When planning our first trip to Asia to celebrate my husband’s birthday, we discussed many options in terms of what the best city would be. We ultimately decided on Singapore and I couldn’t be happier with our decision. When telling people you’re going there, everyone says it’s the best “gateway” city to Asia, as it’s similar in many ways to New York City. That combined with the fact that my best friend spent several months living there a few years ago, immediately convinced me.
Singapore is basically a cleaner, safer and more advanced version of New York in many ways. I absolutely love living in New York but if the city had a little less trash on the streets, I wouldn’t be opposed. There is little to no crime (we never heard any sirens over our four days there) and I always felt completely safe. Just don’t chew gum (no really, it’s illegal) or do/bring drugs (they have the strictest laws in the world) and you’ll be fine.
It’s worth noting that Singapore has been ranked as the most expensive city in the world since 2013 so keep that in mind when planning your trip. Living in New York, we aren’t too surprised by craft cocktails costing $15-$20 (definitely not something to brag about…insert eye roll here) but if you aren’t used to that, you may be blown away. The good news is that many restaurants and bars have happy hour specials so make sure to add that to your list for more reasonably priced drinks. On the note of service, this is an area that Singapore could use some improvement. The service is pretty terrible at bars and restaurants (you have to ask for anything you want- from more water to ordering more food/drinks and the check, etc.) Tipping is not standard in Singapore (which may be why people don’t go above and beyond) so as long as you set your expectations to ask for things you need and can be patient (I’m constantly working on that concept) you’ll be a lot less frustrated.
The flight is basically the farthest you can go to the other side of the world, but Singapore Airlines just launched the world’s longest flight which is 18 hours from New York (of course they launched two weeks after we booked our tickets) so if you’re looking for something direct, this is a great option. Once you’re there, getting around is very easy. A lot of places are walkable, but they also have a very nice (and organized) train system (MRT) as well as Grab (an app similar to Uber) which came in handy at night when we were too lazy to walk or take the train.
Singapore has four native languages- one of which is English, so we never had issues with any language barriers. To be honest, I was a little nervous for my trip to Asia, as I didn’t know what to expect but this immediately made me more comfortable. I see why this city is referred to as the gateway…because I am already HOOKED and can’t wait to visit other cities in Asia someday. You can cover a lot of ground in Singapore in a very short time, which makes it a great city if you have only one day to wander. Here are my suggestions to make the most of it.
10 Bayfront Ave, Singapore 018956
Marina Bay Sands was very high on my Singapore bucket list but I had heard mixed reviews about the hotel. That being said, I knew that I had to try it out, even if only for one night because you can’t access the pool unless you’re staying at the hotel. MBS (as everyone local refers it) is like a futuristic Las Vegas (which is owned by the Sands group, who owns The Venetian and the Palazzo) and has over 2,500 rooms, countless celebrity restaurants, shops, museums, exhibits, and casino. You can spot the resort, which spans across three towers, from almost anywhere in Singapore. You’ve probably seen photos of the hotel- or at least the pool, which is the world’s largest rooftop infinity pool. The hotel is less than 10 years old and was one of the most expensive builds ever, which certainly shows.
We stayed at another hotel for the first three nights of our trip (see below) and saved MBS for the last night. I set my expectations low in terms of service, but was blown away by how friendly and attentive the staff was, how big the room was, and our stay overall. The pool was everything I thought it would be and so much more (see photos below.) I didn’t fully understand why you had to stay at the property to go to the pool, but it’s such a great way to minimize traffic. We weren’t fighting for chairs or waiting in lines to order drinks, so I would highly suggest going this route. And in my opinion if you’re only in Singapore for one night, this is the place you want to stay. If you aren’t able to stay here, you can still pay to visit the SkyPark (free for hotel guests) which has 360* views of the entire city or visit one of the rooftop restaurants or bars such as Spaggo or Ce La Vie. There is so much to do on property, you really wouldn’t ever have to leave (but I suggest you do if you only have a day to explore Singapore) and you’re close to many of the major attractions like Gardens by the Bay and the Supertrees.
5 Raffles Ave, Singapore 039797
We spent our first three nights in Singapore at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, which is a 5-star luxury property in the Marina Bay area. The location is very central to everything (we walked almost everywhere) and the building can be seen from all vantage points (which made the walking easier because you just looked for the hotel and navigated your way back.) The property has over 500 rooms, 5 restaurants, 2 bars, a Forbes 5-star spa, and a rooftop pool.
The hotel is a great mix of contemporary and classic luxury (it’s been around since the 1980’s.) The hotel is shaped to resemble the MO iconic fan symbol and the lobby leads you directly to an atrium with glass-elevators, making it easy to see many of the hotel outlets. My husband said it reminded him of the Marriott Marquis in New York and upon some further research (thanks Google) we learned the both were designed by architect John Portman.
Some of my favorite things about the hotel were the pool (so relaxing and much quieter than MBS with amazing skyline views) and cocktails at the MO Bar. The cocktails are as beautiful as they are innovative, and the menu takes you on a journey through the Pacific Ocean and Southeast Asia. I am not usually a specialty cocktail fan (most of the sugary ones give me a headache) but after seeing this menu knew that I had to try one. I opted for “Mother of Dragons” made with Strawberry Aloe Vera and Dragon Cachaça with the following description: “According to a local legend, the gods sent a family of dragons to protect the bay against invaders. The dragons were sweet like sugar and as beautiful as a red berry and will live in this bay for eternity.” Much to my surprise, the cocktail came out looking almost too pretty to drink. Almost. My husband ordered the “Back to Bali” (we were going to Bali a few days later so it seemed suiting) which was made with Indonesian Pandan Rum and Ginger Lemon Tea Ice. I’ve been to a lot of cocktail bars in my life (see Top 20 here), but this was one of the most innovative and unique menus I’ve ever seen.
Sip and Savor
Singapore is filled with some of the best food in the world, from Michelin-Star hawker centres to fine dining. Influences for the cuisine come from all over the world and many ethnic groups including Malay, Chinese, Indian and Peranakan. Some of the famous dishes in Singapore that I loved were chili crab and Hainanese chicken rice.
Melt Café at Mandarin Oriental I’ll start by saying a lot of breakfast spots in Singapore offer traditional Singapore food (ie. dumplings and rice for breakfast) and I am not a fan of lunch/dinner foods for breakfast (especially cold leftover pizza, though I seem to be in the minority) so to be honest, I would suggest having breakfast at your hotel or grabbing something quick at a coffee shop or café. Breakfast and Desserts are the only two areas I found Singapore to be lacking in the food department (I want chocolate with chocolate and more chocolate for dessert…not fruit pudding. Sorry!) but the Mandarin had an amazing breakfast at Melt Café with a huge buffet, made to order stations and both American and Asian options, so there is a little something for everyone!
Hawker Centres You’ve most likely heard of the Singapore Hawker centres and food stalls. Hawker Chan is known as the cheapest Michelin Star meal in the world. It was originally a stall named Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice Noodle but has expanded to various locations and restaurants. Since it’s Micheline Star, it’s become very famous and also very crowded. There is a line out the door which wasn’t too bad (maybe a 10-minute wait to order) but I thought the food was just average. The experience was fun, but I would recommend trying out one of the other hundreds of hawker centre stalls for a more authentic (and equally delicious) experience like Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice at Maxwell Center.
Maxi Coffee Bar This cute and tiny little coffee shop on Club Street only has a few seats and is easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it, but worth stopping by if you’re in the area. Try the coconut cold brew, the miso peanut butter toast or their house specialty: Iced Cereal Milk Latte.
High Tea at Raffles Hotel Tiffin Room (and get a Singapore Sling) Raffles is probably the most iconic hotel in Singapore and has been around since 1887. They were undergoing a huge renovation when we visited is now open so I highly suggest making time for afternoon tea here, which they’ve been offering for over one hundred years. Long Bar at the hotel is where the Singapore Sling originated so be sure to stop by there after tea if you have time.
National Kitchen by Violet Oon One of my childhood friends lives in Singapore and suggested dinner here and I’m so glad she did. Located in the National Gallery, the restaurant serves Peranakan cuisine which Violet Oon has mastered. The space itself is beautiful, including delicate tiles on the floor and walls, gold gilded detailing and a rich jade bar with chandeliers added throughout the space. I loved that we were able to try so many of their signature dishes and there was not one dish we got that I didn’t like. Here are a few of the dishes we tried: Kuay Pie Tee, Gado Gado, Sambal Eggplant, Beef Rendeng, Dry Laksa.
Smoke & Mirrors If you are having dinner at National Kitchen by Violet Oon (which I suggest you do) then having pre-dinner drinks at Smoke & Mirrors will be very easy, as it’s located in the same building. The rooftop bar offers sweeping views of the city, including Marina Bay Sands, Singapore Flyer, and Fullerton Bay. Their cocktail list is extensive and offers an innovate twist on classic cocktails. Get here early and reserve in advance if you can. As you can imagine, this bar has become a destination, as it’s the perfect place for sunset cocktails.
There is so much to do in Singapore but most of these can’t miss spots are pretty close in location. Marina Bay (including Marina Bay Sands) and Gardens by the Bay are my top recommendations. Probably the most famous area of the city (see more in my MBS hotel section above) make sure to visit the Cloud Forest and Flower Dome and of course the Supertree Grove. I suggest the Supertrees both during the day and at night, as they have the Supetree Grove Garden Rhapsody Show at 7:45 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. every night. For the Cloud Forest and Flower Dome, I suggest going early in the morning when they open, as it’s much less crowded. And be sure to go to the top of the Supertrees’ OCBC Skyway for great views of gardens and Marina Bay Sands.
Marina Bay Sands- Casino/hotel/convention center with shopping, museums, restaurants and bars
Sands SkyPark Observation Deck- Amazing 360* views of Singapore
Haji Lane/Arab Street- Beautiful colorful streets with cute shops, restaurants and art
Sultan Mosque/Masjid Sultan- Beautiful mosque located at Muscat Street and North Bridge Road that’s been around since the 1930’s
Singapore River Cruise- Great way to see the city is on a small bumboat, which you can hop on or off as you wish
The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands
Bugis Street Market
More Than One Day to Wander?
More Hotel Recommendations:
More Breakfast Options:
Wild Honey (All day breakfast, multiple locations)
Clinton Street Baking Co. (American, City Hall area)
Tiong Bahru Bakery (Bakery, multiple locations)
More Lunch Options:
Din Tai Fung (Chinese/Dumplings, multiple locations)
Chopsuey Cafe (Asian, Dempsey Hill)
Coconut Club (Singaporean, Chinatown)
Boon Tong Kee (Cantonese, Chicken Rice, multiple lcoations)
Bugis Street Food Market (Bugis MRT Station)
Newton Circus Hawker Centers (Newton MRT Station)
Yum Cha (Dim Sum, Chinatown)
More Coffee Options:
More Sweets Options:
More Dinner Options:
Candlenut (Peranakan, Dempsey Hill)
Butcher Boy (Asian Fusion, Chinatown)
No Signboard Seafood (Seafood, Multiple locations)
Odette (French, National Gallery)
Bochinche (Argentinian, Amoy Street)
Neon Pigeon (Asian Fusion, Keong Saik Road)
Ding Dong (Asian, Amoy Street)
Spago (American, Marina Bay Sands)
Burnt Ends (Australian Barbecue, Chinatown)
More Drink Options:
Ce La Vie (Rooftop, Marina Bay Sands)
Potato Head (Rooftop, Chinatown)
Club Street (Multiple Bars)
Native (Cocktail Bar, Amoy Street)
Don Ho (Tropical Cocktails, Keong Saik Road)
Operation Dagger (Speakeasy, Club Street)
Duxton Hill Area (Multiple Bars, Great for Happy Hour)
Intermission Bar at The Projector (Rooftop, Beach Road)
Tippling Club (Cocktail Bar, 38 Tanjong Pagar Road)
Atlas (Lobby Bar, Parkview Square)
More Places to See:
Peranakan Houses (Joo Chiat neighborhood)
Wok n’ Stroll Food Tour
Singapore Zoo and Night Safari
Singapore Botanic Gardens
Palawan Beach- Southernmost tip of continental Asia
Tiong Bahru Estate Neighborhood
Bai Hong Qiao Bridge at the Chinese and Japanese Gardens
ArtScience Museum (Marina Bay Sands)
As you can see, Singapore is full of things to do, places to eat and drink, and is the perfect first stop in Asia in my opinion. I should also mention that Changi Airport is a destination in itself with butterfly gardens, movie theatres and even a swimming pool. The airport also offers FREE 2.5 hour city tours if you have at least 5.5 hours in your layover, so if you are planning a trip to another country and have an option to layover in Singapore, you definitely should.
Have you been to Singapore already? If so, did I miss anything that you think is worth adding?