Despite the country’s small size, you can find countless types of activities in Singapore. At first glance, one can mistake that “the Little Red Dot” as being a nation that only offers shopping malls. That may seem the case, but it’s absolutely not true. There are many fantastic museums, theme parks, nature parks, beaches and much more to explore during your time here. So, without further ado, let me share with you my list of top places to visit on our sunny, little island!
These are the famous museums in Singapore that I personally recommend you pay a visit to:
Located outside The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, this futuristic building is not only an Instragrammeable site, but it does hold some interesting exhibitions relating to, well, art and science. After viewing them, if you’re in the mood for an interesting snack, do head to the museum’s store and get yourself a freeze-dried ice cream (something astronauts from NASA consume when in space, apparently). It was such a great experience for me.
Asian Civilizations Museum
But if you just have time for only one museum visit, ACM should be definitely be it. Focused on the pan-Asian history, ACM is currently the only museum of its kind in the whole of the continent. Expect to see sunken treasures from the Tang shipwreck of over a thousand years ago, as well as religious artifacts and various clothing worn throughout the decades in Asia. It’ll truly give you a glimpse into the rise of this part of the world.
Go back in time and witness how life was during World War II as you pay a visit to Battlebox. This underground, authentic secret Command Centre was built in 1936. It was used by the British, and part of the Malaya Command headquarters.
On 15 February 1942, the British decided to surrender Singapore to the Japanese when they invaded the country. That decision was made right in the Battlebox. As you make your way through the Command Centre, you’re sure to feel the tension and drama felt as the war unfolded. And once you’re done, you can walk around Fort Canning Park for a breath of fresh air amidst the lush greenery.
The following are my favorite theme parks in the whole of Singapore. If you love theme parks and you happen to be in Singapore, try to visit any of the following parks. I am beyond sure you’d be glad you did.
Haw Par Villa
Formerly known as the Tiger Balm Garden, Haw Par Villa is Singapore’s largest outdoor art gallery, covering over 8 hectares of land. It’s also the last of its kind in the world, making it a definite must-visit in Singapore!
Filled with over 1,000 statues and 150 giant dioramas depicting scenes from Chinese culture and religion, a journey through Haw Par Villa is sure to enrich you. And if you’re up for the thrill, do go and purchase tickets to their Hell’s Museum, located in the park itself.
Universal Studios Singapore
Fans of roller coasters and Hollywood action movies should not miss Universal Studios Singapore. Located in Sentosa, it holds six themed zones from “Hollywood” to “Far Far Away”. For the extreme adrenaline junkie, feast your spirits on the Battlestar Galactica roller coaster, where you can choose between the “Human” or “Cylon” ride. Continue the exhilarating experience with an indoor coaster ride at Revenge of the Mummy.
And for those who are not into such thrills, fret not – there are still plenty of other rides and shows to choose from. Jurassic Park Rapid Adventures, Transformers: The Ride 3D and Lights, Camera, Action are just some of the few you have to visit!
Singapore is blessed with a ton of nature parks. In my eyes, these are the most fantastic nature parks located in the Lion City:
Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
Who said you can’t hike in the city? The nature reserve of Bukit Timah (“tin-bearing hill”, in Malay) is nestled within the metropolis’s limits, offering friendly hiking trails and mountain-biking pathways. It also has the highest natural peak in Singapore, at 164 meters (approx. 550 feet) above sea level. There are three different walking trails to choose from, with a completion time of about 45 minutes to an hour at a leisure pace. And it’s best advised to switch between the different trails to get the most out of your experience.
Gardens by the Bay
Gardens by the Bay is one of Asia’s premier destinations for garden cultivation and management. While it is free to enter and catch the Supertree light show, you’d have to purchase tickets to enter the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest or to walk along the Supertree skywalk – all of which are highly recommended.
Take a break from the heat and enter the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest, where you’ll get to see various interesting plants from around Singapore. The architectural design is also breath-taking. Then, head up to the Supertree skywalk that overlook the city. Next, you can choose to catch the Supertree light show from the skywalk itself or the ground floor for the best views. The light show is on daily at 7.45pm and 8.45pm, and lasts for 15 minutes.
Singapore Botanical Gardens
Singapore Botanical Gardens is currently the only national park in the Little Red Dot to have been honored with UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Founded in 1859, it offers a mix of colonial-style buildings and shelters, picnic spots, beautiful lakes, flora and fauna. In all it’s a beautiful place to relax, have an evening stroll or snap photos for your #traveldiaries.
Singapore Botanical Gardens is free to enter, but should you wish to visit the National Orchid Garden found inside, you would need to purchase tickets.
Beaches & Offshore Island(s)
Fun Fact: Singapore has 64 offshore islands surrounding the main island, serving up ample fun for nature lovers to explore.
But I hear you – it’s not possible to explore them all. So here’s a narrowed-down list of my recommendations.
East Coast Park (A Beach on the Main Island)
East Coast Park is undeniably one of the most popular beaches in Singapore. This man-made phenomenon stretches up to 15 kilometers (a little over 5 miles) and offers tons of activities for every age group, ranging from cycling, skateboarding, rollerblading, fishing, swimming and other water sports. The list is extensive. And if you’re a beginner, don’t fret. There are areas such as a cycling and skateboard park, where you can learn at your own pace. Don’t have your own sporting equipment? There are many rental shops across the beach where they can acquired on a per hour basis.
And if you’re feeling hungry after the workout, there are plenty of eateries to choose from. Do try the seafood restaurants for the famous Chilli Crab and Black Pepper Crab. You can also head to East Coast Lagoon Food Village for barbequed chicken wings, sambal stingray, carrot cake, fried oysters and much, much more.
Punggol Beach (Another Fantastic Beach on the Main Island)
If you want to get away from the crowd for a bit while on the island, a short distance away, back on the mainland is the picturesque Punggol Beach. Located at the end of the purple MRT line, the beach holds a tragic past dating back to the WWII days. Some 400 Chinese men were killed by a Japanese firing squad on 28th February 1942, as they were accused of being anti-Japanese. Even as recently as 1997, human remains from this massacre were found there.
However, now that it’s completely cleaned up, Punggol Beach provides an amazing spot for photography, fishing, picnics or just simply winding down. Come for the sunrise or stay till sunset to snap photos against nature’s beautiful backdrop.
Home to three beaches – Siloso, Palawan, and Tanjung – Sentosa is definitely where you’d have to visit if you only have time to go to one island. There are tons of activities available that are bound to keep you entertained for the whole day (and maybe return for another).
Universal Studios Singapore is located on this island, and other activities also include Skyline Luge, HydroDash, iFly, Adventure Cove and many more. You can also take the cable car ride up to Fort Siloso and Harbourfront for an amazing view and conclude your visit with the free, multi-sensory show “Magical Shores” at Siloso Beach from 7:30-10:30pm nightly.
Pulau Ubin (“Granite Island”)
A boat ride away from Changi Village Terminal, Pulau Ubin offers a throwback in time to how “kampong” (i.e. village life) was back when the main economic activity was fishing. On weekends, it’s often packed with families and friends for cycling and trekking fun, as it does offer a nice getaway from city life.
The island features many uphill and downhill slopes, making cycling one of the physically-challenging activities there, so do make sure to come well-rested and properly stretched.
If you’re up for more adventure, you can even rent a kayak-and-paddle ride through the terrains. Organized by Adventures, you may choose between three different kayaking expeditions or mix both cycling and kayaking with their ‘Paddle to Pedal’ option.
The Shrines and Temples Located on this Island
There are also plenty of shrines and temples on the island, should you feel like visiting such places. One of the popular one would be the German Girl’s Shrine. As the story goes, back in 1910s, while trying to escape from British soldiers, a teenage German girl fell off a cliff. However, the girl’s final resting place is not located at the current shrine as her body was exhumed due to excavation works in 1974. And for the urn laid at the shrine currently, it is believed the original urn that once contained the remains of the girl was stolen by robbers due to its craftmanship and alleged value.
At the Fo Shan Ting Da Bo Gong Temple, located near the Pekan quarry, you can enjoy the traditional wayang (“puppet”) and opera shows during festivals based on the Lunar calendar.
Wei Tuo Fa Gong Temple is also another temple worth visiting, as it houses various religious statues, including those of Hindu gods and Chinese Buddhas. And if you’re brave enough, you can even head to the graveyards, which are heavily covered in vegetation. But do be warned – there’s been many tales of ghostly sightings within.
A one-way boat ride costs just a few bucks, with an additional one or two bucks if you bring your own bike. The boat will only take off when there’s 9-12 passengers on board. Do make sure to bring sufficient water, loose cash, phone, portable phone charger, sunscreen and mosquito repellent. There are stalls around the island where you can purchase some food and drinks. But you need to be cautious about your belongings (and especially food) as there’s plenty of wild monkeys and dogs around. To beat the afternoon sun, it’s best to go in the morning.
When it comes to shopping areas, this beautiful island nation has a bunch of them. And if you love to shop, I highly recommend that you visit any of the following cool shopping areas whenever you are in Singapore.
Bugis Street will fulfill your desire for street foods, good bargain clothes and souvenirs to take back home. Think of this area as a smaller version of Bangkok’s Chatuchak Market. Despite its maze concept, you can still find your way around. Even if you don’t intend to shop, it’s definitely an experience to walk around and soak in the vibe. And if you want to shop at big brands such as Uniqlo, Bershka, Cotton On and Levi’s, you can walk over to either of the two malls across the street – Bugis Junction and Bugis+.
Central Singapore covers River Valley, Orchard, Somerset and Dhoby Ghaut, and it houses a wide array of bars, restaurants and shopping malls, replete with major fashion brands. Often crowded during evenings and weekends, it’s a popular hang-out spot for both locals and tourists.
Come nighttime, you’d see a couple of buskers performing their craft outside Mandarin Gallery, ION, and Ngee Ann City. If you wish to enjoy a nice pint of cold beer or a cocktail while listening to live music, check out the bars in areas such as Peranakan Place Complex, Claymore Connect and Killiney Road.
I would recommend walking along the stretch from Orchard to Dhoby Ghaut (or in the other direction) once your tummy has been filled. Chances are you’d pass by the Istana, which is the official residence of the President of Singapore, located beside Plaza Singapura at Dhoby Ghaut. Although you won’t be able to enter (except on open house days), you will be able to catch a glimpse of the colonial building from the road.
If you’re looking for something less fast-fashion and more artsy or vintage, Haji Lane is sure to tickle your fancy. Fitted with many indie boutiques, cute little cafes, bars and eye-catching graffiti walls, this street repurposed the 19th century shophouses to create an old-meets-new style that we simply love (and hope you will too). What’s even better is that Haji Lane is just a stone’s throw away from Bugis Street, so you can visit these two areas in one day.
Katong has a rich Peranakan heritage and culture, so you can expect to enjoy more good food and also learn something new. Although it has been going through a number of remodeling efforts over the years, this neighborhood still holds its cultural roots dear to its heart.
Enjoy more colonial buildings and repainted shophouses, feast on yummy foods such as bachang (glutinous rice stuffed with various fillings and wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves), laksa (spicy coconut-based noodle soup) and various types of Nonya kueh-kueh (bite-sized cakes).
If you’re looking to bring back something traditional, be on the look out for kebayas or sarongs, beaded slippers and accessories also associated with Peranakan culture. You can even check out these workshops to learn a new craft or the heritage of Singapore.
It’s truly interesting how different parts of Singapore offer their respective vibes. Little India is no different in that regard, as you can find tons of amazing Indian foods and sweets, convenience stores selling fresh flowers and incense for prayers, spices, brightly-crafted traditional wear and so much more. Always wanted a tattoo but afraid to commit to one? Here, you can get a temporary tattoo (henna) done that’ll last for a couple of weeks. And go no further if you’re in the search for gold, as there’s plenty of jewelery shops in the area.
Do be aware that Little India gets extremely crowded in the evenings and especially on weekends, as migrant workers spend their time off shopping and meeting friends. So if you want to avoid the crowd, the best time to visit would ideally be during weekday afternoons.
Marina Bay Sands
If what you rather desire is a fancy day out splurging on luxury goods, the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands surely get you covered. From Tiffany & Co. to Louis Vuitton, you’d feel like you’re walking along New York’s Fifth Avenue. Tired of being on foot and want to explore the mall from a different perspective? You can purchase a ride on a sampan and be rowed along the canal.
Catch the spectacular light and water show, ‘Spectra’, every evening at 8:00pm and 9:00pm (Sunday-Thursday), with an additional timing of 10:00pm on Friday and Saturday. You can then take the walkway down towards Marina Boulevard to catch some performances from buskers or head across the Helix Bridge to Esplanade and watch the Merlion fountain. If you’re lucky, you might even catch free performances at Esplanade’s Outdoor Stage.
Personally, this mall confuses me every time I head here, because it’s extremely huge. VivoCity is Singapore’s largest retail and lifestyle mall. But putting aside its massiveness, the reason VivoCity made the list is because of its close proximity to Sentosa, and it also has an outdoor rooftop area with a great view of the island. Additionally, about every major fashion brand can be found in this one mall, and there a lot of options for foodies as well.
Singapore may be a small nation, but it definitely isn’t lacking in recreational, entertainment and commercial options. In fact there are so many worthy and diverse alternatives that you may find your head spinning trying to figure which parts of the Lion City to hit up.
This is why in this post, I have taken my time to give you my honest and experienced assessment, as a Singaporean, of some of the best and most-exciting venues that our “little red dot” on the world map has to offer.