It may be a small country, but Singapore offers a vast array of experiences in food, entertainment, retail, culture, and more.
It is a crossroads of cultures – one of the best cosmopolitan cities in the world. It owes this fact, first, to its favorable geography that has made it a trade powerhouse since ancient times, and second, to its rich colonial history.
As Singapore marks #SG50, its Golden Jubilee, its cityscape continues to rapidly grow and change. Today, it is a paragon of nation building. In recent times, the country has also been working towards being a cultural destination – a renaissance city – through encouraging an up-and-coming creative scene.
It has been also been a favorite holiday destination for many Filipino families and yuppies. A perk of being an ASEAN member state: Filipinos enjoy visa-free entry.
For many first-time tourists, their Singapore experience starts downtown, in the city center, or at the resorts and attractions on Sentosa Island. Before you make Singapore your own – that is, visit places that suit your quirks and interests – everyone has to begin at essential tourist hotspots. Here are some favorites:
Start with the Singaporean emblem, the Merlion.
A mythological creature with the head of a lion and the body of a fish, the icon is a nod to Singapore’s Malay name, Singapura or the “Lion City,” as well as its ancient name, Temasek, which is Old Javanese for “sea town.”
The park in front of One Fullerton, where the 8.6-meter original sculpture stands, is the most popular spot to view this symbol. Take some snaps, a selfie, or a groupfie for bragging rights. Appear to drink the water that spouts from its mouth, or do whatever decent (read: respectful) pose you can imagine.
Merlion Park – 1 Fullerton Rd
In the early days of independent Singapore, hawker centres were built to regulate the city’s itinerant street food peddlers. Today, these food courts can be found all over the city. (READ: Around Singapore in 16 dishes)
The hawker center is also a microcosm of multicultural Singapore. Dishes that come from various ethnic groups and that have evolved in the island can be found here. The stalls serve cheap eats, so you’re definitely spoiled for choice. The hawkers usually have specialties and serve favorites like Chicken Rice, Chili Crab, Hokkien Mee, Char Kway Teow, Roti Prata, and a plethora of other scrumptious dishes.
One basic tip: to call dibs on seats at these food courts, leave a packet of tissue. In Singlish (i.e. English-based creole lingo), they call this “chope,” so while you’re ordering some grub you can rest assured that the locals respect this unwritten rule.
If you’re coming from Merlion Park, cross the Esplanade Bridge to the al fresco Makansutra Gluttons Bay (8 Raffles Ave), just beside the iconic durian-shaped Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay. Local street food guru KF Seetoh, who publishes the Makansutra guidebook, has curated the stalls here (including Chicken Rice experts Wee Nam Kee and even Pinoy favorite Gerry’s Grill) so you definitely have superb options.
Other popular hawker centers among tourists and locals alike include Lau Pa Sat Festival Market (18 Raffles Quay) and Maxwell Food Centre (1 Kadayanallur Street). However, scour the local foodie websites and blogs if you want to move away from all the tourist action (that is, away from the city center) and be adventurous.
As the name suggests, Orchard Road used to be lined with fruit orchards and other plantations, but today, huge malls flank the 2.2-kilometer-long thoroughfare. It’s a popular retail destination with a variety of options in fashion, entertainment, food, or whatever suits your fancy. From high street fashion brands to luxe fashion houses, or from quirky boutiques to chain bookstores, Orchard probably has it all. With 22 malls, 6 department stores, and over 5,000 brands to check out, you can spend an entire day traversing this shopping mecca.
ION Orchard will probably be the first to catch your eye with its futuristic façade. You can also enjoy a 360-degree view of Singapore’s cityscape on its observation deck, ION Sky (Level 55/56, open daily at 3 PM – 6 PM), free of charge. Lucky Plaza is a popular rendezvous point for the local Filipino community that makes it the de facto Little Manila. Book lovers can revel in the great literary selections at the huge Kinokuniya branch at Takashimaya (or Ngee Ann City).
Indie brands and young local designers have set up shop here as well. The upper floors of Orchard Central for instance, houses multilabel boutiques to pique the interest of fashionistas. Just across H&M, 313@somerset, designers and artisans peddle their cutting-edge wares at Keepers.
Every first Saturday of the month, the Orchard Road Business Association closes down a portion of the road to vehicles for Pedestrian Night – an initiative to inject some community spirit in this retail hub. As you bustle about the throng of shoppers, you can listen to buskers and live bands, or be dazzled by street performers. The July edition, for instance, even brought in Filipino band December Avenue to play in the atrium of Orchard Central, so even migrant communities in Singapore are definitely represented.
In Malay, Sentosa means “peace and tranquility,” but on the contrary, the island given that name is bursting with fun. With around 37 attractions to visit, Sentosa is an ideal getaway just a few kilometers away from the urban center.
You can’t miss the 37-meter Merlion statue on Sentosa. Dubbed the Guardian of Prosperity, this one has an observation deck with a commanding view of the main island’s skyline.
From the Merlion, go down Merlion Walk towards Siloso Beach, instead of taking the Sentosa Express from the Imbiah station. The downhill trek involves a gorgeous water feature reminiscent of Spanish architect Gaudí’s work in Barcelona.
Don’t take for granted the little pockets of tranquility on the island. There’s a stretch of Siloso Beach where kids love to frolic on the sand as the waves come crashing. It’s also a great place to quietly enjoy the sunset.
End your day on the island at Siloso Beach with Wings of Time, a mesmerizing multimedia presentation with the open seas as backdrop. Various state-of-the-art effects such as 3-D projection mapping, lasers, pyrotechnics, and choreographed fountains come together to weave a tale of adventure and promise to wow audiences.
Sentosa Merlion – Daily (10 AM – 8 PM). Standard Rates – Adults: S$12, Senior Citizens (60 years old and above) & Children (3-12 years old): S$9
Wings of Time – Daily (7:40 PM & 8:40 PM). Standard Tickets – Premium Seats: S$23, Normal Seats: S$18.
If you’re planning to spend the entire day at Sentosa, then might as well buy a SG50 Sentosa Tourist Pack (priced S$121) at store.sentosa.com.sg, and get S$50 of. The pack includes an entry to S.E.A. Aquarium, Tiger Sky Tower, Madame Tussauds & Images of Singapore LIVE, Segway Fun Ride, and Wings of Time. Offer is only valid for online purchases (store.sentosa.com.sg) for visits until December 31, 2015.
Universal Studios Singapore
Resorts World Sentosa, a 49-hectare entertainment destination, is home to Southeast Asia’s only Universal Studios theme park. If you’ve made memories in the Hollywood, Orlando, or Osaka studios, you will find that the best of those parks have been brought a bit closer to home. Universal Studios Singapore brings to life family favorites from the silver screen and the small screen, through rides, street performers, stage shows, and more.
With 7 themed zones, the park has action-packed thrills in store for everyone in the family, so hooray for Hollywood! Discover a Lost World of dinosaurs. Get close to the action of Michael Bay’s Transformers flicks at Sci-Fi City. Join Puss in Boots’ swashbuckling exploits at Far Far Away, or be unexpectedly marooned on Madagascar with a quirky crew of zoo animals. Be enraptured by New York, the Big Apple, or be swept away by the sands of time back to Ancient Egypt.
One-day pass – Adults: S$74, Children: S$54, Senior Citizens: S$36. Two-day pass (2 consecutive days) – Adults: S$118, Children: S$88, Senior Citizens: S$58
Universal Studios Singapore – Resorts World Sentosa, 8 Sentosa Gateway. Daily (10 AM – 7PM).
One of the world’s biggest oceanariums, Southeast Asia Aquarium (S.E.A. Aquarium) showcases marine biodiversity, as over 100,000 marine animals from 800 species call it home. The Aquarium houses species from waters that span the Strait of Karimata and Java Sea, all the way to East Africa.
Its centerpiece is the IMAX theater-like Open Ocean Habitat where you can observe over 50,000 species through a 36-by-8.3-meter acrylic panel. Look out for manta rays, largetooth sawfishes, spotted eagle rays, leopard sharks, and goliath groupers.
As it is committed to conservation, it also positions itself as the world’s largest living marine classroom through various interactive attractions and programs, especially at neighboring Dolphin Island. Even only at the Aquarium itself, visitors can encounter Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins face-to-face at the Ocean Journey zone.
One-day pass – Adults: S$38, Children & Senior Citizens: S$28
S.E.A. Aquarium – Daily (10 AM – 7 PM). Resorts World Sentosa, 8 Sentosa Gateway.
Madame Tussauds Singapore
World-famous for its hyperrealistic wax sculptures of famous personalities, Madame Tussauds Singapore outpost can be found on Sentosa.
It’s a selfie and photo op central. But you can already get a kick just seeing the likes of Singapore’s revered Lee Kuan Yew, football star Cristiano Ronaldo, Mandopop star Teresa Teng, Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan, Brangelina, or Queen Bee, Beyoncé – rendered in lifelike detail.
The Singapore branch also features the Spirit of Singapore boat ride, a multi-sensory experience that celebrates the history, culture, and present of Singapore.
Full Experience Ticket (includes Spirit of Singapore) – Adults: S$39, Children: S$29, Senior Citizens: S$30
Madame Tussauds Singapore – 40 Imbiah Rd. Monday to Friday (10 AM – 6 PM), Saturday, Sunday, and Public Holidays (10 AM – 7:30 PM).
Marina Bay Sands
Integrated resort Marina Bay Sands is a symbol of and a gateway to modern Singapore. Designed by renowned architect Moshe Safdie, its iconic hotel towers resemble a deck of cards with a ship-like SkyPark sitting atop, which makes it such a monumental feat of engineering.
Probably the most Instagrammed infinity pool to have been built can be found at the SkyPark on the 57th floor. As the pool is exclusive for hotel guests, the SkyPark still promises sweeping vistas of Singapore at a sizeable observation deck with places to wine and dine like Sky on 57 or Cé La Vi.
The waterfront Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands offer a variety of top-tier retail and dining options. Get a dazzling view of Singapore’s central business district on its promenade, where in the evenings, you can catch the lights and water spectacle, Wonder Full.
Visit the futuristic lotus-shaped ArtScience Museum located here as well. The museum houses both permanent and temporary exhibits like the ongoing DreamWorks Animation behind-the-scenes galleries, or the Eames retrospective that highlighted the designer’s iconic mid-century furniture designs.
Marina Bay Sands – 10 Bayfront Ave.
SkyPark Observation Deck – Monday to Thursday (9:30 AM – 10 PM), Friday to Sunday (9:30 AM – 11 PM). Adult: S$23, Child (2-12 years old): S$17, Senior Citizens (65 years old and above): S$20.
ArtScience Museum – See marinabaysands.com/museum/ticketing for admission charges, as fees for special exhibits vary. Family Fridays promo – Up to 4 children (12 years old and below) can enter for free with every adult ticket purchased.
Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands – Sunday to Thursday & Public Holidays (10:30 AM – 11 PM), Friday, Saturday, and eve of Public Holidays (10:30 AM – 11:30 PM).
Gardens by the Bay
In 1963, Lee Kuan Yew planted a Mempat tree. With this gesture, Singapore moved forward with a plan to transform into a model nation for sustainable development. “Many countries now do tree planting and call themselves Garden Cities. To retain our edge and continue our living environment, we are transforming Singapore into a City in a Garden,” he said. (READ: #SG50: How planning made Singapore a Garden City)
Quite aptly, he said this under the canopy of the Flower Dome, an architectural marvel and highlight at Gardens by the Bay. Aside from nursing flora from all corners of the globe, Gardens by the Bay features key attractions like the iconic and functional Supertrees and the cooled conservatories: the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest.
The Flower Dome is an enormous greenhouse that houses various flowers from various regions in the world. The Cloud Forest mimics tropical highland ecosystems and comes with a 35-meter waterfall. At the two conservatories, lush exotic greenery or colorful flowers surround you in a comfortable, air-conditioned setting.
Gardens by the Bay has also become a “People’s Garden” that hosts a range of activities and programs. One notable example: the only Asian leg of Australia’s Laneway Festival is annually held here. The most recent edition, featuring acclaimed acts like St. Vincent, FKA twigs, Chet Faker, Future Islands and more, attracted millennials even from neighboring countries and was flocked by a sold-out crowd (The music festival also happens to fall around Chinese New Year, and the city-wide sales will certainly be a bang).
Gardens by the Bay – 18 Marina Gardens Dr. Outdoor gardens – Free. One conservatory – Adults: S$12, Senior Citizens (60 years old and above) & Children (3-12 years old): S$8. Double conservatory ticket – Adults & Senior Citizens (60 years old and above): S$28, Children (3-12 years old): S$15
For SG50, Gardens by the Bay also offers a great deal for families: free entry for 1 child with 2 full-priced Double Conservatory tickets purchased. This offer stands until December 31, 2015.
The Singapore Flyer, Southeast Asia’s tallest observation wheel, stands at 165 meters and offers unparalleled views not only of the Central Business District and Marina Bay, but also even beyond Singapore.
Aside from the regular Singapore Flight, scheduled deluxe packages are available. These include the Sky Dining Flight that comes with a personal butler and a four-course menu.
Enjoy the other attractions at the complex: a flight simulator, a 6-D motion ride theater, and a multimedia showcase named the Journey of Dreams. Its food court, Singapore Food Trail, harks back to the 60s, when hawkers would peddle Singapore’s favorite grub on street carts.
Singapore Flight – Adult: S$33, Child: S$21; Singapore Sling Flight – Adult S$69; Moët & Chandon Champagne Flight – Adult: S$69; High Tea Flight – S$99 for 2 persons; Sky Dining Flight – S$269++ for 2 persons
SG50 deal: Free entry for 1 child with 2 adult Singapore Sling/Cocktail flights purchased online at singaporeflyer.com
Singapore Flyer – 30 Raffles Ave. Daily (8:30 AM – 10:30 PM).
Some wildlife only comes alive after sundown, and at Night Safari, you get the chance to encounter them up close. Located next to the Singapore Zoo, the Night Safari is the world’s first safari park for nocturnal animals. It harbors over 2,500 of the world’s most fearsome predators and curious creatures – showing them in their element.
A 35-minute tram ride takes you through several ecosystems across the globe, from the Himalayan foothills to equatorial Africa.
Several walking trails that feature animals not seen along the tram route are also available. As the name suggests, the Leopard Trail allows you to observe leopards and other big-to-mid-sized felines through a glass barrier. However, you can only find Malayan flying foxes and giant flying squirrels in the aviaries along this trail.
After these tours, catch the enchanting Creatures of the Night show (7:30 PM, 8:30 PM, 9:30 PM, and 10:30 PM) that puts a spotlight on animals like the otter, hyena, binturong, civet, and more.
The Night Safari is located up north in the city-state, so travel can be tedious. But don’t let this fact deter you from this unique experience. Look out for tour packages inclusive of back-and-forth transportation, as those are indispensable bargains.
Tickets – Adults: S$42, Children (3-12 years old): S$28. Admission is free for children under 3 years old.
Night Safari – 80 Mandai Lake Rd. Daily (7:30 PM – 12:00 MN), ticket counter (5:30 PM – 11:15 PM).
The Marina Barrage is a great example of Singapore’s urban design philosophy, one that emphasizes community building and sustainability. The facility is primarily a reservoir for the city’s water supply and regulates inland flooding. But someone had a spark of genius and turned it into a 3-in-1 recreational facility where people can go boating, kayaking, and more.
Walk up an ingeniously designed spiral ramp to its rooftop turned into a sprawling, well-manicured lawn where families can kite, play, and picnic. Sit on the grass, and take in inspiring views of Singapore’s iconic cityscape at the end of your trip.
Marvel at the miracle that is Singapore. Soak in views that show how the Little Red Dot made possible what was once thought impossible.
Marina Barrage – 8 Marina Gardens Dr.
For more information on SG50 promos, see yoursingapore.com/goldenjubilee.
Paolo Abad is a film/television editor and motion graphic designer. He is also a self-confessed concert junkie. Follow his Instagram for live music @outoftunephoto
Note: The writer was part of a recent trip to Singapore sponsored by the Singapore Tourism Board.