A Stopover in Singapore: 3 Days in the Gateway to Southeast Asia

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Curated By

Ashten Waks

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  • Singapore

  • City Travel

  • Couples Travel

  • Luxury Travel

  • Sightseeing

  • Foodie

  • Architecture

City skyline of Singapore at night with bright lights and a beautiful view of the water.
Curator’s statement

Some cities grab you and draw you in from the second you step off the plane, and for me, Singapore is one of those cities. Perhaps it’s the almost futuristic architecture throughout the central business district and Marina Bay. Perhaps it’s the picturesque shophouses that have been lovingly maintained since the city’s inception in the early 1800s. Perhaps it’s the meticulously-kept, tree-lined boulevards of swanky Orchard Row. Perhaps it’s the peaceful coexistence of Chinese, Indian, Indonesian and Malay cultures evident across the city. Or maybe, it’s the genuinely happy residents who are proud of all their city's state has accomplished in barely half a century. Whatever it is, Singapore is beyond compelling to me.

At only 30 x 17 miles in size, Singapore – with its highly efficient public transit - is a fairly easy destination to navigate in a short amount of time. Beyond this, a number of major airlines offer direct flights from various locations in the United States to Singapore’s Changi International Airport. For this reason, Singapore is the perfect stopover en route to or from other popular destinations in Southeast Asia. If you’re planning a trip to Bali, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam or any number of locations in this region, this guide will help you make the most of a long layover in Singapore. Prepare yourself for a whirlwind of beautiful sights, culinary delights and a dash of glitz that will have you feeling like the cast of Crazy Rich Asians.

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Where to stay

Raffles Singapore

Iconic colonial-style building property in the heart of Singapore with elegant rooms and suites.

Fora Perks
  • $100 hotel / resort credit.

  • Breakfast daily.

  • Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.

The Fullerton Bay Hotel Singapore

With its stunning glass facade illuminated by the sun, and spellbinding interiors of design wunderkind André Fu, this hotel - built entirely over water -sparkles on the Marina Bay waterfront.

Fora Perks
  • $100 food / beverage credit.

  • Breakfast daily.

  • Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible

Andaz Singapore - a Concept by Hyatt

Based in the centre of Singapore, this Andaz property boasts 360-degree city views via infinity pool and offers a taste of rich Singaporean culture.

Fora Perks
  • $100 food / beverage credit.

  • Breakfast daily.

  • Upgrade & extended check-in whenever possible.

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Unlock perks by contacting Ashten to book your trip.

Day 1: Savoring Singapore

People walking on street near colorful buildings during the daytime.

Wake up to your first morning in Singapore and do something I rarely tell you to do: skip breakfast. Grab your sunscreen, water and an umbrella (scattered showers are common this close to the equator!) and hop in a taxi to the Katong neighborhood. Katong is a charming area encompassing East Coast Road with rich Peranaken (meaning Chinese mixed with another ethnicity) history and culture. Here, you’ll meet your Hello! Singapore Tours guide for a stellar small-group food tour. In Katong, you’ll begin your orientation to Singapore's food favorites with dishes like curry puffs, Kim Choo’s famous Nonya Chang (rice dumplings) and Original Katong Laksa (slurp-worthy noodle soup with a unique coconut base).

From Katong, your guide will lead you to the Old Airport Road Hawker Center. Hawker Centers are the open-air food complexes common throughout Singapore. And, while there are over 100 hawker centers in the city, Old Airport Road Hawker Centre is unanimously thought to be the best of the best. Hop from stall to stall, sipping on fresh sugarcane juice and snacking on spring rolls, oat pancakes and carrot cake (word to the wise: there’s no carrot or cake in this Singaporean comfort food!). One of my favorite things about the Hawker Centre is that this is really where residents of Singapore eat…Singapore has an “eat out” culture, and the hawker centers are where most locals grab their affordable breakfast, lunch and dinner.

On your way from Old Airport Road to your next stop in Kampong Glam, you’ll learn about the fascinating history of this relatively young city state, the local laws that make its society run so smoothly and how residents break into the housing market in this expensive and very populous city. Once you’ve arrived in Singapore’s ever busy Muslim quarter, you’ll have a bit more room in your stomach to sample Indonesian and Malay dishes like beancurd stir fry, beef lung, and chicken murtabak (one of my personal favorites from the day). Snap a quick photo in front of the easily recognizable, golden domed Sultan Mosque before you’re on your way to your final stop in Little India. Assuming you have any room left, you’ll complete the tour at roughly 3:00pm in Little India with sweet Badam milk and savory fried doughs. If you’re lucky (like we were), you may find a festival ongoing in the streets of Little India. Pause for a moment to celebrate with the locals before taking the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) from Little India back to your hotel. If you’re an intrepid user of public transit, the MRT is Singapore’s undergrown subway system, and it is quite user friendly. Tap your credit card at the entrance, and ride anywhere in the city!

Back at your hotel, take a brief nap or swim off the day of eating with a dip in the rooftop pool. As the sun begins to set, you’ll be off to finish your day at the historic Raffles Hotel. While it may seem touristy, no first trip to Singapore is complete without at least one of their original Singapore Slings. This drink comes with a fun history lesson, too. In the 1910s, women were not permitted to drink in Singapore. A savvy bartender at Raffles’ Long Bar created a pink-colored, alcohol-rich drink that looked similar enough to juice for women to discreetly imbibe, and the rest is cocktail history. You can still visit the Long Bar, though they don’t take reservations and the queue is often several hours long. Instead, book a table at the Raffles Courtyard, where the drinks are identical and the atmosphere is decidedly decadent. You may not be hungry for a full dinner after your day-long food tour, but menu items like their satay and Singapore fried noodles will certainly do the trick if you’re craving a snack.

Get a good night’s sleep because tomorrow is no less busy!

Day 2: Everything by the Bay

People crossing a bridge over a very colorful and lush garden.

After yesterday spent getting a feel for Singapore’s flavor in its most culturally rich neighborhoods, today you’ll be ready to tackle the iconic sights of the Marina Bay. Ride the MRT directly to Gardens by the Bay, a national garden and awe-inspiring horticultural attraction. There are a number of different exhibits within Gardens by the Bay. My personal recommendations for a satisfying 3 to 4 hour visit are the Cloud Dome, Flower Dome and OCBC Skyway. Chances are you’ve seen pictures of the massive super trees scattered across the property, which are not only architectural masterpieces, but also serve to facilitate air purification. The OCBC Skyway is a suspended skyway that connects multiple of the central super trees and will also provide gorgeous views of the nearby Singapore skyline.

After all of the ooh-ing and ahh-ing over your spectacular Gardens by the Bay visit, you’ll have worked up an appetite. Take a leisurely stroll through the Central Business District and towards Chinatown, where you’ll come across Dumpling Darlings. True to its name, their dumplings are fantastic, and their intimate bistro is, well, darling. Their menu is limited to dumplings and egg noodles, and their lunch special will allow you to try both. My dumpling choices are The Original and Spicy Sichuan, but you can’t go wrong with any of their offerings.

Hit the pavement again and make your way to the Quays (pronounced keys). The Singapore River has 3 central Quays, or long wharfs, which are home to shops, restaurants and nightlife. Clark Quay, in particular, is also home to the Singapore River Cruise. This scenic and longstanding cruise on a traditional bumboat departs every hour on the hour from 1:00pm and will take you past Boat Quay, Clark Quay and Marina Bay. In addition to near stunning sites at every turn, the 45-minute cruise’s narration offers insight into the history of this beautiful part of Singapore.

The Singapore River Cruise will return you to Clark Quay, from which it is easy to begin tackling Marina Bay by land. Find the Marina Bay Waterfront Promenade, an approximately 2-mile path that lines the Marina. Stop to admire City Hall, the historic Fullerton Hotel, the Merlion sculpture, the Singapore Flyer and the Art Science Museum (last entry at 6:00pm!). Enjoy these sites at your leisure, but make sure you’ve made it to the towering Marina Bay Sands for your sunset Spago cocktail reservation. On the 57th floor of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, you’ll find Spago’s buzzing bar, delicious drinks and arguably the best vistas in the city. Although you won’t be able to access the hotel’s world-famous infinity pool without a stay, this is the next best thing. Toast with a Good Girls Gone Bad and admire your new favorite city from above. If you’re still at Spago at 7:45pm, you’ll even be able to catch the must-see Gardens by the Bay light show from the backside of the hotel.

End today with a late-night dinner at Neon Pigeon, a trendy Japanese restaurant with a modern flare. Indulge in their mouthwatering grilled scallops and smoked duroc pork ribs with miso mustard glaze. You will not be disappointed, but you will be ready to roll into bed afterwards!

Day 3: Ogling on Orchard Row

Clock in a lush garden with a circular pathway.

Slow down and experience the city like a Singaporean today. Have a leisurely breakfast at your hotel and then take the MRT to the Singapore Botanic Gardens near Orchard Row. While also horticultural, this is a quieter and more serene counterpart to Gardens by the Bay. The Botanic Gardens were actually the city’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, and they are free of charge to visit. The one exception to this is the National Orchid Garden, which costs up to $15 for a visit. This Orchid Garden splurge is totally worth it. The Botanic Gardens has had an orchid breeding program for nearly 100 years and has created over 2000 hybrid species, many of which can’t be found in any other location. As a bonus, the Orchidetum and a number of other in-door greenhouses (the Bromeliad collection, Mist House and more) are a nice break from the Singapore sun.

When you’re ready for lunch or a snack, the Adam Road Food Centre is directly opposite from the Botanic Gardens. Acclaimed stalls at this small, but popular, hawker center include Selera Rasi Nasi Lemak (for coconut rice), Bahrakath Mutton Soup King (for, you guessed it, mutton soup) and Noo Cheng Adam Road Big Prawn Mee (for prawn noodles). Don’t be afraid to explore and try something new – this is your last full day in Singapore, after all.

From there, you’re ready for one of Singapore’s favorite pastimes: shopping. Orchard Row is one of the most well-known shopping districts in the world, and for good reason. It boasts a staggering number of luxury mega malls. Window shop or pick up a souvenir at Ion Orchard, Mandarin Gallery and Wisma Atria. Even if you’re not a shopper yourself, you’ll be impressed by the elaborate structures and all they have to offer. Not to mention the purchases of your fellow shoppers!

Just off Orchard Row, the newly opened Pan Pacific Hotel Florette is an excellent spot for a late afternoon drink. On the hotel’s 11th floor garden terrace, Florette is primarily a champagne and oyster bar. Opt for a caviar bump or French oyster platter to pair with your bubbly Tattinger. I did promise a dash of glitz, after all!

For your last dinner in the city, there’s one more dish you must try: Singapore chili crab. The perfectly steamed crabs coated in a spicy, tangy, eggy sauce have been named one of the 50 best foods in the world. Be prepared to don a plastic bib and gloves, though, because this meal is messy! There are a number of chili crab restaurants in the city, and Jumbo Seafood is one of the most beloved. Their location in the Ion Orchard is close to today’s activities and will serve as an excellent base for saying farewell to Singapore.

If, after reviewing today’s suggested itinerary, you feel like Orchard Row is not for you, consider spending a day on Sentosa Island instead. Sentosa Island features Universal Studios, Resorts World, the S.E.A. aquarium and beach clubs like Palawan Beach Club. A primarily resort area on the southern coast of the island, it can be accessed by cable car or monorail for added fun. For this reason, Sentosa Island is a great alternative for families looking for kid-friendly activities within miles of the city center.

Day 4: The Jewel of Singapore, Changi International Airport

Green trees in a glass building with a water shower at the center.

On most trips, going to the airport is my most dreaded activity. But, in Singapore, that doesn’t have to be the case! The Changi International Airport has been voted the world’s best airport for more years than I can count, so make sure to arrive with plenty of time to enjoy all it has to offer. After your Welcome Pick-Ups driver deposits you at your assigned terminal, check your bags and get to exploring. Walk or take the Skytrain to the Jewel Changi Terminal in the center of the airport. This 10-story glass and steel dome is home to the highly photographed Rain Vortex (the highest indoor waterfall in the world), a canopy park that allows you to walk 8 stories above the ground and over 280 shops and food/beverage outlets. On top of this, when I was there, I even watched travelers take a silent disco spin class at the base of the Rain Vortex. If you’re looking for even more airport-based entertainment, take the Skytrain to terminal 2 for the Chandelier, a dual art instillation and in-door play structure, or terminal 3 for the butterfly garden. And, before you finally go through security, have a last pre-flight meal at Tsuta Singapore – the first Michelin star ramen restaurant – and Birds of Paradise – a Michelin plate gelato parlor. Then say goodbye to Singapore knowing that you’ll definitely be back and that you’re on to more exciting travel adventures…

Need to Know

Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out my guide, Cycladic Charm: Your Guide to Three Nights in Naxos.

This itinerary is part of our ongoing series on travel to Singapore.

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Travel Advisor

Ashten Waks

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