5 Things to Do in Singapore – 5 Top Tourist Attractions
Arriving in Singapore as a tourist, you will want to check out the top attractions and find the best things to do in the city. Your visit should include experiencing local culture, seeing amazing places in the vibrant city, visiting a fabulous Singapore garden, going on an iconic boat ride – and of course doing some authentic shopping!
Ainnelise Niyvold Liundbye UPDATED: 31 MAR 2020
Singapore is one of the few remaining sovereign city states in the world. It covers a small area and is among the 20 smallest countries in the world. As an interesting fact the city state consists of 64 offshore islands surrounding the main island! Maybe surprisingly for such a small state, there are all four official languages: Malay, English, Chinese and Tamil.
The island state is said to be named by a prince. A prince named Sang Nila Utama observed in 1299, after being caught in a storm across the sea, an unknown animal with a lion’s head. He took it as a sign of good luck and decided to build a new city on this very spot. He named the city “Singapura” – derived from ‘lion’ in Malay: Singa and ‘city’: Pura – hence the Lion City.
Centuries later, in 1819 (after a period where Singapore belonged to a sultanate), Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles negotiated a treaty that allowed the British to locate a trading port on the island, the beginning of a British colony of Singapore. When the Empire of Japan surrendered to the Allies at the end of World War II, Singapore came under British rule. Obtaining status as a British Crown colony, Singapore was from 1946 until 1963 heavily influenced by the United Kingdom. From 1955 it gained partial internal self-governance (despite a short merger with Malaysia 1963-65), and in 1965 Singapore finally became an independent republic.
Due to the long history involving different cultures, Singapore is today a fascinating place to visit, featuring several unusual attractions. Five of the things you as a tourist definitely should try to do while in Singapore are described here as an appetiser for the multiracial and multicultural island country.
One of things or attractions you absolutely should allow yourself time to do during your Singapore trip is a ride in one of the numerous bumboats.
Traditionally, Singapore has had a lively traffic on the waterways where wooden boats or barges plied their trade on the rivers. This was how goods were distributed and sold all during the last centuries.
Today’s bumboats, in operation since 1987, offer the opportunity to experience a tour yourself and give it a whirl on the Singapore River. The iconic bumboats, some painted with faces and eyes, hold on to long-established traditions and preserve the heritage here. Nevertheless, the newest ones have been converted into much more sustainable boats, since they have become silent and have no CO2 emissions any longer.
There are two bumboat companies: the Singapore River Explorer and the Singapore River Cruise. On a 30 – 60-minute river cruise you may get the chance to see the well-known districts of Clarke Quay, Boat Quay and Marina Bay.
Don’t either miss the statue The Merlion at the Marina Bay waterfront, created by the local sculptor, Lim Nang Seng. Another prominent statue is the statue of Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore, at the Raffles Landing Site.
The quays are former places of commerce and genuine Singapore atmosphere. The tongkangs, or the bumboats, docked here to load and unload their cargos. Today they are still vibrant tourist spots in Singapore with a wealth of restaurants, shops and other attractions. You may also get the opportunity to enjoy a bustling night bazaar here.
To go on a ride, buy for instance your tickets at Clarke Quay. Now, feel free to disembark at any of the 13 jetties along the way to experience the historic places and stunning views along the Singapore River!
The tour will allow you to see Singapore’s Central Business District from a new angle – and to see lots of skyscrapers! You will also catch sight of the impressive Marina Bay Sands with a huge rooftop terrace – and you will pass by significant historical buildings like the Supreme Court and the Arts House ( Old Parliament House). When disembarking at Marina Bay, you may continue to the lovely and lush Gardens by the Bay.
Gardens by the Bay has become really popular since its opening back in 2012. It is an exceptional garden featuring a Supertree Grove of 18 giant colourful steel and concrete trees. 12 of these artificial trees are set in a cluster, and they each reach a height of between 25 m (82 ft) and 50 m (164 ft).
It is also here you will find the 22-metre (72 ft) high OCBC Skyway which is an elevated walkway between the impressive tree structures. From up here you have excellent views of the gardens and the surrounding areas in Singapore.
It is also here you will find the new Supertree Observatory on top of the tallest Supertree. An open-air rooftop deck offers scenic views of the Marina Bay and the stunning Singapore skyline.
The Gardens constitute an imaginary, horticultural world in the middle of Singapore – even very close to the business centre. With inspiration from impressive Western Australian Karri Trees, the Supertrees were designed as a technological asset included in a lush, magical garden. It is today definitely one of the top tourist attractions in Singapore.
The Supertrees are an incredible blend of inorganic material and lush, natural vegetation. The trees are covered by panels of soilless epiphytes like for instance vines, orchids and ferns.
In addition to the outdoor botanical diversity, the gardens feature two huge greenhouses or domes, namely the two conservatories, the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest. They both feature an exceptional flora. The Flower Dome is home to a typical Mediterranean-zone flora, and the Cloud Forest is home to a vast number of tropical mountain plants.
Gardens by the Bay is designed as sustainable as possible. The Supertrees have solar photovoltaic cells installed and produce their own energy for the light show at night. Moreover, the Supertrees provide the necessary ventilation for the cooling process of the conservatories. In this way plant species from other climates can grow here.
What is more enticing than having lunch here at the Lau Pa Sat or Telok Ayer Market, originally built in 1824 in colonial Singapore as a fish market? Now it is world-famous! Lau Pa Sat is today located in the middle of the financial district and is a popular landmark in Singapore both among locals and tourists.
The octagonal shape was initially designed in 1838 by the Irish architect George Coleman who is behind a number of outstanding buildings in Singapore, among others the Old Parliament House. When it was rebuilt in 1894, the Scotsman James MacRitchie kept its characteristic shape – and added at the same time a fine clock tower, as well as a cast-iron structure. It was all cast in Glasgow and shipped to Singapore.
Today it is Singapore’s outstanding food court where business people and tourist groups flock to grab a bite. It is definitely worth giving it a try for a typical Singaporean lunch!
You will likely also hear some Singlish here – like in many other places in Singapore. The Singaporeans add a ‘lah’ or ‘leh’ to their sentences which characterises Singlish.
Long before Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles arrived in Singapore in 1819, an immigrant population had already settled in the city. Many of these were Chinese people, drawn to the city by the free port. Raffles divided the city into ethnic quarters, and the Chinese Campong, or Chinatown, became one of them.
Today, Singapore’s Chinatown is strikingly the city’s largest historic district with still existing traditions and festivals like the Lunar New Year, and the Mid-autumn Festival.
It is a vibrant neighbourhood with a unique cultural diversity – and is definitely one of the more interesting tourist attractions in Singapore from a cultural / historical point of view. Where else in the world can you find both a Buddhist temple, a Hindu temple and a mosque right next to each other? The Tamil Muslims come to worship at the Masjid Jamae Mosque, the Hindus at the Sri Mariamman Temple which is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore, and the Buddhists in the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum. What a multiethnic society! The Singapore Chinatown is indeed unique in that it is so multiracial and multicultural. The different temples and the mosque coexist in harmony and send for instance each other best wishes during Chinese festivals!
Actually Chinatown can be subdivided into four districts:Telok Ayer, Kreta Ayer, Bukit Pasoh and Tanjong Pagar, all developed at different times between 1820s and 1920s. In tourist brochures it is the ‘official Chinatown’ that is being described – which is the Cantonese part of the Singapore Chinatown. This of course implies that there is also an ‘unofficial Chinatown’ known as the ‘people’s Chinatown’.
The Cantonese part can be found in the area around South Bridge Road, Upper Cross Street, New Bridge Road and Bukit Pasoh Road.
Today, Chinatown is unarguably a tourist attraction in Singapore with its modern souvenirs, ‘Chinese’ pound shops and the Chinatown Food Street.
If you want something real authentic, go for the Chinatown Complex from 1983 with a whirl of activity and Chinese dialects inside. Here you will find everything from the odd worship items to clothes and other products sold by local hawkers. Market stalls and food stalls are extremely popular – and it is a crowded place around office lunchtime! This is the place to get your authentic Chinatown lunch!
Finally, if you have just a tiny bit of shopping gene, no Singapore visit without a visit to the renowned Orchard Road dating back to the 1830s! In the beginning, though, it was not a shopping district. The road was named after the abundant fruit orchards and other plantations along it.
During the last part of the 1900s all kinds of stores began to pop up here, and eventually it became a true paradise for shopping addicts!
Today, it is THE shopping district in Singapore – and it is an extremely popular tourist attraction. Mega stores and overwhelming shopping complexes flank the famous street. Luxury brands, fashionable clothing, the trendiest wardrobe, world-class dining, coffee or whisky tasting … whatever experience you are after, you will find it here! In no time you will have filled an extra suitcase to take back home – if this is what you want to! If you do, you will wisely make it the last thing on your trip!
Read more about Singapore: Visit Gardens by the Bay as No. 1!
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