Most travelers have missed out on exploring Singapore because of its reputation as a layover spot instead of a holiday destination. Many would find themselves there for a few hours in between flights but restrict themselves to its airport and not give the country a second glance when they embark on their next flight out.
However, what most people don’t know is that there’s more to Singapore than its efficient airport, its towering skyscrapers and crowded shopping malls on weekends. It could be rather fun and interesting to visit if you give it a chance.
Here’s a suggested itinerary for you if you find yourself lingering around for a day.
8 am – Traditional kopi set for breakfast or scrumptious brunch at a hipster joint
You can’t not pass by Singapore without trying out a kopi set at least once. Beloved by both locals and expats, the kopi-set is a classic Singaporean breakfast that includes a plate of crisp-kaya toast, two soft-boiled eggs, and a cup of dark coffee drenched in condensed milk. If you’re unsure of how to eat the soft-boiled eggs, watch the locals around you. You’ll see them adding soya-sauce and pepper into the eggs before mixing them well. You then, have the option to dip your crunchy kaya and butter slathered toast into the eggs for the extra eggy-oomph.
The kopi set will only set you back no less than SGD 1.50 in most places, unless you’re at a cafe or a chain coffeeshop. Walk into any food courts in the morning, especially the ones at the wet market, and you’ll be served the real deal. Some locals also swear by Tong Ah Eating House at 35 Keong Saik Road.
However, if you’re already familiar with the kopi set and would prefer something a more Melbournian fare from a cafe, then seek out brunch joints around Kampong Glam, Chinatown or Tiong Bahru area.
One of my all-time favourites, Symmetry Cafe at 9, Jalan Kubor, offers regular brunch favourites like Eggs Benedict, Spanish Eggs and Bircher Muesli, and a fine selection of Australian coffees. However, if you’re on a budget, you’ll be better off elsewhere.
10 am – Shopping and sightseeing around Kampong Glam and Bugis
One of Singapore’s key shopping and hang-out destinations is Bugis and Kampong Glam. Once notorious for providing entertainment for sailors and military personnel, they have now quickly become the alternative shopping districts to Singapore’s touristy Orchard Road.
Around Kampong Glam and Bugis, you’ll find streets lively with young people, cafe-goers, bargain hunters, vintage connoisseurs, artisanal store seekers, and so on.
Bugis Street will appeal to those looking for a bargain, but without a trade-off in style, choices and quality. Rows and rows of small shops populate this outdoor but covered shopping street. Crowds milling around, people browsing and negotiating, food and drink aroma tempting the thirsty and hungry, and choices, choices, choices everywhere.
Wander a little further and you’ll find yourself in Haji Lane of Kampong Glam. Fabled for its narrow alley, the stretch offers an interesting fusion of indie boutiques and cult labels. If you’re on a lookout for the quirky, unique and extraordinary, then you should definitely clear your schedule to give yourself time to explore this street.
If shopping isn’t a priority for you, don’t give this place a miss yet. Heritage buffs might enjoy digging deeper into the history of the area by visiting Malay Heritage Centre (don’t forget to pay Masjid Sultan a visit) while Instagrammers would derive inspiration from the gorgeous and colourful shophouses that line the streets.
1pm – Lunch in Little India and some cultural immersion
All those walking and shopping must have gotten you hungry. By now, you might be ready for a hearty lunch. Take an MRT to Little India station and try one of Little India’s specialty in one of the many specialty restaurants along Race Course Rd: fish head curry. It may look a little weird to see a fish head in your curry but it tastes absolutely delicious.
However, if variety is your thing then head to Tekka Market and you’ll be spoilt for choice. Here you’ll find stalls selling both Northern and Southern Indian specialties, including Indian sweets and savoury snacks. If you’re lost, Jamal Restaurant and Sky Lab Cooked Food are good places to start. You’ll be tempted to try everything. Dosais, Nans, Prawn Vadais–oh, I’m salivating already!
Right after lunch, do visit the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple on Serangoon Road, which is the largest and oldest temple in Singapore, dedicated to Goddess Kali. There’s no entry fee but be sure to dress modestly and leave your footwear outside the temple’s gates.
After that, you’ll have to visit the House of Tan Teng Niah. It’s a two-storey free standing technicolor structure that has survived since the colonization of the Chinese. The house is painted in such a psychedelic manner that it makes it the most colorful residential building in Singapore!
5pm – Catch the Merlion in action and then wander along Bayfront
To get a good view of the towering Marina Bay Sands Hotel, the best way is to get off at Raffles MRT and see it from the other side of the bay. With enough distance, you’ll be able to capture all of them into a panoramic photo.
Then walk to Merlion Park and catch the iconic half-lion half fish statue, spouting water from its mouth. By then, dusk would fall and you’ll get to catch the iconic landmarks of Singapore lighting up.
Grab an ice-cream sandwich at the Merlion Park and head straight towards Esplanade Theatres. Here you’ll come up close with the durian looking structure that dedicates 60,000 square metres to staging international and local performances. If you’re lucky you sometimes might catch a free event or buskers outside.
From the Esplanade, walk through the now gloriously lit-up Helix Bridge and head to the Marina Bay Hotel and shops. A slow stroll along the waterfront could be one of the most romantic things you can do. If you’re on your own, fear not. Find a bench and stretch your feet a little. Relax, people watch or just let yourself soak in the surrounding vibes.
7pm – Watch the light show at Gardens By The Bay
This might arguably be the most crowded time to visit the magical Gardens By The Bay, but being able to catch the free OCBC Garden Rhapsody light show at 7.45 pm would be worth it. Watch how the stunning forest of giant metal trees blink, wink and flash to the music. We promise you, it’ll be a magical experience that you can’t get enough of.
When hunger strikes, don’t panic; we’ve got you covered. Just meander through the large park and seek out Satay By The Bay food court. Here you’ll get to enjoy local and regional delights without paying too much. You can’t go wrong with so many choices!
10 pm – Ce La Vi at Marina Bay Sands
The day is slowly coming to an end and you probably want to unwind with a drink. The nearest novelty place not too far away would be Ce La Vi bar (formerly known as Ku De Ta), perched on Marina Bay Sands’ 57th floor.
It’s one of Singapore’s hottest rooftop venues that offers you an uninterrupted view of the city at night. Why pay for the Marina Bay Sand’s observation deck when you can enjoy the same views here with a drink of your choice?
Entry to Ce La Vi can be found at the bottom of tower 3.
Our proposed itinerary has come to an end, but if there’s still an ounce of energy left in you, then don’t hesitate to stop just there. You can have dim sum for supper in Geylang, or check out quirky bars along Chinatown and Tanjong Pagar.
So, not too shabby for a layover in Singapore, eh?