After three years of living in Singapore (aka Little Red Dot) as an expat, I have a few locals’ secrets to share. This guide, whispered Strait from the Merlion’s mouth (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), is full of insider tips for Singapore travel. This Singapore travel advice will help you experience a more enjoyable, affordable and authentic.
This post is mostly about the logistics of your visit to Singapore such as where to stay and how to get around. If you’re looking for top things to do, see here.
When to visit Singapore
To most foreigners, Singapore’s equatorial climate will seem pretty consistent at least consistent enough that you don’t have to worry too much about visiting at one time rather than another. Every day is hot (25-31˚C max), humid (70-80%) with a chance of a storm (which usually takes place in the afternoon).
Though there are some other factors that may have more determination on when you visit:
- Singapore allocates two official holidays for holy days belonging to each of its major religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. This may affect the opening times of some attractions, so check the country’s official public holidays here.
- Depending on the timing of your trip, seek out one of Singapore’s many festivals. With about 76% of the Red Dot’s population being of Chinese descent, Chinese New Year is by far the biggest celebration of the year. My personal favourite is Thaipusam that occurs in January/February each year – check dates here.
- The Singapore Grand Prix takes place in September each year. Prices for flights and accommodation are a lot more expensive a week either side of the race.
Getting to Singapore
By far, the most efficient way to get to Singapore is by air. Singapore boasts a super-efficient airport – Changi Airport (SIN) – with hundreds of flights each day. As a major stopover for air travel between Australiasia and Europe, you will find prices quite competitive. One hundred airlines will get you to/from Singapore including budget options: AirAsia, JetStar, Tiger Airways, Scoot and Firefly.
Singapore is a major cruise hub for Southeast Asia. The country has two terminals: Singapore Cruise Centre and Marina Bay Cruise Centre, through which over 10 major cruise lines operate.
It is possible to drive or take the bus to Singapore from West Malaysia. There are two 24-hr land border checkpoints: Tuas in the west and Woodlands in the north.
Arrival in Singapore
Here are just a few notes you should know before or immediately upon arrival in Singapore:
- Alcohol in Singapore is hugely expensive. If having a few drinks is an important part of the vacation experience for you, buying duty-free alcohol at the airport on your way in is usually the most economical way to access liquor, particularly spirits. Otherwise, you’ll want to confine yourself to happy hour!
- You can take a taxi or the MRT (Mass Rapid Transport aka train) from the airport to your accommodation depending on where you are staying. If you choose to take a cab into the downtown area, tell them to take the ECP (East Coast Parkway) and insist on that route despite what they may try to tell you about the traffic. In 99% of cases, it’s still faster and cheaper. You will also sound like someone who knows their way around, so are less likely to be taken on the roundabout route to bump up the fare. I’ll elaborate more on how to get around Singapore in a moment.
- Singapore is clean and safe largely because it strictly enforces its laws. Avoid jaywalking, don’t litter or graffiti and leave your chewing gum at home – these are all fine-worthy offences. Absolutely, under no circumstances have anything to do with illegal drugs or transporting them into the country – you risk the death penalty and ignorance is not a defence.
Getting around Singapore
Singapore is super efficient and easy to get around, here are the best options for moving around the country:
- Singapore is an extremely walkable city, but sometimes it’s just too hot or mid-tropical downpour. Look for underground tunnels that link the MRT (train system) with local attractions, and channel pedestrian traffic under major intersections. Sometimes you will be surprised how far you can get in these cooler underground pathways.
- The MRT (Mass Rapid Transport) system is great clean, safe, regular, affordable and efficient. You’ll wish your home country’s public transport was this good! You can buy a temporary Tourist Pass for 1, 2 or 3 days of unlimited travel.
- If all else fails, take a cab (they are relatively cheap) or use Grab – a local rideshare app.
Where to stay in Singapore
Accommodation in Singapore does not come cheap. There are oodles of luxury options like the famous Raffles Hotel, but if you are looking to strike a compromise between comfort, convenience and expense here are my top two recommendations.
- Rendezvous Hotel Singapore – Not only is this a very comfortable hotel that has consistently high Tripadvisor reviews, but has a super accessible location. From its position on Bras Basah Road, you can walk to many of Singapore’s attractions including Raffles Hotel, the National Museum, Orchard Road shopping district and Marina Bay. You also have access to four train lines across Dhoby Gaut and Bencoolen MRT Stations, a short walk from the hotel door. We had three different visitors (including my parents) from Australia stay there, and they all agreed it was a great hotel and location.
- Fairmont Singapore – Right across the road from Raffles Hotel, is the Fairmont. Though from the outside, the building looks like an 80’s throwback (it is!), the interior is quite comfortable. Again, I have not stayed here myself but in my time as an event manager in Singapore, I had several conferences and clients hosted by this establishment without complaint. Tripadvisor reviews also reflect this.
BUT WAIT…. I know what you are thinking. You want to swim in THAT infinity pool – the world’s largest by the way. The pool you’ve seen in many blog posts and Insta-pics is located at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel (the three towers with the boat-shaped deck across the top). In order for that to happen, you need to be a hotel guest. Even if it’s just for one night of your stay. I don’t think the hotel itself is worth what they charge for it, so go for the pool and then find somewhere else to reside for the rest of your time in Singapore.
Eating in Singapore
- Affordable, local hawker centres can be found all over Singapore. A hawker centre is essentially a food court with individual booths (hawker stalls), each specialising in a select number of dishes or type of food. Don’t know where to start? Begin with these top Singapore dishes.
- There are hawker centres in most malls but are often not signposted. Don’t be fooled by the food court signs directing you to the westernized, chain-filled food court. You’ll find cheap and delicious local cuisine in out-of-the-way places such as the basement or very top level of most malls.
- On the street, you’ll also find standalone hawker centres such as Maxwell Road Hawker Centre and Lau Pa Sat.
- If you are tentative about trying local cuisine, start out with a meal at Straits Kitchen at the Grand Hyatt on Orchard Road. Straits Kitchen is an upscale version of what you will find in a typical hawker centre and although it will cost you a lot more, it is a good place to get your feet wet.
- Some of my other personal favourite places to eat covering a range of cuisines:
- Lokal – Australian cafe/bar that does an amazing brunch.
- Kith Cafe – any meal of the day.
- Artichoke – Middle Eastern-inspired food great for brunch or dinner.
- Raffles City Food Court – Located opposite Raffles Hotel and has a mix of cuisines and price points. I recommend Nam Nam, Thai Express and Din Tai Fung followed by Tiong Bahru Bakery for dessert.
- My Little Tapas Bar – Excellent Spanish tapas in Club Street, Ann Siang Hill.
- See my recommendations in Peranakan: A Colourful Cultural Collision for places to sample Peranakan cuisine.
- Reference Fullerton Hotel vs. Raffles Hotel for a review of afternoon tea experiences in two top Singapore hotels housed in amazing British colonial buildings.
- “When in Rome” or Singapore as it might be, you are probably wanting to partake in a Singapore Sling. Traditionally this would be done at the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel which was the birthplace of the Sling. However, be warned it will set you back roughly SGD30 per cocktail. I recommend doing it just once for the experience and then find somewhere less expensive to drink.
Enjoy your Singapore travel experience and please let me know any questions in the comments below. Don’t forget to check out these super things to do while you’re on the Little Red Dot.
Peace, love & inspiring travel,