Singapore Travel Guide for First Time Visitors

Travel

So you’ve got Singapore on your travel radar (after seeing those futuristic Supertrees all over Instagram)…but need a little help deciding how long to visit or what to do when you get there. Use this Singapore travel guide to help you navigate all the best things to do, food to try, and where to stay as a first time visitor.

This vibrant country can be explored within just a few days, allowing you to see all the “good stuff” without breaking the bank (Singapore is one of the more expensive countries in Southeast Asia).

marina bay sands
Marina Bay, Singapore

Things to Do in Singapore

Although Singapore is known for being a little pricey, there are plenty of FREE things to do. Check out the following landmarks to get the Singapore experience on a budget for your first time visit.

Marina Bay

Marina Bay Sands is the massive structure that many people associate with Singapore—it wasn’t until I was standing right underneath it that I realized how ginormous and intricate this thing actually is.

Planning a visit to this landmark also comes with a variety of sightseeing things around the Marina Bay.

I was able to catch the FREE water and light show—”Spectra”—twice during my trip, from both sides of the bay. The show runs weekly at 8pm/9pm and on the weekends at 8pm/9pm/10pm.

Merlion Park is also located at the Marina Bay, with a giant fountain statue of a Merlion, Singapore’s “mascot”. It’s a great place to capture pictures both day and night.

You can also ride a ferry around on the bay or take a ride on the giant Ferris wheel that overlooks the city and the ocean.

spectra light show singapore
“Spectra” Light Show, Marina Bay

Gardens by the Bay

Gardens by the Bay is home to those giant Supertrees that you see in pictures all over Instagram. Having to witness them myself, I spent the late afternoon walking around Gardens by the Bay, making my way to Supertree Grove.

This man-made structured garden puts a contemporary twist on nature’s beauty. I was so captivated by the height, color, and intricate design of the supertrees and the Skywalk that trailed high up above, though I kept my views from the ground for this trip.

Every night, Supertree Grove comes to life with a FREE light and sound show at 7:45pm/8:45pm. Following the other tourists who were camped out waiting for the show, I set my tapestry out and laid down on the ground to catch the most spectacular worms-eye view of the extravaganza—which was Christmas themed due to the timing of my trip.

During my visit, Dragonfly Lake was also filled with an interactive digital art exhibition of 334 life-size floating eggs. In the evening, these eggs went from white to multi-color and emitted a peaceful tune as the colors changed along the glassy lake. This was another great spot to sit down and take in the unbelievable colors and sounds that fill the Gardens by the Bay.

FREE admission: Art Sculptures, Far Eat Organization Children’s Garden, Heritage Gardens, Serene Garden, Supertree Grove, Sun Pavilion.

Charged admission: Floral Fantasy, Flower Dome, Supertree Observatory & OCBC Skyway

gardens by the bay
Dragonfly Lake, Gardens by the Bay
supertree grove singapore
Supertree Grove, Gardens by the Bay

Sentosa Island

As if Singapore wasn’t already futuristic enough, Sentosa Island really makes you feel like you’re in another far-out world. Connected to Singapore by an ocean boardwalk, Sentosa island can be reached by foot, MRT, or cable car.

Once you’re on the island, you can check out Universal Studios, Adventure Cove Waterpark, Butterfly Park & Insect Kingdom, Serapong Golf Course, or KidZania. There are also some beaches—Tanjong, Palawan, and Siloso—that you can chill out at; as well as resort-style accommodation all over the island.

Being a budget traveler, I chose to just spend the day exploring the island and awing at its features.

There’s a FREE tram that will take you around different parts of the island, as well as FREE buses. I used both modes of transportation to get to Fort Siloso.

Fort Siloso is an old fort with a Skywalk that gives you a birds-eye view of Sentosa Island and the Singapore skyline. I walked high above the mini forest that the Skywalk runs over, then hiked through the trails of Fort Siloso when I was finished. I also relaxed on Siloso Beach for a while as it was in the same area.

Sentosa Island is home to the huge Malaysian Street Food Center where I got my first claypot chicken rice. I swear I would revisit this island just for that dish!

fort siloso skywalk
Skywalk, Fort Siloso

Chinatown & Little India

When it comes to culture, Singapore doesn’t seem to be deeply rooted at first—until you take a trip through Chinatown and Little India.

My accommodation was in Chinatown (7 Wonders Hostel), so I got quite familiar with this area in the 2 days I stayed there.

Aside from the loads of Chinese restaurants, there are also many Chinese shops that have traditional architecture which contrast the modern high rises that dominate the downtown area. Chinatown is quiet, and a nice area to soak in some culture away from the bustling modernity of Singapore.

I explored Little India on my way to the bus stop heading to Malaysia. Little India is full of Hindu temples, original Hawker centers, and tons of Indian people (it literally felt like I was transported to India). When I was there, there was a huge blessing taking place at one of the Hindu temples and Indian people filled the streets with the fresh markings of “Kumkum powder” between their eyes—it was so fascinating to witness.

I filled up on Indian sweets that are sold at the Little India Bazaar—my first-time trying Barfi, Kaju Katli, Kalakand, and Kadoo—super sweet but super yummy, for 5 SGD ($3 USD)!

little india singapore
Little India Bazaar, Singapore
little india singapore
Little India, Singapore

Shopping

Singapore is a shopper’s paradise. I have never seen SO many malls in one city. There’s literally one, if not two, on every street.

It was the first time I’d seen Western stores—Victoria Secret, Forever 21—in months. There’s also a heap of high-end shops like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, etc., scattered all around the city.

These shopping centers have multiple levels, hundreds of stores, and each has its own food court with options from Western to Asian cuisines.

I remember being shocked seeing police casually standing outside one of these malls with an assault rifle…I guess Singapore does not get down with shoplifting!

Recommended shopping center: Clarke Quay

clark quay singapore
Clarke Quay, Singapore

What to Eat in Singapore

Restaurants serving Asian, Indian, and Western cuisine are scattered all throughout Singapore, but if you’re looking to save a little money, Hawker Centers are the way to go. Check out the following restaurants to find savory and sweet treats during your first time in Singapore.

Hawker Centers

Scattered all around the city, you will find a plethora of outdoor dining halls known as Hawker Centers. These are like the equivalent to markets in Southeast Asia—and the best place to find authentic food for a low cost.

Each Hawker Center has a mix of Chinese, Malaysian, Indian, and Thai cuisine. My obsession with Indian food led me to choose a stall called Punjabi Tandoor at a Hawker Center across from City Square Mall. I ordered my favorite—butter chicken—with garlic naan to soak up all the flavorful gravy. Comforting welcome meal that cost me 6.50 SGD ($5 USD).

hawker centers singapore
Butter Chicken and Garlic Naan
beach road scissor cut chicken
Scissor Cut Curry Rice

Beach Road Scissor Cut Curry Rice

Located right on the corner of the busy Jalan Besar and Kitchener Rd, Beach Road Scissor Cut Curry Rice is a popular place for locals and tourists alike.

This Hawker-style restaurant serves Asian-style curries and other authentic dishes. I went with the recommended “Scissor Cut Curry Rice”, and watched the man fill up my plate with rice, orange curry, chicken (that he literally cut with scissors), and a fried egg to top it off.

Such a filling, tasty dish (you really can’t go wrong with any type of curry) for only 2.70 SGD ($2 USD).

Huen Kee Claypot Chicken Rice

“Claypot Chicken Rice” is a must-try in Singapore, and this was by far the best meal I had in this city.

On Sentosa Island there’s a huge Hawker Center called Malaysian Street Food Center (despite the name, there’s a range of cuisines here, not just Malaysian food).

I passed by Huen Kee Claypot Chicken Rice stall and after seeing the dish on someone’s table, I knew that’s exactly what I wanted.

The meal is cooked in a claypot, giving the rice at the bottom a slight char that gives it a unique flavor I’ve never tasted before—topped with marinated chicken, Chinese sausage, and smothered in some mysterious delectable sauce.

It was still steaming when it came out; the claypot really keeps it warm as you work your way through this delicious, authentic dish. Well worth the 11 SGD ($8 USD) I spent on it.

claypot chicken rice singapore
Claypot Chicken Rice
china classic singapore
Roasted Duck Noodles and Siu Mai

China Classic

Cantonese cuisine is very popular in Singapore, and on a search for dim sum I came across China Classic in the Chinatown Point Mall. This is a traditional Chinese family-style restaurant with many family sized portions on their menu…but that didn’t stop me from indulging in one of these dishes on my own.

I ordered the “Siu Mai”, shrimp and pork dumplings which are my go-to dim sum pick. My main course was a large portion of the “Roasted Duck Noodles” stir-fried together which vegetables and spicy sauce. If you’ve never tried duck before, Chinese-prepared duck is definitely the way to go!

As this was a restaurant with family sized dishes, the price was a little higher than the street food I’d been eating—coming in at 22.50 SGD ($16 USD)—but it was well worth it. #treatyoself

Chulove Café

It’s not often you come across Churros in Southeast Asia, so Chulove Café caught my attention right away as I was passing through the VivoCity Mall on my way to Sentosa Island.

The display case features a variety of chocolate and white chocolate dipped churros, rolled in some delectable toppings like Oreos, nuts, and sprinkles.

I went for the “White Chocolate Almond Churro”.

Their slogan is “Love at First Bite”, and after my first bite, I couldn’t agree more with it. This churro had the perfect blend of sweet, crunchy, cinnamon-y goodness that I didn’t even know I was missing!

Price: 3 SGD ($2 USD)

chu love cafe singapore
White Chocolate Almond Churro, Chulove Café
venci singapore
Nocciola Gelato, Venchi

Venchi

Gelato is my weakness when I’m traveling, and this original Italian-style gelato shop caught my eye as I was passing through The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands.

The line was long, so I knew it was good.

I got a double scoop, dark chocolate dipped cone of “Nocciola” (hazelnut) and “Cuor Di Cacao” (dark chocolate). Rich flavor. Creamy texture. Glorious blend of bitter dark chocolate and nutty hazelnut. I was in heaven with this treat from Venchi.

Price: 10 SGD ($7 USD)

CoolMan Froyo

So I actually found CoolMan Froyo set up as a booth at an event near Marina Bay Sands on NYE, but later found out they do have an actual shop in town.

I immediately spotted a picture of their “Nutella Belgium Waffle” and I was sold.

This sweet treat was similar to an ice cream sandwich with the Belgium waffles as the bread, smothered in Nutella, with soft serve vanilla froyo in the middle, and topped with crunchy granola. O M G. So freaking good! If you’re going to indulge in a guilty pleasure—do it with this.

Price: 6.90 SGD ($5 USD)

coolman froyo singpaore
Nutella Belgium Waffle
mango lassi singapore
Mango Lassi

Shahi Kitchen

Walking through the hot inner-city of Singapore had me craving something cool to drink, and I stopped at Shahi Kitchen, a Hawker-style shop, when I saw their large menu of colorful drinks.

Having never tried “Mango Lassi” before (but hearing about it previously), this is what I chose to order.

Mango Lassi originates from India and is made with yogurt, milk, and mango pulp. This combination (with no added ice) gives it the absolute perfect texture. I sipped this delightful drink as I continued walking through the city and it didn’t once start melting or lose its thick, creamy texture.

Price: 3.50 SGD ($2.50 USD)

Where to Stay in Singapore

The accommodation in Singapore is mainly hotels and Airbnb, but there are still some hostels for those looking to meet other travelers and keep travel costs low.

7 Wonders Hostel

7 Wonders Hostel is not your typical backpackers’ hostel; in fact there were many older people and families staying there during my visit.

It’s not short of them though, as it is one of the cheapest accommodations in Singapore, and I met a few during the FREE breakfast they offer in the downstairs kitchen café.

There are still the traditional style bunks, lockers, and bathrooms that fit the hostel-vibe here, as well as a washer AND dryer (this was the first dryer I had used in the past eight months—they pretty much don’t exist in Thailand).

The staff is extremely accommodating and helped me understand the MRT system with the giant map painted on the wall in the hostel lobby. There are also plenty of free brochures that show the FREE things to do in the city, and a downstairs storage locker to hold your bags before/after you check out.

7 Wonders is conveniently located in Chinatown, close to downtown and Marina Bay.

Book a bunk at 7 Wonders Hostel with HostelWorld.

7 wonders hostel singapore
7 Wonders Hostel, Singapore

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