This article was published in May 2013 and updated in October 2018
Being a major travel hub for southeast Asia, it’s safe to say that many travellers end up seeing the Singapore sites due to a layover, whether it’s just for half a day or overnight. If you get this opportunity, embrace it! Not only is Changi Airport is a destination in itself with loads of freebies to entertain travellers (think themed gardens complete with butterflies, a movie theatre, video games and even a rooftop pool), but the city is absolutely beautiful and well worth exploring even under a time crunch. Here are some of the must visit places in Singapore worth squeezing in on a stopover.
The Singapore Flyer
Singapore is home to the world’s largest observation wheel, soaring 165 meters above ground. Positioned near Marina Bay, the Singapore Flyer affords breathtaking views of the entire city—though it may not be a good pick for those who are terrified of heights. The Flyer is open from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., and guests who opt for a night ride will get to see the whole city lit up and reflect off the water, which makes for a rather romantic sight. For an extra special experience, upgrade to the champagne package which includes a glass of bubbly, the ride, express boarding, strawberries and chocolates. Perfect for a proposal, perhaps?
The Singapore Zoo
The Singapore Zoo is world-renowned and should be at the top of everyone’s Singapore itinerary. The 26-hectare wildlife park has dozens of interactive exhibits, and many animals are allowed to roam freely in large enclosures. Visitors can get up close and personal with more than 2,800 animals, including giraffes, birds, pygmy hippos, cheetahs, lions, kangaroos…the list goes on and on. With so much to explore, you don’t have to do it all on your two feet as there are also guided trams that take visitors through much of the park. Admission prices vary depending on how many of the parks are visited.
Birders will be enthralled by the Jurong Bird Park, which at 20-plus hectares is Asia’s largest bird park. Housing more than 3,500 avians spanning forty species (including some that are threatened), there’s also a breeding and conservation centre, a waterfall aviary and even a crew of penguins.
For an experience found nowhere else, head to the park at dusk for the Night Safari where visitors can watch nocturnal animals in their element. A tram guides guests through exhibits to see the crowd-pleasing Asian elephants, bearded pigs and bharats, which are known as blue sheep. Another option is to set off along the walking trails to check out flying foxes, leopards and fishing cats independently.
Gardens by the Bay
The capital is known as the Garden City, so it only makes sense that Gardens by the Bay would be one of the most popular places to explore in Singapore. This mega-project spans over 100 hectares in the centre of the city, and is made up of three waterfront gardens with a range of plant species.
Visitors can explore rotating floral displays in the Flower Dome, which showcases exotic blooms from nearly every continent and received the title of world’s largest glass greenhouse. Another highlight is the Cloud Forest, a tropical conservatory which boasts planted walls, a changing orchid display, a misty Treetop Walk and the world’s tallest indoor waterfall.
The crown jewel of Gardens by the Bay is the famed Supertree Grove, where vertical gardens ascend up to 50 metres high, and are covered with more than 160-thousand plants including ferns, bromeliads and orchids. The OCBC Skyway winds between them, and visitors can stroll along the aerial walkway which gives great views from 22 metres above ground. If time allows, one of the must-do activities in Singapore is to head back down to the gardens after dark, when the trees host a light and sound show that casts a mesmerizing reflection into the water.
Those looking for R&R will want to head about 20 minutes from the heart of town to sun-soaked Sentosa Island. There are plenty of ways to get there (including by cable car) and despite being in the city it feels like its own world, with a smattering of hotels, walking trails, spas, shopping and a handful of white sand beaches.
Hopefully you have time to spare on your Singapore stopover, as there’s no shortage of activities on Sentosa to entertain all ages which makes it one of the most popular spots in Singapore for kids. Golfers can tee off on one of the 18-hole championship golf courses, thrill-seekers should try an exhilarating indoor skydive at iFly Singapore, and kids love zooming down the 450-metre zipline or splashing around in the Adventure Cove Waterpark.
Drink a Singapore Sling
So here’s a fun fact about Singapore…there’s a so-called sin tax that makes alcoholic drinks ridiculously expensive. Exhibit A: the Singapore Sling, the national drink which was created in 1915 by a bartender at the famous Raffles Hotel and will set you back more than $20 for the privilege of sipping one in the property’s iconic Long Bar.
The sweet and refreshing cocktail is made with lemon juice, gin, cherry brandy and soda water, and even those who aren’t gin fans are sure to appreciate the thirst-quenching bevy. To get the full experience, it’s worth paying the hotel a visit to try a Sling in the place where it started…and you can’t put a price on history, right?
Shop ‘til you drop on Orchard Road
Singapore is famous for its shopping, whether you’re looking for souvenirs or high fashion. There are dozens of shopping complexes around the city tailored to the trendy traveller. Those looking for bargains will be wise to shop during the Great Singapore Sale, which sees stores around the city slash their prices by up to 70 per cent during June and July.
For even more savings, be sure to apply for a tax rebate. Tourists who spend at least SGD100 are eligible to get the seven per cent tax back by applying for a refund at the departure hall at Changi Airport.
One of the most famous shopping districts is along Orchard Road, a two-kilometre stretch which has a staggering 22 shopping malls. Once all those bags start weighing you down, the surrounding area is full of great food stalls and entertainment areas which are the perfect place to rest while enjoying some people watching. Even if you don’t want to spend money, some of the malls are worth walking through just for the wow-factor, like Bugis Junction which features a glass-covered street and open-air shopping, or Suntec City Mall which hosts the largest fountain in the world and was designed according to Feng Shui principles.
Singapore Airlines Stopover
If you’re flying Singapore Airlines, you’re in luck. Not only is it one of the world’s best airlines, but it offers a unique program called the Singapore Stopover Holiday. For a nominal cost (starting at only $40+) passengers can enjoy one night in a luxe hotel room, airport transfers, admission to top attractions, and discounts on food and shopping. There are also complimentary rides on the SIA Hop-On bus which tours around the city, making this stopover program one of the top things to do in Singapore on a budget.
All in all, the Singapore highlights make it one of Asia’s most beautiful cities, full of culture, great food, attractions and shopping. Not bad for a stopover!
Where to stay in Singapore:
Hotel Marina Bay Sands: This is the best place to stay in Singapore for the Instagram crowd, because hello rooftop infinity pool. Aside from enjoying an unobstructed, birds-eye view of the dazzling skyline from 57 storeys up, guests love the glam decor and modern, spacious rooms which makes the Marina Bay Sands well worth the splurge. Click here to book
The Fullerton Bay Hotel Singapore: A stay at this iconic Singapore property doesn’t come cheap, but you get what you pay for thanks to the sweeping views of the bay, opulent suites and impeccable service. Click here to book
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