Singapore Travel Guide: What to see and where to stay

Pink lotus flowers showing one of the best things to do in Singapore

At just 719.9km2, Singapore is jam packed with so many unique travel experiences that you could easily think you were in a country several times its size. Culturally diverse, with an estimated 40% of the culture being made up of expats, and a world-leader in business, Singapore also has plenty to satisfy foodies, nature lovers, adventure seekers and social butterflies.

From nature to entertainment to shopping, Singapore is a must-see!

Tip: Don’t forget to try a Singapore Sling at Raffles Hotel, where Singapore’s signature drink was created. Raffles Hotel is also an icon of the colonial era, so a great stop for history buffs.

Practical travel tips

Singapore visa requirements
If you’re planning to stay in Singapore for under 90 days, you don’t need a visa but will need a passport valid for at least six more months. You must, however, have an onward or return ticket and must have sufficient funds for your stay.

Currency
The Singapore Dollar. On average, one Australian dollar buys 1.19 Singapore dollars. 

Tipping in Singaporean culture
Tipping is not traditionally a part of Singaporean culture and is not expected, and many places forbid tipping. Some restaurants will add a 10% service fee to the bill. In cases where tipping is permitted, note that the money is likely going to the establishment and not the staff. 

Weather
Singapore enjoys a consistent, warm climate year-round. However, there are two monsoon seasons – the first from December to March and the second from June to September – with the intervening months called the Inter-Monsoon seasons. These may be wet, but less so than the official monsoon.

Language
Singapore’s official languages are Mandarin Chinese and English and most Singaporeans are bilingual, meaning English speakers will feel right at home. 

Getting there
Getting to Singapore is easy, being an international air transit hub with one of the world’s best airports (Changi International). You can also reach Singapore using rail systems linking to Malaysia and Thailand, though these are outdated with plans underway for a high-speed rail system that will shorten the connection between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore from seven hours to 90 minutes.

City lights showing Singapore nightlife

Singaporean culture and diversity

Singapore is a tiny country, but despite its size, it is incredibly diverse. About 75% of Singaporeans are ethnically Chinese and 13% have Malay heritage, but the city state is also home to many foreigners, with as much as 40% of Singapore’s population being made up of expats.

Despite the diversity, though, there are a number of consistent elements across Singaporean culture. Singaporeans believe in respect for family and the rule of law, which means you’ll see elders being treated with extreme respect, even if they are strangers.

Singapore’s legal system is also one of the strictest in the world, with laws being carefully enforced and foreigners not being given special consideration. Just some surprising laws include selling gum being illegal (though chewing it is okay), along with littering and public displays of affection.

Best things to do in Singapore

While Singapore is tiny, there is still plenty to do. In fact, many travellers visit only to wish they had more time! Here are our top recommendations.

  • The best for adventure seekers: Visit Sentosa Island, which Universal Studios, the Adventure Cove Waterpark, the SEA Aquarium and a dozen other entertainment venues. The island is connected to the Singapore mainland by a bridge and is a favourite spot for many travellers.
  • The best for entertainment: Head to Marina Bay Sands to enjoy neon lights, lively performances, and, of course, superb shopping. The development also features a dazzling array of casinos and entertainment, and many people visit just to swim in the SkyPark – the  longest elevated swimming pool in the world, which features stunning views of the city below.
  • The best for relaxation: Clarke Quay is the perfect spot to wind down. The historic riverside area features five blocks of restored warehouses where you can enjoy a cocktail or some of Singapore’s delicious cuisine in a variety of restaurants, pubs and clubs.
  • The best gardens: While Singapore is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, it is also known as ‘The Garden City’. Why? Visit Gardens by the Bay, a botanical garden where you can experience where technology and nature meet. Gardens by the Bay also features unique manmade ‘supertrees’, a cloud forest and an engaging children’s garden.
  • The best wildlife: While not technically in the wild, somewhere you can meet with wildlife is the Singapore Zoo. Singapore Zoo features over 90 different animal species, along with features like the ‘Breakfast with an Orang-utan’ program, where you can meet and interact with the zoo’s star animals, along with a range of other shows and experiences.
  • The best history: Visit historical Singapore at Orchard Road. Formerly a plantation district, Orchard Road still maintains a decidedly colonial feel, though it is now a centre for luxury shopping and hotels.

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Is Singapore sage? Things to know before you go

While Singapore is very modern, non-locals would be wise to prepare in advance for potential health concerns, along with making themselves aware of local laws.

Health concerns

Despite its small size, Singapore has a sizeable population of 5.6 million people, which means pollution can pose a problem. As such, some travellers struggle with the effects of smog and should plan accordingly. You can check government indexes on airborne pollutants in advance and follow any guidelines given.

Some travellers also struggle with the noise of the crowded city, which is constant. Prepare for the usual noise of a large city, and don’t forget to pack earplugs if you struggle to sleep.

Finally, being so close to the equator, Singapore benefits from warm, humid weather all year around, so take appropriate precautions against heatstroke. Stay hydrated, wear sunscreen anddress in light fabrics that cover your skin. Finally, make sure to take out travel insurance, and double check if any pre-existing medical conditions are covered.

Crime and punishment in Singapore

Singapore is one of the safest countries there is. However, pickpockets are still common, especially in tourist areas. With this in mind, leave any valuables at home. If you must bring them with you, keep them close to you and be aware in large crowds.

While you likely won’t become a victim of crime in Singapore, the country’s strict legal code might put you at risk of trouble with the law, with many things that are legal at home warranting punishment in Singapore.

Many of these laws aim to enhance the harmony of the densely and diversely populated country. For example, spitting, chewing gum and smoking in public are all illegal, as is eating or drinking on public trains and any type of littering.

When it comes to drinking, alcohol may not be publicly consumed between 10pm and 7am, though licensed bars and restaurants may continue to serve. Public drunkenness is illegal at any hour, and drug use and possession is illegal (including drugs already in your system). Remember to check that any over the counter or prescription medications you plan to take are legal in Singapore before you go.

Singapore is also very conservative, and public displays of affection are forbidden and homosexuality is illegal in Singapore.

If you break these laws, you may be punished with fines, jail time or corporal punishment (caning, which is very painful and leaves permanent scarring).

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