10 Unforgettable Singapore Experiences

Singapore may be compact but it packs a potent dose in terms of unique experiences you won’t find anywhere else. The city may have a reputation for being clean and orderly, but that would be too dismissive a tag what is a joyful, disorderly mix of cultures, cuisines and the old and young.

Singaporeans like to call our culture “rojak”, referring to the popular street dish of ingredients thrown together, seemingly at random, but tasting amazing together.

And so, here’s a “rojak” mix of Singapore experiences you should take the liberty of mixing and matching as you like.

1. Catch A Panoramic City View

Marina Bay Sands Skypark - Panoramic View of Singapore City Skyline

Evening Splendor – Captivating panoramic view of Marina Bay and city center from Sands Skypark observation deck, all at more than 650ft above ground. [photo: flickr/melvdesigns]

As a dense, high-rise city with a striking city skyline, Singapore offers gorgeous city views if you can get to a great viewing point. Fortunately, there are plenty of places you can visit to enjoy panoramic views and wonderful photo opportunities.

Two popular places to view the Singapore skyline from high up are the Singapore Flyer and the Marina Bay Sands Hotel Skypark. The Singapore Flyer is a huge Ferris-wheel like the London Eye, in which you turn a rotation in glass-encased capsules. Not only will you get great view, it will get your heart pumping as you realize you’re 541 feet off the ground.

If you prefer to keep your feet steady, take the elevator up to the Skypark on top of the iconic Marina Bay Sands hotel. Here you get to walk around the observation deck and enjoy an almost 360 degree view of the city in the open-air.

The Singapore Flyer costs S$33 for adults and S$21 for children and runs daily from 8.30am to 10.30pm. The Sands SkyPark is open from 9.30am to 10pm (11pm on Fri-Sun) and cost S$20 for adults and S$14 for children.

2. Singapore F1 Grand Prix Night Race

Singapore F1 Grand Prix - Illuminated Race Track Aerial View

The Marina Bay Street Racing Circuit with the gigantic Singapore Flyer, waterfront promenade and modern high-rise buildings providing the perfect backdrop for the world’s first F1 night race.

It happens only once a year, but if you can make it here to the Singapore F1 Grand Prix in September, it is guaranteed to be an experience you’ll never forget. Being the only night race in the F1 World Championship, the world’s best drivers gather here, followed by celebrities and entertainers, and it’s a party atmosphere for the entire week before and after the race.

The street circuit is located right downtown in Singapore’s Marina Bay area, and is simply spectacular to see when it’s lit up against the city lights. If you can’t make it here in September but are a racing fan, you can still enjoy a spin of your own around the Marina Bay street circuit in a taxi. Just remember that traffic rules apply.

Do bear in mind during this period of the year, hotel rates will shoot through the roof. For cheaper accommodation, check out these budget hotels near Singapore F1 circuit.

3. Feast On Hawker Food

Singapore Hainanese Chicken Rice

The most famous local dish – Chicken Rice.

Eating is Singaporean’s major past-time and it’s not hard to realize why when you discover what a staggering variety of local dishes there are here.

Starting out as cheap hawker food sold from street stalls, Singapore unique cuisine is born out of the fusion between Chinese, Indian, Malay and Western food as well as other South-East Asian flavors.

You can’t have really experienced Singapore until you’ve experienced eating some of the famous dishes like Chicken Rice, Roti Prata (Indian pancake) and Laksa (spicy Peranakan curry noodle soup).

If you have a strong stomach, try the famous “King of Fruits”, the durian, or a nice bowl of intestines, “Kway Chap”. For the feisty dare-devils, test your limits with these Fear Factor Foods that are uniquely Singaporean.

4. Shopping Along Orchard Road

Singaporean’s other pastime is endless consumerism, and who can blame us when you have a 2-kilometer long shopping belt filled over over 5,000 stores? The world-famous Orchard Road will have you literally shopping till you drop if you visit every single mall along this notoriously addictive tree-line promenade.

Orchard Road has some gorgeous new malls that are worth visiting just to be wowed by their innovative architecture and visual displays. Top on this list is ION Orchard, with its illuminated facade and animated walkways. Other new malls you should check out are Knightsbridge, 313@Somerset and Orchard Central.

Don’t worry if you get tired as there’s a plethora of cafes and restaurants where you can rest your feet over a nice meal. If you’re here near Christmas, you’ll get the extra treat of enjoying the stunning Christmas lights that deck the entire street all month.

MRT stations serving whole stretch of Orchard Road are Orchard (NS22), Somerset (NS23) and Dhoby Ghaut (NS24/NE6/CC1). By the way, smart shopaholics have been taking advantage of these convenient and cheap hotels near Orchard Road to squeeze out more budget for shopping.

5. Follow the Lady River of Singapore

Singapore River Cruise

Happy tourists enjoying a relaxing bumboat cruise along the Singapore River. Get ready to be enchanted by quaint over-hanging bridges, colonial buildings and the famous water-sprouting Merlion. [photo: flickr/chooyutshing]

The Singapore River was the life spring of the fledgling British colony founded by Sir Stamford Raffles of the East India Company. Bum boats transported goods from the harbor to the warehouses along the river’s edge, and immigrants from all over Asia lived along the river. Today, after a big clean up, the Singapore River is a clean, tranquil river that flows through the heart of the city.

While you can stroll along the riverside promenade from Raffles Place MRT Station (NS26/EW14) all the way to Clarke Quay (NE5) for a lovely walk, the nicest way to experience the river is to take a river cruise on one of the cheerfully-restored old bumboats. In the evening, it is a treat to see all the old buildings lit up against the bold lights of Singapore’s skyscrapers.

One good way to enjoy the splendor of Singapore River is to stay at the economical Robertson Quay Hotel which is right on the river bank.

Bumboat River Tours cost S$18 for an hour’s cruise. You can board the river cruise either from Raffles Landing Site, Boat Quay or Clarke Quay. The last boat ride leaves at 10.30pm.

6. Exploring Religious Diversity

Religious Diversity - Temples and Mosques in Chinatown

Only in Chinatown of Singapore that you find an unique juxtaposition-combo of Chinese and Hindu temples and Muslim mosque against tall apartments and modern office buildings. [photos:  flickr/alantankenghote, kyeniz, Andrea Schaffer, chooyutshing]

One of Singapore’s unique strengths is its cultural diversity and religious harmony. Nowhere is this more clearly seen here than how temples, mosques and churches co-exist literally side by side, thriving without conflict.

For one of the best routes, head to Pagoda Street in Chinatown where you will find the most beautiful Hindu temple in Singapore, the Sri Mariamman Temple. It is one of the most important Hindu temples here and features a spectacular Dravidian-style pagoda covered with carved figurines of Indian deities.

On the other side, you’ll find Masjid Jamae, a mosque built by early Indian-Muslim settlers. While this mosque is not as flashy as the nearby temple, it has its own strong presence and history.

Next, head down South Bridge Road and you’ll discover a splendid temple, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum. Built as a shrine to the legendary tooth relic of Buddha, devotees spared no expense in constructing the most impressive temple they could. Here, you’ll be dazzled by the rich gold and red colors, the huge prayer halls and the giant Tibetan prayer wheel on the roof.

Chinatown MRT Station (NE4) takes you to the heart of Chinatown, just directly opposite Pagoda Street. Also, cheap hotels in Chinatown are aplenty for budget-minded travelers looking for convenient and cheap accommodation.

7. Step Back into Colonial Charm

Raffles Hotel Singapore

The old-world and colonial-style Raffles Hotel is still a majestic sight to behold even in the ultra-modern Singapore. This is also the place where the famous Singapore Sling was invented. [photo:  flickr/Bryn Pinzgauer]

Singapore may be a modern city now, but it still retain vestiges of its colonial past, and a certain charm about the old-world luxury once enjoyed by the wealthy. If you’re a fan of 1920s and 30s glamor, you certainly must visit Raffles Hotel, Singapore’s most iconic hotel and one of the world’s top luxury hotels.

While staying here is out of the budget of most mortals, dining here is not. The Tiffin Room and Billiard Room offer buffets in elegant, wood-paneled rooms that will transport you to the past, while a Singapore Sling at the Long Bar is an eccentric experience that encourages you to toss peanut shells on the floor.

For the mere mortals, grandeur of Raffles Hotel is still within easy reach with these budget hotels near Bugis that are just a stone throw away.

Other places to enjoy colonial splendor is the Fullerton Hotel, City Hall near the Padang and the lovely Arts House, the former parliament house now transformed into a center for literary arts.

8. Bask In Orchids At The Botanic Gardens

Vanda Miss Joaquim - Orchid Flower

Vanda Miss Joaquim – a hybrid orchid flower bred by Agnes Joaquim and conferred as Singapore’s national flower. [photo: flickr/awee_19]

Did you know that Singapore is one of the largest supplier of orchids in the world?

You may associate orchids with being expensive, exotic flowers only seen and bought for special occasions. But in Singapore, orchids are indigenous and can be found flourishing in many ordinary homes. If you love this flower, come to the Botanic Gardens, where you can surround yourself in possibly the largest Orchid garden in the world.

While you’re here, look out for the Vanda “Miss Joaquim” which is Singapore’s national flower.

Admission is free to the Singapore Botanic Gardens and it is reachable from Botanic Gardens MRT Station (CC19), or by buses 7, 105 and 174 from Orchard Road.

9. ZoukOut with Sasha and Armin Van Buuren

Zoukout Dance Festival

ZoukOut – annual mega-dance musical festival organized by Zouk Club. Famous DJs that have performed include Sasha, Armin Van Buuren, Paul Van Dyk, Tiesto, Jazzy Jeff, etc.

Once you’ve been to Zouk, you’ll never think of Singaporeans as staid again. This institution of Singapore’s night scene is one of oldest clubs in Singapore, and one of the best clubs in the world. Meaning “party” in Creole, Zouk was named as the 10th best club in the world by DJ Magazine in 2006, 2007 and 2010.

This night club is built out of three converted warehouses along the Singapore river, and form three separate clubs, Zouk, Velvet Underground and Phuture. If you are able to be here in December, look out for ZoukOut, its annual beach party which attracts over 20,000 revelers each year of a night of music, dance and plenty of foam.

Zouk is located at 17 Jiak Kim Street. To get there, taxi is best, but you can also take bus 16 or 175 from Orchard Road.

10. Visit Singapore’s Last Kampong

Pulau Ubin Kampung Houses

This is Pulau Ubin island, the Singapore of 40 years ago. Bicycle rental shops and coffee-shops operating out of kampong-style houses with distinct zinc attap roofs. Easiest way to tour this rustic island is on rented bikes. [photo: flickr/coolinsights]

Lastly, for a totally different experience to your urban adventure, take a bumboat ride to Pulau Ubin, home to Singapore’s last remaining village, or kampong.

On this island, you can see life as it used to be for most people in Singapore before its rapid development in the 1960s. The pace is laid-back here, and affords a relaxing break. While cycling or walking through the forests, you are likely to see many wild animals like boars and monkeys.

If you love nature or bird-watching, make sure you visit the stunning and unique Chek Jawa on Ubin island. This beautiful wetlands reserve has been protected because of its unique 7 eco-systems that range from coral habitats to mangroves and jungle. This is a favorite resting place for migratory birds from all over the world, and you’ll be able to spot them from the well-designed chain of boardwalks and towers connecting parts of the park.

Nature lovers can also enjoy an idyllic and relaxing stay on the island at the Celestial Resort Pulau Ubin. Alternatively, you can stay at the mainland Changi Village Hotel that is just next to the ferry terminal.

To get to Pulau Ubin, take the MRT train to Tanah Merah Station (EW4) and catch Bus No. 2 to Changi Village Bus Terminal which is beside the ferry terminal. The bumboat ride is only S$2.50 and operates daily from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

You can also read on 37 Free Things to Do in Singapore