You can easily be forgiven for expecting very little in the way of history and accessible culture in Singapore on first appearance. Its towering skyscrapers and shopping malls are evidence of its rampart capitalism and modernity, but there is a wealth of intriguing history and plenty of exotic sights to explore in this multi-cultural melting pot of a city state.
Despite its relatively young age, Singapore boasts some of Asia’s finest colonial landmarks, perfectly complemented by well preserved Chinese shop houses, elegant mosques and colourful Hindu temples. It is quite feasible to explore its major central sights on foot, although if time is limited a guided tour is the best way to experience the main highlights.
There are river boat cruises, bus tours and even a combination of the two with amphibious vehicle Duck Tours on land and water and each of the main ethnic districts and the colonial quarter have leisurely walking tour itineraries.
For a bit more flexibility, there are numerous ‘hop on hop off’ open top bus tours.
Recommended Singapore sightseeing
For many people Chinatown is the heart and soul of Singapore. Explore its narrow lanes filled with lavishly adorned temples, chaotic hawker food stalls and animated street markets displaying timeless herbal remedies, exotic silk textiles and kitschy tourist souvenirs. Culture lovers should spend time browsing the fascinating exhibits of the Chinatown Heritage Centre and savour the solemn atmosphere of the gaudy Buddha Tooth Relic Temple.
Just across the Singapore River, the elegant Colonial District seems like a world away. Discover the gorgeous white stucco facades of the neo-renaissance Victoria Theatre, City Hall, St Andrews Cathedral and the quintessentially English Old Parliament Building. All are located around the famous Padang, Singapore’s most hallowed green space that still resounds to the odd game of cricket.
Escape the humidity for a while and explore ancient tribal art at the Asian Civilisations Museum. Nearby the island’s flagship National Museum is worth seeing for its captivating architecture alone and is just a short stroll from the iconic Raffles Hotel, the most emblematic of all colonial Singapore’s sights.
Head back to the waterfront for a breezy bumboat river cruise and lunch onboard. The views here are simply astounding, highlighting Singapore’s proud past heritage and unstoppable march into the 21st century. The towering Marina Bay Sands skyscrapers are as futuristic as they come, standing astride the contemporary weirdness of the Theatres on the Bay cultural centre and the historic art deco grandeur of the Fullerton Building. For the very finest aerial views the city has to offer, walk to the east of the marina and take a trip on the Singapore Flyer, the world’s largest Ferris wheel.
Love it or hate it, Singapore’s obsession with shopping is unmistakable and devotees of designer fashions come to worship at the mega malls of Orchard Road. Even if you have no intention of dipping into your wallet, it is an awe inspiring place and a good excuse to escape the heat in air conditioned luxury.
Orchard Road malls are a great place to simply soak up modern life and do some people watching or can get your fill of top notch international cuisine. Most of these multi storey malls also have a host of attractions such as cinemas and bars too.
Experience a slower pace of life at Bukit Timah, Singapore’s last remaining area of primary rainforest. Located 30 minutes north of the CBD, you can explore dense forest trails teeming with monkeys, monitor lizards and colourful birdlife and can easily be combined with the nearby Orchid Gardens and Singapore Zoo at Mandai Lake.
The beaches of East Coast Park also a great spot for nature lovers and a popular weekend playground for Singaporeans. Here you will find plenty to do in the sun such as exploring old Second World War sites, fishing, sailing, wind surfing and of course fabulous seafood restaurants.
There are many other worthwhile places to see which are probably best enjoyed as separate full or half days trips such as Changi Village, the tranquil offshore island of Pulau Ubin and the immensely popular family theme park playground of Sentosa Island.