The Best Things to Do in Singapore
At just 278 square miles, Singapore (aka Lion City) is tiny, but you’ll never run out of fun things to do. From the Singapore Zoo and its nocturnal animals to the spectacular Singapore Botanic Gardens and Gardens by the Bay, nature is always on show. But it’s well worth heading inside to the temples, churches, mosques, and museums to learn about the country’s diverse history.
18 Marina Gardens Dr, Singapore 018953
With its domed greenhouses of epic proportions dotted across some 100 hectares (250 acres), the sustainable Gardens by the Bay are educational and fun. The Cloud Forest is a misty, 42-meter-high (138-foot-high) “mountain” that re-creates tropical highlands; visitors use ramps to explore around and through them. A biosphere of Mediterranean and desert plants, including huge baobab trees, makes up the Flower Dome. Outdoors, guests walk on suspended walkways between steel-frame “Supertrees” that are covered in solar-powered lights.
E Coast Park Service Rd, Singapore 449876
East Coast Park is a wonderful stretch of seafront greenery containing plenty of trails where runners, walkers, cyclists, and in-line skaters can frolic in nature. There are shops where you can rent bikes and Rollerblades (just follow signs in the park), so come on down and join in the fun. If you’re feeling especially brave, try your hand at motorized wakeboarding—or just watch as a machine whips brave souls around the East Coast Lagoon (near the East Coast Seafood Centre) on a wire.
39 Armenian St, Singapore 179941
The Peranakan Museum houses an excellent collection of antiques, textiles, and artifacts over three floors in a beautiful heritage building that in and of itself is something to behold—it was constructed in 1912 as the Tao Nan School in an exciting mash-up of architectural styles. The exhibition space showcases treasures from Peranakan homes and daily life in 10 permanent galleries. Peranakan culture, which sprang up in Singapore and elsewhere in the former Straits Settlements when Chinese traders married into wealthy Malay families, gave rise to a unique cuisine, type of dress, and home decor that are still an important part of many Singapore families’ traditions today.
80 Mandai Lake Rd, Singapore 729826
Singapore Zoo has been recognized as a leader in creating naturalistic habitats since its opening in 1973, using concealed moats to separate animals from visitors and incorporating a local reservoir into the landscaping. There are dozens of themed exhibits here! Some highlights include the Fragile Forest, where guests enter a massive biodome that re-creates the diversity of the rain forest, and the Reptile Garden, home to Komodo dragons and giant tortoises. At the adjacent Night Safari experience, guests walk or travel in trams from tropical to mountain habitation zones, where rhinos, elephants, tigers, and some 130 other species can be observed.
Tanglin Rd, Singapore
Singapore may not have bicycle lanes on its roads, but the country does have a wonderful and growing network of bike-friendly asphalt paths along its many canals and rivers that are sometimes joined up with pathways in parks and along old rail corridors (in Singapore, they’re called park connectors). An easy 3-mile round-trip stretch to sample runs along the Singapore River. Join the riverside pathway just off Zion Road near the Great World City shopping mall—you can rent your chariot nearby from Bike Connect, at 23 Hoot Kiam Road—or grab a two-wheeler from the now ubiquitous bike-share steeds parked everywhere. Pedal all the way to the old shophouses of Boat Quay where the river empties into Marina Bay and then the South China Sea at the heart of Singapore’s colonial core. From there, get a glimpse of the grand Fullerton Hotel (once the national post office), the Asian Civilisations Museum (originally intended to be the city’s courthouse), and several historic bridges.
41 Dunlop St, Abdul Gaffoor Mosque, Singapore 209369
This frilly, century-old mosque, with its interesting mix of Victorian and Arabian architecture, is straight out of a Disney fairy tale. Its Corinthian columns, Doric pilasters, cinquefoil arches, and painted-glass cupolas will mesmerize you. When the green-and-cream-colored mosque was built, the surrounding neighborhood was called Kampong Kapor, or “Limestone Village.” The mosque’s staff is very welcoming and friendly to visitors who want to have a look around, and they even loan out robes to wear, as it’s considered respectful to dress modestly inside.
1 Empress Pl, Singapore 179555
The enormous, elegant Empress Place Building is a landmark colonial government-office structure that overlooks the Singapore River in the central business district. Since the early 2000s, it’s been home to the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM), considered one of the finest institutions in Asia. Its collection of Buddhist statues, textiles, porcelain, and other treasures represents more than 5,000 years of history in China, Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and the Islamic world.
Singapore’s Padang playing field has remained undisturbed by major construction since it was zoned for public use in 1819, just after Stamford Raffles staked his claim on Singapore for the British Empire. It remains the country’s favorite civic venue for events such as the National Day Parade. The field, once located along Singapore’s coastline and now further inland due to land reclamation, is surrounded by the nation’s most important colonial-era buildings, most of which still stand. The neoclassical, colonnaded former City Hall (built in 1929), and its neighbor, the grand old Supreme Court edifice (from 1939), are still sitting pretty—both are now part of the National Gallery Singapore. The 1884-erected Singapore Cricket Club, with its red-tile roof and green shutters, anchors one end of the field; on the other side you can find the great white St. Andrew’s Cathedral, dating from 1861.
158 Telok Ayer St, Singapore 068613
Built between 1839 and 1842, Thian Hock Keng Temple is the oldest Hok-lo temple in Singapore. Constructed on the site of an earlier primitive shrine created by Chinese sailors grateful to have survived the journey to Singapore (and needing blessing for the next voyage), it’s dedicated to the Chinese goddess of the sea, an important deity to honor considering how treacherous ocean travel could be in those days. (The goddess of mercy and Confucius are also worshiped there.) The gilded temple’s ceiling murals, statues, and red and black lacquer are striking—and so is the fact that not a single nail was used in its construction: The temple is supported entirely by iron and wooden pillars.
Ridley Park, Singapore
In Singapore, black and whites refer to the colonial-era bungalows of that color combination built here by the British for married officers and civil servants. The oldest date back to the 1890s and the newest to the 1940s. About 500 or so survive today, and most are owned by the government and rented on a monthly basis. Naturally, clusters of black and whites were built near military installations, from Tanglin to Sembawang, Portsdown Road, and Alexander Park. The higher your rank, the larger your house; some are quite grand. The white paint was used for its cooling properties and the black trim contains creosote to ward off termites and other insects. To see a string of them, from the Tanglin Mall (at the junction of Tanglin, Grange, and Napier roads), walk south about a half a mile along Tanglin Road and you’ll witness several on the left side of the road.
Junction of Kampong Bahru Road and, Telok Blangah Rd, Singapore 099448
Singapore’s a pretty flat place. There used to be more hills, but some were flattened partly to help fill in the country’s expanding coastline, as Singapore has always pursued an aggressive land-reclamation push (it’s almost 25 percent bigger than it was two centuries ago, and it’s still growing!). At 347 feet above sea level, Faber Point is one of the nation’s tallest peaks; the views from this highest spot in Mount Faber Park are great. Enjoy sweeping views of the city, harbor, and surrounding islands. A pleasant and short trail travels up through lush greenery, and if you’re lucky you’ll catch a nice cooling breeze up there (which is not a given in much of Singapore). It’s especially lovely in the early evening if a nice sunset is complementing the twinkling lights of the city and ships below.
781 Mountbatten Rd, Singapore 437779
Named after Louis Mountbatten, Britain’s supreme allied commander in Southeast Asia, Mountbatten Road was originally known as Grove Road. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries it became a popular place for the wealthy to build country homes just a few yards from the sea and its refreshing breezes. Today, due to land reclamation, the sea is more than half a mile away. A number of them, nicknamed “millionaires’ bungalows,” were single-story houses with conical roofs that were built on brick posts for protection against heavy rains, snakes, and wildlife—a design modeled after similar dwellings in tropical India which provides the cooling effects of under-floor ventilation.
The Sultan Mosque, sometimes considered Singapore’s national mosque, is set at the end of Bussorah Mall in Kampong Glam, angled toward Mecca. It’s topped with a pair of huge golden domes and twin eight-story minarets that can be seen from all over the neighborhood, and its massive prayer hall can accommodate 5,000 worshipers. Denis Santry from Swan & MacLaren (a firm responsible for many of Singapore’s well-known colonial-era landmarks) designed it in the hybrid Indo-Saracenic architectural style popular in British India at the time; it was completed in 1928. Have a look around the mosque and the pedestrian-only Bussorah Mall, a charming street lined by palm trees and colorful shophouses occupied by souvenir stores, cafés, and hostels.
347 Serangoon Rd, Singapore
Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple is a popular landmark in Little India, where much of Singapore’s sizable Tamil Hindu community works and worships. Originally a simple building on a plot of land, the temple became something entirely different in the mid-1960s with the addition of an elaborate five-layer gopura, or gatehouse tower. Each stepped level of the tower’s roof is crowded with vividly painted statues of royalty, dancers, and deities, as well as candy-colored architectural elements, all of which creates a remarkable celebratory effect. The temple has been granted protected status as a national monument by the government.
1 Cluny Rd, Singapore 259569
So spectacular is the 82-hectare (200-acre) Singapore Botanic Gardens that it is the rare horticultural spot to have earned UNESCO World Heritage site status. Established in 1859, it’s responsible for Singapore’s nickname as the Garden City and serves an important conservation and educational role. Wandering the pathways, visitors escape the frenetic urban area and learn about 1,200 species of orchids alone. There’s also a band shell for live concerts.
11 St Andrew's Rd, Singapore 178959
The striking neo-Gothic St. Andrew’s Cathedral, just behind the Padang on a generous plot of land, was built by convict labor from India, with the first service held in 1861. It was the second incarnation of this Anglican church (the first was built in the 1830s and boasted a bell from Paul Revere’s foundry in Boston). The bright-white exteriors of St. Andrew’s come from its finish of Madras chunam, a plaster made from a mixture of egg whites, shell lime, and sugar. Don’t leave until you see the three magnificent stained-glass windows in the apse, one of which is dedicated to Stamford Raffles.
60 Hill Street
At one time the Armenian community was very influential in Singapore, working as lawyers, merchants, and entrepreneurs. To serve the community, the Armenian Church—officially called the Armenian Apostolic Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator—was built in 1836, the first permanent place of Christian worship in Singapore. Designed by Irish architect George D. Coleman, the structure abuts a graveyard as impressive as the neoclassical building itself. More garden than cemetery, it boasts wrought-iron benches and manicured lawns that surround a small collection of elegant white-marble tombstones of prominent Armenians of yesteryear—including Agnes Joaquim, who bred Singapore’s national flower, a vanda orchid known as Miss Joaquim.
Labrador Villa Rd, Singapore 119187
Hidden away at the end of small byway off Telok Blangah Road, Labrador Nature Reserve (also known as Labrador Park) is a quiet hillock where you can find the remains of Fort Pasir Panjang. It was one of about a dozen coastal artillery forts built by the British in the 19th century to defend the western passageway into Keppel Harbour. Military buffs will enjoy seeing the old gun placements, supply tunnels, and pillboxes of the former fort, while others will get a kick out of seeing cruise ships and giant yachts coming within a few yards of the seawall as they squeeze through the narrow passage into Keppel Harbour.
MacRitchie Reservoir, Singapore
The MacRitchie Reservoir is one of four reservoirs in the heart of Singapore at the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, where the surrounding forests are protected as national parks to ensure the quality of the water. Though unfortunately not accessible to the public, the ruins of a once-massive Shinto shrine built by the Japanese during their World War II occupation of Singapore are hidden in the overgrown, off-trail jungle near the northwestern corner of the reservoir. There is more to Singapore than meets the eye.
10 Bayfront Ave, Singapore 018956
If money is no object, staying near the Marina in Singapore is a great choice. On one side you have the bizarrely mesmerizing Marina Bay Sands development, which includes a hotel, casino (note that the Chinese take their gambling very seriously), shops, a theater, a rooftop pool, a rooftop restaurant/bar/club (Cé La Vi), myriad celebrity-chef restaurants (try Daniel Boulud’s DB Bistro & Oyster Bar), and much more. Although MBS is fun to visit and certainly worth strolling through, you get more for your hotel money across the Marina at the Fullerton Bay Hotel.
1G Cantonment Rd, Singapore 085301
The Pinnacle is a posh apartment building in Singapore’s hip Duxton Hill neighborhood, known for its Skybridge. Soaring 50 stories above the city, it offers views that are arguably the best in Singapore. The bridge is open to both apartment residents and the general public from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, except during special events such as the National Day fireworks. Only 200 public visitors are allowed up each day, so get there early.
262 Pasir Panjang Rd, Singapore 118628
Haw Par Villa, a theme park containing more than 1,000 statues and 150 giant dioramas that highlight Chinese myths and legends, might be the best-value entertainment in Singapore. (It’s free!) Built in 1937 by the creators of Tiger Balm (the ubiquitous salve that soothes every ill), the park depicts famous personages such as Laughing Buddha. Winding paths thread through the dioramas, allowing guests to pore over the details. Don’t miss the 10 Courts of Hell display, which portrays the afterlife for wrongdoers—fascinating, but probably best avoided if you’re traveling with young kids.
351 Upper Bukit Timah Rd, Singapore 588192
War-history buffs will appreciate the permanent exhibition at Singapore’s Old Ford Factory, opened in 2017 to mark the 75th anniversary of the fall of Singapore, at Singapore’s Old Ford Factory, where the British surrendered to the Japanese forces on February 15, 1942, signalling the beginning of a 3½-year occupation. Four sections display diary entries, identity cards, maps, newspapers clippings, medals and other artifacts of the era. You can roam around on your own, or take a free daily tour offered at 2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; Saturdays 11 a.m. & 3:30 p.m.; and Sundays 2:30 p.m. & 3:30 p.m. The tours are first come, first served for a maximum of 20 people.