Singapore at a Glance
Population: 5.47 Million
Capital City: Singapore
People: 74.2% ethnic Chinese, 13.2% ethnic Malay, and 9.2% ethnic Indian
Language: English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil
Currency: Singapore Dollar (SGD)
Time Zone: SST (Singapore Standard Time) +8 Hours
International Dialing Code: +65
Passport and visa
Passports must be valid for six months beyond the date of departure. Visas are not required for Australian, United States, British, Canadian, South African, New Zealand and Irish passport holders travelling to Singapore for social reasons. However, a Social Visit Pass is issued upon arrival for stays of less than a month. Nationals not referred to above are advised to check with their Singaporean embassy for more details regarding visa requirements.
Phones & Internet service
Telephone connections are widely available. You may need to register with your mobile supplier for international roaming services. Also, SIM cards are available to purchase from any 7-11 stores or SingTel and StarHub shops. You can also make local and international calls using public phones which take credit cards and phone cards.
Wi-Fi is widely available at internet cafes; however, there may be a fee charge of about $2 per hour for internet access.
People, Cities & Culture
As one of the wealthiest nations on earth, first time visitors to Singapore are often surprised by the scale and grandeur of the island nation’s development. The façade of modern skyscrapers and futuristic infrastructure belies the humble roots that most Singaporeans come from. As a nation of immigrants, much of its population followed the country's rise from a collection of fishing villages to an economic powerhouse - an unprobable story of success that locals share a great deal of pride in being a part of.
Although Singapore has enjoyed explosive growth over the past few decades, its vital importance to trade and commerce in the region is nothing new. Ever since its establishment as a trading post in 1819, the flow of goods and commerce through the tiny island nation has attracted immigrants from China, the Indian sub-continent, Malay Peninsula, the Middle East and further abroad in search of work and a better life. Through decades of government-encouraged cultural integration and cross-cultural marriage, Singapore now has a distinct culture of its own based on the fusion of cultures from its three ethnic groups: Chinese, Indian and Malay.
All Singaporeans share a strong sense of national pride, both in their storied rise to economic prominence, and in the incredible diversity of their population. Almost all Singaporeans speak English, the country's official working language, many are able to speak two or more languages. Among its many languages, histories and cultures, though, lies an over-arching and well-deserved pride that visitors will almost surely get a sense of when visiting.
The whole of Singapore measures a mere 716 square kilometers, ranking as the 18th smallest independent country in the world. Due to its diminutive geographic size, its stature as an economic powerhouse has nothing to do with natural resources. Instead, Singapore leverages its geographic location and talented workforce as a means of putting itself ahead of other nations in the region.
Situated between the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian Archipelago, Singapore’s location makes it perfectly situated for controlling the flow of goods coming through the Strait of Jahor in the north and the Singapore Strait in the south. By controlling these two straits, Singapore more or less has complete control of goods traveling from Asia Pacific to the West and vice versa –making it one of the busiest port cities in the world.
The island itself is said to be “diamond shaped” and, at its highest point, reaches only 165 meters in elevation. Surprisingly, Singapore has no natural lakes or reservoirs, a problem that has been solved with the world's most sophisticated de-salinisation plant, which makes water on tap drinkable throughout the country.The territory of Singapore also includes dozens of outlying islands, including Palau Ubin, Jurong Island, and Sentosa, all of which make for fantastic escapes from the city.
Getting in and out of Singapore is easy and enjoyable. Singapore's Changi Airport (SIN) is been rated as the best airport in the world for five years running. The airport is so nice, in fact, that most visitors consider a wander through it part of the "Singapore experience" in its own right. Among other things, the airport boasts a theme park, two movie theatres, video game centres, massage chairs and a world-class shopping centre at its extravagant heart - a theme that's common throughout Singapore.
Beyond its international airport, Singapore is connected by the Mass Rapid Transit, or MRT system. Virtually all Singaporeans use the MRT as a means of getting around, since the lines cover most of metropolitan Singapore. Areas of Singapore that are further afield are generally connected via the LRT, or Light Rail Transit, with any gaps in between covered by Singapore's efficient and modern public bus system. In addition, Singapore's taxi system is both trust-worthy and efficient as well, though costs for taxi services are much higher than public transport. Travellers using a taxi can feel rest assured that, unlike many other parts of Southeast Asia, taxi fares are monitored closely by the government and remain consistent across companies.
Meanwhile, getting around independently in Singapore is often most enjoyable when explored by foot. Thanks to its scale, it's not unrealistic to simply walk between destinations.
When to visit Singapore
Being only 137 kilometres north of the equator, Singapore's climate is definitively tropical, and rarely experiences any extreme changes in temperature. Singapore is also distinct in its lack of a clear-cut wet and dry season. While intermittent rains cool things down, Singapore is generally hot and humid year-round.
When planning a trip to Singapore, consider that some seasons have a slightly higher chances of rain: with the northeast monsoon typically being between December and March, and the Southwest monsoon between June and September.
Festivals and National Holidays
Because of the incredible ethnic diversity of its population, there’s no shortage of holidays and festivals in Singapore. Most major holidays originate from the cultures that make up its population - primarily China, India, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Holidays observed by these communities are celebrated exuberantly in Singapore, and even locals outside of these ethnic groups often get in on the action.
Thanks to its establishment as a major metropolitan city with a substantial expatriate community, virtually any major holiday around the world is also celebrated in Singapore. Some holidays and festivals, however, are more widely celebrated in the country, and should be on the top of your travel to-do list:
Chinese New Year, February (varies depending on lunar calendar)
Vesak Day, 18 May
National Day, 9 August
Deepavali, 11 November
Hari Raya Haji, 24 September
Singapore Grand Prix
Where to travel in Singapore
Translating as “Peace and Tranquility” in Malay, Sentosa Island is Singapore’s most famous beach destination and top tourist attraction, welcoming nearly 20 million visitors a year. Sentosa's pristine white-sand beaches are not naturally occurring - instead, they were imported from Malaysian beaches - but the result is a surprisingly pleasant sandy paradise just a stone's throw from metropolitan Singapore.
Apart from sandy beaches, Sentosa is also home to the Universal Studios Theme Park, an aquarium and oceanarium, an artificial wave park and even the iFly centre for simulated skydiving.
Marina Bay is the undisputed crown jewel of Singapore, and the finest example of how far the young country has come in its short history. Often compared to Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay, no trip to Singapore would be complete without jaunt around these sparkling waters lined with opulent skyscrapers. All of the pomp and circumstance of half a century of careful construction are on full display, creating a stunning cityscape highlighted by the iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Gardens by the Bay, the world's most expensive botanic garden.
In stark contrast with the modern skyscrapers surrounding it, Chinatown is characterised by old fashioned red and gold-hewed low-rise buildings that are both modest in appearance and proud in the manner. As Chinese immigrants represent the largest ethnic population on the island nation, these buildings are a reminder of the proud continuity of tradition that Singapore retains, as well as its connection to the past. The most famous sites within Chinatown are Maxwell Center - where more than 100 food stalls serve up steaming plates of traditional Singaporean cuisine at rock-bottom prices - and the beautifully constructed Buddha Tooth Relic Temple.
Palau Ubin is a small island off of the northern coast that remains one of the last places in Singapore to be purposefully spared from urban development. The island is known for its abundant wildlife, with freely-roaming wild boar and soaring horn-bills. Palau Ubin is also one of the least densely populated areas in Singapore, and is a perfect place to see what Singapore was like during its time as a sleepy fishing village. Families here are largely supported by traditional means of agriculture and fishing, with a livelihood that proves a stark contrast to metropolitan Singapore.
Once upon a time, Orchard Road was a little more than a pleasant country road lined with fruit groves, nutmeg plantations, and pepper farms -hence its name. Today it’s the bustling hub of Singapore’s commercial district, dense with luxury cars, street performers and high-end shopping. The bulk of Singapore’s many super-malls are situated on Orchard Road, and virtually all of the world’s premier brands can be found here.
Things to do in Singapore
Dive into the “Melting Pot”
If you want to truly understand how Singapore became the rich, vibrant, and dynamic city-state it is today, the best way to do it is to dive into Singapore’s famously diverse cultural melting pot. With a journey through Singapore's four most prominent ethnic enclaves - Kampong Glam Malay District, Little India, Chinatown and Joo Chiat Peranakan District - you'll discover the roots of Singapore's vibrant array of flavours and stories. The best way to experience in all in one day is on a Melting Pot day tour, exploring the highlights of each of these distinct areas.
Dig into Singaporean Cuisine at a Hawker Centre
Singapore is often considered one of the world’s top food destinations, and rightfully so. Every spice and flavour under the sun can be found in the Little Red Dot, and Singaporeans take food very seriously. Nowadays, Singapore's street food is found in concentrated areas known as hawker centres which are scattered throughout the city. The dizzying array of options available can be intimidating to first-timers, with literally hundreds options often being available. The best way to maximise the use of space in your stomach is to go on a guided food tour, which will leverage local experience in delivering Singapore's finest street food to your table.
Have a Night Out on the Town
Though Singapore is beautiful by day, its opulence and extravagance is best enjoyed after the sun sets. Some of the best places to explore under the cover of night are centred around Marina Bay, where spectacular lights of the city are reflected in dazzling displays of urban beauty. Singapore's proud reputation as a "green city" is best enjoyed at nearby Gardens by the Bay, where surreal "Super Trees" loom up to 50 meters overhead in a display of subtle opulence and magnificent engineering that is both awe-inspiring and other-worldly. Nocturnal shopping sprees are an exciting way to spend an evening at Bugis Village Street Market or Orchard Road, too, where much of Singapore's nighttime charm is enjoyed at a leisurely stroll.
Delve into Singapore’s History
They say that to know a place, you must first know its history and where it came from; and that’s no less true with Singapore. For such a young country, Singapore has had to overcome a surprising amount of adversity to become the economic powerhouse and icon of progress that it is today. The best places to see Singapore's history aren't far from metropolitan city centre, including the Labrador Nature Reserve where the struggle to protect the harbour during Japan's invasion took place. Make sure to see the Old Ford Factory, where you can get up-close and personal with the artillery guns and war relics that were used in defense of the island as well.
Enjoy the Outdoors
Despite being one of the most developed super cities in the world, there's plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy between bouts of urban exploration. The man-made island of Sentosa is a great place to get a healthy dose of both. Alternatively, head to Palau Ubin by way of a humble wooden “bumboat” where the bustling landscape of modern Singapore gives way to a sleepy fishing village surrounded by jungle. Here you can explore the island by bicycle, eventually making your way to Chek Jawa Wetlands, where a carefully constructed boardwalk transports you over Singapore’s healthiest marine ecosystem.