A cultural collision of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Western influences, the small island nation of Singapore is a haven of food, nature, arts and innovation.
Where to visit
Just a hop, skip and a jump off the southern coast of Singapore lies Sentosa Island, home to one of the country’s most popular attractions, Universal Studios Singapore. Once a military fortress during British occupation, today Sentosa Island is better known as Resorts World Sentosa and is lined with hotels, a casino, a maritime museum and an aquarium.
Visit Chinatown and immerse yourself in the vibrant markets, brightly coloured shophouses and old-world streets where Chinese life and culture in Singapore evolved. Drop by the Chinese Heritage Centre to learn more about the rich history of the neighbourhood or just wander the streets to get a sense of it yourself. Merchants are still peddling the same wares of old – jewellery, fabrics and traditional handicrafts, and the old shophouse architecture is a feast for the eyes.
If you’re in town for Chinese New Year in February, this precinct comes alive with festivals, performances and exotic street food.
The retail heartbeat of the city, Orchard Road has shaken its origins as a thoroughfare of fruit trees and pepper farms and evolved into a glitzy go-to destination for anyone seeking some serious retail therapy. The designer hotspot of Singapore, it’s home to a huge variety of malls, hotels and upscale restaurants and caters for shoppers looking for high end splurges or bargain finds. Those keen to make this shopping precinct home base can splash out with a stay at the Mandarin Orchard Singapore, a luxury 5-star hotel on Orchard Street.
Known to the local Tamil community as ‘Tekka’, Little India is a vibrant district in Singapore boasting an array of wall-to-wall shophouses, streetside food vendors and local temples. The bustling Serangoon Road runs through its heart, where you can scoot down a back alley to get your fortune told, pick up some jangly jewellery and peruse bolts of silk in every colour. Settle in over a fragrant curry and reflect on the centuries of life played out on its surrounding streets and laneways.
A Malay-Muslim precinct since the early 19th century, Kampong Glam is where you’ll find the striking Sultan Mosque and the centre for Muslim activities in Singapore.
With traditional stores selling everything from carpets, fragrant spices, oil-based perfumes and handicrafts, it’s a great shopping destination you can easily spend hours discovering.
Local eateries along Arab Street serve up delicious fare from fresh satay skewers, tender kebabs and spicy curries and a visit to the quarter’s Malay Heritage Centre is an excellent way to learn more about the history and culture of the area.
In the southern part of Singapore lies Marina Bay, a bay and surrounding entertainment precinct packed with theatres, museums, shops, restaurants and a casino. Surrounded by the lush landscape of Gardens by the Bay, Marina Bay is where you’ll find some of the city’s most popular attractions and events, including the Singapore Grand Prix.
Also worth checking out is the 165-metre Singapore Flyer. It’s the world’s second largest observation wheel, and offers incredible views across Marina Bay and over parts of neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia.
The Civic District
Singapore’s seat of government lies in the Civic District just north of the Singapore River, where you’ll discover a cluster of museums, memorials and parks. The former British pocket of Singapore, it offers some spectacular colonial architecture including the iconic Raffles Hotel, Fullerton building and Grecian-style City Hall.
Art buffs can hang out in the Singapore Art Museum and those keen to learn more about the Peranakan communities in Southeast Asia can do so at the Peranakan Museum, housed in the former Tao Nan Chinese School.
Arts and culture
In Singapore, it really is all about the food, and with such a variety of Asian cultures making up the local community, the offerings are endless and delicious. Feast like a king at one of Singapore’s hawker centres like the famous Chomp Chomp Food Center, offering stall upon stall of fresh, cheap and fantastic food. Sample Hainanese chicken rice, satay skewers, fish head curry and fried char kway teow noodles.
While touring the neighbourhoods of Little India, Chinatown and Kampong Glam, get your fill with local eats that are light on the wallet and heavy in goodness. The renowned chilli crab is a must-try while in town, so don’t pass up an opportunity to head to a restaurant and dig in like Long Beach Seafood Restaurant
Singapore night safari
Each year over a million visitors make their way through Singapore night safari, the world’s first night zoo dedicated to nocturnal animals. Open every night until midnight, ride a guided tram across seven geographical zones from the Himalayas to Africa. Walking trails in the Singapore night safari take you up close and personal with leopards, lions and local cats and those feeling homesick can trek the wallaby trail through the Australian outback.
Singapore Grand Prix
Held under lights in Singapore’s Marina Bay precinct, the Singapore Grand Prix is on the FIA Formula One World Championship calendar and has been running since 2008.
A huge tourism drawcard for Singapore, the Singapore Grand Prix draws bumper crowds each year in September.
Singapore Botanic Gardens
Not known as the ‘Garden City’ for nothing, Singapore has worked hard to establish itself as a leader in cutting edge horticulture and has embarked on ambitious urban garden projects over the years.
With rainforests, a dedicated ginger garden, national orchid garden and a swan lake, the Singapore Botanic Gardens is a natural wonderland in the heart of Singapore.
From 12-day weddings, highly decorative clothing and ornate porcelain, there’s a wealth of cultural riches to discover with a visit to Singapore’s Peranakan Museum. Stroll past rows of colourful traditional Peranakan shophouses in Joo Chiat and pop into Baba House, one of the best-preserved traditional homes for an insight into the daily life of a Peranakan family.
Steamy Singapore is mostly warm year-round with temperatures at a consistent 30°C and rarely dropping below 20°C.
The wet season runs from November to January, however rain and humidity can be expected throughout the year. When it does rain, it’s generally sudden and strong, but over quickly.
The driest months in Singapore are between May and July. Packing for both sunshine and rainfall are recommended, no matter what time of year you plan to visit.
Health and safety
No specific vaccinations are required for travel to Singapore, however all travellers should ensure their routine vaccinations are up to date, including tetanus and diphtheria, whooping cough, polio, measles, mumps and rubella and chickenpox.
It is recommended to speak with your doctor when planning your trip to find out which vaccinations you may need. Keep in mind that some vaccinations require more than one dose, so it is best to chat to your doctor well in advance of travel.
With a reputation for doling out harsh penalties, crime in Singapore is unsurprisingly low. Still, common sense and general precautions are always recommended, as muggings are known to occur. Along with harsh penalties, Singapore is notorious for fining people – everything from littering, dropping cigarette butts, jaywalking and chewing gum carries hefty penalties.
In case of an emergency in Singapore, phone 999 for police and 995 for ambulance and fire brigade.
Always be on the safe side when you travel by taking out comprehensive travel insurance. Medibank Travel Insurance gives you overseas leading hospital, accident and medical evacuation cover while you’re travelling. And with our comprehensive plans, you’ll have cover for a host of other surprises like lost luggage, unforeseen cancellations and rental car insurance excess.*
Money and costs
The currency in Singapore is the Singapore dollar, with notes issued in denominations of $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100, $500, $1000 and $10,000 and coins to the value of 1, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents and $1.
While you won’t find the super cheap prices associated with travelling through other parts of Southeast Asia here, a huge variety of accommodation options and reasonable food make Singapore a very affordable destination for travellers. Simple tips such as drinking the safe local tap water (as opposed to having to buy bottled), eating in the incredible food markets where flavour-packed dishes are whipped up for a few dollars and picking up an EZ-Link transport card to get around and avoiding fines will go along way!
Around US$35-40 per day should cover you for hostel-style accommodation and basic meals while a low-range hotel, one restaurant meal and simple snacks will cost around US$90 – US$100 each day.
Tipping isn’t customary in Singapore and most hotels and restaurants already include a service charge on their bill.
There’s no shortage of cash-accessing facilities in Singapore, with ATMs found everywhere from train stations to shopping centres. MasterCard, Visa and bank cards with Plus or Cirrus are accepted at ATMs as are major credit cards in hotels, shops and restaurants as a payment method.
* Important things you should know: Limits, sub-limits, exclusions and conditions apply. This is general advice only. Medibank Private Limited, ABN 47 080 890 259, an Authorised Representative, AR 286089, of Travel Insurance Partners Pty Limited, ABN 73 144 049 230 AFSL 360138, issues the insurance on behalf of the insurer. The insurer is Zurich Australian Insurance Limited ABN 13 000 296 640, AFSL 232507. Please consider your own needs and the Combined FSG/PDS available from Medibank stores or medibank.com.au/travel to decide if this product is right for you.