How to spend one day in Singapore, Asia
One day itinerary for Singapore
Incredible architecture, phenomenal food and spotless public transport are just three reasons why Singapore left such a strong impression on me. So much so, that Singapore has fast become a place I recommend to people when travelling to or through Asia (including Amy who recently followed my route on a trip home to Australia).
I visited Singapore in January on my way to Thailand but loved it so much that I squeezed another day in on my way back home. The weather in January was great, the temperature stayed above 30 but the humidity was quite high (I’ve never been so grateful for air conditioning, which luckily Singapore has everywhere). Despite the heat and (often glorious) sunshine, it’s wise to pack a light waterproof jacket and a sturdy umbrella, because when it rains, it ‘Singapours’ (sorry).
Singapore’s reputation for wealth and opulence may precede it, and the grandeur and luxury really do leave a spectacular impression, but there’s also plenty to see and do as an average joe. Due to its connected location, Singapore is often a place visited en route to other areas of the globe which means there’s no excuse not to spend some time here. Even if you find yourself with just a few hours in this impressive location, my top recommendation is that you jump in a taxi and see as much of Singapore as you possibly can.
Where to start?
I stayed at the Parkroyal on Beach Road. It’s a nice hotel with a pool on the roof, but probably better for business trips than authentic travel experiences. If you do start in this this neck of the woods though, the first thing you should do is explore the tiny colourful streets situated between Beach Road and Masjid Sultan Mosque.
Here you’ll find boutiques, cafes, bars, jazz music, restaurants and more. This is also a great place to wander around during the evening, the atmosphere is buzzing and it’s a great place to grab a drink. But once you’ve had your morning fill and grabbed a coffee, it’s time to head back in time to discover just one of the many histories of Singapore.
Chinatown is a colourful, stark contrast to the modern skyscrapers you’ll find elsewhere in Singapore. Market stalls, food stalls and restaurants create a totally different, yet no less appealing energy and you’ll find beautiful, traditional buildings everywhere you look.
As with most things in life, the best way to enjoy Chinatown is slowly. Walk the streets, visit the market stalls and taste foods you’ve never even heard of before. During my walk I tasted Durian for the first time. For the unacquainted, this is widely regarded as the world’s smelliest fruit and you’ll notice signs everywhere banning it from public transport. You’ll have to try it for yourself, but in my opinion it tastes like something between onion and garlic (top tip, don’t forget to wear the plastic gloves provided when handling this fleshy fruit).
This was also the first time I tasted bak kwa, a sweet and smoky pork jerky. I first noticed it at the airport but you’ll see it in shop windows everywhere else too and Chinatown is no exception. Grab a piece (or a bag full) to keep those energy levels in peak shape, if you’re unsure you’ll be able to try a taster before buying.
The most famous landmark in Chinatown is The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. From the outside, this looks like a traditional Chinese building and is green, gold and red which helps it stand out from its neighbours. The Tooth Relic is located on the 4th floor, but you’ll find paintings and artifacts throughout the whole museum too.
From the 4th floor you can find a staircase that leads up and out onto a small roof garden which is filled with orchids. This is worth a visit, it’s small but feels like a little bit of peace hidden in the hustle and bustle.
2. Little India
If you enjoyed wandering around Chinatown, head to Little India next. I arrived here really late in the evening so I didn’t get the full experience but I did see beautifully bright painted buildings and temples. Look out for the House of Tan Teng Niah for the most colourful building you’ve possibly ever seen.
3. Orchard Road
I referred to luxury and opulence at the start of this article and if you’re looking to splash the cash you’ll certainly be able to do so on Orchard Road.
Head to Ion Orchard for all the designer goods you could ever need and gaze at the quirky, futuristic looking mall in all its metal glory. A quick Google search tells me there are over 5,000 establishments in the Orchard Road area and while I didn’t personally stop for food around here, there’s plenty of world-class options to choose from.
4. Clarke Quay
After a trip along Orchard Road it’s time to grab a well deserved drink to quench your thirst. Head to Clarke Quay and take your pick from the options available. There are many restaurants and cafes too, but with just one day in Singapore I would choose to eat elsewhere.
Clarke Quay has a similar feel to an outdoor mall, water fountains meet lights and outdoor bars and music plays everywhere. All in all, it feels extremely western and as a result you’re likely to find a lot of expats here. Depending on where you head though, you can grab a drink and sit looking at the Singapore River.
5. Marina Bay Sands
It’s pretty hard to describe what it feels like to walk into this behemoth for the first time, but the first thing you’ll probably experience is The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. Just like Ion Orchard you’ll find the world’s most exclusive brands and boutiques, but unlike anything on Orchard Road, you’ll also find man made canals running through the mall (with gondolas you can ride), an indoor waterfall and a fountain and lightshow that combines water spray and projectors in ingenious ways. Who could forget the list of celebrity owned restaurants you can find here too.
An eagle-eyed visitor to The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands will notice signs pointing to the Gardens by the Bay from within the mall and that’s exactly what you should follow. Once you’ve seen enough of the shops, follow the signs and head up the escalators and outside to a bridge that takes you inside Marina Bay Sands.
Following this path will take you right through the heart of Marina Bay Sands, giving you the chance to look around at the scale of the place. Once you’ve picked up your jaw, pass straight through and continue until you take an escalator down into Gardens by the Bay.
6. Gardens by the Bay
The Gardens by the Bay is almost otherworldly. Vivid colours clash, man made metal structures meld seamlessly with organic green plant life and nowhere else on the planet looks like this.
The gardens are free to walk around and are open until 2am. The first time I visited, it was dark and bright lights only added to the futuristic, alien feel. During the day, the gardens are no less impressive. It’s worth seeing them in dark and light if possible.
If you’ve followed this guide until now, it should very much still be daylight which means it’s now time to see another of my highlights, The Cloud Forest dome. Inside this giant glass shell is the replica of a mountain; complete with tropical plants and a man made waterfall. The conditions inside the dome replicate that of high up a mountain, which means rare plants thrive here. A walkway runs from the floor to the very top, allowing you to see everything up close.
Entry to this dome alone costs S$12 and while you can get a ticket to visit both conservatories, I’d recommend just seeing the Cloud Forest dome because it’s by far the best one. The Gardens by the Bay is actually huge, at 101 hectares it can be too much to walk around for lots of people; if mobility is an issue (or you just feel like walking) you can hop on a shuttle for S$3. However, if you’re pressed for time, just head for the main attractions and then move on.
The last thing worth mentioning is the Skyway. The Skyway is an elevated walkway that takes you around the treetops. This walkway is open until 8pm (weather depending) and costs $S8. Needless to say, walking around (and inside) the supertrees is impressive, but if you can’t make it or it’s closed, you won’t miss a huge amount.
Where to eat
Singapore is famous for fabulous food and if that’s what you’re looking for you should head right to the nearest hawker centre. These food halls offer cheap, authentic local food. Buy as much as you can eat (from as many stalls as you like) and pile that table as high as you can manage. Chilli Crab is just one of the dishes that Singapore is famous for.
If you’re over near Marina Bay Sands, I’d recommend following the path all the way around the water until you reach a place called Customs House. Right at the end you’ll find a Mexican restaurant called Super Loco, the food is nice but the main attraction is the view. From this side of the water you’re treated to a full view of Marina Bay Sands by night. While you’re here, continue on to The Fullerton for a cocktail with more breathtaking views.
During my visit, the legendary Raffles Hotel was closed for refurbishment, which meant I didn’t get to sip a Singapore Sling in this iconic location. If it’s open when you visit, have a Singapore Sling for me.
Finally, no trip to Singapore would be complete without heading right to the top of Marina Bay Sands. You can go up there for free and grab a drink at the bar. From this height you’ll see the whole of Singapore and by night, that means a lot of twinkling lights.
Transport in Singapore
At the airport, if you decide to jump in a taxi you’ll find the most civilised and orderly taxi rank in the world (maybe). Simply wait in line and then tell your taxi driver where you want to go. The whole experience is painless and most taxis take cash or card.
Unlike many of our other guides though, walking is not the best mode of transport if you want to pack your day with as many of the sights as possible. In Singapore, the MRT (mass rapid transit) makes getting around easy with fast, clean and air conditioned trains that keep you comfortable. You can buy MRT tickets at each station, but my recommendation is to grab a Singapore Tourist Pass (STP) which are available from automated STP Kiosks at Changi Airport MRT Station (Terminal 2 and 3) near the Transitlink Ticket Office. A STP costs between S$10 and S$20 depending on whether you want the ticket for one, two or three days.
Make a weekend of it
If you’re in Singapore for more than just 24 hours, you may like to head down to Sentosa. Sentosa is an island resort on the south of Singapore and it’s here you’ll find Universal Studios, 14 hotels, a beach and two golf courses.
Alternatively, head in pretty much the opposite direction to visit Singapore Zoo. Arguably one of the best zoos in the world, this is not to be rushed. If you’re visiting from Europe you’ll likely be blown away by how open the place is. I discovered monkeys in the trees as soon as we entered the zoo, there was no enclosure needed and they move around as they please. There’s so much to see here, including a nighttime safari, so allow the majority of a full day for this experience.
My trip highlights
I’m naturally drawn to bright lights and modern architecture so my highlight is the Marina Bay Sands area. If you’re in Singapore for a few hours between flights, this is the one thing I recommend above all else.
A taxi journey should take around 20 mins from the airport and you can see the impressive mall and hotel and wander around the Gardens by the Bay for free. Your Instagram followers will be glad you did it – because everything the eye sees looks out of this world. From electrified trees, to a three-tiered skyscraper with what looks like a cruise ship perched on the top, Singapore is something you truly need to see to believe.