Singapore is one of those cities that you either love, or hate, or love to hate. It is pretty, but maybe too pretty. It has fantastic bars, but maybe too posh. It has all your urban delights, but maybe a little too polished for your liking. Regardless, there is a reason why almost everyone in Southeast Asia is drawn to the Lion City.
Best thing is, with the airport in close proximity and well-connected to the city, a quick day trip during a stopover is doable. I would not be surprised if Singapore pioneered the ‘city stopover’ tour from the early days of the Kangaroo Route.
A Hop Away
The beauty of Singapore is its efficient public transport system. The MRT is essentially a dream for those who want to move around the city, and the endless rabbit warren of underground passages make it possible for you to get from one point to another in air-conditioned environments.
As a guide, it takes you roughly 30 minutes to get from Changi Airport MRT Station to City Hall MRT Station, with a change at Tanah Merah MRT Station, where you can easily hop on between the Green Line to the Red Line. Most city sights are within walking distance of Green or Red Line stations.
Where else if not City Hall MRT Station. From this spot, you can get those picturesque views of Singapore, that juxtaposition of grand colonial architecture and the soaring skyscrapers of Raffles Place just across the river, and the Marina Bay Sands just across the water.
Just outside of City Hall MRT, you can either a) walk the underground passages or b) get out to ground level and look around. St Andrew’s Cathedral, St Joseph’s Cathedral, the Singapore Art Museum and CHIJMES are just outside, and worthy of a quick stroll through over an hour.
Just across the street from St Andrew’s Cathedral is the fantastic National Gallery Singapore, a fine art gallery with one of the best, if not the best, collection of Southeast Asian art in the region. Housed in the former City Hall and Supreme Court buildings, even if you are not a connoisseur of art, the rooftop terrace with worth the detour, and the conservation made with the grand entrance makes for an architecture enthusiast’s delight: that mysterious blend of modern architecture that blends well with 19th century detailing.
Right by the Victoria Memorial, you will spot the famous Sir Stamford Raffles statue, with his back framed by Raffles Place. Curious to know the source of Singapore’s wealth and power? This would be it: a free port dedicated to free trade. Say what you want about Raffles, but he did leave quite the legacy.
Walk across the Cavenagh Bridge and admire the curious Boat Quay upriver, dwarfed by the skyscrapers of Raffles Place, or walk along the embankment towards the Merlion Statue. A bit touristy for my liking, but it is the thing to look at. That, and the Marina Bay Sands across the bay.
If you have time, have tea at the Fullerton Hotel: the former Post Office makes a nice spot to relax. Make your walk along the water’s edge towards Marina Bay Sands. You know you want to.
Now, Marina Bay Sands is just, well, I am speechless. It is supremely overpriced at times, but surprisingly good value can be found if you dig around. I assume you are hungry by now, so stop over at Mozza Pizzeria, one of my favourite spots in Singapore. The pizzas are divine.
Or are you more keen to go up to the SkyPark? Well, my favourite spot is Spago, entrance by Tower 2 Marina Bay Sands. Not as prissy as Ce La Vie, this spot has fantastic views of the city, you can spot the swimmers and sunbathers at the SkyPool, and the drinks are pretty good. There is a reason I named this as one of my favourite rooftop bars in Southeast Asia.
Tired of eating or drinking? Then take the Circle Line to either Marina Bay or Dhoby Gaut MRT station to get on the Red Line to Orchard Road. I suggest getting off at Somerset MRT Station, where you can hop over to Kilinney Kopitiam for their fantastic coffee, soya bean, chicken curry or kaya (coconut jam) on toast.
Or if you really want to see the power of Asian Consumerism in Southeast Asia, then head straight over to Orchard MRT Station, where you get off at ION Orchard, one of the premier malls in Singapore, and get the option to either a) walk through the underground malls linking ION Orchard to Atria Shopping Gallery and Ngee Ann City. I suggest Ngee Ann City: Takashimaya’s food hall makes the food halls in Harrods, Selfridges and Galleries Lafayette look a little bland.
(Option: if you are pressed for time, Marina Bay Sands is a good spot to end your whirlwind trip to Singapore. From Bayfront MRT Station, get on the Downtown Line/Blue Line to Bugis MRT Station and catch the Green Line train towards Changi. Don’t forget to change trains at Tanah Merah!)
(Option 1) Walk over to Fort Canning Park. It is a nice, green lung at the end of Orchard Road, with the Far Eastern Command Centre dominating the large, green public space. Surrounded by 100-year old trees and finely pruned greenery, one would think one was somewhere else. A good option outside of the Supergrove Trees at the Gardens By The Bay.
Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station is nearby, so it will be easy for you to move after.
(Option 2) Head back to City Hall MRT Station: walking around Raffles Place towards Marina Bay Sands is very interesting closer to the end of the day. It isn’t too hot, you will spot joggers running circuits around the bay, and the skyscrapers of Singapore put out a nice light display as twilight comes about.
Evening around Marina Bay Sands can be quite the sight too: at 8pm, a water-and-light show is on, daily. Bright lights, big city, framed by the bright lights and the big city. Head back up to the SkyDeck for drinks, or try out Level33 at Tower 1, Marina Bay Financial Centre for some fancy craft beers at happy hour prices. Again, fantastic views of Marina Bay, but your view of Raffles Place CBD may be obscured because, well, you are in the CBD itself.
If you are on Option 1, then you’re on the right station to head back to Changi MRT Station, changing at City Hall MRT for the Green Line towards the airport. If you are on Option 2, then get on the Blue Line to Bugis, then head straight to Changi MRT on the Green Line. Don’t forget to change trains at Tanah Merah!
Agency: Self-tour. There are guides available at the ticket counter. Singapore Airlines provides a bus for this, but that spoils the fun.
Preparation: Lots of walking involved, but nothing too strenuous.
Bring: Camera and water. The sights alone will make you snap away.
Wear: Something light. This is the tropics.
Time: Half a day easily.
Jason is a world traveller and avid seeker of high perches, on a mission to capture the unique experiences that makes destinations iconic.