What should I do in Singapore while I’m there? If you’re stopping over on the way to another destination, here for work, or just flying in for the weekend, here are my two perfect days in Singapore.
Start your morning out with a walk in the beautiful Botanic Gardens. If it’s after 8:30 AM, head straight for the National Orchid Garden and go to the VIP Garden. This area showcases orchids that have been named after visiting dignitaries. It’s always fun to decide whether you think the orchid suits the person or not. There isn’t a lot of shade here so go early and take in the rest of the garden at your leisure.
There are a number of eateries throughout the Botanic Gardens where you can grab breakfast or a cup of coffee. One of my personal favorites is The Halia, right near the Orchid Garden. Grab a cup of ginger tree while you overlook all the various plants in the ginger family.
Head back to your hotel to shower, rest and cool off before heading over to Raffles Hotel for high tea.
Afternoon Tea at Raffles Hotel
Head over to the Grand Lobby of Raffles Hotel for afternoon tea (make a reservation for this as it’s very popular). This is the epitome of the British Colonial experience in Singapore. The lobby is everything that you would expect from a British outpost, refined, sophisticated, and just the slightest bit snooty (in the best possible way – you’d be disappointed if it wasn’t). There is a dress code – long pants, collared shirt, and closed shoes for gentlemen with no specific guidelines for women however, a skirt or dress is always appropriate.
After you get your fill of tea sandwiches and scones, don’t miss the opportunity to walk around the hotel and enjoy the stunning courtyards.
Head down to Orchard Road to check out Southeast Asia’s premier shopping destination. As the sun sets, you’ll be treated to a splendid array of dazzling lights enticing you to buy whatever is being sold. It can be a little overwhelming but it’s spectacular and well worth a stroll or a drive.
Lau Pa Sat
Once your tea sandwiches have worn off, head to Telok Ayer to visit the Lau Pa Sat Satay Club. Lau Pa Sat means “Old Market” and was Singapore’s first wet market, built during the time of Sir Stamfod Raffles (founder of modern Singapore) about 150 years ago.
The interior was recently renovated but it will give you a taste Singapore’s hawker centers (albeit this one is a bit sanitized). The real show arrives each night when the streets are shut down and the satay vendors set up shop. It’s smoky and the vendors are a little pushy but it’s really fun. I always admire the juxtaposition of the ultra-modern office buildings staring down at this beautiful old market.
After you finish up, take a walk down Telok Ayer St, filled with restaurants of every type but even more interesting is the old shophouse architecture. Chinese merchants would have shops on the ground floor and would live upstairs. Sir Stamford Raffles mandated that these houses have covered walkways to protect people from the elements as they walked around town. Today, you’ll see this housing style throughout many parts of Southeast Asia.
If you are looking for a nightcap, you’ll find lots of great bars. My two favorites are Bitters & Love and Native. They both create craft cocktails inspired by the flavors of Singapore.
It may seem weird to visit a Chinatown in a predominantly Chinese city but Sir Raffles had a very specific plan in mind. He designated areas for each ethnic group to live. Thus, Singapore has a Chinatown. The shops and streets are reminiscent of other Chinatowns but here you’ll see things unique to this area such as a Peranakan tile shop, old medicine shops and the Singapore version of beef jerky, bakwa.
Make your way over to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. It’s open to the public and the main hall is jaw-dropping. There is so much gold. There are thousands of buddhas and one big imposing one. If you are lucky you’ll get there when the monks are reciting their prayers. Head upstairs to learn about the relic housed in this temple and about the specific type of Buddhism that is followed here.
When you are ready for a break, head to Yum Cha for some dim sum or if you want a more local experience head over to the Chinatown Complex. I always love the popiah (a Singapore-style spring roll) at Ann Chin’s.
Afterwards, walk over to Mei Heong Yuen Dessert for a snow ice chendol. Trust me, it’s the best!
If the heat hasn’t gotten to you yet, stroll around Keong Said Rd and take a look at the beautifully kept shophouses. It’s amazing to think that a generation ago this area was filled with gang activity. You’ll find no such thing on your stroll except maybe throngs of expats.
Gardens by the Bay
Once you’ve had a chance to rest and cooldown after your wander around Chinatown, head over to Gardens by the Bay for their evening light show. Lights and light shows are very popular in Singapore but despite my cynical self, I like them. You’ll see the conspicuous Super Trees up close. These trees have become a symbol of Singapore since they were erected and thoroghly enjoy this choreographed lightshow. The themes change regularly but it’s the perfect way to wind down your time in Singapore.
Jewel Changi Airport
Only in Singapore, is the airport a destination in itself. I always tell visitors to allow extra time when they depart because there is so much to see at the airport.
Make sure you get a chance to see The Jewel’s Rain Vortex after you check in and drop off your luggage (check-in as early as you can so you don’t have to rush). It’s the world’s tallest indoor waterfall and worth a visit.
If you have a little more time, Changi Airport is one of the best airports in the world and one of the best places to be if you have a long layover or delayed flight. You can check out the Butterfly Garden, playgrounds that also serve as art installations, or just go shopping. There are also nap pods and showers. It’s truly one of the best places to be stranded.
There’s so much more
I have so much more to share but this list gives you a good overview while covering all the “must-see” spots in Singapore. If you like this, I can put together more itineraries based on interests and or different cultural landmarks. Let me know in the comments!