Singapore was once considered more of a stop-over than a destination, but with so much to see in this exciting and stunning city, passing it by should be out of the question. We’re running through the contenders for the best area to stay in Singapore.
Over the years, Singapore has accrued many accolades – cleanest, best-planned, most expensive, sunniest, most entertaining – and to be fair, all of these are somewhat based in truth. Although there are glam shopping malls, rooftop cocktail bars and fancy restaurants aplenty, budget travellers shouldn’t be deterred, as there are plenty of ways to keep costs down. One prime example is that the city’s best food is found in hawker centres – bargain food courts, of which there are more than 100, housing over 6,000 food stalls. Some are so sublime they’ve accrued Michelin star status! If a passion for food runs through your veins, Singapore is going to blow you away. You could spend every hour of the day eating and drinking and still only scratch the surface of the city’s incredible food scene.
The Lion City, as Singapore is known, packs a whole lot of attractions into a relatively small space. Wander between wildly different neighbourhoods to soak up completely different vibes, delve into the island-nation’s history and marvel at colourful historic and insanely futuristic architecture side-by-side. On one hand, you can shop till you drop and indulge yourself in luxury. On the other, you can flee the skyscrapers to rainforest surroundings in Singapore Botanic Gardens, the city’s Southern Ridges, or on the famous Night Safari. This is a city of contradictions – and as we all know, that’s what makes life (and the countries we visit) incredibly interesting. Whether you stay for a couple of days or a couple of weeks, one thing’s for sure, it’s impossible to be bored in Singapore.
Merlion Park :@jangus231
The best way to whizz between Singapore’s sites is via the MRT system, which operates underground lines and buses that cover all corners of the city. Most attractions are within an easy stroll of an MRT station, so once you’re in a neighbourhood, you can easily explore on foot. Simply grab yourself a Singapore Tourist Pass (STP) based on how many days you’ll be in town and get unlimited travel on all bus services, MRT and LRT trains. Passes start from SG$20 (£11.30) for one day, plus a $10 (£6) refundable deposit for the card. Or, you can buy an EZ-link card, similar to London’s Oyster Card, for $12 (£6.80) at any MRT station or 7-Eleven, which you can whack some cash on and top up when necessary. Single MRT fares are around $1.50-2.50 (85p-£1.40). Trains run every two to seven minutes, from 5:30am until midnight. ‘Nite’ buses run from 11:30pm to 2am on Fridays and Saturdays.
Travelling by taxi in Singapore isn’t too pricey, although beware hidden surcharges! Taxi ranks are located by hotels and malls, or you can flag them down. The starting price is around $3.60 (£2) and then you’ll be charged around $0.22 (12p) per kilometre. You can pay for taxis with your EZ-link card. If you hop in a cab from Changi Airport there’s a surcharge of $5.00 (£2.80), and if you’re travelling between midnight and 6am, expect a surcharge of 50% of what the meter reads. During peak hours (6am-9:30am, and 6pm-midnight) this surcharge is 25%. The airport is connected to the city by the MRT, so save yourself cash by riding that, or by booking the airport shuttle which runs every 15-30 minutes and carts you into the city for $9 (£5).
There are also a couple of fun options for seeing the sights. Hop in a Trishaw, and enjoy a tour for around $40 (£22) for half an hour. Or, when the sun is out and you want to be as close to the water as possible while still sightseeing, take a cruise on a bumboat – the ideal way to see Singapore. These are handy for jumping between waterfront hotspots like the Esplanade, Clarke Quay and Boat Quay. A journey costs just $5 (£2.85) and again you can pay using your EZ-link card. There are also lots of options for bumboat tours, from morning cruises, high tea or dinner cruises. Or, get out of town and head to Pulau Ubin – a traditional village that provides a glimpse into city life pre-skyscrapers, and a great place to see native wildlife.
National Gallery, :@mbriney
What to do in the Civic District
The Civic District is a good base if you’re planning on making like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman and buying up all the city’s designer threads on Orchard Road. Much like London’s Oxford Street, Orchard Road has every store any self-respecting shopaholic could hope for, plus plenty of spas and beauty salons to revive yourself in once you really have shopped till you drop. Even if your backpack can’t take any new additions, Orchard Road is one of Singapore’s most famous streets, so it’s worth a wander. There are 30 malls to choose from, including ION Orchard, 313@Somerset featuring high-street stores for budget shoppers and Orchard Central, which offers plenty of sizeable discounts for tourists, and Singapore’s highest climbing wall! The best food options on Orchard Road are found at Plaza Singapura.
Fort Canning Park is a wonderful hilltop space overlooking the city that features nine historical gardens. Highlights include the Spice Garden, First Botanic Garden and Raffles Garden, but the whole thing is worth some exploration. Always check the park’s events calendar as they host fun events like Ballet Under the Stars, Films at the Fort and Shakespeare in the Park.
Best hostels in the Civic District
Singapore’s hostels are generally superb, mostly because many of them are capsule hostels. Yes, this does make them more fun! To be close to the Civic District, choose a hostel located in Clarke Quay or Boat Quay so you’ll be within stumbling distance of party-central. To get the full capsule hostel experience check out Quarters Capsule Hostel or BEAT. Capsules in Boat Quay, which both have sociable areas and dorms quiet enough to sleep easy. Met A Space Pod really goes for it in terms of futuristic vibes. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to sleep in a spaceship, now’s your chance to find out!
Marina Bay Sands, :@ridershow
What to do in the Downtown Core
Garrdens by the Bay is another unmissable attraction in Singapore’s Downtown Core. These urban gardens cover more than 100 hectares and are split into three main sections; Bay South Garden, Bay East Garden and Bay Central Garden. The most iconic part of the gardens is the Supertree Grove, which features huge towers covered in ferns, ranging in height from 25-50m. While they’re a sight to behold at any time of day, visit at night to soak up the full effect. Every night at 7:45 and 8:45 pm, the Garden Rhapsody show wows crowds with a music and light show (which they switch up every month). The OCBC Skyway weaves between the trees and is worth the $8 (£4.50) entrance fee, just be warned that lines can be lengthy. Besides the supertrees, highlights include the Flower Dome – the largest glass greenhouse in the world, the Cloud Forest – which has the world’s tallest indoor waterfall and more than 40 art sculptures, which you’ll discover dotted around the gardens.
While you’re down by the water, be sure to swing by Merlion Park to grab a selfie with the famous Merlion statue – a 70-tonne, half-mermaid, half lion that spits water! There are plenty of places close by to grab food or a beer. Also located at the waterfront is the impressive lotus-shaped, ArtScience Museum, which hosts museum lates, great speakers, tours and workshops. The Red Dot Design Museum is also worth a visit. If you fancy squeezing in a round of golf or hitting some balls at a driving range, Marina Bay Golf Course boasts some seriously distracting views. 18 holes costs $130 (£74) during the week, but just $14 (£8) if you play at night!
Esplanade Park is the oldest green space in the city and a lovely place for a stroll en route to Theatres on the Bay – an outdoor concert complex on the north of the river. If you’re in town at the weekend, take in a free outdoor concert overlooking the harbour. Who’s to say what the music will be – it could be anything from Chinese opera to punk or RnB. Take a ride in The Singapore Flyer, the world’s largest big wheel. This bad boy is 150m wide and 165m tall (30m taller than the London Eye), and offers spectac
Popular views of the city’s famous sights, including Marina Bay and the Singapore River. A spin in the wheel will set you back $33 (£19).
Marina Bay, :@wel_shy
What to do in Chinatown
Visit the Chinatown Heritage Centre to learn about the early days of Singapore and to see for yourself what it looked like via their recreated street scenes and houses. There are a couple of incredible temples to explore for some serenity amongst the madness. The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum is a special place. Don’t miss the orchid-garden or the Ten Thousand Buddhas Pagoda up on the rooftop. Additionally, Sri Mariamman Temple is Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple and features hundreds of beautiful sculptures depicting mythological Hindu figures.
From Chinatown it’s easy to get to Sentosa Island, where you’ll forget what boredom is! Catch a train from Harbourfront MRT station or hop on the cable car from Singapore Cable Car Station at the top of Harbourfront Tower II. It costs $29 (£16.50) for adults and operates between 8:45am and 10pm. If possible, it’s best to experience Sentosa during the week when queues will be considerably shorter. Once on the island there are a couple of activities you can enjoy for free. Namely, sunning yourself on its golden sand beaches – Palawan, Siloso and Tanjong, or walking the nature trail. If you have a little cash to splash, visit the Aquarium ($40/£22) or Universal Studios ($79/ £45) for movie-related fun and games. There are 28 different rides, including the pièce de résistance – Battlestar Galactica, the world’s tallest duelling rollercoaster – which basically means two rollercoasters rolled into one. Adventure Cove Water Park ($38/£22) is another winner for defeating Si
Singapore’s humidity. Float around on the lazy river, brave the high-speed water slides, or snorkel on a real reef which is home to more than 20,000 tropical fish.
Many of the city’s most interesting districts are housed in public housing estates, including Everton Park, which is close to Chinatown and is earning itself hipster-points left, right and centre. Nylon Coffee Roasters or Just Want Coffee should be your ports of call for caffeine and Little Oasis is a tucked away gem known for its (healthy-ish) cakes, all-day breakfast and hearty lunches, all made with fresh, natural ingredients. Definitely pop in to Ji Xiang Confectionery – specialists in Chinese pastry. Ang ku kuehs (red tortoise cake) is the thing to try, and the head baker is something of a celebrity.
Best hostels in Chinatown
Most of Singapore’s hostels are located in Chinatown, so you will be able to find somewhere to suit your specific tastes. If you’re looking to party, The Bohemian is a sociable option close to all the nightlife action and tasty delights of Chinatown. Clarke Quay, Boat Quay and Marina Bay Sands are all within walking distance. Cube Hostel gives boutique vibes, just without the price tag, and there’s even a bar downstairs where you can meet fellow travellers. Adler Hostel and Coffee Bar is Singapore’s very first luxury hostel and it’s a favourite with couples and solo travellers. Beary Best! Hostel is housed in an art deco heritage building right opposite Chinatown MRT station. It’s a laid-back hostel with a spacious outdoor patio and space to store your bike. If you’re in Singapore to work on your start-up, Tribe Theory is an exciting place to stay where you can mingle with travellers with similar business aspirations.
What to do in Kampong Glam
By day, Haji Lane and Bali Lane are a shoppers paradise, particularly if you’re in the market for something different from the pricey designer threads you find at Orchard Mall, The Shoppes or VivoCity. Have a mooch and see what colourful shop fronts take your fancy. Haji Lane is home to independent boutiques selling handmade jewellery, homewares and clothing, and those seeking vintage finds will love Modparade and Grammah. For something a little different, have your tarot read or a variety of spiritual healings at Life By Design, or if you’ve been thinking of getting inked, Visual Orgasm is one of the best tattoo parlours in the city – but book your appointment in advance.
For a dose of culture, download a free Kampong Glam Heritage Walking Tour map or app and take your own tour of the streets of Singapore’s Malay-Arab district. Kick things off at the Malay Heritage Centre ($6/£3.40), housed inside the 19th century residence of Malay royalty. Check out the Yellow Mansion, Pondok Java, the Alsagoff Arab School and the Masjid Sultan Mosque, an impressive building dating back to 1824.
Come night time, this corner of town comes alive. Check out Bar Stories to get your fancy custom-cocktail itch scratched. The bar has no menu, simply tell the bartender what you’re in the mood for and they will whip you up something special. If that all sounds a little too fancy, head to Goodluck Beerhouse for a fine collection of local and international craft beers. Maison Ikkoku is a fancy rooftop bar ideal for one special drink and BluJaz Café is a great choice for live music. As well as jazz, they host big parties blasting hip hop, drum and bass and reggaetón. Or, for something more sedate, pull up a bean bag and sip a glass of wine at The Projector, an art house cinema on the fifth floor of the Golden Mile Tower Complex. They have screenings of classics like Apocalypse Now and The Shining, plus more modern hits like Stranger Things. Get there early to secure one of their sofas or bean bags.
Haji Lane, :@bnaignacio
Best hostels in Kampong Glam
There are not tons of hostels around this neighbourhood, but there are a couple of winners, particularly if you can’t get enough of Singapore’s signature capsule hostels. Beary Best’s outlet in Kampong Glam has a roof terrace with some sensational views of the city, including the golden domes of Musjid Sultan Mosque. Cube Boutique Capsule Hostel is another perfect choice for those wanting to get a healthy amount of shut eye, as is The Pod Boutique Capsule Hostel, which is the right side of the neighbourhood for the CBD and offers a complimentary hot buffet breakfast – yes please!
What to do in Tiong Bahru
Hire a vintage bike from Plain Vanilla (and stock up on their pastries while you’re at it) and cruise around the neighbourhood, or explore on foot by following the Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail. Appreciate the art deco architecture, visit the World War II bomb shelter, and hunt for murals – the best of which were painted by local artist, Yip Yew Chong, depicting the district in days gone by.
Tiong Bahru is home to heaps of independent businesses. Show them some love when you’re in town and hopefully no big chains will move in and spoil the vibe any time soon. Music lovers should check out the vinyl in Curated Records, fashion-lovers head to Nana and Bird and The Slowhouse, and vintage fans should cruise by Dustbunny. Tiong Bahru is also famous for Books Actually, a gorgeous independent book store and publishing press that highlights Singaporean writers and poets. If you’re lucky, you might get to meet their resident cats. The onsite café, Forty Hands, is a top place to get your morning fuel and offers a healthy menu, perfect for vegans and veggies. Next door is Woods in the Books, a picture-book and graphic novel heaven. Wander down to the Singapore river area, where you’ll find second-hand stores, antique shops and flea markets.
One great (and totally bonkers) attraction that you can easily reach from Tiong Bahru is Haw Paw Villa – a 8.2-hectare outdoor art park created by Tiger Balm founder, Aw Boon Haw. The park is home to over 1,000 dioramas and sculptures that communicate traditional Chinese moral values…some are pretty disturbing! Granted, it is weird as hell, especially the performances that take place which you might be roped in to joining in with, but it’ll be a fun day out.
Tiong Bahru also has some great bars, which are perfect if you’re seeking out more of a local scene and have little interest in the packed bars and clubs found at Clarke Quay and Club Street. Coq & Balls (LOL) is a banging neighbourhood bar that’s good for watching sport and partying the night away with an international crowd. Canjob Taproom and Thirsty’s are nice choices for beer and ale aficionados. Enjoy some rooftop action at Lin Bar, home to cocktails and delicious bar snacks. Lee Tai Fu has a breezy beer garden perfect for balmy evenings. Backstage Bar and Tantric are all about the drink deals and dancing the night away.
Best hostels in Tiong Bahru
In keeping with the stylish vibe of the neighbourhood, Thad’s Boutique Hostel has been designed by the artistic minds of award-winning design firm, Ministry of Design. As well as being close to all the Tiong Bahru action, the hostel is a ten-minute cab ride to both Chinatown and Orchard Road. To get a glimpse of what it might have been like to live in this housing development back in the day, set up shop at Golden Hostel, a peaceful, leafy hostel which is a popular choice with couples and older solo travellers. For you bargain hunters, Happy Snail Hostel is a great choice, given their free Wi-Fi, walking tours and 24-hour free breakfast, featuring the holy duo of hostel breakfasts – peanut butter and Nutella.
Things to do in Jalan Besar
Little India’s vibrant streets definitely warrant a little exploration and are home to a number of remarkable temples and mosques, plenty of restaurants, flower shops, murals and intricately-painted shophouses on Dunlop Road and Petain Road. Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple, and incredible Taoist Leong San See Temple are just across the street from each other. Take in the sights of Serangoon Road, Little India’s main drag. Check out Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, Little India’s main Hindu temple, Abdul Gafoor Mosque and Tan Teng Niah, Little India’s last surviving Chinese villa, found on Kerbau Road.
Singapore can get hot, hot, hot, so if you’re badly in need of full body submersion in cold water, head to the swimming pool attached to Jalan Besar Stadium, where you can enjoy a dip for $1.30 (75p). The perfect antidote to a day of stomping the city’s humid streets (and spicy Indian food!) Jalan Basar is also a great place to hop on a bike tour, or a tour of the city’s culinary scene with Wok n’ Stroll. Artify is a fun venue, hosting art and craft classes – and yes, you can bring your own booze!
Little India, :@charlpost
Best hostels in Jalan Besar
Rucksack Inn is a popular choice for its free brekkie, air-conditioning, rooftop terrace and bar, which guarantees social vibes. Dream Lodge chose its name well. Housed in a 1950s shop house, the hostel is perfectly located for all Singapore has to offer. This area is particularly popular with backpackers, so you’ll be sure to meet someone to sink a few beers with. Footprints is another cute option, offering beds for just $12.10 (£6.90) to the first ten people to book a bed each day.
We hope this insider’s Singapore neighbourhood guide helps you to discover the dream hangout for your trip or stopover in the city. Let us know in the comments if you’ve stayed in one of our recommended neighbourhoods, or if you’d like to share a neighbourhood we haven’t mentioned that you think your fellow backpackers would love. Enjoy Singapore!