Singapore Travel Guide for First Time Visitors

Modern. Green. Efficient. Diverse. Many cities would be thrilled to be attached to one of those words. Singapore sets the standard for all four.

The city-state is already a glittering gem in Southeast Asia. But it's quickly drawing the curious gaze of the rest of the world. Founded on an eclectic mix of Chinese, Malay, and Indian, then fused with the flare of the most forward-thinking European cities, Singapore is going places fast. Some of the world's most iconic buildings line its enviable bay, while remnants of its early days linger on beautifully in the form of Malaysian townhouses.

From the moment you arrive at Changi, the undisputed best airport on the planet, you know you're onto something special; darting from Kopitiam to temple to plant-laced skyscraper, you'll fall in love.

Welcome to Singapore.

Few places have cracked city living like Singapore. The public transport is immense, immaculate, and impossible to get lost in. If you feel like walking, there are air-conditioned walkways so it's possible to avoid being a sweaty mess. The streets are clean, it's incredibly safe, and credit card is accepted everywhere but the hawker stalls. Oh, and English is the most widely spoken of its four languages.

As transitions go, jet lag is all you really need to be concerned about on arrival in Singapore. And where to find the best Nasi Lemak.

Singapore is a city that fascinates everyone from age 5 to 95. There are an endless array of absolutely mindblowing attractions and activities at Singapore, not to speak of the scintillating food to the shopping to the captivating cultural scenarios.

We have put together a Singapore travel guide for first-time visitors, right from the basic visitor laws you are expected to follow and the varied fun things you can do here during your stay. So read on our Singapore city guide and enjoy your visit to Singapore.

Jurong Bird Park

We warn you though that you will be back again and again! Singapore is addictive.

1. A Few Regulations to Follow While in Singapore

A city-state that runs as smoothly as Singapore needs some strict rules. Some of its more conservative laws are controversial across the world, and unless you want your costs to skyrocket, you better stick to them too.

As a rule of thumb, don't eat or drink on any public transport. Avoiding it on the street is helpful too, but not illegal - unless it's chewing gum. Jaywalking, smoking in non-designated areas, and littering are all fineable offenses that Singapore takes much more seriously than many Western countries.

  • Want to explain the almost non-existent crime rate? Take a look around. There are security cameras in every little corner, so there is no getting away with anything while visiting Singapore.
  • Chewing gum is illegal in Singapore, so do not even try it.
  • Tourist or resident, it does not matter. If you are caught littering Singapore's streets thrice, you go around on Sunday, cleaning up streets with a sign around your neck that says, 'I am a litterer'. We are not kidding.
  • Tipping is not allowed, so do not pay any extra at hotels and restaurants or anywhere else.

2. Where to Stay in Singapore

The best place to stay is in youth hostels in Chinatown as they have air conditioning, are fairly cheap and very quiet. You have an endless array of budget hotels in Singapore and hostels in the Little India and Chinatown areas as well as the Lavender and Jalan Besar areas. For mid-range hotels, check out the ones in Dhoby Ghaut and Bugis.

Check out the hotels in the central City Hall area and also the riverside Clarke Quay area which allows easy access to Chinatown. If you want to stay in a 4 or 5 star hotels in Singapore, the best ones are located in the Marina Bay area and along Orchard Road.

3. What is the best time to visit Singapore

Singapore is hot and humid the year around, except when it rains. The temperature averages at 27 degree Celsius throughout the year. The monsoon season in the northeast begins in December and goes on till March, while the southwest monsoon begins in June and goes on till September. April and May are the driest and hottest months in Singapore.

Pack only light cotton clothing, a hat, sunscreen and some shoes that are comfortable on hot streets. You might want to pack a pair of shoes for walking in the rain too, along with a small fold-up umbrella.

4. Where to buy souvenirs in Singapore

The best places to pick up small souvenirs for the people back home would be Chinatown and Little India. You can pick up mugs, keychains, t-shirts and some nice local handicrafts such as beaded shoes and bags, fans, silk scarves, homemade jewelry and so on in Chinatown while in Little India, you can buy Indian fabric, sarees, jewelry and more.

Other places to shop are Bugis Street and Chinatown and Little India for culturally-significant souvenirs. Plus, if you are looking for inexpensive souvenirs, these are the places to head to. Little India's Mustafa Centre offers 24-hour shopping on five levels housing more than 150,000 types of merchandise. Here you can find everything from household appliances to fashion to electronics and Ayurveda herbs.

Also visit the Singapore museum shop, the RISIS Orchid & Peranakan Collections at Suntec Mall, and the Raffles Hotel for truly unique souvenirs. At the airport, you can pick up local snacks that make great gifts for food lovers.

5. Transport In Singapore

The Singapore MRT is efficient, clean and safe. Pick up an EZ-link card which you can use for the MRT and for local buses. A card costs S$12, and you can top up as you spend the funds on your card at any MRT station. Another good way of getting around is the hop-on-hop-off bus tour service. Just hop on at any point and check out landmarks and attractions at your own pace.

6. Where to eat in Singapore?

Singapore has more restaurants and cafes than you can count. However, for quick, cheap and hygienically prepared food, head to the hawker stalls you will find in every major area. Check the Health Card that will be displayed proudly. A stands for top hygiene while D stands for poor. Read on for more information on hawker food stalls in our Singapore Travel Guide blog.

The huge food courts are great places to try cheap and wholesome street food. The biggest Hawker center is Maxwell Road Hawker Centre where there are over 100 stalls. Look out for the busiest stalls. Whilst you will have to wait a little longer to get your food, these stalls are often the busiest for the simple reason that they are the best!

If you are able to splash out on some fine dining, Chinatown also has some quirky bistros worth trying. Labyrinth is one such restaurant in which you can try unusual combinations such as Fish and Chips Soup and Chilli Crab with ice cream. Another must-visit bar/restaurant is The Tippling Club. This bistro pairs unusual dishes with unusual cocktails and has appeared in multiple lists of Asia's greatest restaurants.

Walk through the recreated 19th-century streets at Chinatown Heritage Centre and observe the little homes where the Chinese used to live before Singapore developed.

Try the Maxwell Food Centre, the Old Airport Road Food Centre, Tiong Bahru Food Centre and others. Surprise your special someone with a special, exclusive dining experience that is unique to Singapore and appeals to anyone looking for an elite or economic activity to do together. Delight in the mouth watering evening meal and cherish your loved one in the air while reveling in the striking views of the city underneath.

Do not worry about cosying up with your spouse as a dinner date at Jewel Box is sure to transport you, literally and metaphorically, while shuttling over the city.

7. Sim card in Singapore

The 3 major mobile providers are Singtel, M1, and Starhub. You can pick up a prepaid card from any of them. Be sure to show your passport while picking up a card. If your existing phone does not take a foreign SIM, pick up a cheap disposable phone and use that with your prepaid SIM.

8. What to Eat in Singapore

One respite from the financial weight of Singapore is its culinary scene. There are world-class restaurants sporting Michelin stars begging for a deep pocket-dive, but a trip to the hawker stalls might just edge those out.

Singapore's cultural mix makes trying everything a tall order, but working through the token dishes of each demographic is a good start. Hainanese chicken rice is a must, and Wee Nam Kee is the spot to try it. To breakfast like a local, grab some Kaya toast (toast with sweet coconut butter) and dunk it in a cup of coffee at any local Kopitiam. If you're still hungry after that, go in search of your favorite laksa spot. A bowl from Frenzlink cafeteria will warm your soul.

Of course, if you still want to splash, hit up Jumbo Seafood and order the famous chili crab. At $50 a head, it's steep. But it's worth it.

Singapore's cuisine is one of the city's main attractions to tourists. The Annual Singapore Food Festival that begins in end June every year and closes by the end of July sees millions of tourists enter the city each year.
Singapore is known for its clean and hygienic food. You can eat anywhere, and know that the food in Singapore is safe.

Try the hawker centers which offer a range of cultural dishes, from Chinese to Indian to Korean to Japanese. You will find a stall corresponding to each region. Thosai contains very much less saturated fat, and is a rich source of several minerals like iron and calcium.

Traditionally, thosai are served hot along with sambar, a stuffing of potatoes, and chutney (ground coconut, chilli, kari leaf). Masala thosai is a hearty lunch; a delicious crepe filled with a generous amount of masala (spiced) potatoes. It’s flavourful from the many spices used to season such as mustard seeds, cumin, curry leaves, star anise and coriander.

Singapore's unofficial dish is Chicken Rice. You can get this dish anywhere, from hawker centers to fancy restaurants. Also be sure to try chili crabs, various noodle dishes and so on. As for drinks, Singapore is famous for its signature cocktail, the Singapore Sling. It is a combination of Cherry Heering, Benedictine, fresh pineapple juice, and gin.

It would be impossible to include all of Singapore's incredible foodie haunts and dishes and drinks in our Singapore Tour Guide. You will have to explore and make your own discoveries.

9. Dive into Singapore's colorful history

The shiny surface of Singapore means that many visitors overlook its unique history. Dig a little deeper and the country will develop a whole new meaning. The British influence will be immediately evident in colonial architecture. But around the corner, amidst the skyscrapers, you can explore Malaysian shophouses where locals sip coffee in their favorite Kopitiam (coffee shops).

The city is dotted with religious sites representing each of its diverse populations. The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is a wonderful glimpse into Buddhist life in Singapore. The gold-domed Sultan Mosque is the glittering focal point of the Muslim Quarter. While the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple lends insight into the Hindu contingent.

10. Singapore itinerary

Day 1: Arrival - Night Safari in Singapore

Arrive in Singapore. Changi International Airport is simply the best in the world and great for stopping off at when boarding to your next destination. It has a giant waterfall, butterfly garden and ponds around the cafe’s with big coy fish in them. Over the years, it has added one great feature after another and by far, the most unusual but really coolest addition to this airport is the The Slide.

This slide is 12 meters tall or four stories high and it's the longest slide in an airport. It's located at Terminal 3 of Changi Airport. You can hop in on this slide at Level 1 and have fun reaching basement 3. According to terms and conditions, every S$10 spent on Changi Airport establishments (for a single receipt of purchase on the same day) entitles the visitor one ride on the slide.

One receipt allows the visitor a maximum of 10 rides on the slide in one day for the same receipt used. Also, you have to be at least 1.3 meters tall to get on this slide. It is worth mentioning that Changi Airport also has cinemas where passengers may watch international films for free, a butterfly garden, a sunflower garden, and the famous forest valley among others.

Quite apart from more formal hotel provision there are wonderful couches to sleep on in quiet areas of the airport if you’re on a night layover, free tours of Singapore on a daytime layover, fantastic airport shopping — not the usual overpriced rubbish or overpriced tat —, excellent food at airport prices, free computer terminals, all in what must be the world’s cleanest environment and plenty of helpful staff on hand.

Go to the hotel of your choice. The check in Time depends on the hotel. In the evening proceed to Singapore Night safari. Hop onboard the 40-minute tram journey of wild animal encounters!

Overnight stay at hotel.

Day 2: Half day City Tour + Sentosa Island

Enjoy morning breakfast and proceed to the Singapore city tour. Here you can cover major attractions and enjoy the architecture and beauty of Singapore and major attractions like Merlion, Suntec City, Fountain of Wealth, Orchard Road, Little India and China Town. Enjoy your day at Sentosa Island.

Surrounded with lush tropical greenery, Butterfly Park & Insect Kingdom showcases the stunning beauties of mother nature. With a great variety of fluttering butterflies and exotic insects, this tamed wilderness is sure to delight you.

Bukit Batok Town Park is a romantic escapade into a place resembling the Guilin in China. It is a favourite spot for couples to hang out under the soft lights along the banks of the lake. Stroll hand-in-hand with your loved one to enjoy a relaxing time and capture important moments in film from many lookout points. Some of the best photos backdropped with tranquil lake rimmed with lovely greenery and towering cliffs are wonderful souvenirs to take back home.

Fondly referred to as Little Guilin or Xiao Guilin, the park boasts beautiful landscapes that cannot be missed by couples on a Singapore trip.

The Luge offers a truly unique outdoor experience suitable for all ages that is not found anywhere else in Singapore or Southeast Asia. After Luge, board the Skyride and take in the fantastic panoramic scenery of the city skyline and beautiful coastline.

There's no better way to complete a fabulous day at Sentosa than to take in a spectacular night show set outdoors against the backdrop of an open sea. Come, discover an awe-inspiring display of water, laser and fire effects, set to majestic music and a panorama of breathtaking vistas - Wings of Time. Weaved together by a tale of friendship and courage that will linger with you long after you leave the magical isle.

Day 3: Full day Universal studio tour

After breakfast proceed to Universal Studio. Go beyond the screen and Ride The Movies at Universal Studios Singapore at Resorts World Sentosa. Only here can you experience cutting-edge rides, shows, and attractions based on your favourite blockbuster films and television series, including Sesame Street Spaghetti Space Chase, TRANSFORMERS The Ride: The Ultimate 3D Battle, Shrek 4-D Adventure, Jurassic Park Rapids Adventure, and more! Overnight stay at hotel.

Day 4: Explore shopping markets

In the morning take healthy breakfast. Explore shopping markets and enjoy street food or stay back at the hotel. Singaporean shopping centres are all the same. Visit one, and you feel like you have visited them all. Because a large number of shops are the same in each shopping center.

But if you want to experience something different, and haggle, try visiting Bugis Street Market (not the shopping center, but the assortment and myriad of shops opposite it for the best discounts on fashion). Just head up to level 2 for fashion and be bombarded with an assortment of fashion accessories at affordable prices.

Plaza Singapura, at the top level, just outside the cinema is home to the toy shops that caters to toy collectors and otakus. Suntec City is the roaming grounds for cosplayers.

Day 5: Departure

In the morning take breakfast and check out from hotel. Proceed to airport to catch your flight to return home with unforgettable memories of Singapore.

We hope you spend a nice long holiday in Singapore to enjoy the absolutely uncountable number of attractions and fun activities the city has to offer. No matter whether you are a history buff, adventure buff or if you are looking for fun activities for kids, you will find lots to do in Singapore.
Kalyan Panja