Is Singapore a 'Garden City', 'Concrete Jungle', the only 'Shopping Mall in the UN' or even 'Disneyland with the death penalty'? You decide!
Singapore was split up into ethnic and cultural centres back when it was still a British colony. These districts still retain the historical architecture and traditional vibe - unlike the rest of the city, where western influences prevail.
Following our visual cheat sheet, set your base in Little India, home to plenty of backpacker hostels. The district is tremendously close to all the popular attractions so you won’t have any trouble getting around. The best way to get around is by train, on the swift Mass Rapid Transport (MRT) system.
First off: Chinatown and the Financial District. This lively quarter is home to a multitude of temples and places of worship. Here, experience the cultural and religious diversity that contrasts heavily with the urban, corporate vibe of the Financial District, which is also known as the Central Business District (CBD) area.
Walk over to the Colonial District for a more European-style atmosphere. Here, you can go up the Swissotel to a staggering height of 226 metres, and enjoy a great view at the New Asia Bar, visited heavily by the working and expat crowd. If you’re looking for cheap finds, don’t miss out on trawling the almost-claustrophobic Bugis Street Market.
From the Colonial District, it is a only a quick walk to Kampong Glam with its historical golden-domed Sultan Mosque. Have a quick bite to eat at the many restaurants along Arab Street where you can choose between a selection of Arabic or local food.
Little India is another twenty minute walk away and offers more temples and shopping. If you’re in for a break, have a meal from banana leafs at Banana Leaf Apolo.
Two quick train rides away is the ever-popular shopping haven of Orchard Road. You’ll probably have to make sure your wallet is full with the amount of shopping malls available in this stretch of road. We recommend to visit the relatively new Orchard Central and Ion Orchard malls. If you’re looking for a bargain amongst Louis Vuitton and Chanel, check out Lucky Plaza and Far East Plaza.
Hop on the train again and chill out along the River Area, which surrounds three Quays of Singapore: Clarke Quay, Boat Quay and Robertson Quay. If you’re up for it, clubs are aplenty in the area, with popular deejay acts spinning most nights.
From Little India, you can also hop on a Singapore Attractions Express Bus to the Zoo and Night Safari - two must-visit places, even if you normally don't go to zoos.
The Singapore Zoo houses hundreds of species of animals including endangered and rare tigers and rhinos. In the evening, be sure to visit the Night Safari next door, and watch as nocturnal creatures come to life around you.
Then hop over to Sentosa, Singapore’s beach and resort island. It's all man-made here, including the beach with sand from Indonesia. Try knocking on the 'boulders' and listen to the sound. Sentosa is also popular for its tourist attractions such as the Universal Studios theme park and Underwater World. If your day on the beach lasts longer, there are some great partying spots on Sentosa as well: Sunset Bay Beach Bar and Tanjong Beach Club. The island is accessible by the Sentosa Express train from Vivocity.
You can wrap up your trip with an authentic experience along Joo Chiat Road, where you’ll be greeted with copious amounts of laksa, a local Peranakan dish of noodles cooked in coconut milk, and plenty of markets and eye-catching traditional terrace houses.
With eating dubbed to be a national hobby and shopping a popular pastime, it’s easy to indulge yourself in Singapore. Just try to save on the alcohol while you party: A pint of beer can easily cost you S$15 and more.
(This itinerary is based on our Singapore Backpacker CheatSheet, a visual guide available for free download. We offer Backpacker CheatSheets for many more countries.)