Updated: Mar 29
Every now and then an old friend gets in touch, or posts something on Facebook that catches my attention. A few months ago, I spotted a post from an old university friend, saying that he was taking a gap year from working as a doctor in the UK and that he and his wife were going to keep a blog about their travels. We got back in touch and I followed their journey through South Africa, Namibia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea and offered our place, should they be passing through Singapore. To my excitement, I received a message from Ben asking if we were around to meet them on their way through.
In short, we have family staying this week, but I am excited to share that one of my friends is putting Ben and his wife, Beth, up for a few days. As a proud Singaporean (by blood, my passport is still British... for now!), I wanted to take the opportunity to show Ben and Beth the best of the tiny red dot, and so I put together a four day itinerary for them and thought I'd share it with you too! So, here we are - Jonty Tan's four-day Singapore itinerary!
A little bit of information for you to help contextualise my itinerary - Ben and Beth are arriving on a Tuesday evening and will be staying in the Newton area. Here we go!
When reading addresses you might come by a code that looks like this: #03-45... the first two digits are the floor level (we have a lot of high rise buildings in Singapore!) and the second two digits is the unit number (sometimes more than two numbers). So #03-45 would be the third floor, number 45.
Always carry an umbrella. It could be incredibly hot and you'll need some portable shade, or it'll be raining and you'll need portable shelter.
Carry a water bottle. It's hot even when cloudy and the last thing you'll want is heat stroke.
First Night (Tuesday) - Arrival into Changi Airport at about 7.30pm
We will take the MRT to Newton (Via City Hall interchange)
If you're hungry on arrival, have a bite at the food court at B2 of the Jewel. There is a good variety there at a good price and you don't have to wait for ages to receive your food! If you are able to wait a little while for food, head to a hawker centre near your accommodation - we have the option of Newton Hawker Centre, which has the added tourist bonus of having been featured in the movie, Crazy Rich Asians AND where Gordon Ramsay lost the cook-off between himself and the local hawkers! While there, try some satay, BBQ chicken wings, oyster omlette, sambal stingray and anything else you fancy! If you want a real taste of local, try the durian mousse for dessert!
Day 1 (Wednesday) Orchard Road
Breakfast ought to be the traditional kaya toast and runny eggs. Head to Newton hawker centre for this local delight. Marn cafe is stall #01-17 and you'll need to order kaya toast and coffee. The only coffee you'll get is the local kopi - it is a must try. Regardless of how you like your coffee, if this is your first time, try it as it comes - order "one kopi"! After that, you can work out your combinations - "kopi siew dai" is kopi, less sweet - my go-to - and there are a whole heap of other ways you can have it - check out this guide from the Honeycombers.
After breakfast take the train just one stop to Orchard - the central shopping district in Singapore, famous for its high end boutiques and shopping malls galore. If you're like me and mall walking can only entertain you for so long, why not check out the Orchard Heritage Trail - a 4.5km route that takes you around this famous district and opens up the history of this nation to you.
As this is Singapore, there are food options all over the place - be aware that Orchard Road prices will be more expensive. If you are looking for cheaper options, there are food courts in most malls with a huge variety for under S$10 per person. One MUST TRY is the ice cream sandwiches from the uncles selling ice cream on the streets. This is pure local Singapore - you'll get a piece of rainbow bread with a block of ice cream in the middle.
If you didn't catch dinner at Newton last night - this will be the night to do it! Otherwise, a great eating experience for me would be the Cooks Korean BBQ - all you can eat - at the top of Orchard Central mall. (It's not local, but if you're not in Asia for too long, this is definitely something to try!)
Singapore's Zoo is known as one of the best in the world and offers different parks to experience - River Wonders, Night Safari, the Zoo itself and Mandai Bird Park opening later this year. With tight time, it would be great to go along to the Night Safari to experience at least some of what is offered. Take the MRT from Orchard to Khatib on the North-South line (red). At Khatib, through the gantry, take a left and left again to make your way to the shuttle bus which takes you to the zoos. They are all at the same site in an area called Mandai. Night Safari tickets are S$55 per person. There are areas to walk, a tram to take around the park and plenty of things to see. Depending on your arrival time I would recommend taking the tram all the way around the park first of all, seeing what is available. When you arrive back at the first stop, you'll know where you'd like to walk and visit. If the Creatures of the Night show is starting when you arrive - head there first. It is really good and worth going to! Food and snacks are available around the park.
When your time is done, you can take the shuttle bus back to Khatib MRT station and then make your way from there, or alternatively, you can follow signs to the taxi pick up point, although expect a wait.
Day 1 in brief:
Local breakfast at Newton hawker centre
Day in the Orchard Road area (shopping/heritage/both)
Dinner options: Newton/Korean BBQ/Food Courts
Day 2 (Thursday) - Gardens by the Bay/Marina Bay - LOTS OF WALKING
Today you will explore some of the most iconic sites in Singapore. Take it easy, relax in the morning. Your breakfast options are hawker things, pre-purchased, or google a nearby cafe. When you're ready, make your way to the Bayfront MRT Station - I'd recommend aiming to arrive around 12pm. From Newton MRT, take the Downtown line (blue) directly there. When you alight, look for signs for Gardens by the Bay. It's a little walk so you may need that umbrella I was talking about - and there's heaps of photo opportunities too, so don't get caught in the sun too long - we are equatorial!
You'll soon come to the Supertree Grove. These giant structures are incredible to walk around and enjoy. (We'll come back tonight when everything is lit up!)
If you're happy to spend a bit of money I would fully recommend checking out the domes at Gardens by the Bay. It's just a short walk from the Super Tree Grove. The Cloud Forest is magical (and currently Avatar themed) and the Flower Dome is beautiful and provides some cool air respite from the heat. Klook do tickets to both domes at S$53 per person. There are food options around - but don't eat too much, there's a big dinner coming!
When you have finished at the domes, make your way back to the Bayfront MRT Station. You will use this route (underground and sheltered from the sun/rain!) to get to the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. This is the shopping mall which is part of the iconic hotel. Breathe in the unique scent of MBS as all your senses are triggered. There are heaps of shops to explore and I'd recommend the Apple Store to get a view of the Marina Bay area.
Around 5pm, emerge from the Shoppes, onto the boardwalk facing the water. As you gaze across the Marina you will see the Fullerton Hotel, once the general post office, now a 6 star hotel, the "durian" concert halls - The Esplanade, and the Merlion statue - Singapore's National symbol. Walk anti-clockwise around the Marina, crossing the Helix bridge to your right. You will continue past the arty areas and there may even be a performance at the outdoor stage. You'll pass the Float - a floating platform and some stadium style seating, where the F1 cars whizz by and also where Singapore's National Day Parade is held. When you get to the Merlion, pause and take some photos. You see Marina Bay Sands and the Apple Store across the Marina in their iconic style.
As you are yet to take a taxi - here's your chance! At around 6.15pm walk along the Bayfront and you will come to a Starbucks on your right (they're everywhere, huh!). You'll also see small models of an elephant and a Merlion next to some steps. Walk up those steps and take a taxi to "Lau Pa Sat hawker centre" for dinner. This taxi ride is very short and will cost you under $10. Do refer to the driver as "uncle" or "aunty", if you see them as about 50 or over.
Lau Pa Sat has an amazing atmosphere. It is famous for closing some of the street at dinner time and filling the street with tables and stalls. Satay is pretty popular here and there is even an ice cream stall with local flavours.
After dinner, you can take the short walk back to Marina Bay Sands where you have the options of light shows on the waterfront (called Spectra) or at the Supertree Grove - both are different and worth seeing, so if you have the energy for both, then definitely try to see both! 8pm on the waterfront and then Supertree Grove at 8.45pm.
When you're ready, make your way back to the MRT station and take the train to Newton.
Day 2 in brief:
Gardens by the Bay
Lau Pa Sat
Day 3 (Friday) - Nature
This is a nature day - bring water bottles for sure! Start your day well with another kaya toast set, or if you like, there is a famous Singapore bakery with a branch very close to Orchard MRT station, Tiong Bahru bakery, at Tangs Plaza (shopping mall), 01-16B. They do amazing croissants and suchlike if that is something you fancy!
When you're ready, make your way to Orchard MRT station and take the TEL Line (brown line) to Upper Thomson. Get off the train and look for Exit 5, which will be signposted in yellow lit up signs. At Exit 5 there is a bus stop where you can take the 163, 167, 855, 980 bus. You'll stay on the bus for 7 stops (about 6 minutes) and alight at the stop called "Before Yio Chu Kang Road" - you can ask the bus driver to let you know when this is.
There are very few old confectionary stores around, but it is well worth taking a short diversion to visit one. As you get off the bus, walk to the left. You will be behind some restaurants and shops, so you are aiming to get around the other side of this parade of shops so... Follow the road around to the right... you will be on Casuarina Road - a few shops down on your right is Biscuit King, a shop that is 100% nostalgia to Singapore of yesteryear.
Make your way back to the bus stop, OR for those who did not want to experience Biscuit King, take a right as you alight. Keep walking straight ahead, crossing a road. To your left will be a road that angles off - there is a wide footpath here. Walk along that path. About 300m up on your right will be a brown gate - use it to enter Thompson Nature Park. Look out for the local monkeys, the macaques. It's best not to open any snacks near them as they can be a little fierce if food is nearby. Walk along the path through the rainforest jungle and eventually you will come to some signs that point you in the direction of different trails. I would recommend the figs and ruins trail. It's amazing. Oh, a quick tip - DO NOT VERE OFF THE PATH - while rare, we have seen a blue coral snake in this jungle and there is no anti-venom... They are usually scared of people and so spotting a snake is rare here (although not impossible!) You'll spend a slow 2 hours wandering through the jungle and experiencing some old ruins of a village that once was here.
When you finish this trail, you will end up toward the entrance plaza of the Nature Park - a different entrance/exit to the one you started on. You'll have to cross the fairly busy road to get a bus back towards the MRT station, just be careful of cars. There's a grassy divide between the north/south sides and so pause there to cross the other side. You can take the 163, 167, 855 or 980 again, this time going in the other direction. Alight at Upper Thomson MRT again and continue walking in the direction the bus was taking you. At the top of the High Street, there is a shop called the Roti Prata House - this is where you'll have lunch! I would recommend trying the Roti Prata (plain) with fish curry, and then having with it a mutton biryani. Try a Teh Tarik (pulled tea) to drink or a Teh Halia (ginger tea). These are iconic Singaporean-Indian foods. Argh, I'm salivating....
Take the MRT back to the apartment to chill out if you like and see if you can navigate the MRT map to meet us at Punggol MRT station (purple line) at about 6pm.
Punggol is a fairly new area, built in the last 10-15 years and it's a great example of local Singapore. We'll start in the mall and head toward a community centre where there is food, a library and some playgrounds.
Day 3 in brief:
Thomson Nature Park
Roti Prata lunch
Day 4 (Saturday)
Another local breakfast that you have not yet tried is Laksa. Grab a kopi from yesterday's stall and head to XO Minced Meat Noodles (Stall 01-10). They are open 24 hours, so don't worry if you are an early riser! It might seem a little foreign to have rich, tangy noodles for breakfast, but I reckon you've got to try it - when in Rome...!
OK... today is another full day - but this is how I'd do it! First head on the Downtown line (blue) from Newton to Botanic Gardens MRT. Find Exit A - it leads to the entrance to the Botanic Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Enjoy wandering around the Swan Lake and taking in the scenery and atmosphere. Just a heads up, if you go to the Jacob Ballas children's garden you won't be allowed in unless you have kids with you!
When you start to get a little hungry, make your way to the MRT station and take the Downtown line (blue) to Little India MRT where you change line to the North-East Line (purple). Then head to Chinatown MRT Station, and get out at Exit A. Here you can head to the Chinatown Complex, which was the first ever hawker centre in Singapore. Chope a table and explore your food options. After you have eaten your fill, opposite the hawker centre is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple - head over to explore and experience this incredible building. Heading back towards the Chinatown Complex, take a right through some street markets and enjoy Chinatown! There is famous street art all over Chinatown and great opportunities to take some photos and appreciate the artwork.
Once you have walked off your lunch (and maybe tried a few snacks on offer), make your way back to Chinatown MRT station and take the Downtown line (blue) just one stop to Fort Canning. Fort Canning has heaps of options - walk up and check out the tomb of the last king of Singapore, Iskandar Shah; experience the former fresh water spring (now a pump system) and enjoy various WWII sites - all for free. You could even spend $20 each and check out the Battlebox - a WWII British army site, hidden in the core of the hill.
A good cheaper dinner option would be to walk to Plaza Singapura - a shopping mall, which has a great food court on the top floor. Here are a few other options:
Clarke Quay - heaps of restaurants, all quite pricey, but a pretty happening area.
Take the blue line to Bendemeer - there is a mall there called CT Hub where there is an awesome Indian restaurant called Adipoli Curry Pot. I'd recommend the Maharaja Feast.
There is a 24hour dessert restaurant at Jalan Besar (Downtown line) - worth it... try local desserts like Ice Kachang or Cendol.
By this time you can probably navigate the MRT system pretty well and so you could continue exploring or head back for the night.
Well, there you go! Jonty Tan's 4 days in Singapore! I hope you enjoyed it and find it helpful. Please do comment if you have tried any of this or if you have any more suggestions. It's hard to fit everything into just 4 days!