Singapore is a city I love more every time I return. And that’s saying something, because when I first visited in 2012, it was love at first sight.
On one hand, Singapore is the essence of Southeast Asia distilled into a city state. In a day or two, you can explore the cuisine and culture of Chinese, Muslim and Indian people, and experience attractions (the futuristic Gardens by the Bay, for example), that transcend time and place.
On the other hand, Singapore is a respite from the excesses of the region—think of it as a “time out” from your crazy trip. The most important question to ask, in my experience, is how many days in Singapore you should spend. Continue reading for the answer!
Where to Stay in Singapore
I’ll start discussing how long to spend in Singapore in just a moment. For now, however, I’d like to talk about where you should stay. Personally, if I’m paying for my trip (and I usually am) I like to choose somewhere modest, but stylish. Chinatown’s The Scarlet features small rooms, but a chic decor that fits the local neighborhood, where there are also plenty of Airbnb apartments dripping with character.
On the higher end—if someone else is paying, or if money is no object for you—an obvious choice would be the Marina Bay Sands, which I’ll discuss in greater detail a few paragraphs down. Other options include Raffles Hotel, a heritage property and home of the original Singapore Sling and Four Seasons Singapore, which is close to the Orchard Road shopping district.
TIP: Depending on which passport you hold, you may need a Singapore Arrival Card and a visa in order to enter Singapore.
- If you don’t have a mobile plan that will work in Singapore, consider pre-booking a Singapore SIM card online (for pick-up at Changi Airport).
- I’m telling you: You need to start browsing Singapore hotels now! Prices are likely already high for your dates—and they likely won’t get lower.
- Make sure you have a Visa card you can use abroad, as you can now use this to tap on and off of all Singapore transport.
- Download the Grab app for private car journeys—Uber doesn’t work in Southeast Asia!
The Best Things to Do in Singapore
Discover Singapore’s ethnic neighborhoods
To outsiders, Singapore can seem monochromatic or even sterile. The quickest way to disprove this falsehood is to dive into the neighborhoods that showcase Singapore’s various ethnic groups. The most obvious choices are Chinatown and Little India, but I also love Arab Street and nearby Kampong Glam, whose colorful row houses are the pride of Singapore’s oft-forgotten Malay community.
(And their diverse flavors)
No matter how many days in Singapore you end up spending, food will be central to your itinerary. This might mean the traditional flavors of the above neighborhoods, such as chili crabs in Chinatown, nasi lemak in Kampong Glam, murtabak along Arab Street or the world’s best curries (in my opinion) in Little India. Alternatively, you could just head to a hawker center (I love Tiong Bahru Market and Maxwell Food Centre) and enjoy a sampling of cheap, delicious street food. Also make sure not to sleep on Singapore’s kopitiam coffee shops. Order a kaya toast set and tell me I’m wrong!
TIP: If you’re into mixology, you absolutely have to visit the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel and try to the original Singapore Sling!
Get the classic Merlion shot
Certain experiences are must-do, even if you haven’t yet decided how long to stay in Singapore. The Merlion statue is probably the closest thing Singapore has to a tourist attraction, particularly because of where it’s situated. It’s right on the water near the CBD; you can visit it on your way back from the Raffles Hotel en route to wherever you’re staying.
Clink glasses at Marina Bay Sands
It’s also in the sight line of another classic Singapore hotel (albeit a newer one), the Marina Bay Sands. Here, you can either book a room, win big at the casino or ascend to the rooftop and enjoy sunset cocktails. No matter how many days in Singapore you spend or what the purpose or scope of your trip is, you’re almost certain to end up here at some point, even if you just admire it from across the bay at Merlion.
Say goodnight at Gardens by the Bay
The city comes alive at night, no matter how long in Singapore you decide to spend. If you’re not big into nightlife like me, however, views might be more to your taste than brews. I personally love visiting iconic Gardens by the Bay after night has fallen. Or even during the sunset: The hues the sky takes on are especially gorgeous when see in conjunction with the fluorescent colors of the “super trees” as they light up!
BONUS: Dive into a world of beauty at the National Orchid Garden
For a daytime green break, meanwhile, head to the Singapore Botanic Garden, and in particular the National Orchid Garden that sits inside it. While you’ll need to pay a not-insignificant fee in order to enter the garden, it’s absolutely worth it. I’m a flower person, admittedly, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an amazing array of blooms (orchids or otherwise) as I have within the dedicated orchid enclave of this garden.
Is Singapore Worth Visiting?
Singapore is absolutely worth visiting—the question is how many days Singapore deserves. The reality is that Singapore lives up to various stereotypes about it to a certain degree, from its reputation as an authoritarian dystopia, to rumors that it’s simply boring. At the same time, there’s no way to understand a place (even if you end up feeling negatively about it) without first seeing it with your own eyes.
I just re-read what I’ve written—that isn’t a ringing endorsement of Singapore! I really like the place, even if I usually only return every couple of years, whenever I have a break in a larger regional trip, en route from Bangkok to Tokyo, for example. Indeed, just as you’re facing the dilemma of how many days to visit Singapore now, this is usually the sticking point for my own swings through the city-state.
Other FAQ About Planning Your Singapore Itinerary
How many days do you need in Singapore?
As a general rule, I recommend spending at least 2 days in Singapore, particularly if you’re flying in from the other side of the world. Spend your first day having the tourist experience, whether that’s looking across the water as you pose in front of the Merlion, having a cocktail atop Marina Bay Sands or watching night fall from Gardens by the Bay. Devote day two to Singapore’s ethnic neighborhoods of Chinatown, Little India, Kampong Glam and Arab Street.
Is 3 days enough for Singapore?
Three days is really the ideal answer for how many days to spend in Singapore, in my opinion. This allows you a day each for traditional tourist attractions and ethnic neighborhoods, as described above, plus a “free day.” If you’re flying in from the US or Europe, this could be a shopping and spa day along Orchard Road, with afternoon tea nearby. If you splurge on a stay at Marina Bay Sands, you might spend day three swimming in its iconic infinity pool.
What can you do in Singapore for 4 days?
With 4 days in Singapore, you have the best of both worlds—you can run the gamut, but taking your time doing it. Kick off day one in a relaxed fashion, saying cheers to the Merlion with a Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel. On day two, pair lunch in Little India or on Arab Street with chili crabs in Chinatown, or a more casual meal at a hawker center. Spend day three shopping on Orchard Road and day four at the garden: Either the lush, organic Singapore Botanic Garden, or the more artificial Gardens by the Bay.
The Bottom Line
Regardless of how many days in Singapore you end up spending, focus on the quality of your experiences, rather than their number. An eclectic day or two in Singapore, contrasting traditional Chinatown or Little India with the futuristic modernity of Gardens by the Bay or Marina Sands, is better than 3 or 4 days here that are totally uninspired. As the crossroads of the world, Singapore is a place you’ll no doubt return as a seasoned international traveler. Focus on making this trip—every trip—an unforgettable one, rather than one that simply ticks items off a bucket list. Hire me as your Travel Coach to make your next Singapore sojourn one for the record books.