia, China, India, and Indonesia. We absolutely loved that the food was a fusion of so many cultures, traditions, and distinctive flavors. A global cuisine that is innovative while approachable, and unique while familiar. My biggest regret was that we didn’t really dabble in the popular food gawker centers, which is an integral part of Singapore’s food culture.
BECAUSE SOMETIMES YOU MISS THINGS AND HAVE TRAVEL REGRETS
We did not visit the luxurious Raffles Hotel that’s famous for being the spot where the Singapore Sling was invented. This still haunts me today. Not. Kidding. But you totally should! And have an extra sling for me!
We traveled to Singapore before the incredulous Gardens by the Bay were established and if I ever return to Singapore (hoping one day for a stopover with T while traveling through Southeast Asia), this garden artistry and horticulture showpiece will be one of the first places we visit, right after we visit the Raffles Hotel’s bar, of course. I mean, does this look amazing, or what?!
ADDITIONAL THINGS TO KNOW
*Singapore is extremely safe. As two women, we felt completely comfortable walking everywhere and at night. Of course, as I mentioned in my recent Cuba post, it’s important to be mindful and vigilant whenever you’re traveling and/or walking at night, but it’s reassuring to know that Singapore is repeatedly ranked as one of the world’s safest countries.
*Because you probably won’t want to walk the entire country (I mean it’s small, but it’s not that small), Singapore’s subway system, the MRT is probably (scratch that, definitely) the cleanest public transportation system I’ve ever taken. The floors of the subway cars literally sparkle. That’s right. Just like the rest of this magical shiny island. It’s also a super fast, reliable, and safe way to get around.
*Unlike many other Southeast Asia countries, Singapore is rather expensive. Sure there are deals you can find and plenty of really good food for very affordable prices, but it’s definitely not a bargain destination like many of its neighbors, so plan accordingly.
I doubt that anyone can dull Singapore’s sparkle anytime soon. Till next time, Singapore…keep on shining.