We get these questions all the time. You’re on a weekend stopover in Singapore and you don’t want to just spend your time around the beautiful city skyline surrounding the Marina Bay Sands – the highlight of every tourist postcard image of Singapore. You want something just a little different; an authentic, local experience perhaps. You are curious to know more about the history and culture of this tiny country. How do the locals really live? What do they do?
To provide some answers to your questions, we’ve curated a 3-day itinerary which covers the major attractions plus some local extras just for you.
DAY 1: A quick introduction…
Morning: Have a walk through the Civic District
To appreciate the present, you have to understand the history of the place. Have a nice walk through the Civic district along the Singapore River. Of course, there is the usual sights – the Merlion, the many art sculptures that adorn the river, the statue of the British gentleman who founded Singapore (did someone say Raffles?), but veer off the usual path and check the following out:
Yueh Hai Ching Temple: This is Singapore’s own temple of love, where men and women come to seek divine favour by tying a red string at the Yue Lao (Chinese god of marriage). Way before it was known as the “love temple”, it was a place where people visited to give thanks for safe sea journeys. Don’t forget to admire the roof which is decorated with ceramic figurines that depict Chinese legends. And oh, did we mention it is also the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage award winner?
Tan Hock Seng Bakery: This traditional confectionary is almost an anomality in the Central Business District with its modern cafes and bistros, churning out old school cakes and confectionary items
The Quadrant: Originally built as the headquarters for a Chinese bank, this is also one of the last few original Art Deco structures in Singapore’s Central Business District. Check out one of the oldest and one of the few original collapsible iron-gate traction lift remaining in Singapore.
Lunch in Raffles Place
Thin Hoon Kee – Hidden gem and authentic Southern Chinese cuisine. Try some of their signature dishes like oyster egg omelette, claypot tofu and prawn rolls
Green Dot (V) – Vegetarian Asian Bentos
Afternoon: Visit one of the amazing museums of the city
We hear you, afternoons in Singapore can be hot! Isn’t air conditioning one of the greatest invention ever? We suggest visiting one of the many splendid museums in Singapore. And if we really had to pick one, we will suggest visiting the National Gallery. It’s one huuuge collection of Singapore and South East Asian Art. Take our tip and sign up for one of the many free guided tours given by the volunteer docents in the gallery. If you are feeling peckish in the afternoon, we recommend you stop by National Kitchen for some Peranakan (fusion Chinese-Malay) high tea.
Evening: Ethnic enclave cultural walk
There’s no better way to learn more about the culture of the community than to immerse yourself fully in it.
Option (1): Explore Kampong Glam, one of the city’s oldest urban quarters which today has evolved to an eclectic blend of history, culture and a super-trendy lifestyle scene. Take in the street art, admire the Sultan Mosque and the former Royal Palace and have a drink (or 2) at the many watering holes.
Option (2): Explore the vibrant district of Little India and see Hindu temples, spice shops and more. Don’t leave without checking out Mustafas (24 hour mall where you can get practically anything).
Dinner in Kampong Glam/Little India:
Pro tip: If you are want to visit the neighbourhood at its liveliest, we recommend visiting on a Sunday when Singapore’s migrant workforce have their rest day and head to Little India to shop, eat, socialize.
DAY 2: Deep dive into the sights, colours and culture
Morning: Have a foodie adventure in the ethnic districts
Eating is the national past-time and there is no better way to start your culinary adventure of the Singapore then by diving straight to the secrets behind Singapore’s most popular multi-ethnic cuisines. No fancy restaurants and Michelin Star specialties – just intimate dessert stalls and humble street hawkers that will give you a taste of the ubiquitous hawker culture in Singapore!
Lunch in Chinatown (if you still need food!):
8 Treasures/Well-dressed salad bar (V): Local Chinese vegetarian restaurant with salad bar & wraps on ground level
Popo & Nana: Homely Peranakan & Eurasian food in a hawker centre
Afternoon: Indulge within the domes at the Gardens by the Bay
There is nothing like the Gardens by the Bay, a green oasis in the heart of Singapore. There, amidst the supertrees and the Cloud Forest and Flower domes, you would think you would like stepped into the movie set of Avatar. Have an early dinner or snack a bit at the dining options offered at the Gardens by the Bay because you will not have food until you finish watching the light shows at the Gardens and/or the Marina Bay Sands.
Evening: Light Show
The light show at the Gardens by the Bay takes place daily at 7:45pm/8:45pm daily. The MBS light show take place daily at 8pm & 9pm daily (additional show at 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays). We recommend watching the 7:45pm light show (GBTB), then taking a light 1/2hr stroll to MBS for the 9pm show.
Dinner/Supper a la alfresco
Makansutra Gluttons Bay: There’s no lack of world-class dining at the Marina Bay Sands but consider crossing the Helix pedestrian bridge to an al fresco food . We recommend trying out Meatsmith Western BBQ – offshoot of a Michelin starred modern Australian restaurant Burnt Ends.
DAY 3: Do what the locals do
Okay, so this is your third and final day, which probably means you are now a little more adjusted to the humidity of this tropical island. If you’re a nature lover, you’d be delighted to know that there are plenty of green spaces in Singapore. One of the more well-known spots of nature would be the Singapore Botanical Gardens, a UNESCO heritage site. But we thought we introduce you to some other places on this island.
Morning: Adventuring at Coney Island
Northwest of Singapore, Coney Island is one “offshore” island that is big in flora and fauna. Take the subway to ‘Punggol’ and head to the bus interchange (via exit C). Take Bus 84 and alight at Punggol Road End. From there, you can walk to Punggol Settlement, which houses rows of restaurants, convenience stores and bicycle rental shops. There’s lots to do here:
- Ride a horse at the Punggol Stables for $10
- Spend some time sea-gazing along the boardwalks of Punggol Beach
- Instagram your memories with your smartphone at photogenic spots (Coney Island entrance, bird shelters, Punggol Beach)
- Hop on a bike and cycle through the lush, expansive flora and fauna of Coney Island.
- Admire the wildlife (birds, turtles, horses, etc.) Perhaps you’ll have a random encounter with a wild boar or a monitor lizard.
Sembawang White Bee Hoon: Famous local eatery specializing in rice vermicelli braised in seafood stock
Afternoon: Live like a local
If you consider yourself a traveler but not as a tourist, you will like a walkthrough of the heartlands. More than 80% of Singapore’s population lives in public housing, or more locally known as “HDB (Housing and Development Board) flats”. Discover what really goes on in these towering residential estates that you see all around you – including the policies that go behind them. Walk away with insights into how not crazy, not rich Asians really live.
Option (2): Shop like a local
There is nothing more local than to spend time at one the many malls in Singapore. And there is nowhere better than to visit Design Orchard, a brand-new retail space featuring over 60 local designers.
Pro-tip: For a panoramic view of the Orchard skyline, head on the 50th floor of the ION mall. The ION Sky viewing deck for one of the best viewing vantage points in Singapore. An admission ticket can be redeemed upon a $20 spend (in 1 receipt) in the mall.
Dinner: Chilli Crabbing
We cap off this Singapore visit with its very own national seafood dish.
Momma Kongs : Small, intimate modern restaurant with a focus on fresh ingredients and no added MSG. Reservations essential.
KEK : Popular local no-frills eatery specialising in seafood and stir fries. Featured on Netflix!
Fun fact #1:
Despite its name, chilli crab is only mildly spicy with its sweet yet savory tomato base sauce.
Fun fact #2:
It’s not something locals eat on a regular basis, but you can’t say you visited Singapore without trying this dish!
These are 3 days of Singaporean fun that you can add to your itinerary if you’re planning to have a visit to Singapore. There’s much to do and see in the Lion City than just the typical sights. Try your hand at this itinerary and walk away with completely new perspectives on the country!