Edited by Jessica Wright
Lion City - the direct translation of Singapore - is everything the name promises; perfectly regal, visually striking, impressive in its efficiency and simply top of the food chain is so many aspects. While this great melting-pot of cultures is undoubtedly exceedingly modern, the skyscrapers give way to stunning green spaces that speak to deep-seated respect and love for natural beauty. The Lion City is dazzling not only in its beauty, but in the endless entertainment offerings and hidden gems; from excellent shopping, historical and cultural wealth, and a culinary appeal that ranges from superb street food to glamorous fine dining. After decades of living in this city I still find myself entertained. There are a few things to know when traveling to Singapore for the first time, and with these Singapore travel tips, based on years of experience, I hope you’ll be able to make the most of your stay. To be aware of all the subtle social nuances and norms can be hugely helpful and make your visit far more comfortable, and just a bit of insider information can turn up the fun dial considerably. With this guide to Singapore first time travel you’ll be travelling Singapore like a local who has lived here for years!
Make yourself at home
The best way to settle in to a new place is to have somewhere you can call your home away from home. It’s important to pick the right place for your budget and taste; there are so many good places to stay in this city and just a few of them can be found in this great guide. Once you've established home base, you should get comfy. Dress light and airy for the warm, humid climate and add a squirt of mosquito repellent for good measure. While we aren’t plagued with mosquitoes, this is the tropics and one or two are fairly common. The best time to visit Singapore for good weather is during the months of February-April, which falls between summer and winter with mild weather that’s not too hot or chilly, but also not too wet! July through September, on the other hand, offer a bustling festive season which leave questions of when to visit purely down to personal preference. Bring clothes appropriate for the time of year, as well as a dressier outfit or two if you want to go out and look the part! Swimsuits, sunscreen, and mosquito spray are musts and if you’re visiting between November and January, it’s a good idea to bring a rain jacket or umbrella as well as a sweater or light jacket as the evenings can be cool and rain can be expected at any time.
Savvy social skills
Being clued up on the subtle social nuances in Singaporean will help you fit it in and protect you from awkward faux pas. When it comes to public transport universal common decency applies; seats are reserved for the elderly, pregnant or differently-abled people and should be given up appropriately. When using escalators keep to the left – unless you are in a hurry – so that people who want to pass may do so on the right. The currency in Singapore is the Singapore Dollar, and you can expect to spend quite a few of these as Singapore is one of the more expensive cities globally and while tips are not necessary, they are appreciated. Singaporeans are generally very friendly and open to visitors and will be more than willing to be of help, but be aware that quite a large chunk of the population are guest workers (35 – 40%) and may not necessarily have the answers you need. Home-grown Singaporeans are warm and chatty but tend to be formal and enjoy personal space so when visiting a Singaporean home wait for the host to initiate physical contact. For hugs or pecks on the cheek, take your cues from them. Always take off your shoes when you visit the home of a Singaporean and if you’ve been invited for a meal, a small thoughtful gift or a bottle of wine will be well-received.
For Singapore first time travel you can expect public transport to be your new best friends – and that’s plural because in Singapore your means of public transport are multiple! For getting around the city in comfort I’d suggest using a combination of the local bus app called MyTransport and Google maps. MyTransport is downloadable on Apple and Android and is incredibly accurate and useful. When I am not using the bus service I opt for the MRT; you can purchase a multi-purpose Singapore Tourist Pass (STP) from the TransitLink Ticket Offices at MRT stations. This card which will allow you unlimited travel on buses and trains for your chosen length of time, beginning at one day for S$10. This is a great option for convenient and affordable travel, and the quickest way to make your way around the city. It also has stops near to all the biggest attractions, meaning that anywhere you might like to go is usually within walking distance from a stop. Buses and train fares can be found here. Taxis are more expensive, but not exorbitant for the trustworthy service you’ll get if you are staying and moving around the city center. “Grab” (a close relative of Uber) may be a cheaper options than taxis during off peak hours and rush hour is between 8am – 10am and 5 - 7pm.
Eat like a local
To get a taste of authentic Singapore, skip the air-conditioned malls and opt for a small coffee shop or hawker center. Don’t be afraid to engage the locals in a conversation about the food, and where to get the best of each type of street food; Singaporeans love to give out tips on their favorite food. While there are some extremely worthy fine-dining options in Singapore, you don’t have to pay a pretty penny to satisfy your foodie cravings; when it comes to where to eat in Singapore you will find some of the best bites at hawker stalls around Chinatown and Marina Bay where you can enjoy specialties like Laksa (a spicy Malaysian coconut noodle soup). A long queue is usually a great indication of the best food! For delicious vegetarian finds and surprising variety head to Little India, and for quirky, themed hipster cafeś hit up Haji Lane. If you feel the urge to splurge, Marina Bay offers great upscale dining options! On the other hand, you can get yourself a Michelin-star meal for a quarter of the price a Big Mac. Yup, that’s right! Singapore boasts the cheapest Michelin-star meal in the world – found at a modest hawker stall named Liao Fan Hong Kong. For more scrumptious Singaporean foodie finds, enlist the help of this handy Singaporean food guide.
Out and about
If feel like a night on the town – even as a solo female traveler, or you decide to set your teenager loose on the city - fear not; Singapore is one of the safest places you can visit in Asia. You might get a little lost, but that is probably the worst that could happen to you. Of course this is partly thanks to a strict and well-enforced set of laws; for example, offenses like shoplifting ordinarily result in prison time, while drug offenses carry consequences more dire even than that. Seriously; if you were thinking of testing the limits here, think again. Drug sentences range from caning or life imprisonment to death, and several tourists have paid this very dear price. On a lighter note, non-smokers are in for a great time! Many restaurants, clubs and pubs are smoke-free zones, and even popular streets and shopping districts often carry a non-smoking sign. Flouncing the rules in areas like this will usually result in a hefty fine. Not the way you want to spend your holiday savings! When dressing up for a night on the town, don’t hold back! Singaporeans are a stylish crowd and dressing up a bit for a night out will have you fitting right in. Plan your evening around happy hour – 5pm to 9pm – for great deals on drinks across the city!
Things to do in Singapore
Now that you’ve been kitted with all the things to know when traveling to Singapore, all that’s left is what to do is figure out just what it is you want to do first! There are some great Singapore travel guides out there, so be sure to do your research. For a list of attractions that are a must-do in Singapore take a peek at this comprehensive list and if you want to go off the beaten path and explore the lesser-known hidden gems of Singapore take a peek here!
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