Travel Essentials: A Guide To Singapore For First-Timers

Bright lights of Singapore's Marina Bay Sands

3.59min read

Published 24 May 2020


First time in Singapore? We’ve got you.

You’ve probably heard all the reasons why this city-state is a popular stopover for Aussie travellers.

Man taking photo of Singapore cityscape with smartphone at night.
Singapore has plenty of iconic sights and attractions worthy of a stopover or a longer holiday.

There’s the food, for starters. Eating is a national pastime in Singapore and there’s no such as things as a bad meal when you can get the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred dish in an unassuming hawker centre. Shopping is another popular drawcard, plus the nightlife is world-class, there’s attractions galore and cool neighbourhoods – each with their own distinct vibe – to explore. Even Singapore’s airport, Changi, is a top attraction in its own right.

Here’s all the things you need to know before you go.

Getting around

A view of the Sultan Mosque in Kampong Glam neighbourhood
A view of the Sultan Mosque in Kampong Glam neighbourhood.

For getting from A to B, the MRT (mass rapid transit) is the fastest and most convenient way to get around Singapore and most of the top attractions are within walking distance of a MRT station. Taxis are another option, especially for hard-to-access areas, and comparatively inexpensive, while the bus is your cheapest transport option.

DID YOU KNOW? Overseas visitors can register for a free public Wi-Fi account using your Aussie mobile number at any Wireless@SG hotspot.

Where to stay

Tanjong Beach view on Sentosa Island
A top-down view of the beachy resort of Sentosa Island.

Want to hit the shops? Stay on Orchard Road where you can find hotels for all budgets. Keen to check out the beach and theme parks? Stay at one of the many resort options on Sentosa Island. Want that Instagrammable shot of the rooftop infinity pool at Marina Bay Sands? Err, stay at Marina Bay Sands. For areas to consider, you’ll find all the top hotel groups in Raffles Place, including Sofitel, while the civic centre is home to the iconic Raffles Hotel. Look here to check out the best rates or ask your consultant for recommendations.

Things to do

Fort Canning Park
Verdant Fort Canning Park is undeniably Instagrammable.

Singapore’s attractions are world-famous. From museums to water parks, nature to man-made structures and everything in-between, there’s really something for everyone.

Must-visits include Gardens by the Bay, a 101ha green space that consists of three waterfront gardens at Marina Bay (don’t miss the nightly lightshow); Universal Studios Singapore on Sentosa, check out the world’s first night zoo, or scare yourself silly at the folkloric Haw Par Villa – brightly coloured theme park of Chinese myths.

For an island nation with a reputation as a financial centre, Singapore has a surprising amount of outdoor activities on offer, too. There’s wakeboarding at Pulau Ubin, an offshore island; plenty of mountain bike and hiking trails and heaps of parks to wander. We recommend the stunning Fort Canning Park. Accessible from the main shopping strip of Orchard Road, it's a historic site full of natural and notable attractions.

TOP TIP: Singapore is hot and humid all year round with average temps over 30 degrees Celsius. Make sure you take a water bottle to refill – the tap water is safe to drink.

Neighbourhoods to know

Colourful shophouses in Singapore's Chinatown neighbourhood
Colourful shophouses in Singapore's Chinatown neighbourhood during lunar new year festivities.

With the tagline ‘Asia’s world city’, Singapore is famous for its multicultural enclaves that offer an immersion into different heritages and cultures. There’s buzzing Chinatown with historic shophouses, temples and hawker centres; the vibrant Malay-Arab quarter of Kampong Glam (Singapore’s oldest urban area); Little India (self-explanatory); the Peranakan culture of Joo Chiat/Katong; and Euro-flavoured Holland Village.

DID YOU KNOW? Most Singaporeans speak English as well as another language such as Mandarin Chinese, Malay or Tamil.

Dining out

Grilled satay sticks
Grilled satay sticks are one of the many must-try street foods in a hawker centre.

With Chinese, Indian and Malay influences, Singapore’s foodie offerings are off-the-chart amazing. The best place to taste it all is at a hawker centre. Some typically Singaporean dishes to try include chicken rice (see the one Michelin-starred Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice in Chinatown where you can get half a soya sauce chicken for 7 Singapore dollars) and pork noodle soup (see Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle where you can get a one Michelin-starred meal for SGD$5).

Also try char kway teow, a wok-fried noodle dish; hokkien prawn mee noodles; kaya toast – coconut jam on toast; Singaporean chilli crab; Indian roti prata and Malay laksa for a feast of flavours.

You can also get a decent coffee in Singapore, thanks to the influx of Aussie roasters and baristas setting up shop here. Head to Schibello Coffee Roastery in Chinatown, Sarnies in Tanjong Pagar and Common Man Coffee Roasters in River Valley, or try kopi, the strong local brew of coffee, at one of thousands of kopitiams (coffee shops) and get your caffeine hot for less than one Singapore dollar.

TO TIP OR NOT TO TIP? There’s a 10 per cent gratuity added to your bill at some restaurants and hotels already, but it’s also customary to tip for good service above this.


Small alley in Singapore
Shopping in Singapore's small alleys will uncover one-of-a-kind finds.

From wet markets to retail mall and luxury brand boutiques, there’s no one-size-fits-all shopping experience in Singapore – the city-state has it all, even at Singapore Changi Airport.

For a high-street shopping haul, hit Orchard Street where you’ll find big shopping centres and international flagship retailers side by side. For straight-up luxe, The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands resort is the place to splurge. Sentosa Harbourfront is another one-stop shop or visit VivoCity, Singapore’s largest shopping mall.

For more bespoke buys, head to Singapore’s hip neighbourhoods. We like the local crafts in Joo Chiat/Katong for one-of-a-kind souvenirs, the addictive array of products  at Mustafa Centre in Little India, Chinatown’s buzzing markets, and the hipster enclave of Haji Lane in Kampong Glam where you can browse unique boutiques.

Where to go out at night

Clarke Quay at twilight
Clarke Quay is a hotspot day and night.

Looking for Singapore’s hip nightlife? From rooftop bars to karaoke lounges, DJs and live music, there’s plenty going on after dark. Head to Marina Bay for cocktails, rooftop bars and megaclubs; retro fun at Raffles Place (there’s a Holey Moley mini golf venue here and an arcade bar); hit the beach (clubs) in Sentosa; or check out the world-famous Zouk club at Clarke Quay.

All images: Getty Images

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