I fell in Love with Singapore faster than I think I have for any other destination. In just over two days, I had seen enough of this compact country that it left me feeling ready to pack my bags and move in for good.
Because for me, Singapore has everything I could want from a destination. I loved the lively pace of its big-city vibes, and how it always felt busy and alive yet somehow not overcrowded. I loved its focus on sustainability and clever city design, and how the skyline is filled with high-rise buildings but also beautiful gardens that can be seen literally pouring out of skyscrapers. I loved its food scene, and how you can just as easily find a great dim sum restaurant as you would a good burger. But most of all, I loved how diverse this island is, and how in a time of Brexit and wall-building around people of colour, it stands as proof that different cultures and backgrounds living together in one place is nothing but a beautiful thing.
Yes, Singapore also has some very strict laws that might feel a little draconian, but in many ways, I think Singapore also feels like a city of the future.
Here’s everything I got up to during my stopover in this beautiful country, and how I fell in love with Singapore.
Things to do in Singapore
Gardens by the Bay
As one of the main attractions in the city, our first stop in Singapore was naturally Gardens by the Bay. I’m not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination, but I vowed to get up early every day on this trip (mainly because we were heading to Bali next, which I’d heard was notoriously touristy). But early-mornings have their perks when sightseeing in Singapore too, as we’d managed to arrive at the Bayfront MRT station before the Gardens by the Bay shuttle bus had even started.
You can walk from the ticket office to the exhibitions for free, but we opted to pay S$3 each to ride the golf buggies instead which drive you to and from the conservatories – this isn’t just because I’m lazy, but because the heat in Singapore is unlike any other place I’ve ever visited (although it’s been long enough that I may have just forgotten what it was really like in Thailand), and any respite we could find from it was always welcome.
There are two main exhibitions at Gardens by the Bay, the first (and best IMO) is the Cloud Forest, and the other is Flower Dome. We headed to the Cloud Forest first, which even after seeing countless photos of it on Instagram, the Falls here was still so much stunning in person.
As one of the first visitors of the day, we were able to enjoy this 30m waterfall all by ourselves, something which was impossible to do by the end of our visit.
We took a short stroll through the Flower Dome next to marvel at the plants and gardens which are curated by different regions around the world. The exhibition is beautiful, but our visit here was much shorter than at the Cloud Forest, as my interest in plants isn’t quite as enthusiastic as an indoor rainforest oasis.
Finally, we headed to the Supertree Grove, which is something I’ve wanted to see for so long it felt surreal to finally be standing in front of them.
Aside from going early, you don’t need to book in advance to visit Gardens by the Bay – we bought our tickets on the morning of our visit from our hotel which was S$3 cheaper than the usual S$28 / £17 fee. The standard ticket includes entrance to the Cloud Forest and Flower Dome, while a visit to the Supertree Grove is free (though this doesn’t include the Skyway walk).
There’s also a new Floral Fantasy exhibition open by the entrance which I would have loved to visit too if we had had more time.
Sip cocktails at Atlas Bar
After a lunch stop, we headed over to Atlas next, an impressive art-deco bar with a collection of over 1,000 bottles of gin (yet somehow we both managed to pick a cocktail made with rum!).
To our luck, the bar was preparing to open just as we’d arrived, and more thankfully, from 3 PM on Saturdays they run a casual dress code, meaning my jet-lagged traveller look was presentable enough for this rather fancy establishment.
Drinks here, like the rest of Singapore, came at a premium price tag. We had two cocktails here at the cost of S$24 each, which became about S$56 altogether once tax and service fee was added to our final bill. Despite that, I really enjoyed having a drink at this unique bar, and I’d recommend stopping here for an afternoon beverage if you’re not travelling on a tight budget.
Stroll through Haji Lane
Feeling a slight buzz from our boozy cocktails, we took a short walk over to Haji Lane next, which I’d heard was a nice place to do some boutique shopping.
Street art can be seen gracing the walls around this area, which along with the small indie shops and cafes, reminded me a little of being in Melbourne.
Around the corner is also Arab Street, where an array of middle eastern eats await.
We’d actually planned to walk from here to Little India next, but sadly circled around the streets in the wrong direction and then felt too tired to carry on!
Visit Merlion Park
We spent the end of our first day and the beginning of our second at Merlion Park, the iconic half-lion-half-mermaid statue and water fountain located at the waterfront.
You don’t need to come here twice, but we returned on our second morning mainly in the hopes of getting some better photos when the weather was nicer, which while unnecessary in hindsight, it was nice to sit under the sunshine and watch the boats go by while feeling the mist from the fountain on your face.
We’d already seen the famous Marina Bay Sands hotel by now after our visit to Gardens by the Bay, but for photos, Merlion Park also had the best views of the bay.
Go for a scooter ride
During our first day, we saw several locals who flew past us on electric scooters which looked like so much fun. After a bit of research back at our hotel, we ended up finding a rental station by Marina Bay Sands where we rented one for ourselves through the ride-sharing app Telepod.
With our new two-wheeled ride, we rode all around the waterfront from Marina Bay Sands hotel to Marina Barrage, right on the edge of the island, where we found the best panoramic skyline view of Singapore.
For an hour with the two e-scooters we paid about S$10 / £6.
See the temples in Chinatown
Our hotel in Singapore was actually based in Chinatown which we found to be a great base for our visit. Not only could you find a great meal around every corner, but it also made it really convenient for sightseeing some of the temples in the area.
One of the most notable is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple – I wasn’t aware of its significance before our visit, but this temple is actually home to a tooth of the Buddha, which was discovered in 1980 in Myanmar. Some people have questioned the authenticity of this artefact, but regardless, the temple is beautiful and really worth a visit.
Entry to the temple and museum is free, but make sure you grab a sarong by the entrance to cover up or dress modestly before your visit inside.
Watch the sunset from the 57th floor
If I had one small regret about our stay in Singapore, it’d be not splashing out £300 to stay one night in Marina Bay Sands, if only to be able to take a dip in their stunning rooftop infinity pool.
As a cheaper alternative, we had a drink at their Ce La Vi sky bar on the 57th-floor instead, the highest level at the hotel and where you’ll find the pool (although you won’t be able to get anywhere near it).
We managed to grab some seats right by the side of the bar, but as it’s actually located in the middle of their dedicated Observation Deck, the views from Ce La Vi isn’t as good as if we’d paid to visit that instead. However, entry to the Observation Deck costs S$25, while entry to the sky bar is S$22 which is then redeemable against drinks. So while my photos of the view might not be as good as from the deck, you can’t really beat sipping a Singapore Sling cocktail on the rooftop of the city’s most famous hotel on our last night in the city.
Rather cleverly (or dastardly), cocktails at Ce La Vi cost S$23 each, a dollar more than the redeemable entry fee – and once again, I forgot about tax and service charge on top!
Marvel at The Jewel
Although I love travel, I find the actual travelling part of travel such a bore – the delays, the incessant waiting around, the terrible food… Having to sit around at the airport for hours on end always feels like a waste of time to me, and aside from getting on the plane to actually leave, I’d never been excited to visit one before – that is, until The Jewel opened at Changi Airport.
Even after seeing it with my own eyes and taking dozens of photos and videos, this greenery haven right off the terminals still doesn’t quite look real. Consisting of several floors of shops, restaurants, entertainment venues and more, the heart of the Jewel is the stunning Rain Vortex, a 40m indoor waterfall powered entirely by collected rainwater.
Surrounding this are multiple tiers of beautiful landscaped greenery, rainforest walks and bridges, a monorail that runs through the centre, and even a suspended trampoline that you can walk and bounce on. This is somewhere I definitely wouldn’t mind being delayed at, and every airport I visit from now on will feel inferior to it.
How to get around in Singapore
For the duration of our stay and to get from Changi Airport to the city, we used the MRT (metro) which we found very convenient and easy. For S$30 / £18 each, we bought a 3-day tourist travel card at a ticket machine directly at the airport MRT stop which is including a S$10 deposit that we got back upon returning it after use (hooray for recycling cards – other cities take note!). Somewhat annoyingly though, the card expires at midnight each day and not 24 hours after first use, so if you arrive late in the evening, it would be more economical to buy a one-way fare into the city, and then use a 2-day pass for the remainder of your stay. I’m all about saving those pennies, especially when you’re in one of the most expensive places in the world!
Where to stay in Singapore
I found accommodation to be quite pricey in Singapore and I don’t like spending a lot on hotels when travelling, so we ended up staying at Cube Boutique Capsule Hotel in Chinatown for three nights at S$260 / £150.
I was initially worried about how claustrophobic a capsule hotel would feel, but we both found the Cube very comfortable with great amenities, clean bathrooms, and a decent free breakfast.
Though if you’re not on a budget then go and stay at the famous Marina Bay Sands hotel instead – even if for just one night so you can swim in that pool!
Where and what to eat in Singapore
There are countless great restaurants to try in Singapore, but luckily you don’t have to be out of pocket to get a great meal.
I’ll always try to eat food from the country that I’m visiting when I’m travelling, so most of what we had during our stay was Asian cuisine. We loved:
Din Tai Fung – a very popular Chinese restaurant chain in Singapore which specialises in ‘xiao long bao’ (steamed dumplings).
Herbivore – a completely plant-based sushi restaurant where I had the tastiest bento box of my life. This is a restaurant where it doesn’t matter if you’re vegan or a carnivore, the food is so good you can’t go wrong. I have no idea how they manage to make vegetarian fish sushi look so much like the real thing, but everything we had was delicious.
Hai Di Lao – after visiting this famous hotpot restaurant in China last year, we weren’t going to miss out on the chance to eat here again when we found out there were a few branches in Singapore! If you’ve never had hotpot, it’s a fun and sociable eating experience where you order dishes that you cook yourself by boiling it in a flavoured broth right in the middle of your table.
Marina Bay Sands food court – you can never go wrong with food courts in Asia, and I was so surprised by how good the one at the Marina Bay Sands was. The amount of food on offer here was incredible and every stall looked and smelled better than the last. There are dishes from all over Asia to be found here but I can personally recommend the Singapore noodles.
Hawker Chan – I’d never expected my first Michelin star restaurant visit to be in one of the world’s most expensive cities, but funnily, Hawker Chan is actually one of the world’s cheapest Michelin star eateries. For just S$6 / £3.50, we got to try a plate of their famous soy chicken noodles for a delicious and budget-friendly lunch – well, I mainly watched Dave eat it as they didn’t have anything vegetarian 😉 Hawker Chan is located in Chinatown, right next door to The Pod Capsule Hotel!
Snow ice dessert – unless you stay inside shopping centres it’s near impossible to escape the heat in Singapore. So when we spotted a busy little cafe on the side of the road, we ducked in to share a plate of snow ice dessert, a giant tasty mound of soft shaved ice. We went for watermelon and lychee flavour and it was the perfect treat to help us cool down in the afternoon.
Bubble tea – hello I’m Vic and I’m addicted to bubble tea. If there’s bubble tea on offer you bet I’ll be buying a cup of this deliciously sweet and chewy Taiwanese tea drink. Weirdly, most of the stalls we found in Singapore served ‘brown sugar milk’, which tasted about the same as pearl milk tea but does not actually contain tea anymore. Either way, I wasn’t going to miss out on this treat while back in Asia and you shouldn’t either 😉
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