Singapore is one of our favorite cities in the world. A sophisticated, multicultural, modern, clean, well-run city that is a foodie’s heaven. This guide is designed for first-time visitors as the frequent traveler will have done these things already or may say they are too touristy. As we are foodies, we could list well over 50 of our favorite restaurants and you would not have time to see any of the cultural sites. If we listed our favorite restaurants, we would be barraged with suggestions of others that have better (Have you seen Crazy Rich Asians or read the book?). Singapore is a food-obsessed nation, and for good reason as they have some of the best food in the world. It is almost the national pastime to discuss which restaurant has the best (name your dish here). We tried not to make this too much a food obsessed article, but is is really hard as our trips usually revolve around a new spot to try the best…..
This article is geared for someone that has 3 or 4 days in Singapore and want to get the local flavor.
Changi Airport: In our opinion the nicest airport in the world – others are trying to surpass it, but it is the gold standard. From free massage chairs, butterfly pavilion, movie theater, koi ponds and art throughout, it is a great place to spend an hour or two. But, you didn’t travel all that way to hang out in the airport.
The MRT: The Singapore subway system is one of the nicest in the world. It is clean, well-run, on-time and it makes it easy to get around Singapore. The best deal is to get the Singapore Tourist pass for two or three days. It covers the bus and MRT in Singapore and it makes getting around so easy. Cabs are generally cheap, but the MRT is ridiculously cheap. The card covers the train between the Airport and Town for less than a cab. For the first ride into town, I would take a cab. Not only will you be tired, but you get to talk with your driver and see the road that supposedly can be turned into a fighter jet runway at a moments notice which makes it kind of worth it.
East Coast Seafood Center: We would say if you only have one local dish it should be here. One of Singapore’s signature dishes can be found here and eating by the water makes it that much better. Come here for crab. Order a large Sri Lankan Crab in either black pepper sauce or chili sauce. We prefer the black pepper and then we order prawns in the chili sauce so we have both flavors without breaking the bank. This is usually our most expensive meal during the trip, but it can’t be missed. Go pick a restaurant along the water. Foodies will argue if Jumbo, Long Beach, No Sign Board, Eng Seng or some other place really has the best pepper/chili crab. They are all really delicious so I don’t think you can go wrong with picking one and enjoying.
The Botanic/National Orchid Garden: The Botanic gardens are free to enter and they are beautifully maintained. The Orchid Garden is at the top of the Botanic Garden and is spectacular and well worth the very small entrance fee. Bring your camera as there are so many spots to take memorable pictures. Also there are not many shelters to get out of the rain, so it you would be lucky to have a dryer day or bring an umbrella.
Visit Chinatown and Little India: By this I mean walk through Chinatown and then take the MRT to Little India and stroll around there and walk to Arab street. Chinatown has the food complex that is a hawker center on the 2nd floor, shopping and a wet market below. The wet market is something to see if you have never been to one. The Buddha Tooth relic temple is there and worth a visit. Walking around Chinatown can feel a bit too touristy, but some cheap shopping and good places to eat. Save time to get a signature Dish of Chicken Rice. We like Tian Tian (Maxwell Food Court) or Hawker Chans (the new stand alone restaurant). Then go through Little India for a different feel and smell. Nice little Hindu Tempe (Sir Veeramakalimman) to visit and after your walk through Little India you can walk over to Arab Street and see the Sultan Mosque. You can go to Kampong Glam or Zum Zum for a cheap late night meal with many Malaysian and Indonesian things on the menu.
Take a stroll along Orchard Road: This is a great place to people watch and at one time was the high end spot to shop in Singapore. Still plenty of high end shops and it would be easy to drop into one of the malls and spend a few hours. Better yet would be to get a coffee at one of the coffee shops with sidewalk seating and watch the crowd.
Have a drink: Now the most famous spot is the Long Bar in the Raffles hotel. Their claim to fame is they invented the Singapore Sling. It was a beautiful bar but I have not been back since it reopened as they were/are remodeling the hotel. This is a bit pricey even by Singapore standards. As I am not much for the overly sweet Singapore sling, another great bar choice is CÉ LA VI at the top of the Marina Bay Sands. They do charge to get to the bar, but you get a voucher for food or drinks when you get there. An incredible view of the city and the infinity pool on top of the hotel. This way you can see the Marina Bay Sands and the Gardens by the Bay on the way to your lunch or afternoon drink. One less explored place is the Bar Rouge at the top of the Swisshotel/Stamford. They have a dress code and cover on weekends as this has gone from a sleepy hotel bar to a nightclub. They open at 5 and the action does not get going until a lot later. They have a fantastic view of the bay from the bar on the 72nd floor.
Singapore Zoo: This is a smallish zoo that is well run, clean and visitor friendly. You get to see rainforest animals that you would never see anywhere else. The stars of the zoo are the Orangutans. They also are very active in helping save the remaining population of Orangutans. Very good for kids with lots of activities and you can even have breakfast in the zoo close to the animals.
Tiger Brewery: A nice brewery tour. You used to go to over the bottling area that was just amazing watching the packaging conveyors. They don’t do that anymore, but it is still a nice tour and it finishes with beer tasting at the bar. Even with your admission figured in, this is about the cheapest beer you will drink in Singapore.
Hawker Center: You really have to go to a hawker center and order the local delicacies. Lau Pa Sat is probably the best known hawker center, and in the evening has many food vendors to choose from. It blends architecture from the 1890’s with modern hawker food. This may be a bit too touristy, but the satay can’t be beat. This is a World Heritage site so worth visiting. Other more local hawker centers offer all the famous Singapore dishes but you really should have Roti Prata at least once, Chicken Rice, and Mee Goring or Nasi Kandar. There are so many more like the peanut pancakes and….I could go on and on.
The Quays: Clarke Quay and Boat Quay are nice little areas along the river banks that have numerous restaurants and bars. These are places to be seen and for late night clubbing. We really don’t do that so we only walk through during the day. A lot of history packed in a small area. We take visitors on a Bum Boat tour that nicely gives the history and a short boat ride. From the Quays you can walk to the Merlion and take some pictures.
These next places either take too much time on a short trip or are a bit too touristy for us. Things we love like hiking the Southern Ridges or MacRitchey Reservoir are so nice but they do take time. There are also area attractions like the cable car to Sentosa island, the Singapore Flyer, gambling at one of the casinos, and so many museums.
If you are intrigued and would like to visit Singapore but don’t want to venture on your own – join us on one of our trips to this fascinating region!
Jon and Carol are owners of Vista Adventure Travel specializing in small group tours to incredible places.