Cultural diversity, delicious food, and cleanliness are how many people know Singapore. The government allows people of many nationalities entry without a visa for 30 days. It is thus a melting pot of travelers, business people, and ex-pats. Some, like Americans and many Western Europeans, get 90 days on arrival.
People come to Singapore for many reasons. Many travelers use it as a jump off point into SE Asia while others come to get a visa for neighboring countries such as Indonesia. Whatever your reason for coming to Singapore, don’t be so quick to leave it behind! There’s a lot to see and do here, so we’ve put together a guide for spending 48 hours in Singapore.
Singapore Art Museum and National Museum
Start off your visit in Singapore by doing a bit of museum hopping. Housed in a restored 19th-century mission school, the Singapore Art Museum features an impressive collection of contemporary art. A vast majority of the works on display are local or from other countries in SE Asia. They give guided tours a few times a day with the first one at 11 if you’d like to learn more about the various pieces. A ticket for this will set you back $20 SGD.
Basically right across the street, you’ll find the National Museum. This is the oldest museum in Singapore, dating back to 1849. Focusing primarily on the history of the nation-state, this is a great place to get schooled on Singapore. It’s open daily from 10 am-7 pm and costs $15 SGD to enter. Unfortunately, there was a big renovation project going on when we visited so we only got to see a small temporary exhibit. At least they allowed free entry.
Fort Canning Park
You might as well go ahead and take a stroll through Fort Canning Park once you leave the museum. This massive green space is located on a hilltop and is a great place to walk around for an hour or so. It has played an important role in Singapore’s development and is home to several historic landmarks. The park hosts concerts and festivals all throughout the year, so check the schedule before you visit to see if anything is going on.
Riverside, CBD (Central Business District), and Marina Bay
Bustling with people and activity, locals know this area as downtown. It’s very easy to arrive here on the MRT. Walk around and admire the skyscrapers along the waterside then hang out at Merlion Park. It’s home to one of Singapore’s most famous icons – the mythical Merlion. With the head of a lion and the body of a fish, it basically serves as the city-state’s mascot. Join the hordes of tourists and locals alike attempting to get a silly photo. There’s a pier meant for taking pictures with the Merlion and skyline in the background.
While you’re here, you might as well sit down and enjoy a cold drink with the amazing view. After all, you can’t miss the chance to sip on a Singapore Sling in Singapore. Just be warned that it comes with a price tag – about $20. One of the rare times we didn’t order a second round.
Once you’ve gotten your photo, walk along the Esplanade and check out the cool Theaters on the Bay. Continue on towards the Youth Olympic Park where you can admire the pieces in the city’s first art park. It features art installations by the country’s youth showing life’s aspirations.
On the opposite end of the Youth Olympic park, you can find the Helix Bridge. This contemporary bridge is very pleasing to the eyes. It is pedestrian only and connects the Esplanade with Marina Center. Meant to look like human DNA, it is a great place to get panoramic views of the CBD. There are plenty of spots to do just that. At night, LED lights illuminate the metal rods.
Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino is the biggest landmark in this part of the city. It’s a massive integrated resort that includes a shopping mall, museum, hotel, and casino. At the other end of the Helix Bridge, you will enter the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. Most of the shops are luxury brands meant to rob you of your casino earnings. Whether you shop or not, it’s a nice place to wander around and get a break from the heat. There’s a cheesy canal on the bottom floor where you can take a gondola ride for a cost.
The best part about this shopping mall is the food court. They have amazing, delicious food from all over the world. It’s very cheap compared to other places in the area, so grab lunch here before heading the next stop. Just be warned if you come hungry – everything looks and smells so good here!
After you’ve had your fill of delectable foods in the mall, head into the hotel lobby. The state-of-the-art decorations are nice to look at while you use the free wifi. The staff are friendly and always willing to answer questions to anyone, guest or not. For $23 SGD you can head up to the SkyPark Observation Deck on the roof of the hotel. This will get you spectacular views of the city, but that’s all you’ll get. The infinity pool is reserved for guests only. There are four restaurants you’re welcome to dine in if you want to fork over big bucks.
Next up is the famous Gardens By the Bay – the main attraction. One of the many great things about Singapore is how walkable and green it is and this area is a prime example. As a matter of fact, they call it the City in a Garden. There’s a bridge going across the main highway between Marina Bay Sands and the Gardens. This makes it possible to not have to play real life frogger. As soon as you get to the other side of the bridge it’s like being transported to a tropical jungle far from the big city. There are two lakes – Dragonfly Lake and Kingfisher Lake. Futuristic in design, they use rainwater filtration techniques. They treat the run-off water and then use it in the built-in irrigation system for the gardens. The lakes also provide a habitat for fish and dragonflies, helping to control mosquito breeding. Pretty cool, huh?
Head to the far end of the park and you’ll find two glass domes – the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest. They are both temperature-controlled conservatories where you can cool off from the midday heat.
The Flower Dome mimics environments from different climates all over the world. You’ll have the chance to see plants from Australia, South Africa, and the Mediterranean, to name a few. Visitors will learn about different plants and how they’ve adapted to the various environments.
I love looking at flowers, so this is probably my favorite place in the whole city. You can find a rotating display to reflect different seasons and festivals in the Flower Field. I was there in December so it was all Christmas-themed.
The Cloud Forest is a different world from the Flower Dome. Inside the glass dome is a tall, realistic mountain boasting the world’s largest indoor waterfall. There’s an elevator that takes you to the top of the mountain. From there, there’s a walkway that brings you back down. Along the way, you’ll walk through the mist and get to experience what it’s like to be inside a mountain.
The climate changes as you descend, as do the flora and fauna. It’s meant to mimic actual wildlife at different elevation levels. When you get back to the bottom, be sure to head underground. There’s a very informative video on climate change.
It’s impossible to miss these unusual looking, tree-like structures. There are 18 throughout the park and 12 concentrated in the grove area. Acting as vertical gardens, these Supertrees collect rainwater as well as solar energy to act as air ducts to the conservatories. Eleven of the trees have solar photovoltaic systems. These systems allow them to generate electricity by converting sunlight into energy. It is then used to light the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest.
There are over 162,000 plants planted into the “trunks” of the trees. They even have a planting scheme based on the colors ranging from cooler hues to warm tones. The canopies at the top are also meant to provide shade to visitors. Get closer to the trees by taking a walk along the OCBC Skyway. This 128-meter walkway gives visitors a bird’s eye view of the entire park. Suspended 22 meters in the air, it’s quite the photo-opp.
Twice a night the trees come alive with a trippy display of lights and music to perform the Garden Rhapsody. This is not to be missed! Show times are 7:45 pm and 8:45 pm every day.
See what Day One looks like on this interactive map to get an idea of where you’re going:
Plan to spend the first half of your day in the Botanical Garden. It’s quite large and has many different gardens for your viewing pleasure. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes as well. It’s easy to get to on the MRT as it has its own stop. Entry is free except for the Orchid Garden. This is a unique garden in many ways. It is the only tropical garden given UNESCO World Heritage Site status. As well as being 156 years old, it is the only garden open from 5 am to midnight every day.
The Singapore Botanical garden is comprised of many smaller gardens. My favorite was the Evolution Garden. It takes you on a walk through the evolution of the earth. It shows you what flora and fauna were around at different points in the earth’s history. Visitors can get a real feel for just how short a time humans have been around. It was interesting to see many thousands of years of evolution in a short walk. There is lots of information and pictures to guide you on your way.
A Trio of Cultural ‘Hoods
Spend the rest of your day exploring the many different faces of Singapore by visiting a few of its ethnic enclaves. Start off in Little India, where you’ll find a colorful Hindu temple and tons of cheap and delicious Indian food.
A few blocks away is the area known as Arab Street. Take a walk around here to see the stunning Abdul Gafoor Mosque, eat some shawarma, or shop for some for some fly Arabic threads.
After dark, it’s time to head to Singapore’s bustling Chinatown. Be sure to come hungry so you can sample the fare on the Food Street, including the famous Hainanese chicken rice.
If you wanted to do any souvenir shopping, this is the place. Wander up and down the streets full of vendors, and be sure to bargain. See what Day Two looks like on the map and check out where you’ll be going:
As you may have noticed, we skipped out on the nightlife in Singapore. There are a few reasons for that:
- We either had stuff to do early in the morning (Indonesia visa run) or wanted to be up at a reasonable hour to go sightseeing.
- Partying in Singapore is expensive.
- The public transportation doesn’t run that late, so you’re stuck paying for a pricey cab.
That being said, there are tons of options if you’re looking for a night out on the town. From dive bars up to super trendy night clubs, Singapore’s got it all.
Where to Stay?
On our first visit to Singapore, we were only there on a 9-hour layover en route to Bali and thus didn’t need any accommodation. We’ve both been back since for two nights each, staying at two different hostels. Sasha had good things to say about his stay at Central 65 Hostel in Little India. He stayed in a pod-style dorm room, which was pretty cramped but nice and comfortable. Bonus for this place – there’s a rooftop deck with a cold-water jacuzzi. I stayed in the Coziee Lodge and it was good enough for what I needed, plus the location was great. Plan on spending around $20-25 US per night for a bed in a dorm. If you’ve got more to spend on your room then you’ve got plenty of options, all the way up to the Marina Bay Sands Suites for over $800 a night.