There’s so much to see and do in Singapore, how can you see it all in a short stopover? The short answer is, you can’t (see it all). But what you can do is maximize your itinerary with some creative planning. Come along to find out how we spent our 48 hours in Singapore.
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Singapore Changi Airport
The Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) is considered to be one of the best airports in the world. The airport is a tourist attraction in itself, especially when you include the Jewel, a nature-themed complex filled with shops, food, and attractions connected to the airport and located outside immigration. The airport terminals have incredible food and shopping options, along with free “snooze lounges”, charging stations, play areas for kids, dozens of airline and pay-to-use lounges, as well as a free movie theater and hotels. There are also several attractions inside the terminals including a butterfly garden, art installations, and multiple flower gardens.
In the Jewel, the main attraction is the Rain Vortex waterfall and the Shiseido Forrest Valley that surrounds it. If you want to visit the Jewel on a layover, you’ll need to allow enough time to go through immigration and then return through security. I did this in 2020 when I had a six-hour layover. If you want to see the rain vortex, make sure you check the operating times in the link above. It wasn’t running at the time of day we arrived or when we returned to the airport to fly to Cambodia.
We arrived in Singapore around 8 am on a Monday morning, after an almost 18-hour nonstop flight from Los Angeles, one of the longest flights in the world. The flight itself was fine. We all slept some (made easier by our late-night departure and our Cabeau neck pillows and inflatable footrests) as well as watched several movies. The seats were fine as far as Economy Class seats go but the food was lackluster.
Because we were a bit early to check into our hotel, we took our time at the airport. We ordered coffee and pastries at the outpost of Bacha Coffee which offers the best presentation I’ve ever seen for a to-go coffee. They literally have dozens of single-origin beans from which to choose your brew. The packaging was over the top and the coffee was served with a side of whipped cream and a pretty stirring stick of rock sugar. After fueling up, we went to visit the butterfly garden in Terminal 3 because we knew we might not have time to see it on our return.
After the butterflies, we picked up our luggage and breezed through immigration and customs. They didn’t even stamp our passports!
Check out the short Instagram video below from our flight and Changi Airport.
Transportation in Singapore
Taxi from Singapore Airport to the City Center
There are multiple options on how to get to and from Changi Airport into the Singapore city center; Taxi, MRT, and private transfer. We opted for two of these, taking a taxi from our airport to the hotel and the MRT back to the airport when we left for Cambodia.
The taxi cost from Singapore airport to our city center hotel was (about S$26 or USD$20 for the 3 of us). If you have a lot of luggage, you won’t be able to fit in a regular taxi and will require a minivan or multiple taxis. Taking the MRT back to the airport was about S$2 each and so easy. It does require a change of trains right before the last stop at the airport, so again, if you have a lot of luggage this might be a challenge.
At the airport they have what’s called a “Ground Transport Concierge (GTC)” and booking a car for up to 4 people is a flat rate of 55 SG$ ($41 USD). More on Changi private transport can be found here.
Transportation Around Singapore
The Singapore MRT makes getting around incredibly easy. There are options for transportation passes but we did not end up buying one. Ultimately, it was very easy to pay for our rides with our phones using Google Wallet or Apple Pay. Paying with a contactless credit or debit card is also an option. This way, we avoided having to buy a card, pay a deposit for it, load it with money, and then have to return it to get the deposit back.
The MRT trains are frequent and the stations are air-conditioned. There are even robots that roam around, cleaning the stations. Eating or drinking on the trains is discouraged and most people just spend all of their time on their phones. Scroll through the images below to see the MRT.
Hotels in Singapore
Hotel V Bencoolen
The taxi ride to the V Hotel Bencoolen was quick and easy. We chose this hotel because of its central location, high Trip Advisor ranking, good reviews, and affordable price point that allowed everyone to have their own room. The rooms were very small but absolutely fine for 1 person. Two people and their luggage would have been a challenge. The bathroom had a walk-in shower with excellent water pressure. We all had rooms next to each other on the same floor, as requested, but the rooms looked out onto a central courtyard/airshaft. I would have preferred a street-view room but at least they were quiet. There were no outlets for charging next to the bed which is a hassle. The rooms have a safe, an electric kettle, and a mini refrigerator.
Scroll through the slideshow below to see the room.
Breakfast was not included with our room rate so we went to the café downstairs each morning for a coffee and pastry. The hotel is only a few doors down from the Bencoolen MRT stop which made it very convenient to get just about anywhere in the city. For two nights this hotel was just fine.
Other Hotel Options
The next time I go to Singapore I would like to stay at the Fullerton Hotel (located in a historical building from 1928 that was once the Singapore General Post Office) or the Marina Bay Sands (made famous in Crazy Rich Asians) or even the iconic colonial Raffles Hotel (opened in 1887!).
Bencoolen and Bugis Neighborhoods
We had two days to explore Singapore so we tried to make the most of it. On the first day, after a shower and a short rest at the hotel (they let us check in around 10 am, bless them), the first thing we did was set out to find the closest “hawker centre” and try some of Singapore’s famous street food. What is a hawker centre? Think street food vendors centralized into stalls under a roof with running water and good hygiene.
The closest hawker centre to our hotel was the Albert Centre on Queen Street. On the way there we walked around the neighborhood which was set up for Lunar New Year and passed by both a Hindu temple and a Buddhist temple as well as some incredible street art.
Scroll through below to see temples and Lunar New Year…
Albert Food Centre
Jetlagged, hungry, and overwhelmed with choice, we chose Laksa noodles with chicken and roasted duck on rice for our first taste of Singaporean food.
After our snack, we walked over to Little India where the weather shifted and promptly began a deluge of rain while at the same time managing to be hot and very humid. Little India was fun to walk around and we knew we’d be back the next day on our street food tour.
Tip: if you are arriving after a long flight and are multiple time zones away from home, get out into the daylight, even if you are tired. Take a walk around the neighborhood around your hotel and check out what’s there.
Gardens By The Bay
Later in the afternoon on the first day, we took the MRT over to Gardens By the Bay. There is a lot to see here so given our limited time, we picked 2 of the multiple attractions, the Cloud Forest, and the Flower Dome. We walked through the super trees but it was windy and raining and the elevated walkway between the super trees was closed. We planned to return the next day to see them if they were open. Both exhibits were incredible and worth the money to see. The cloud forest is home to the largest indoor waterfall in the world.
In between attractions, we visited the well-known food hall called Satay by the Bay and had a welcome break complete with delicious meat on a stick! We chose a 30-stick combo of beef, mutton, and chicken from the City Satay stall and it was surprisingly affordable (about S$30).
The Flower Dome was surprisingly cold inside after the warmth and humidity of the Cloud Forest. The exhibit is broken up into different climates and areas of the world; desert, Mediterranean, jungle, etc.
The Supertree Grove at Gardens By The Bay
Timing our visit for sunset, we returned to Gardens By the Bay on our second day to ascend to the walkway connecting the trees in the Supertree Grove. We stayed for the free music and light show that plays every night at 7:45 and 8:45 PM. This was fun and our timing could not have been better. We were able to get great views from the walkway and then descend right in time to watch (and listen to) the show from below the trees.
TIP: bring something to sit on (like a small blanket, scarf, or towel) while watching the light show. There aren’t a lot of seats, so the only option is to sit on the ground or stand, craning your neck upward.
Singapore Food and Culture Tour
Our second day in Singapore was focused on a private food and culture tour with Monster Day Tours. We chose a private tour because, with our limited time, we wanted to cover as much as possible without being confined by a group tour or trying to figure it all out on our own. This worked extremely well for us because it also gave us the broadest overview of the city and covered the four main ethnic groups in Singapore; Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Peranakan.
The tour started in Chinatown, then went to Little India, then to Kampong Glam. We visited temples, markets, hawker centres, and restaurants and ate a lot of food. We also visited a fascinating Singapore City Gallery, all about the City of Singapore which covered its history, showing how it has been built up, especially over the last 50 years, and plans for the future including sustainability goals.
In Chinatown, we started at the Buddha Tooth Temple which holds several Buddha relics, walked over to the Singapore City Gallery, and then onto the Maxwell Food Centre where we tried “carrot cake” two ways (actually a glutenous “cake” that’s made from a white radish and then fried), stir-fried noodles, the Hainanese Chicken Rice from the world-famous food stall, Tian Tain, and fried bananas. From there we visited the Taoist temple of Thian Hock Keng. See the food and temples in the slides below.
From there we went to the Tekka Market, a wet market and hawker centre in Little India.
After Little India we went to Kampong Glam and had our last meal at Zam Zam which serves both Malaysian and Indian cuisine (see below).
The tour was fascinating and I highly recommend it.
TIP: we saved a little money by opting for the “no pick up” from our hotel and instead met our guide at the Chinatown MRT station. If you want a lower-cost tour or prefer to focus on a single area, Monster also offers small group tours. Their food tour of Chinatown which includes a Michelin-starred food stall looks really interesting.
Other Food Tour Options in Singapore
Mama Dion Speakeasy
If you follow me on Instagram, you know I love a good craft cocktail, either homemade or when I’m traveling. Of course, I had to find one of the only speakeasies in Singapore and it was a few blocks from our hotel. The prohibition term “speakeasy” stems from when alcohol was illegal and bars were hidden behind false walls and one needed a password to enter.
Mama Diam is “hidden” behind a sliding door at the back of a storefront that mimics a “mama diam”, a convenience store popular in the 1980’s and 90’s Singapore. Scroll through the slideshow below to see the hidden entrance and inside.
The cocktails below were well-made and creative. From left to right; the “Pisang Old Fashioned” (Black Tears Spiced Rum, homemade banana syrup, chocolate bitters, and banana chips), the “Run Fast, Ride Slow” (Roku Gin, jasmine tea, yuzu, honey, fresh green grapes, and lime), and the “Peranakan Negroni” (Colombo Navy Strength Gin, Campari, Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth, pandan, coconut, and pineapple).
For food, we had an assortment of appetizers. We all loved the prawn cakes (top, below), as well as (left to right bottom) the broccolini with garlic and oyster sauce, fried squid head with sambal aioli, and the pork and prawn Ngoh Hiang with five spice powder and sambal aioli.
Mama Diam is located at 38 Prinsep Street #01-01, Singapore 188665, and is open every night.
There’s so much more to see in Singapore and this trip only primed for the next time. With another day there I’d love to try the river cruise at sunset, spend more time at Gardens by the Bay, explore Sentosa Island, and see Orchard Road.