Surprising Singapore: stop stopovers and stay a while…


Singapore. For five days. What on earth am I going to do in Singapore for five days? – That was precisely what I was pondering the first time I visited The Lion City, and since I’ve been back a handful of times since, and Singapore is one of my favourite cities in the world, clearly I found all the right answers!

Singapore has developed a (well deserved) reputation as a stopover destination. With Changi, the best airport in the world, and Singapore Airlines, my favourite to fly, it’s not hard to guess why. How many other airports in the world can you catch a free movie, enjoy a butterfly or sunflower garden, relax by a waterfall, shop till you drop, or even check-in to an airport rooftop pool?

Then, of course, if you have scheduled your flights to have a layover of more than a few hours, the excellent public transport or extensive line of taxis make it super easy to nip into the city. Soak up the famous sights like the Marina and Gardens by the Bay, before enjoying a Singapore Sling and some Chilli Crab at the airport before your onward journey.

But I’m here to break it to you, if that is the only time you are dedicating to Singapore then you are doing it all wrong. In short: stop stopovers, stay a while, and sample the different sides of Singapore, which is so much more than a gateway to South East Asia.

Singapore is ideal for so many reasons

It’s the perfect introduction to South and East Asia for the more wary traveller, with cuisine and cultures from across the continent.

It’s safe and clean for those who might have travel worries, especially ideal for trying all the Hawker Markets (Singapore’s take on street food) and sampling lots of different dishes in hygienic settings.

It’s fantastic for all ages and types of trips. I’ve visited solo, with friends, with my parents when I took them to Indonesia (they loved it) and have had romantic trips here that ended with the L-word being muttered. Fancy restaurants, great Singapore bars, tranquil parks, nature islands, high-tech shows, shopping sprees, cultural experiences – it really has it all.

And lastly, before anyone cries about the cost, it can work for all budgets and even backpackers. Sure, there are crazy expensive hotels and Michelin restaurants. But, there are also boutique hostels are great prices, excellent Hawker Markets, and plenty of the best attractions are free. Plus, you are a bus ride away from Malaysia, a boat ride from Indonesia, or the worlds best airport away from another destination. What I would advise though, is to save up your dollars for Singapore, so you can enjoy the best the city has to offer without a worry.

Are you sold on Singapore? Awesome! Here are some ideas of how to spend your time here, depending on how many days you stick around for your Singapore stopover – I think you’re going to be surprised just how much this city has to offer.

One day in Singapore (day one)

In 1967, the Prime Minister set out his plan and vision for the ‘Garden City’ that we now know as modern-day Singapore, and it’s truly a city reborn.

With 55-years of independence under their belt from the British (and a brief stint of being part of Malaysia), Singapore has managed to become one of the most important financial districts in Asia, and globally, while keeping true to that vision of a green city. For first-time visitors to Asia, it’s a great city to ease you in, with cuisine from across the continent, English as a first language, and a high quality of transport and health and safety.

While some visitors to Singapore might opt to take a hop on hop off bus tour, I’d highly recommend exploring mainly by foot and making use of the excellent metro system. For your first day in the city, we are going to focus on the Gardens and Marina, perhaps the most famous area in Singapore for tourists.

Gardens by the Bay

Where better to start off exploring the Garden City, than the mighty impressive Gardens by the Bay. These certainly aren’t your average city gardens though, and you should plan to spend at least a couple of hours exploring all their have to offer.

Sitting just beyond the high-rises of the city, and alongside the water surrounding the peninsula, Gardens by the Bay include the Botanical Gardens which are most famous for the futuristic, colour changing trees, the covered Cloud Forest and Flower Dome with their mix of bright colours and cooling water features.

Personally, I would recommend going inside the covered gardens, or up onto the futuristic Supertree top walk (tickets can be purchased online in advance), but if you don’t have the time, or want to pay the entrance fees, walking around the gardens is entirely free. There’s also a quite cute little bar up the top of one of the artificial trees, ideal for a quick drink.

Marina Bay – Marina Bay Sands

The Marina Bay area of Singapore is perhaps its most famous. On the other side of the imposing Marina Bay Sands hotel from the gardens, you’ll find a plethora of attractions, high-rises, bustling restaurants and iconic sights to enjoy.

Marina Bay Sands, the boat like hotel which dominates the show here provides some of the most incredible views of the city from its rooftop, while the Marina Bay Shoppes underneath offer countless ways to splurge your money.

The rooftop is fantastic. However, that famous pool is reserved for guests staying at the hotel, so if you want to take a dip in one of the most iconic pools I’ve ever swum in, you’ll have to book to stay the night.

Alternatively, buy a ticket on the door, or in advance to guarantee entrance, to the rooftop viewing platform. If you time this up to go to the bar, rather than just the viewing platform, you can just pay for a drink rather than your rooftop pass.

By night, the whole complex comes alive, and the Marina Bay Sands projects an impressive light and music show, however, if you want to watch this, you’ll want to be on the other side of the Bay.

Marina Bay – Art Science Museum

If you make time for one museum while in Singapore, I’d highly recommend the Art Science Museum which is located in the Marina, this high-tech spot is rather popular with Instagrammers and photographers, as the interactive and colourful displays inside will entertain the little kids, as well as us big kids with cameras! You can buy tickets in advance through GetYourGuide or on arrival.

Marina Bay – Other Attractions

Strolling around the Marina is the perfect way to enjoy the city on your first day, and take in some great views. The Singapore Flyer, the giant wheel alongside the Marina is another option to get high up, while the aforementioned Light Show rounds of the day perfectly.

You’ll also find the Merlion statue, with its waterfall feature alongside the Marina. This is the national symbol of Singapore, and while it might look like a lion on first glance, take another look, and you’ll realise the lion’s head, is attached to the body of a fish!

Marina Bay – Dining

To round off the day, of course, you’ll want to sample some of Singapore’s famous cuisine, with the Chili Crab, and Hainanese Rice being two staples of the city, so I’d suggest doing one for lunch, and one for dinner.

The lower level of the Marina Bay Sands Shoppes has a surprisingly great Hawker Market, with high hygiene standards and reasonable value prices, so this would be an excellent spot for some lunchtime Hainanese Rice, a chicken rice dish, without having to detour too far.

For dinner, the Singapore Chili Crab is a sure-fire bet, and while this is one of the most pricy meals I’ve ever had, at Palm Beach Seafood Restaurant, you can enjoy this with a fantastic view, looking back across the Bay to watch the light show with your dinner.

It wasn’t the best Chili Crab I’ve had in the city, that was in a place in Clarke Quay, but for the view and experience of the free light show, it might be a table reservation you want to make in advance.

Two days in Singapore (day two)

Cultures come together in contrast perfectly in Singapore and can be seen as easily here as walking from one street to the next.

With a mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian influences, as well as colonial and local history, this small country will make you feel you are seeing much more of the continent on just a short walk. For day two in Singapore, that’s what we are going to focus on.

Little India

Start your day in Little India, vibrant, colourful and with flavours dancing across your nostrils; you’ll be swept away with signs of architecture that make for perfect photos.

Visit the Hindu Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, one of the oldest in the city, or hit up the legendary food hall here which boasts some seriously good eats at fantastic places, this myth that Singapore will blow your budget is certainly not true!

There are some little art galleries, boutique stores, and markets here, ideal for any souvenirs, gifts or traditional artwork to take home, and it’s a charming part of Singapore to soak up.

Kampong Gelam

Next up, take a stroll to Kampong Gelam, which you might see the name as Glam, however, Gelam is the correct spelling as it’s the name of the tree that can be found in Singapore and this neighbourhood.

A short walk from Little India will bring you here, and on the way you’ll pass the Our Lady of Lourdes Church and the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple, again highlighting the mix of culture and heritage in a small space.

Kampong Gelam is the Muslim Quarter, with the Sultan Mosque, with a bright gold dome, being one of the main landmarks and attractions leading off Arab Street.

The colourful shops with attractive facades now dish out Malay food, boutique fashions and souvenir gifts, while the well-photographed Haji Lane gets ever more trendy each time I visit the city.

Dip into the Malay Heritage Centre to learn more about the local history of the quarter, and the brief years Singapore was part of Malaysia.

China town and Keong Saik Road

Next up, skip across to perhaps my favourite part of Singapore, Chinatown. If this is your last day in Singapore, I’d suggest walking here on foot in around an hour so that you can see the National Library and Fort Canning Park on the way, alternatively you can hop on the Metro, especially if the mid-day heat is getting too much for you!

Chinatown is a fantastic part of the city, especially so for food! There are plenty of options to dine here. The Maxwell Food Centre offers extensive options, at great prices in a no-fuss setting.

Wander around the streets, admire the architecture and colour, and be sure to visit the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, which looks spectacular by both day and night. If you’re lucky, you’ll witness Monks practising their chats inside as my parents did.

Designed in the bright red style of the Dang Dynasty, you could well mistake its age, in fact being relatively modern. Inside is home to the sacred Buddha tooth, hence the name, and although it’s intricate and the museum factual, unless you are a Monk, you won’t be entering the relic room yourself.

Here you’ll also find some of the more affordable accommodation in the city, and a range of Hostels. I always recommend the Adler Hostel as a good value bet in the city, where the pod rooms were super comfortable. I had a good nights sleep, and the boutique hostel vibe, with free coffee and comfy common areas, still feels upscale.

By night, either eat at the hugely popular and busy covered markets or head slightly further to Keong Saik Road, one of the hippest corners of Singapore. You’ll find fantastic rooftop bars like Potato Head here, busy eel restaurants, and quirk cocktail bars serving up fusion tapas. You can read more on my guide to Chinatown and Keong Saik Road.

Three days in Singapore (day three)

For our third day in Singapore, we are going to explore the colonial side of the city, with the architecture and attractions from the British invasion and occupation.

For sure though, we’ll also find some time to relax in nature, enjoy fancy cocktails and cuisine, and may even get some shopping in – wear comfy shoes today, as this full loop is around 8km in the sun if you do it all by foot.

UNESCO Botanical Gardens

Start the day in the beautiful, tranquil and well cared for Botanical Gardens. Slightly away from the downtown area, these gardens are so special that they are one of just a few listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.

Orchard Road

After a peaceful start to the day, it’s time for a little shopping and buzz on Orchard Road, the main retail street of the city. You’ll find all kinds of stores here, from the expensive and exclusive, to more relaxed food offerings.

If you are after the quaint, terraced houses that are postcard-perfect and so different from the rest of the city head to Emerald Hill Road for tree-lined, intricate shuttered residences and small bars, you’ll find this just to the left about halfway down Orchard Road.

Wander along the street in the direction of the Marina, ready to start sightseeing again, and grab lunch on the way down the road.

National Museum of Singapore

Beyond the end of Orchard Road, you’ll find the oldest museum in the city, The National Museum of Singapore. Dating back to 1849, this museum now tells the story of the city, sharing insight and history to the heritage of Singapore, in a grand colonial-style building.

Raffles Hotel for a Singapore Sling

In 1819, Sir Raffles arrived and took Singapore, converting it into a British Sea Port. It grew in size and importance as an international trade route until the second world war when it was captured by the Japanese. It then became part of Malaysia before, becoming a country in its own right.

The Raffles Hotel has, therefore, become quite iconic in the city, and is a popular place to sample the signature Singapore Sling cocktail, so loved, I was amazed to find they even serve it in economy class when I flew with Singapore Airlines.

Not far from Raffles is The Fullerton Hotel, where on Sunday’s they do a reasonably well priced (for Singapore) champagne Brunch – which made a for a great part of my birthday celebration trip.

National Gallery of Singapore

Take a stroll past the St Andrews Church, and shortly after you’ll arrive at the National Gallery of Singapore.

Another grand building, this time housing the world’s largest collection of South-East Asian Art, and of course that of Singapore. It’s a fascinating collection, and a beautiful place to spend some time, so if you can only handle one gallery or museum a day, I’d suggest stopping by here over the National Museum.

Fort Canning

Nearby is Fort Canning Park, which sits atop a hill and was an important viewpoint for the country in its trading port days, as well as witnessing some of the historical events in the country’s past. Now you can explore the park, where shade can be found and is much appreciated on a warm afternoon.

On my first visit to Singapore, I stayed here, in the old British War command building, which is now Hotel Fort Canning. It’s been converted into a very stylish hotel, with open plan glass rooms and bathrooms, a lovely pool in the greenery, and offers a happy hour with free drinks and snacks to its guests in the early evening.

Clark Quay

End your day in Clark Quay, a bright lighted and busy entertainment hub. Here you’ll find countless bars and restaurants to cater for all tastes, and you can easily party into the early hours after dining on some more amazing local dishes.

Four days in Singapore (day four)

With much of the colonial history, green spaces, high-tech futuristic and heritage side of Singapore under our belts, now it’s time for some relaxing and fun!

There are many islands off Singapore, ranging from those taken over by nature to the more popular and vastly developed like Sentosa, where we will spend our day.

Cable car

The best way to get to Sentosa for me is the Cable Car, as you’ll get some fantastic views on the way there. These can be purchased at the station or booked in advance.


The beaches around Sentosa are well kept and relaxed, with plenty of opportunities to get drinks, snacks and ice-creams while you relax.

You’ll also likely meet some of the local resident peacocks, who strut around the beaches and pavements and add a splash of colour to your day in the sand. The waters are calm and mainly inlets, so it’s a chilled out place to relax.

My favourite beach spot is at Palawan Beach, where a wooden suspension bridge leads to a tiny outer island, home to a viewing platform which is labelled as the most Southern point of continental Asia – though that seems to cause quite a debate!

Universal Studios

For those who want to lap up all the fun and games that Sentosa has on offer though, you might prefer to spend the full day at Universal Studios Sentosa, a vast theme park with plenty of rides, shows and attractions to enjoy.

If you decide to stay the night, I can highly recommend the Sofitel in Sentosa, which on a previous visit had only just re-opened under the new branding and it’s a beautiful resort, although again expect some Peacocks to be wandering around, as one decided to come tap on my window every morning! It has beautiful architecture, spacious rooms, and a delightful pool area.

Five days in Singapore (day five)

For me, five days in Singapore will allow you to really see all sides of the city. Of course, I’ve been back four times since and happily spent days just walking around, eating great food, and discovering even more places.

For your last day, however, I’d suggest heading back towards the airport, to the other side of Changi, to see the more rugged and remote side of Singapore.

Palau Ubin Islands

While there are actually quite a few islands off Singapore to explore, one of my favourites is Palau Ubin, so I’d suggest spending the day out there exploring nature.

It is just a short ‘Bumboat’ (yep, you read that right) away from Changi Jetty which is near the airport.

These unique islands offers a wildlife haven within this country and is home to huge lizards, wild boar, otters and monkeys.

Grab a bike for a few dollars and spend a couple of hours taking in the untouched greenery, the boardwalk over the ocean and explore the small village, known as a Kampung, to get a feel of what Singapore would have been like 60 years ago. The best bit? Island admission is free, and those Bumboats cost just a few dollars. You can even camp here overnight if you wish, although keep an eye out for the Giant Lizards!

Once back in Changi you realise there is more than just the airport there, it’s a quiet, tree-filled area which again makes you think what Singapore could have been like before the tower blocks. Changi village has some quaint places to eat as well as coastal beach walks.

Shopping and Souvenirs and Singapore Airport

If you are departing later that evening, be sure to leave enough time to enjoy all the airport has to offer, there is a reason it constantly wins the best airport in the world. Check out the waterfalls in the new Jewel terminal, admire the sunflowers of butterflies in the rooftop gardens, kick back and relax watching a film, or if you have plenty of time to kill, check into the airport hotel with a rooftop pool.

If you want somewhere nearby to stay the night, then the Changi Cove Hotel does the job, and I’ve stayed here before when I had an early flight, hopping in a taxi the next morning. The design like hotel rooms have interesting features, like high-end coffee machines in the rooms and hanging basket chairs, while a pool will help you cool off in the simple outside area.

So there you have it. My answer to the question: ‘what the hell will I do in Singapore for five days?’ – I honestly think people are crazy if they only spend a quick stopover in Singapore, as there is so much to soak up and it’s an incredible city. If you are heading to somewhere in Australia or Singapore, then consider breaking up the trip with a couple of days either side, to ease the flight pain and see as much as possible.

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