I’m celebrating my 10th anniversary of living in Singapore this year! Yup, I’ve officially lived in city-country for a decade, and recently become a Singaporean myself. I don’t need to tell you that ten years is a pretty long time to get to know a place – especially one as tiny as Singapore. I’d like to think I know a thing or fifteen about this country!
I know many visitors ended up in Singapore as a stopover while traveling to another country. Our beloved Changi Airport serves as a vibrant hub for many intercontinental flights. If you are one of the passengers of such flights, you might end up in Singapore for a very short time. But fret not – I’ve created a guide tailored just for you! Singapore is a city known for its small size and highly efficient lifestyle, so you’ll definitely still see quite a bit even if you’re here for a short time.
What should I do if I only have a few hours in Singapore?
This is a tricky question, but I’ll try to answer as comprehensively as I can. Buckle up and read on:
1. Getting in and out of Changi Airport
Remember how I told you Singapore is highly efficient? Our airport is a great sneak peek to that. The immigration and taxi lines in Changi Airport are usually very fast. You’ll get out of the airport and into a taxi in 15-20 minutes on average. If you’re unlucky and the line is long, don’t worry – it would still take less than an hour. From the airport, it’s only a 20-minute taxi ride to the central area.
2. How much time do I have in the city?
As a rule of thumb if you’re trying to estimate how much time you’ll actually have in the city itself, subtract your stopover time by about 4 hours: 1 hour for getting off your flight to the city, 30 minutes to get back to the airport later, 2 hours to be at the airport before your next flight and 30 minutes of wiggle room. So for example, if your stopover is 6 hours, you’ll probably only have 2 hours in the city.
3. If you are in Singapore for LESS than 6 hours
If you are stopping over for less than 6 hours, or if you’re stopping over at night outside normal business hours, then it’s probably not worth getting out of the airport. But don’t worry, Changi Airport isn’t considered the best in the world for nothing! Check out the Changi Airport website for ideas what to do while transiting.
Recently, the new Jewel Changi Airport was opened to the public which features impressive indoor waterfall and garden as well as a long list of retail shops and good restaurants. You won’t be bored! However, visiting Jewel Changi Airport DOES require you to get out and past the immigration line so only do this if you have the visa to visit Singapore. Jewel can be accessed quite easily from all 4 terminals of Changi Airport. Click here to find out more about Jewel Airport.
4. If you are in Singapore for MORE than 6 hours
If you are stopping over for more than 6 hours and a portion of it is during the day, you should definitely get out of Changi Airport and explore the city. Check out my itinerary below and see which one you’d like to do and is actually feasible for you. Personally, I think at the very least you should at least go to the waterfront promenade area.
4. Free Singapore Tour from Changi Airport
If you are in Singapore for more than 5.5 hours but less than 24 hours, you might be eligible for a free Singapore Tour that departs daily straight from Changi Airport depending on your passport and flight time. Click here for more information on the free Singapore Tour.
But if you prefer to go around by yourself, then keep reading for my recommendations!
What to do with your luggage
You can store your luggage at Changi Airport for a small fee of S$5-18 depending on the size of the luggage, payable per 24 hours. This means even if you’re stopping in Singapore overnight, you could leave your big luggage at the airport and bring only your essentials and one day of clothes with you! Click here for information on the luggage storage at the airport.
Where to stay in Singapore
If your stopover includes an overnight, you definitely should not limit yourself to staying near the airport. Singapore is a small country – there are hardly ever any traffic and taxis are available around the clock, so you won’t encounter problems going to the airport later. I recommend staying in the Central area, Little India, Bugis or Chinatown which is only 20 minutes ride to Changi airport.
Of course, everyone knows about the famous Marina Bay Sands and its infinity pool, but if you fancy a boutique hotel with its own character, here are some hotels I recommend:
- The Scarlet Hotel – a luxury boutique hotel located conveniently in a shophouse on Club street, one of Singapore’s most lively street filled with cocktail bars and chic restaurants.
- Amoy Hotel
- Hotel 1929
- The Sultan Hotel
- The Capitol Kempinski Hotel
- Six Senses Maxwell
- Clover Hotel at Jalan Sultan
Okay, enough talk! Let’s move on to the itinerary of what you should do during your stopover:
1. Try the quintessential Singaporean Breakfast – a slice of Kaya Toast and Soft-boiled eggs!
If you are in Singapore for breakfast time, start your day with breakfast loved by all Singaporean! Actually, I’ll take that back – you can even have this any time of the day 😉
A breakfast set in Singapore usually consists of Kaya Toast with butter, accompanied by two soft boiled eggs and a cup of local Kopi (the local way of saying coffee). You could skip the eggs and coffee, but I highly encourage trying at least the Kaya toast, served with sugar and butter. Kaya jam is made from coconut milk, eggs, sugar, and it’s totally delicious.
I recommend to head down to Ya Kun Kaya Toast on China street – it’s their first outlet since 1944, and is their most authentic outlet. It also helps that it’s in the middle of the city so it’s highly accessible.
2. Explore Chinatown (~2 hours)
From Ya Kun Kaya, Chinatown is only a short walk away. A bit of back story of the Chinatown area: If you took the MRT (train) to Chinatown, you will notice that the station uses Chinese characters 牛车水. Those characters do not mean “Chinatown”, but they do tell a history of this area very well. 牛 is the character for “cow”, 车 is “car” and 水 is “water”. This is because back in the days, fresh water supplies were carried using carts pulled by oxen from a well in Ann Siang Hill (which I will get to in a minute).
I recommend starting from Telok Ayer street, which means “Bay Water” in Malay (which by the way, is
On Telok Ayer Street, you can find Thian Hock Keng temple, the oldest Hokkien temple in the country. While exploring the temple I recommend stopping by Peranakan Tile shop inside the temple to see the various tile designs.
From Telok Ayer, you can walk north to Ann Siang Hill and find the well I was talking about earlier. Make your way to Chinatown central, where you’ll find Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple and Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. The Chinatown area, as the name indicates, was the settlement area for Chinese immigrants who came to Singapore in the 1800s. Nowadays, it’s a bustling area filled with shops, restaurants and night market.
Continue your way to Kreta Ayer Road and Keong Saik Road. Kreta Ayer simply means “Cart water” in Malay, and similar to Telok Ayer, it was named so due to its past history involving fresh water being carried by oxen carts. Keong Saik Road, on the other hand, an area that was once a prominent red light district, but has now turned into a hip area filled with bars and boutique hotels, housed in the colorful shophouses.
If you are in Singapore during
Nearby Keong Saik road is the Outram Park MRT, which you can take to your next destination at Bugis MRT.
3. Visit Kampong Glam (~1.5 hours)
Kampong Glam was home to Malay royalties back in the 1800s. Since 1989, it has become one of the conservation areas in Singapore. From Bugis MRT, make your way to Haji Lane, an artsy alley filled with colorful murals, local indie brands in shophouses, and trendy cafes. It’s definitely popular for Instagram these days.
Go one street over from Haji Lane to Arab Street where you’ll find Sultan Mosque, one of the most important mosques for the Muslim community in Singapore. In front of Sultan Mosque, you’ll find rows of middle eastern restaurants. It used to be that you can relax and smoke shisha here, but shisha was banned from Singapore since 2016. So nowadays, you can just find good food and live entertainment here at night.
If you are in Singapore during the Ramadan month, you might want to come back here at night. Ramadan is the holy month where Muslim celebrate by fasting, and they would break their fast by sunset and cool food markets will open. Check the Singapore Events Calendar here.
On your way out of the Kampong Glam area, if modern architecture is of your interest, you might want to stop by Parkview Square which has been colloquially referred to as the “Gotham Building” by Singaporean residents. Once you see the building, you’ll know why – the building is grandly decorated in art deco style, and you can even find a few Dali sculptures in the courtyard. There is also a free museum called The Parkview Museum, which hosts different exhibits every few months – you can check out what they have on right here.
4. Try the Singaporean Local Food
Singapore is a country with many culture, which you can see well in the form of our local food. We have Chinese food, Malay food, Indian food, and even a fusion of Indian-Malay!
If you don’t have time to make it to the original restaurants, you can find most of these food at Rasa Pura food court, found at the basement of Marina Bay Sands. Click here for my restaurant recommendations in Singapore.
Here are some of my personal favorites:
- MTR 1924 – Located in Little India, this vegetarian restaurant serves some of the best north Indian food you can find anywhere. Get the Masala Dosa!
- Bak Kut Teh – Bak Kut Teh is a peppery, garlicky pork ribs soup that is loved by locals. Local’s favorites includes Founder’s Bak Kut Teh and Ng Ah sio Bak Kut Teh.
- Hainanese Chicken Rice – Singapore is pretty much synonymous to chicken rice, and you’ll see why! Despite the name, much of the importance of the dish lies in the rice itself rather than the chicken. The rice is so fragrant and full of flavors. My favorite chicken rice is Loy Kee.
5. Go to Little India (1-1.5 hours)
Once you’re done with the Kampong Glam area, take the train to Little India, which is only one stop away from Bugis MRT using the downtown line. Your first stop from the Little India MRT is Tan Teng Niah House.
This colorful building is the former residence of Tan Teng Niah, the last Chinese villa in Little India. Tan Teng Niah owned sugarcane sweet factories in the area back in the 1900s. The house was restored and conserved in the 1980s for commercial use, and the restoration project was awarded the Singapore Institute of Architects Honourable Mention in 1991.
From Tan Teng Niah house, make your way down Serangoon road and just take in the atmosphere of Little India.
This incredibly ornate gate is the gopuram (entrance tower) of Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, a Hindu temple in Little India. It is dedicated to the Hindu goddess Kali, the fierce embodiment of Shakti and the god Shiva’s wife, Parvati. You are allowed to enter the temple, but please take off your shoes before you do. There are places designated for your footwear right outside the temple.
At the end of Serangoon road near Farrer Park MRT station is Mustafa Center, notorious as Singapore’s craziest shopping experience that you probably won’t find elsewhere in the world. Basically, Singapore locals and expats alike regard Mustafa Center as this magical, chaotic place where you can find everything and anything you can possibly dream of – from clothes, to groceries, to even jewelry and furniture. The layout of Mustafa isn’t the most organized or logical though, so just be mentally prepared before you get in.
PS: Little India is one of the most festive neighborhoods in Singapore. If you are so lucky to have come to Singapore during one of the festivals, especially Deepavali, you’ll find the neighborhood even more lively and brightly decorated. Check the Singapore Events Calendar here.
6. Walk around the Waterfront Promenade (~2 hours)
One of the areas I always recommend friends to visit is the Singapore waterfront promenade. It’s very accessible (practically in the middle of the city) and it’s a very cool area to walk around in.
First and foremost, you cannot miss the Merlion statue. Merlion is a mythical creature that resembles a mermaid with the head of a lion (hence the name Merlion!). But why a lion? It has been speculated that the name “Singapore” comes from the malay words Singa (lion) and Pura (city). Hence, Singapore has been nicknamed “lion city”. And the fish part? It is to symbolize Singapore’s past as a humble fishing village.
Aside of the Merlion Statue, you can also visit a few historical sites such as the Fullerton Hotel, which was originally built in 1928, and had been used for many purposes – the General Post Office, a hospital during the World War II, and the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (tax) headquarters, before finally being restored into a five-star luxury hotel in 2001.
A little off the waterfront is Raffles Hotel, the most charming and historical hotel in Singapore dating from 1887. You probably can’t visit most of the private areas unless you are a guest of the hotel, but you can still take a look at the lobby and admire its colonial-style look and furnitures.
If you decide to walk along the water on the promenade, you’ll come across a lotus-shaped building. This is the ArtScience Museum, one of my favorite museums in Singapore. The museum often houses very interesting exhibits, and one of their permanent exhibit is interactive pieces by the famous teamLAB from Japan.
7. Visit Gardens By The Bay for the Garden Rhapsody Show
A visit to the Gardens By The Bay requires at least three hours to properly walk around the area and visit the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest, but if you only have half an hour or so, I still recommend to catch the Garden Rhapsody – you’ll see the Super Tree in all its glory, with a matching musical number! They do the show every night at 7:45PM and 8:45PM. Check Garden Rhapsody Schedule here for the most up-to-date schedule.
Entry to the Garden Rhapsody area is free, but there is a skywalk you can take to be even closer to the trees. I recommend this if you have more than half an hour (not counting the Garden Rhapsody, which takes 15 minutes). You can buy the tickets to the OCBC Skywalk here.
8. Have some Evening Drinks
Singapore has a vibrant nightlife, so you will not be short for options! But since you are short on time, here are a few that I recommend:
For a great view of the city: Go to Lvl 33 or OverEasy
These two spots are the perfect spot to view the Spectra light show! Check the Spectra Light & Water show schedule here.
For some culture & history: Raffles Hotel Long Bar
If you’ve heard of the Singapore Sling – well, look no further! The Long Bar is where the drink was invented. While I personally think the Singapore Sling is way too sweet and overpriced, I loved the charm of the Long Bar itself. The Long Bar features countless notable guests, such as Ernest Hemingway, Elizabeth Taylor and Alfred Hitchcock. At the bar, you’ll also notice peanut shells scattered around the floor – this is part of the long tradition left from the colonial times and quite possibly the only place in squeaky clean Singapore where littering is encouraged.
For Trendy Bars and Cocktails: Head to Keong Saik Street and Duxton Hill
When it comes to the trendier cocktail bars, Singapore is a heaven for you, if you are willing to shell the dollars that is! Most of these places open at night, so I can only recommend this if your flight is not until after midnight or the next morning.
Some of the notable cocktail bars and lounges are The Tippling Club (one of the world’s best 50 bars), The Old Man (newly opened), Junior (very small bar) and 28 Hong Kong Street (a hidden speakeasy bar). If you want something a bit special, you can head to Atlas at Parkview Square. Like Parkview Square itself, Atlas is also highly decorated in art deco style. Take note while the rest of Singapore is pretty laxed about dressing up, Atlas enforces a dress code so you need to wear pants and closed-toe shoes. But if you’re not picky where you go – just head down Keong Saik street and you’ll be spoiled for choice. The crowd is good here on Friday and Saturday nights.
Most of the cocktail bars closes at midnight or 1AM. If you’re around later than that, you can also visit Kilo Lounge for some good music, but it only takes off after midnight.
9. Staying for a bit longer? Here’s more on what to see in Singapore
- The Singapore Cable Car – This is a great way to view Singapore from above, especially during sunset! The downside is you’ll need to make your way to Mount Faber, which is not really close to any other place in Singapore (but as usual, only a 10 min taxi ride from central Singapore). You can also visit Sentosa island if you have the time! Buy cable car tickets here.
- Botanic Gardens – This is a UNESCO heritage garden. It’s not very big in relative to… say, the Central Park, but walking across the garden still takes about an hour (because you might get lost). The notable features of the garden includes its impressive collection of Orchids and tropical forest trees.
- Joo Chiat / East Coast – Still hungry for more historical Singapore? Definitely make your way to the east coast, where you can find colorful well preserved peranakan houses. There is a reason why this area is highly favored by french expats!
In Singapore for 3 days? I’ve written a guest post for my friend Jessica over at A Passion and A Passport – Check out my 3-day Singapore itinerary here!
And that’s all I have on the must-do in Singapore within 24 hours. If you have a question or two, PLEASE do not hesitate to comment below. I am actively answering comments you guys leave, so you’ll get your answer really soon!