However, there’s one thing that Singapore is rich in — heritage and culture! Singapore is one of the most multiracial and multicultural nations in the world due to the locals’ commitment towards diversity. You’ll also find this is reflected in the architecture and cultural relics found across the country.
Visitors to Singapore can choose from a wide variety of activities from visiting UNESCO heritage sites to Singapore’s architectural marvels. Here’s my list of the top 10 things to do in Singapore.
1. Feast On Singapore Hawker Food
Visiting Singapore without trying the local food is like having eggs without bacon or cereal without milk — it’s what we call unfinished business. Unlike other countries in Southeast Asia, you won’t find authentic Singapore food on the streets. Back in the 1950s, the local government decided to “clean up the streets” as they felt that food preparation along the streets was unhygienic. Instead, they suggested consolidating these Singapore street food vendors into what’s called a Hawker Centre.
Today, the Hawker Centres in Singapore are probably your best bet to having authentic local food. These are the three iconic Singapore dishes that you should try.
Hainanese Chicken Rice
The Hainanese Chicken Rice is basically a dish of poached chicken and flavored rice. It’s a dish born out of frugality, created by the servant-class migrants who sailed over from Hainan islands in China. To stretch the flavor of the chicken, they infused the essence of the chicken into the rice.
The most popular one in Singapore is from Tian Tian Chicken Rice, which is located at Maxwell Food Centre.
Singapore Travel Tip: Maxwell Food Centre
The opening hours of the stall are from 11am to 8pm daily except on Mondays (Closed on Mondays). When I was there at 11am, there were already 25 people ahead of me, so the trick is to head there early!
Address: 1 Kadayanallur Street, #01-10/11, Singapore 069184
Fried Carrot Cake
Fried Carrot Cake is a dish of stir-fried radish cubes, preserved radish and eggs. It comes in either the white or black variant (fried with sweet dark sauce). This is a savory dish not to be confused with the sweet western carrot cake, which is eaten as a dessert.
Personally, I recommend trying the one with dark sauce as I find it more flavorful. The most popular one is from Lau Goh Teochew Chye Tow Kway, located at Zion Riverside Food Centre.
Singapore Travel Tip: Lau Goh Teochew Chye Tow Kway
The opening hours are split into two shifts, 12pm to 2pm and 7pm to 11pm on Mondays to Saturdays. On Sundays, they are opened from 10am to 3pm and 6pm to 11pm. Do note that they are closed on Tuesdays.
Address: 70 Zion Road, Stall #26, Singapore 247792
Hokkien Noodles also have humble beginnings, since they were created by Chinese sailors from the Fujian province of China. It’s a dish of stir-fried yellow noodles and rice vermicelli with seafood stock, egg, prawn, squid, pork belly and sometimes deep fried pork lard. It’s served with sambal chili sauce and lime on the side to add a citrusy taste.
The most popular one is by Tiong Bahru Yi Sheng Fried Hokkien Mee, located at ABC Food Centre.
Singapore Travel Tip: Tiong Bahru Yi Sheng Fried Hokkien Mee
The queue at this one is probably the longest. You can expect to wait 45 minutes to an hour for this one — come early to avoid disappointment! They’re open daily from 3pm to 10.45pm, but are closed on Wednesdays.
Address: 6 Jalan Bukit Merah, #01-13, Singapore 150006
2. Explore The Biggest Man-Made Garden In Singapore: Gardens by the Bay
The Gardens by the Bay is a nature park in central Singapore that was built on reclaimed land as part of the government’s plan to achieve Singapore’s Garden City title. The garden has three main attractions: Supertree Grove, Cloud Forest and the Flower Dome.
The Supretree Grove has a Skywalk that’s a 128 meter long outdoor aerial walkway that gives visitors a bird’s eye view of the city. As well, the Cloud Forest and Flower Dome are the two glass greenhouses that act as conservatories for exotic plants and flowers. The Cloud Forest mimics the cool and damp environment of mountain tops, while the Flower Dome replicates the cool climate in Mediterranean regions.
Everything here is just so beautiful! It’s like the Disneyland for adults. You definitely don’t have to be a botanist to fully appreciate the plants here.
Singapore Travel Tip: Gardens By The Bay
The Gardens By The Bay is open daily from 5 am to 2 am, whereas the two greenhouse conservatories (Flower Dome and Cloud Forest) are only opened from 9 am to 9 pm.
Address: 18 Marina Gardens Drive, Singapore 01895
3. Visiting Pulau Ubin
Pulau Ubin is Singapore’s biggest offshore island. For just USD 2 bucks, you can take a five-minute bum-boat ride out to it.
For those who were wondering, “pulau” literally means “island” in Malay.
Heading to Pulau Ubin is like taking a step back in time, since the island is a mirror image of what rural Singapore used to be like before it transformed into a full-fledged city in the last two decades.
There are local villagers who still live on the island and will be able to share stories of rural Singapore with you. The best way to view the island is to rent a bicycle for approximately USD 7 at the island’s ferry terminal, and cruise around the island for a few hours. Keep an eye on the paths though, as there are wild animals on the island! You can expect to encounter wild boars, monkeys, greater mouse deer and even pangolins.
If you love nature and are curious about what rural Singapore looks like, then this is the place for you. However, if cycling through rugged tropical jungles is your thing, then you should definitely visit Pulau Ubin.
Singapore Travel Tip: Pulau Ubin
To get to Pulau Ubin via a bumboat, head over to the Changi Point Ferry Terminal. The bumboat ride will only depart when there are a total of 12 passengers or if the entire boat is chartered for SGD 36. The bumboat service is operated privately and only operates from 6am to 9pm. Be sure not to miss the last boat ride back!
Address: 51 Lorong Bekukong, Singapore 499172
4. Buddha Tooth Relic
The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is Singapore’s most iconic Buddhist temple. It’s built in the style of the Tang Dynasty of China with red lacquered doors — something you can’t miss when you’re at Chinatown Singapore. The temple houses what’s believed to be Buddha’s actual tooth, which was found in Myanmar in 1980, making it the most popular place of worship for Buddhists in Singapore.
They also have a prayer wheel at the rooftop garden of the temple. According to Buddhist traditions, spinning the prayer wheel has the same meritorious effect as reciting prayers orally. Like most Buddhist temples in Asia, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple serves free vegetarian meals to monks, visitors at the basement dining hall.
The artwork and display inside here is nothing short of amazing. Indeed, you’ll spend most of your time marveling at statues while you’re inside. As this is a Buddhist temple, be sure to be respectful and dress appropriately, especially the ladies.
Singapore Travel Tip: Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is opened from 7am to 7pm daily. Try to reach there before 11am, any later, that’s when the crowd starts building up.
Address: 288 South Bridge Road, Singapore 058840
5. Visit The Masjid Sultan Mosque
There are approximately 80 Mosques located in Singapore, but the Masjid Sultan Mosque stands out the most as it’s a Singapore National Monument. The Mosque is easily recognizable by its two large golden onion-shaped domes on the top of the eastern and western prayer halls. Despite being the oldest Mosque in Singapore, it still looks very well maintained.
During your visit, you’re required to wear a blue robe (which will be provided) and you’ll be assigned a guide, who will be a volunteer at the Mosque. Your guide will be there to share with you the common Islamic practices and beliefs, and to answer any of your questions regarding the Sultan Mosque.
Singapore Travel Tip: Masjid Sultan Mosque
Masjid Sultan Mosque also provides free walk-in visitations to the public daily at specific timings (10am to 12pm or 2pm to 4pm) except Fridays.
Address: 3 Muscat Street, Singapore 198833
6. S.E.A Aquarium
The S.E.A Aquarium is the largest aquarium in Southeast Asia by total water volume, and it houses as many as 100,000 marine animals with over 800 species. The main highlight of the SEA Aquarium is the large viewing gallery (in fact, it’s the world’s largest) at the center of the aquarium. It gives visitors a feel of what being on the ocean floor is like.
Apart from the manta rays, hammerhead sharks and giant Japanese spider crabs, you can also expect to see Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins! When you’re there, be sure not to miss their daily feeding session. You can find the schedule here.
There’s also a touch pool where you get to touch and feel live starfishes — something that kids love!
Singapore Travel Tip: SEA Aquarium
The opening hours of the SEA Aquarium are from 10am to 7pm daily, except on Tuesdays when it’s only opened from 10am to 6pm. To avoid the crowd, it’s best to visit the aquarium on weekdays. During weekends, the place is literally packed like sardines — no pun intended!
Address: 8 Sentosa Gateway, Sentosa Island, Singapore 098269
7. Wander Into the Botanical Gardens
The Botanical Gardens is a one and a half century old tropical garden located at the heart of Singapore. Currently (at the time of writing), it is Singapore’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was awarded on 4th July 2015.
The garden has plenty of meadow and public sculptures to explore. If you want to admire beautiful blooms, head to the National Orchid Garden. When you’re done, walk over to the Ginger Garden and you’ll find a tiny waterfall where you can take great pictures. While you’re there, don’t forget to look out for the swans at Swan Lake. Remember not to feed them though! Patrolling park rangers actively stop visitors from feeding the animals (fishes, tortoises, etc. included).
There are also free guided walks conducted by volunteers every Saturday at 9am (except the 5th Saturday of the month). All you need to do is to be present at the Service Help Desk at the Nassim Gate Entrance.
Singapore Travel Tip: Singapore Botanic Gardens
The Singapore Botanic Gardens are opened from 5am to 12am daily. However, I suggest visiting the garden either before 11am or only after the sun sets (after 5pm). Singapore is known for the unbearable humid weather, so it’s best to spend your afternoon elsewhere to escape the heat.
Address: 1 Cluny Road, Singapore 259569
8. Get on Trishaw Rides
A trishaw is basically a bicycle fitted with a sidecar, which is powered entirely by the cyclist. It was initially introduced back in the 1940s during the Japanese Occupation in Singapore, as Rickshaw rides. These rickshaw rides are the more labor-intensive variant, where they’re manually pulled by runners on the road to bring passengers around. It subsequently had a face lift to become the trishaws and was a popular mode of transport during the post-war era.
These trishaw rides are still available in Singapore and they’re a great way to explore the city. Typically, the riders will take you through old conservation houses and the arts and heritage districts of Singapore.
I’ve ridden on one before and it definitely makes you feel like a real tourist! A word of advice is to really get to know your riders and strike some small conversations with them. As these riders spend their entire lives in the area, they’re able to share firsthand accounts and wonderful things about Singapore with you. Mine shared many stories.
Singapore Travel Tip: Trishaw Rides
Uncle Trishaw is currently the only licensed Trishaw tour ride operator in Singapore. If you’re walking along the streets of Singapore and get touted by other private operators, you’re most likely going to be ripped off. Uncle Trishaw operates from 11am to 9pm daily. However, the last tour departs at 8pm.
Address: 63 Queen Street, Singapore 188542
9. Visit Mystical Haw Par Villa
Haw Par Villa is a cultural theme park that has more than 1000 statues of Chinese legends and folklore. If you’re interested in learning about the Chinese culture, Buddhism and Taoism, this is the place. Sculptures and scenes depict the Journey to the West, Ten Courts of Hell and many others.
Have a good laugh while you witness these Chinese folklore characters such as Laughing Buddha, Confucius and Fu Lu Shou. Though I must say that the level creepiness here is 10/10 and even the local shy away from this place when night falls. Having said that, it’s the uniqueness of this place that draws crowds.
Singapore Travel Tip: Har Par Villa Gardens
Haw Par Villa opening hours are from 9am to 10pm daily. My suggestion is to visit the Chinese mythology theme park during the day as the park gets a little creepy later in the evening/night.
Address: 262 Pasir Panjang Road, Singapore 118628
10. Have A Go At The King Of Fruits — Durian
If it’s your first time visiting Southeast Asia, you have to try the most adventurous Asian thing there is in Singapore — eat some Durians. Durian is a fruit the size of a soccer ball covered in formidable spikes. It’s the “King of fruits” in Asia and has a “stinky” reputation, literally. The smell of the fruit is so pungent that it’s banned from public places. The locals love durian, but westerners usually hate them.
To be honest, I don’t think it smells that bad. Mildly sweet with a “creamy almond flavor” mixed with a tiny bit of alcohol is probably how a durian lover would describe it. On the other hand, those who hate durian would describe it as burning rubbish, stale dog poop or even fermented gym socks.
It is probably the Kayne West of fruits — you either love it or hate it!
Singapore Travel Tip: Durian Fruit
The best place to have durian is at Combat Durian. As durian is usually sold by the kilogram, it’s extremely important to look for an honest and reliable durian seller. A dishonest one may tweak the scale in their favor. Combat Durian has a good track record of how they treat their customers, but more importantly the quality of their durian is superb. During the durian season, their fruits are delivered fresh from Malaysia daily.
Address: 249 Balestier Road, Singapore 329727
About the Author
Janice Nguyen is an aspiring nomad traveller who first felt her calling in 2017, the same year she graduated from culinary school. She currently funds her travel escapades by working as a private chef in Singapore and hopes to transit to lead a nomadic lifestyle in five years time. Instead of sharpening her Mercer culinary knives during her spare time, she blogs at travelguidesingapore.com, her personal travel blog which centers on Singapore as a travel destination. She is also active on Instagram and Pinterest.
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