While it frequently makes for a fleeting stopover spot for those on long-haul travels around the globe, Singapore is still very much a place that’s worth exploring to the fullest. With its tropical climate, incredible attractions, and Michelin-starred restaurants with dirt-cheap prices, the city-state is fast becoming a destination in its own, enviable right. From flourishing nature reserves, the world's first night zoo, a huge observation wheel to thrilling theme parks, gardens of the future and incredible laser shows from a giant Merlion, check out our guide to the best sightseeing spots in Singapore.
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Fancy coming eye to eye with a manatee? Or a crocodile – if you’re feeling brave? These are just some of the 5,000 animals you’ll encounter at this river-themed wildlife park, which boasts the world’s biggest freshwater aquarium and a panda exhibit housing the cuddly couple Kai Kai and Jia Jia. The River Safari is split into two zones. At ‘Rivers of the World’, you’ll travel along eight rivers including the Congo and Yangtze rivers, where you’ll meet a variety of species who enjoy life on the water. Then, you can take a boat ride up the Amazon, in an experience aptly named ‘Amazon River Quest’.
If you’ve ever walked around an art gallery and resented the no-photography policy, then you’ll love this colourful optical illusion museum: it’s basically one giant photo opportunity. Grab your pals and head to Resorts World Sentosa, where you can (pretend to) join the circus, go on safari and even ride a giant baby. Each of the six mind-boggling zones is covered in 3D paintings said to reflect the cosmopolitan nature of Singapore by blending Eastern and Western influences. But really, it’s just a chance to have a laugh with your mates. Don’t forget your camera!
Mudskippers, monitor lizards and climbing crabs are just some of the creatures you’ll spot on a nature trail around this wetland habitat of mangrove swamps, ponds and lush forests. Twitchers are in luck as the Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve is also home to more than 140 species of bird. Head here during migratory season (September to March) to catch sight of flocks of shorebirds or waders including plovers and sandpipers. Those with the patience can rent a pair of binoculars and make themselves comfortable at an observation hideout, while eager beavers can join tours around the swampy landscape. Make sure you’ve packed your walking boots, mind!
Are you after an adrenaline rush that doesn’t actually involve the trauma of jumping out of a plane? Luckily, you can feel the exhilarating rush of speeding through the air from just a few metres off the ground at the world’s largest indoor skydiving wind tunnel. Once you’ve been trained in the correct way to hold your body and got your sky-diving gear on, all that’s left to do is perfect your superhero face.
For those who like to enjoy a slower pace to life, hop aboard one of the 28 air-conditioned, UV-protected pods that make up Marina Bay’s 165m observation wheel. At 42 storeys high, the ever-circling wheel remains a firm fave among tourists and locals alike, both groups lappin up the swoon-worthy, 360-degree views of the Singapore skyline. Each flight lasts 30 mintues and on a clear day, you can see as far as neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia. Feeling flush? There are dining and cocktail options available.
Remember those amazing gigantic trees from David Attenborough’s ‘Planet Earth’ series? You’ll find these vertical gardens inside two climate-controlled conservatories spanning a whopping 101 hectares. Stroll along the 128m aerial walkway connecting the tops of the Supertrees for pretty panoramic views of the Marina Bay skyline, while more than 380,000 plants are laid out before you. Bay East’s grassy lawns are perfect for picnicing, while the Flower Dome is full of baobabs and ancient olive trees from cool-dry Mediterranean climates. Can’t handle the tropical heat? Cool off at the Cloud Forest, which boasts a beautiful 35m man-made waterfall. Stick around for the evening light-and-sound show (daily 7.45pm and 8.45pm) when the Supertrees are really brought to life.
Set in a verdant, regenerated rainforest, this night safari is a must for animal-lovers. The world’s first night zoo (opened in 1994) gives you access to the nocturnal lives of more than 130 species in naturalistic habitats via the use of special lighting techniques. On the 50-minute tram ride, you’ll observe majestic lions gnawing on their meat dinners, coy mountain deer striking poses and, if you’re lucky, a noisy rhino taking a bath. There are four walking trails to choose from and an hourly ‘Creatures of the Night’ show to watch.
Thrill-seekers are in for a treat at this Universal Studios theme park on Sentosa Island. Dangle your feet off a tremendously fast and ever-twisting roller coaster, hide from the mummy on a high-speed ride, and get drenched in a white-water rafting experience – if you’ve got the stomach for the hair-raising drop at the end.
A little off the coast of Singapore, Pulau Hantu and Sisters’ Island both boast sheltered beaches and clear waters (by local standards), and are popular with diving and snorkelling enthusiasts who come for the rich marine and coral life. You have to charter your own boat from the Marina South Pier to get here; obtain a camping permit from Sentosa Leisure Group at least seven working days ahead if you wish to stay overnight.
Visit Singapore's last remaining kampong to take in the sights
It wasn’t too long ago that kampongs and stilted houses were a way of life in Singapore, but over the years industrialisation has taken root and most people have relocated to the city. Travel back in time to Kampong Lorong Buangkok, Singapore’s last surviving kampong, where some 30 families live in zinc-roofed houses, chickens roam freely and children fish from canals. Bring your camera and plenty of mosquito repellant, but remember: be respectful.
If urban Singapore’s Kranji has you craving some countryside, make a beeline for Bollywood Veggies, the firm favourite and most visitor-friendly of the visitable farms in this area. Set up by Singaporean icon Ivy Singh-Lim, the farm specialises in ‘fruit vegetables’ like cucumbers, pumpkins and gourds. There’s a food museum and you can sign up to cookery classes if you’d like to cook up a Singaporean feast back home. But if you’re peckish, head straight to the bistro, which serves up a menu created using fertiliser-and-pesticide-free ingredients harvested from the backyard. Those with adventurous tastes should try the lesser-known local dishes like banana curry.
Given the space constraints of the Little Red Dot, it’s no small feat to plan the development of this city-state – but the three levels of galleries at the Singapore City Gallery crunch down the info into a series of educational and fascinating exhibitions, with a number of interactive kiosks. The highlight is a scale architectural model of the city centre, which offers a view of what the CBD looks like from 1,600 metres above sea level, with a light show that tracks the history of the area – and what’s planned for the city’s future.
Watch a late night carom match
Walk off a big Indian meal by taking in Little India’s pockets of activity. Take a left down Desker Road and make a right on Lembu Road, leading up to Mustafa Centre. You will come across Lembu Road Open Space park. Towards the back of the park, you’ll spy a crowd of men playing carom under hanging fluorescent lights. Your best bet is to come at a weekend when a few tables are set up to play the game, which is a mixture of billiards and air hockey. Once you’ve picked up the rules from peeking over the player’s shoulders, don’t be afraid to ask if you can have a go.
Round off a trip to Kampong Glam with a visit to Sultan Mosque. The heart of the Arab Quarter, it’s the largest unofficial centre of worship for Muslims locally, but visitors are welcome to enter (except during prayer services, so do avoid Fridays). The curious among you will notice the little glass bottles that make up the base of the domes. Each bottle was donated by a poor Muslim – the idea being that the mosque was built by all, for all – no matter your financial circumstances.
Fancy getting in touch with your artistic side over a hot cuppa? Social painting – also known as art jamming – is picking up in Singapore, as stressed-out locals turn to the easel for creative therapy. At Arteastiq, you’re given a blank canvas, unlimited acrylic paint and materials, and left to see what your imagination cooks up. Each session includes a complimentary beverage – just don’t dip your paintbrush in your teapot.
For something a little out of the ordinary, head to the brilliantly bizarre Haw Par Villa, a theme park filled with multi-coloured statues depicting scenes from Chinese history and mythology. Built in 1937 by a millionaire philanthropist, the eclectic attraction was restored to its glory days in 2015. The highlight is the Ten Courts of Hell (responsible for childhood nightmares for generations of Singaporeans) where small-scale tableaux show human sinners being punished in a variety of gruesome ways. It’s a pretty safe bet you will never see anything like this anywhere else.
There’s nothing like a hearty breakfast with a hairy companion to start the day (no jokes about your other half, please) but a colony of friendly orangutans. Arrive between 9.30am and 10am to dine with the charismatic mammals, who love a good photo op. Then it’s off to explore the rest of the zoo. Spread over 26 hectares of lush nature reserve land, the zoo is home to nearly 4,000 animals, including the pre-historic variety, which you’ll encounter at Zoo-rassic Park.
Take a break from the bustle of city life with a trip to Pulau Ubin, one of the last reamining kampongs in Singapore. A short ferry ride ($2.50 per person, one way) from the Changi Village Jetty, rent a bicycle to get a glimpse of Singapore before it became the cosmopolitan city it is today. Pedal past wooden houses, minding the wild boars that roam the overgrown foliage, and stop by for a short trek at the Chek Jawa wetlands. Expect to work up a sweat, though you’ll be thoroughly rewarded for your efforts with a waterside feast at Seasons Live Seafood.
History buffs will enjoy a wander around this World War II-related site. Fort Siloso tells the story of Japan’s victory through punchy displays on resistance hero Lim Bo Seng and Force 136, and of the local civilian experience during the Japanese occupation. The main attraction is the sprawling structure of the fort itself, complete with coastal guns, winding tunnels and a treetop trail. Head to the Surrender Chambers for a reenactment of Japan’s surrender told through dramatic light, sound and video effects.
Believe it or not, there are more than 1,000 goats of various breeds at the goat-only Hay Dairies farm. And if you think we’re kidding just swing by the farm, where you can see these four-legged beasts being milked, fed and looked after. Milking sessions take place from 9am to 11am, so arrive early to witness this unbleatable experience away from the city.
Feeling down? You’ll soon cheer up once you’re surrounded by purring kitties. Singapore’s first cat café Neko No Niwa is home to 13 friendly felines – all rescued locally. Not surprisingly, reservations are recommended and there is a cover charge to enter the play area. Food and drinks are extra (though there’s no obligation to purchase anything), but if you’re feeling peckish, there’s a fridge full of Ice Cream Cookie & Co dessert sandwiches and reasonably priced coffee to wash it all down. It’s the purrfect way to spend an afternoon in Singapore.
Give Vegas a run for its money at Singapore’s two resort casinos, which are open for gambling all night long. The massive Marina Bay Sands offers about 500 table games and 2,500 slot machines, boasting a comprehensive selection of the newest and most popular electronic game machines. Or why not steal away from all the family-friendly fun to the casino at Resorts World Sentosa for a pick of the top table games and slot machines?
Can‘t tell your golden temple turtle from your golden terrapin? You will by the time you’ve explored all corners of the Live Turtle and Tortoise Museum, home to more than 200 turtles and tortoises from 60 different species, including the shy pancake tortoise and the snappy alligator turtle. Toss the odds-defying ‘lucky’ Asian pond turtle a coin and your wish might come true – but we think he’d favour a fresh hunk of cucumber instead. Owner Connie Tan is currently looking for a new home for her collection as her lease at the Chinese Gardens has ended so don’t miss your chance to support the sanctuary with your visit.
Given the tropical climate in Singapore, it’s important to keep cool – and thankfully, the city-state has an abundance of free public fountains that put most water parks to shame. Our favourite is located at KidzPlay at NEX, which has plenty of room for kids (and the young at heart) to run around, plus a variety of ways to get wet, from mist machines to a massive centrepiece bucket that creates a torrential waterfall when it tips over.
At 37m – that’s 121ft – this is the tallest version of the half-lion, half-fish Singapore icon. Bypass the video presentations about Merlion myths on the ground level, and make your way to the top-level viewing gallery for stunning views of Sentosa, the mainland and surrounding islands. Don’t miss the highlight: a multicoloured laser and musical fountain show, which roars into action in the evenings (7.40pm, 8.40pm daily). Kitsch, yes, but a fun family activity.