How to Spend Two Weeks in Singapore
Have you seen anyone write about how they spent two weeks in Singapore?
Two weeks in Singapore without leaving the country? You mad, bruh? I’d die of boredom there.
Perhaps I am. The average visitor stays in the country for 3.5 days. The Lonely Planet guidebook provides only a one-day itinerary. Even the Tourism Board doesn’t have a plan that lasts more than seven days. What are people to do if they’re staying with their friends or loved ones in Singapore for a few weeks, though? It’s tempting to spend a significant number of days in Penang, Bali, Bangkok or some nearby city, but that needn’t be the case.
So here’s the brief I set myself: Create a two-week itinerary for slow travellers that takes in the major sights and more. Give them a glimpse of everyday life and introduce them to the history of the country from more than one perspective.
(Updated: January 2018)
The first day starts with a walk around the Marina Bay area. Follow the perimeter of the Marina Basin for postcard-friendly views of the city skyline, the Esplanade Theatres, the Merlion Park, the Singapore Flyer and the weird-looking Sands hotel. The oft-raved infinity pool at the top is only for hotel guests, while the observation deck costs $23 to enter. Save the money for the Flower Domes at the Gardens by the Bay behind instead. Check out the travelling exhibitions at the ArtScience Museum, or catch one of the performances at the Sands theatres or the Esplanade – a few of those at the latter are free. Note that access to this area can be difficult during the Singapore Grand Prix weekend (mid-September).
The area around Raffles Hotel
The Raffles Hotel is a stone’s throw from the Esplanade. It’s a masterful piece of architecture which has hosted the likes of Rudyard Kipling, Bill Clinton, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Michael Jackson, though it closed in December 2017 for renovations. When it reopens in the second half of 2018, you can go to the Long Bar to drink pre-mixed Singapore Slings and toss peanut shells on the floor if that’s your thing. The collection at the Mint Museum of Toys is worth a gander, though, and it’s just behind the hotel.
While there are several restaurants owned by Michelin-starred chefs in the Sands and a plethora of less expensive outlets in the Marina Bay area, I don’t have any recommendations for cheap local food. It’s not because the food at Gluttons by the Bay or the Singapore Food Street is bad; the other places that will be featured later offer better value. However, Sin Swee Kee next to the Mint Museum is a decent place to be introduced to Hainanese chicken rice.
There will be plenty of museum-hopping on this day. Start with the National Museum for a quick trip through Singapore’s history, then wander through Fort Canning Hill‘s spice garden and old gates for a view of the city. You’ll also pass the grave of at least one ancient Malay ruler, for this was their former burial ground. At the foot of the hill is one of my favourite places, the Peranakan Museum. You can buy admission to that and the Asian Civilisations Museum on a combined ticket. Add the National Gallery to the itinerary, and you can make it a pleasant walk through the Heritage District.
Other highlights in the Heritage District
- Hill Street fire station
- Armenian Church of St Gregory, the oldest church in Singapore and the final resting place of Ashken Hovakimian (Agnes Joaquim), whom the national flower is named after
- St Andrew’s Cathedral
- The Padang
- Victoria Concert Hall
- Both statues of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (the founder of the Zoological Society of London also claimed the island for the British Empire)
- Fullerton Hotel (the former general post office)
Admission to the museums is free on certain public holidays. On Friday evenings, admission to the Peranakan Museum and the Asian Civilisations Museum is half-price, and both open until 9 p.m. Once again, this area is not kind to gourmets on a budget, other than those who can afford to reserve a table at Odette or National Kitchen. If you’re adventurous, however, you can find Burmese food at Peninsular Plaza.
Start in the heart of the Central Business District, at the UOB Plaza. You will find sculptures by Salvador Dali and Fernando Botero here, plus one of Henry Moore’s Reclining Figures at the OCBC Centre nearby. Head south along Robinson Road to see the distinctive former Telok Ayer Market, also known as Lau Pa Sat. To the north-west, you’ll find the old Thian Hock Keng temple among the shophouses along Telok Ayer Street. Have lunch at either the Amoy Street Food Centre or Maxwell Hawker Centre at 11 a.m., before the office crowds arrive. Tip: Tian Tian Chicken Rice is good but not worth the wait; their former chef runs the nearby Ah Tai stall.
Take a respite from the heat in the URA City Gallery, where you can see how the city was developed, before walking through the Chinatown area. It is not a place for people who are averse to crowds, especially in the lead-up to Chinese New Year. But where else in the world will you find a Hindu Temple and a mosque in Chinatown? The world’s cheapest Michelin-starred dish can be found in the multi-storey Chinatown Complex Food Centre. If Liao Fan is closed for the day, there is an air-conditioned branch called Hawker Chan in one of the Smith Street shophouses. From Tuesday to Saturday, you can check out Smith Street Taps, one of the only places in the world that serve craft beer in a hawker centre (the other is 3rd Culture Brewing in Maxwell).
A hidden find in Chinatown
People’s Park Complex on the other side of the block is notorious for unethical merchants, but there’s a hipster hangout on the roof that serves craft beer and Singapore-style tapas. It’s one of the many establishments across the city that try to inject life into some of the less glamorous sites. Unfortunately, Le Park shut its doors in September 2017.
Head west to Pinnacle@Duxton for the cheapest rooftop view in town ($5, payable by a CEPAS fare card), or east to see the monstrosity that is Clarke Quay, a bunch of converted godowns that now house restaurants and the local nightlife doyen that is Zouk. Enjoy a beer at Brewerkz, or pre-game with the kids on the Read Bridge. There are more pubs downstream at Boat Quay and Circular Road – just remember to avoid the seafood restaurants.
We’re finally leaving the city centre! In the Bugis area (which is a lot tamer than it used to be – have you read Paul Theroux’s Saint Jack?), you catch up on your travel research at the National Library or view a public exhibition at one of the area’s galleries and art schools. If not, head straight to Little India.
Take your time to explore the district, from Tekka Market to Dunlop Street, from Race Course Road to the 24-hour Mustafa Centre. Unlike the other parts of Singapore you’ve visited thus far, the manicuring has been minimal. Mom-and-pop shops still lay their wares out haphazardly along the covered walkways. Need recommendations for lunch? Usman Restaurant is famous for naan.
From Little India, Kampung Glam is a short walk away. Missing the Sultan Mosque and its golden dome is impossible. The Turkish restaurants on the pedestrianised street aren’t worth your time; people visit the area for the murals and the boutiques along Haji Lane. Have a murtabak (a crepe stuffed with meat, eggs and onions and served with curry dip) at either Zam Zam or Victory Restaurant. After that, walk on to Golden Mile Tower, where The Projector screens old movies, foreign films and local productions.
You could spend the entire day in the Mandai area in the northern part of Singapore. Three zoos are located side-by-side: the Singapore Zoo, the River Safari and the Night Safari. All of them have enclosures that are designed to resemble the animals’ natural environment. The food is expensive and not terribly good, however, so bring at least one packed lunch.
If you have money for only one of the parks, visit the Night Safari after spending the day at Bukit Timah (Day 10) or on the Southern Islands (Day 12). You’ll miss only the big apes.
This day begins at Orchard Road. While it’s Singapore’s prime shopping district, you’ll find the same chain stores over and over again. Many Filipinos gather in the malls on Sundays, so be prepared for crowds on that day of the week. You can start walking from Plaza Singapura in a westerly direction:
Highlights along Orchard Road
- The Istana, which is the residence of the President of Singapore. It opens to the public on festive occasions; on those days, go early without a bag to beat the queues.
- Emerald Hill is a row of houses decorated with Peranakan (Straits Chinese) motifs. It’s also pretty quiet compared to the main street.
- Lucky Plaza is chockful of Filipino and Indonesian businesses, including restaurants. That means you’ll find bebek goreng (fried duck), ayam penyet (smashed chicken) and lechon (roast pork) under one roof.
- A few Asian Michelin-starred restaurants have set up outposts in Pacific Plaza, namely Kam’s (Hong Kong), Tim Ho Wan (Hong Kong) and Tsuta (Japan). Across the lane is Les Amis, a similarly-decorated local establishment.
- The Four Floors of Whores exists – it’s called Orchard Towers. The Thai restaurants are a legitimate reason to step inside.
Continue walking along Tanglin Road, and you’ll reach the country’s only UNESCO World Heritage site, the Botanic Gardens. How does it differ from Gardens by the Bay? Instead of “supertrees” and glass domes, you’ll find colonial-era gazebos and black-and-white bungalows. It also has an orchid garden at its heart. When you leave via the gate on Dunearn Road, mod-Sin restaurant Relish is nearby, as is the Adam Road Food Centre. If you feel like splurging, reserve a table at Candlenut and try its creative take on Peranakan cuisine.
We head further to the east and begin with a boat ride from Changi Village to Pulau Ubin. It gets its name from the granite quarries in the area that are no longer in use. The village near the jetty feels like a relic from a bygone era. Rent a bicycle and follow the trails. A popular one leads to Chek Jawa boardwalk, where an exceptionally low tide exposes the reefs and the creatures that dwell on it. You’ll pass at least one abandoned and flooded quarry – diving in one of these is incredibly risky. Another trail leads to Butterfly Hill, where specific plants are grown to attract the winged critters.
Back on the mainland
The Changi Prison Chapel and Museum is a short bus ride from the jetty. It is dedicated to the memory of the prisoners of war who were incarcerated by the Japanese Imperial Army here during World War II.
Spend the rest of the day in the Katong area. Once the go-to place for all things Peranakan, it’s becoming increasingly gentrified, so you’ll find English-style pubs and vegan ice-cream parlours among the traditional shops selling dumplings, popiah (turnip-stuffed spring rolls) and laksa (rice noodles in spicy coconut gravy). There are still some architectural gems, however. Look for these houses at the junction of Koon Seng Road and Tembeling Road.
The evening bazaar at nearby Geylang Serai is worth checking out during the month of Ramadhan, though you’ll mostly find fried food items to sate your appetite. If you’re adventurous, proceed to the Geylang area in the evening. It is known as a red-light district, but that’s restricted to the even-numbered lanes. The famous food establishments (such as Claypot Rice and the expensive Sin Huat) are in the odd-numbered ones.
Are we really only halfway through our itinerary?
I never really liked Sentosa Island, but you could spend a full day there if you like these things:
- Universal Studios (to avoid the worst of the crowds, go early on a weekday that’s not a school holiday)
- The S.E.A. Aquarium (actually, don’t go – it houses captive dolphins)
- The southernmost part of continental Asia (it’s as underwhelming as it sounds)
- Fort Siloso
- Skyline Luge (there’s only one track, unlike in Queenstown and Rotorua)
- Bungy jump by AJ Hackett
- The iSky skydiving simulator
Start the day out in the west, at the Jurong Bird Park, which is one of the world’s largest aviaries. It’ll only be around for another four years. After that, check out Haw Par Villa, the only theme park in Singapore that Cracked.com has featured. Built by the brothers who created Tiger Balm, it’s filled with polychrome sculptures of Chinese legends and moral tales – including a woman breastfeeding her father (I’m not kidding) and all the gory punishments that await in Hell.
To digest what you’ve just seen, take a walk through the forest along the Southern Ridges. You could start at Reflections at Bukit Chandu, a small exhibition near the site of a fierce battle before Singapore’s fall to the Japanese, or at HortPark. The route includes the Henderson Waves bridge, the cable car station and the view of the city from Mount Faber. Descend the steps and finish the tour at the Vivocity mall – or the Seah Im hawker centre, if you prefer that.
In the morning, head to the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. It’s the home of Singapore’s highest point and one of only two primary rainforests in the world that are within city boundaries. You can choose to climb the tarmac road if it’s your “legs day”, or take the recently-restored jungle trails. If you’ve worked up an appetite after all this, I’d recommend Al Azhar, Bukit Timah Food Centre or the food court at Beauty World Centre.
For Instagram photo opportunities, the railway bridge over Bukit Timah Road is a short distance away. To access the bridge, walk along Rifle Range Road and cross the grass verge. You could follow the old KTM railway corridor in either direction, but it currently ends at Holland Road due to construction work on other parts of the trail.
Another early start beckons. It’s another walk through the jungle, via the TreeTop Walk. It’s more time-consuming but less strenuous than yesterday’s hill climb. You’ll encounter wild macaques on the ground; they’re cute, but they have no qualms about rifling through your bags and stealing your food. You can get away from them on the water by renting a kayak at MacRitchie Reservoir. Somewhere in the jungle are the ruins of a Japanese shrine; go only with someone who has been there.
The old Chinese cemetery at Bukit Brown is currently off-limits due to development (in spite of the efforts of heritage groups); hopefully, when that is complete, we’ll still be able to walk around the more magnificent monuments. The Upper Thomson Road enclave has no lack of food and coffee outlets to refuel at. The nearest worthy hawker centre is at Sembawang Hills – the Teochew Minced Meat Noodle stall is run by a former apprentice of Michelin-starred Tai Hwa Pork Noodle.
The last village
The last remaining traditional village on the mainland is a couple of bus rides away, at Lorong Buangkok. Here, telephone cables still hang overhead while cats and dogs wander freely among fruit trees and songbird cages. In recent years, urban development has reached the kampung‘s perimeter, but deep in its centre, you can still imagine that you’re in another country or era.
Enjoy an early dinner at Chomp Chomp Food Centre, famous for fried Hokkien noodles and giant mugs of pressed sugar cane juice. You can end the day wandering one of the town centres, such as Toa Payoh, Serangoon or Bishan, and appreciate the facilities available to ordinary Singaporeans. Residents have everything from supermarkets and hawker centres to libraries and sports facilities at their doorstep – and if that isn’t enough, there are transport links to the rest of the island. Get lost in the housing estates. You might stumble across parties, wedding banquets or wakes in the common spaces, or just a bunch of elderly folks shooting the breeze over a few beers.
The best beaches in Singapore are not on the mainland, so take a ferry from the Marina South Pier to the southern islands. The boat moves in a loop between the pier, St John’s Island and Kusu Island twice a day (more on Sundays and public holidays). On the latter, there is a Chinese temple (that gets packed with pilgrims during the ninth month of the Chinese lunar calendar) and a tortoise enclosure.
There are also absolutely no businesses on either island, so, bring your own meals. Day trips are not the only option for visiting these sites: you could rent the holiday chalets and start an overnight barbeque on St John’s, or, if you have a large party, rent a yacht and sail into the lagoon. You might even spot dolphins and porpoises.
Thanks to all the shipping activity, the water visibility is terrible for scuba diving and snorkelling. However, if you’re lucky, you can join a private visit to the Sisters Islands or Pulau Hantu, where conditions are slightly more conducive to appreciating the macrofauna under the surface.
From the Kranji MRT station, take one of the Kranji Countryside shuttle buses to Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. The boardwalk will take you through some dense mangrove forests. You might spot mudskippers, a few migratory birds, monitor lizards or even a saltwater crocodile. Take the same shuttle bus to Bollywood Veggies for lunch; most of the fruit and vegetables used in the dishes are grown on-site.
The bus also takes you to a few other farms in the area and includes a ten-minute rest stop at the Jurong Frog Farm. Take it easy and don’t rush, however; this is as far from urban Singapore as you can get, so enjoy it. If you like it enough, you can even stay at the D’Kranji Resort. Sadly, all this won’t last long; the farms have to move out over the next three years and find new homes.
If you head back to the MRT station with the shuttle bus, you can walk to the Kranji War Memorial and pay your respects to the soldiers who died defending Singapore during World War II. You’ll also pass a challenging go-kart track, but kart racing is an expensive hobby in this city.
Use this day to catch up on any sights (or hawker dishes) that you missed over the last two weeks in Singapore. If you managed to squeeze all of them in, visit a few old neighbourhoods. Tiong Bahru’s art deco flats have witnessed some gentrification, but that doesn’t diminish the area’s charm.
Still not satisfied? Then check out the old fortifications at Labrador Park. Some of the tunnels are said to lead to Sentosa Island – if someone unblocks them. If you like art, you might want to check out the galleries at Gillman Barracks or Wessex Estate. If you have kids, you can take them to the Science Centre, where they’ll learn about the world through interactive exhibits.
Here’s a map of all the locations that I mentioned in the itinerary:
And there you have it, two weeks in Singapore in 3000 words
Don’t you wish you had more time to play with now?
Also published on Medium.