If you’ve flown in or out of Australia before, there’s a good chance you’ve had a short stop over in Singapore. While it can sometimes be easy to think of it as just a stop over before your actual holiday, it’s definitely a place worth checking out beyond just the airport. Singapore has a lot to offer when it comes to culture, sights and especially food, and it’s not really like anywhere else you’ve been before. If you’re not sure what to expect and what to do, here’s a first timer’s guide to Singapore to get you started.
Planning Your Trip.
People often dismiss the journey to their holiday destination as an inconvenience, or something to be endured before you get to where you’re going. This doesn’t need to be the case though, so when planning your trip to Singapore your best bet to start your holiday before you’ve even reached Changi Airport is by flying with Singapore Airlines. Everything about flying with Singapore Airlines is comfortable and the excellent service and food on the flights will make for a great start to your trip. While Singapore Airlines economy class is one of the best in the industry, the option of upgrading to premium economy is definitely worth those little extras to get your holiday off to a flying start (pun intended). Thanks to Singapore Airlines, we were able to experience this. If you’re stopping over on your way to another destination, Singapore Airlines offer an awesome package called the Singapore Stopover Holiday where you can make the most of your short time there with maximum value.
What To Pack For Singapore.
Being so close to the equator means that Singapore’s climate is very tropical and they don’t really have seasons in the way we’re used to in Australia. It’s basically consistently warm to hot every day of the year with the temperature mostly hovering above 23 degrees. Throw in high humidity and you’ve got yourself a pretty sweaty holiday.
We found that you would be wise to bring at least 1-2 shirts for each day that you plan to be in Singapore. If you’re just hanging around the hotel or going shopping and doing indoor stuff, it’s not going to be an issue because it’s air conditioned everywhere. If you’re planning to do active outdoor stuff like cycling or taking a stroll in the Singapore Botanic Gardens, then you will definitely work up a sweat and might want to change into a fresh shirt for the evenings. Also, shorts are your best friend. Take a couple because you’ll be wearing them every day. Other than that, bring a pair of chinos in case you’re going to any fancy establishments… but most bars will allow you to enter with shorts.
Bring along some wet wipes and packet tissues, they’re handy to have around when you perspire. But the main reason to have them is that, much like in Australia, Singapore also has a lot of food courts that they call Hawker Centres. You can find some amazing food at these food courts so they are definitely worth visiting, but the one thing that we found really strange about them is that they don’t supply napkins. So if you make a mess of your mouth, you’re on your own.
Money, don’t worry about bringing Singapore dollars. Just bring some Aussie dollars with you and exchange it at Changi Airport when you arrive (more info about this in the next section).
Arriving At The Airport.
Singapore’s Changi Airport has been voted the World’s Best Airport four years in a row, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s big, clean and feels a lot more like a hotel lobby than an airport. The service is fast and there’s generally no queues at immigration. If there is it won’t take too long to clear. You also won’t be standing around for ages staring at an empty luggage carousel because they are very efficient at getting your luggage off the plane for collection.
When you arrive at the airport there are plenty of currency exchange stalls to convert your currency. The exchange rate is almost certainly always better if you change it at the destination country, so we recommend holding onto your hard earned cash until you arrive in Singapore. At the airport, just change $50-$100 AUD which is enough to get you a Singapore SIM card and to get you to your hotel by train, bus or taxi. You’ll get better rates in town, so don’t go changing all your currency here. You’ll find the best places to exchange your money in shopping malls and in particular Lucky Plaza on Orchard Road where the competition is fierce, so the rates are competitive. Don’t change your money in department stores or hotels – just ask them where to find the nearest money exchange.
As mentioned earlier, it’s a good idea to pick up a Singapore hi!Tourist SIM Card by Singtel for your trip. They are available at most of the currency exchange counters within the airport. Make sure you do this at Changi as it is much harder to find once you leave. It’s cheap and it’s worth the money to be able to Snapchat your way through your holiday experience to make all your friends jealous. Not to mention that you’ll also be able to find your way around easier using invaluable travel apps like Townske, Google maps and Uber.
There are a couple of options for getting into the city. You can catch the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) subway, a shuttle bus or get a taxi. Taxis in Singapore are relatively cheap and would probably be the best option if you have lots of luggage on you. The MRT would be cheaper but it would take up to an hour to get into town compared to a comfortable 30-minute taxi ride. It’ll set you back around SGD $14-25 to get to your hotel in town by taxi. If you need to use a credit card for payment, you should let the taxi queue attendant know so that he checks with the taxi driver before allocating you a car – they don’t all take credit cards and there is a surcharge if they do, so we usually use cash.
Which Area / Hotels To Stay At.
If you’re planning on doing a bit of damage to your wallet while you’re in Singapore, stay near Orchard Road. Hotel Jen Tanglin is only a 10-minute walk away from the retail hub. It’s also one of the hotel options if you’re taking advantage of the awesome Singapore Stopover Holiday packages. Hotel Jen Tanglin is, in our opinion one of the best hotels you can stay at in Singapore. The rooms are a bit small but the well-considered overall design of the room well and truly compensates for that. Simple things like having multiple USB ports and power sockets installed at bedside table height next to the bed, for your convenience. Or clearly labelled light switches so that you work out how to turn the lights on and off without getting frustrated.
The Hotel Jen Orchardgateway is also a great option if you’re into shopping. It’s right on Orchard Road so you’re never too far from the shops, plus it has a beautiful rooftop pool and bar when you want to have a little break.
If you prefer an active nightlife and want to stay within walking distance of where all the action is, stay downtown at the Furama hotel, also part of the Singapore Stopover Holiday. The location is great if you’re into cool cafes and bars. Marina Bay is only a short walk away which is convenient because you’ll want to check it out during the day and night. Click here for a more comprehensive listing of the hotels in the Singapore Stopover Holiday Package.
The Touristy Stuff Worth Doing.
Sometimes the things that traditional tour guide books say you have to do in a city are just not worth it at all. Here are a few of the big attractions in Singapore that are worth spending time to visit.
Forest & Flower Domes, Gardens by the Bay
The Forest Dome is an incredible place and it’s a totally unique experience walking through all the canopies in an air conditioned rainforest. All the greenery and nature in there is a nice contrast to the modern buildings and skyscrapers of the city outside the dome.
Whether you’re into architecture or not, you can’t help but be impressed by the engineering in constructing these colossal Domes. Next to the Forest Dome is the Flower Dome, also designed by Britain-based firm, Wilkinson Eyre, who created the giant glasshouse to accommodate a cool, dry climate to house seven different gardens.
If you’ve ever been on the London Eye, then boarding the Singapore Flyer will probably give you a sense of deja-vu. Its design and construction are almost identical except for the extra calibrations for humidity compensation. Go during a weekday as the queues aren’t too long. It’s a really good way to see part of the city, with the views stretching beyond the bay, and if it’s not too busy your group will get a whole cabin to yourselves.
1-Altitude is a rooftop bar with a stunning view over the city. Though it’s a bit old-school, the music is pretty fun and it’s worth going to at night for the city lights. It’s free if you go as part of the Singapore Stopover Holiday package, otherwise, it’ll set you back SGD$30 per head to go up, which also entitles you to one drink.
Where To Get Great Coffee.
Blink and you’ll miss the entrance to this great cafe. Once you find it and step inside though, you’ll see the cool industrial feel the place has, with wooden furniture to soften the look a bit. The coffee is truly amazing here and the food is also pretty spectacular. Savoury french toast with poached pear and bacon, that’s the kind of breakfast dreams are made of and it’s the ideal way to start your day of sightseeing around town. The street that Ronin Cafe is on has a tonne of great venues along it, including one of the top bars in Singapore which we’ll get into a little bit further down.
This place is slightly hard to find as it’s tucked away in a government housing block, but when you get there you’ll thank yourself for going through the hassle. The cafe has a nice clean interior fit-out including an old school restored La Marzocco machine. It seems to have a temperament of its own but it definitely delivers incredible coffee. You can tell how passionate the owner and staff are here which for sure adds to the experience of being there.
Chye Seng Huat Hardware
Being one of the first great coffee bars in Singapore, Chye Seng Huat Hardware is a bit of an institution. You know something is going to be good when it’s mostly populated by locals, as is the case here. The coffee is great and there’s a lot of character in the quasi Chinese hardware store fit-out. The space is pretty well sized with the round bar forming the centrepiece behind which the staff work their magic on the different coffee machines.
Being one of only a few Monocle Cafes in the world, you’ll be sure to want to visit this one when you’re in town. It doubles as a retail space selling Monocle branded wares, cool gadgets and of course, copies of their magazine and books. The cafe / shop is housed inside a two-story terrace which has an outside (backyard) area that’s nice to sit in as you sip your coffee. They use Allpress Espresso beans which is one of our favourites, so needless to say the coffee will be great.
If You Can Only Visit 3 Bars.
28 Hong Kong Street
Pretty much the only thing that gives away the location of this bar is the name. Once you get there though, it’s a different story, there’s no signage for the place out the front and the entrance just looks like a garage door. Walking through the unmarked side door doesn’t yield many more clues as you’re then greeted by a series of heavy curtains. Stay persistent though because beyond the curtains is a spectacular bar filled with hundreds of spirits and manned by some of the best bartenders in Singapore.
The dim lighting, upbeat atmosphere and wall of spirits behind the bar feel totally welcoming. They serve a great selection of cocktails and craft beers too, and combined with the good vibe of the place, you’ll want to stay here a while.
Another hard to find but well worth it in the end bar, Operation Dagger was started by Australian, Luke Whearty. It’s basically unmarked on the street except for a fairly insignificantly spray painted logo; the only signifier something really cool exists beyond the door. If you’re brave enough to descend the creepy stairs, you’ll be rewarded with an extremely impressive experience. Dimly lit and with an incredible cloud-like light installation on the ceiling, Operation Dagger looks super unique, especially with the bottle display behind the bar which looks more akin to a cosmetics store than a bar. The cocktail list is just as unique as the aesthetics and you’ll be sure to find a strange concoction to love. This bar is a must visit.
Possibly Singapore’s worst kept secret, the front of The Library is disguised as a record library. Unsuspecting pedestrians pass by not realising just what lies behind. In a very New York-like fashion, you need a password to enter. We had no idea what the password was but the host at the front was willing to keep giving us hints until we guessed it. Not sure if she does this for everyone or if she just really liked my smile. The intimate bar is famed for their totally zany cocktail list, especially the uniquely named ‘Shrub-A-Dub-Dub’, which is a gin based cocktail (not the zany part) served in a miniature bathtub-shaped vessel (zany!), complete with a tiny rubber duck. It’s the worst kept secret because it’s been there for a while and every local knows about it… and now you do too.
Useful Apps for Singapore.
No one is going to know a city like the people who have lived there their whole lives. That’s why Townske is such a great resource for finding all the coolest cafes, bars and eateries because their guides are created by locals. It’s a quick and easy app to use with spectacular photography in each guide so you can really get a feel for what each place has to offer. It’s simple to save lists of places you want to remember and you can even ask locals any questions you might have. The app is available for both iPhone iOS and Android devices, or you can also access the travel guides via the world wide web.
Uber or Grab
Taxis in Singapore can be pretty hard to flag down on the street sometimes, especially during changeover time. Annoyingly enough, a lot of the times taxi drivers will reject you if they aren’t going your way. Uber or Grab will save you the pain. They’re not always necessarily cheaper than a taxi, but at least you won’t be wasting time trying to flag one down that doesn’t end up taking you.
It’s 2016, no one has paper maps anymore. Google Maps is incredibly handy to get a feel for where you are and where you need to go (especially with those hard to find bars and cafes). If you won’t have internet access when you’re out and about, use your hotel’s WiFi to load up a part of the map so it’s ready for you when you’re out.
Let us know if you have any great tips that we may have missed for Singapore.