You could easily spend weeks in Singapore and still discover new things to see and do, that is if you can tear yourself away from spoiling yourself in any one of the luxury spas or world class restaurants, but if you only have a few days then you need to maximise your time and pick some of the many highlights the city has to offer. Using this handy three day guide will help you do just that!
Singapore is a small country that punches far beyond its weight class and belies its size and stature with a sheer smorgasbord of world class facilities and attractions for every age, interest and all levels of budget.
It isn’t a traditional backpacker destination and many travellers tend to bypass it on their way to Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, but that is a huge mistake.
Singapore has so much to offer the independent backpacker whether they are looking to upgrade to some flashpacker luxury for a while or are still trying to stick to that tight budget. It has world class attractions, some unique cultural and architectural gems and an ethnic and linguistic flair with influences from Malay, Chinese, Indian and Western influences and is a perfect blend of traditional and cosmopolitan, exotic and familiar. I absolutely love Singapore and in many respects consider it a second home, and despite the fact that I believe absolutely that Singapore is worth spending some time exploring and getting to know, it is also a country that is almost tailor made for a weekend city break or a few days layover. So if you do only have limited time in this amazing country, here are just some of my personal favourite highlights to make the perfect three day layover.
Wake up to a bit of manicured nature.
After an early morning traditional breakfast of Kaya toast and strong Kopi (coffee), head to the Chinese and Japanese gardens to give yourself a relaxing, easy introduction to the city among the early morning joggers, occasional Tai Chi practitioners and the odd gardener or two.
This vast open space is great for a stroll (or a jog if you are feeling energetic) and enjoy the serene surroundings. The stone bridges, open bodies of water, statues and pagodas all scream oriental indulgence and give you a subtle taste of the many Asian influences that make up Singapore. The bonsai garden is a personal favourite of mine and feeding the turtles at the live turtle and tortoise museum is always fun for those with kids! The early morning is the perfect time to explore this vast open space before it gets too hot, just make sure to take a decent water bottle with you, or even a picnic if you want to eat breakfast in the picturesque surroundings.
The Botanical Gardens.
Singapore isn’t called the garden city for nothing, and to continue with the outdoor theme it is well worth visiting these stunning grounds, especially the National Orchid Garden which has over 60, 000 species of plants and orchids and the Botanical Gardens Heritage Museum.
No visit to Singapore is complete without spending some time in Chinatown and this is where you should head to get a glimpse into Singapore’s Chinese history with an eclectic mix of traditional and modern. Just getting a glimpse of the photogenic shophouses gives you a taste of old world Singapore, but you should head to the Chinatown Heritage centre for a real glimpse of local Chinese culture.
Chinatown is also home to two of Singapore’s more impressive Bhuddist and Hindu temples which are an absolute must see when in this part of town. The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and the Sri Marianman Temple are minutes walking distance from each other and offer glimpses into how completely separate cultures and religions can live side by side, a metaphor for Singapore if ever there was one!
The market here is spread out over a few streets and is very touristy but still a hell of a lot of fun! You could easily pass an hour or so enjoying the cheesiness of the touristy souvenirs and looking into some of the more quirky places Singapore has to offer such as the Tin Tin shop or getting a relaxing foot massage. Don’t be nervous going up those flights of stairs! The signs are very clear and the foot rubs are worth it!
By now you’ll be getting pretty hungry too, and after spending some time browsing and shopping, you can head to the newly gentrified Smith Street food stalls, which aren’t as authentic as they used to be since their renovation at the start of 2014 but still offer up awesome local street food. Alternatively you can head to Maxwell Road Food Court (just over the road) which is hands down one of the absolute best hawker centres in Singapore, to get plate after plate of cheap but stunning local street food! (My advice, try the chicken rice!)
Gardens By The Bay.
The Gardens By The Bay are one of Singapore’s newer attractions but thanks to the distinctive super tree structures overlooking the Marina Bay it has quickly become a quintessential part of the Singapore experience.
Apart from being an awesome attraction and absolutely stunning structures, the Gardens By The Bay is also a showcase for eco technology and energy efficiency. Most of the attraction is absolutely free to enjoy, but there are minimal entrance fees for the flower dome and the cloud forest, but they are more than worth paying for. The cloud forest is easily the premier attraction, with a 35 metre tall cloud mountain and the world’s tallest indoor waterfall.
If you stay to enjoy the sunset the garden rhapsody signals the start of the nightly sound and light show which is absolutely stunning to watch and free too! All you have to do is find a nice spot to watch it from, which isn’t difficult in these surroundings! A taxi rank is right outside the exit and it won’t cost you all that much to get back to your hotel either with the relatively cheap meters (and surprisingly for SE Asia you won’t have to worry about the taxi mafia here either, it is non existent!)
Indulge in some Colonial elegance.
Even if you aren’t staying at the iconic Raffles hotel, you really have to visit here to sample one of Singapore’s most famous exports, the Singapore sling. Personally, I didn’t like the drink but I loved the experience! Surrounded by neo Renaissance architecture and the ghosts of some truly illustrious names including Rudyard Kipling and Somerset Maugham. Stop here for a quick drink and throw a few peanut shells on the floor, just to say you have been!
Get your shopping fix.
Shopping is one of Singapore’s national pastimes – alongside eating of course – and you can’t visit Singapore on a short layover without at least visiting one mall! The best thing is you are absolutely spoilt for choice in this shopping city whether you want high end luxury brands or designer chic, or cheap bargains and quirky outlet stores, with many malls connected to the excellent MRT system as well as interconnected by underground air conditioned citilink malls. Head over to Orchard road for some of Singapore’s more iconic malls such as Paragon, the Ion Orchard or Orchard Central. Don’t forget to stop regularly at the many food courts to replenish your energy and indulge in some amazing food!
Some of Singapore’s best malls aren’t all on Orchard Road though. Vivo City is an absolute must visit for any shopaholic before heading over to Suntec City for a nice mixture of brand names and unique indie shops. This mall is even linked to the exhibition hall and centre. After that head over to the unadulterated luxury of the Shoppes At Marina Bay Sands, one of the largest and most opulent malls in Singapore, you can even take a Sampan boat around the indoor canal! (No, that isn’t a typo or a joke, they really do have a canal and boats to take you from one part of the mall to the other!)
Visit the Merlion and admire the views.
After visiting the Marina Bay Sands, walk over to the Merlion park to see the iconic Merlion itself and the unmissable views over the expansive Marina Bay. The views here are absolutely amazing and take in some of the Singapore skylines most famous structures, you could easily spend an entire afternoon here just strolling around and taking them in either from land or one of the bumboat rides that take regular cruises around the bay.
Once you have enjoyed the views and seen the iconic landmarks, stay and enjoy the sunset over the bay and find a nice seat alongside one of the many bars and restaurants to wait for the twice nightly laser light show – Wonder Full – to start. It is a perfect way to end a day of sightseeing and shopping.
Go to Singapore Zoo!
This is one of the best zoos in the world without a doubt! Singapore zoo – locally known as Mandai zoo – can be rushed in half a day to include the new and disappointing River Safari attraction next door, but it is absolutely worth taking your time and spending most of the day here instead.
The zoo is unique in the fact that large parts of its enclosures are open plan, typifying the open zoo concept, and the focus on animal welfare and conservation efforts is clear.
Make sure you take plenty of rest shops and stay hydrated as you walk around, because the zoo is pretty large and Singapore gets hot! But the zoo is designed really well and set in the stunning rainforest setting around the upper Selatar reservoir and Mandai lake. If you can take a minute to tear yourself away from the animals themselves, the surroundings will blow you away just as much!
And stay for the Night Safari!
Located right next door to the Zoo itself is the attached Night Safari, another world class and world first attraction!
Get there before it opens if you have spent most of the day at the zoo and stop off at the attached Ulu Ulu safari restaurant – there are a few other dining options available, but this is the best in my opinion – and take your pick from the array of local dishes! It is a little expensive (it is a zoo restaurant after all) but the food is delicious!
Once you have replenished yourself with food and drink, enter the night safari as the sun sets and the dark sets in and see nocturnal animals in naturally built enclosures that closely resemble their natural environments. It really is an amazing experience just seeing these beautiful creatures at night.
It is best in my experience to take the walking trails first as everyone heads straight for the tram ride that goes around the park. So explore the different geographical zones on foot while most people are on the tram ride, then get the tram when everyone else hits the trails. That way you avoid the crowds and the queues.
And that ends a fantastic three day layover in this quite frankly almost perfect country! This is quite a packed itinerary so don’t feel pressured to try and do absolutely everything on this list. Singapore is a country that deserves a lot more than a three day layover however, and you can be sure that there will be more than enough to keep you occupied for many visits afterwards too!
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