Singapore is a fascinating country with an incredibly rich and varied culture. In a short time, this city-state has grown from a small trading outpost to one of the most important financial centres in Asia. Singapore is also a cultural melting pot, where European, Chinese, Malaysian, Indian and many other ethnicities have come together to create a unique Singaporean identity.
This Beginner’s Guide to Singapore will introduce you to its historic and geographical make-up, provide tips & tricks for first-time visitors, as well as advice on where to go and what to do.
A Brief History
Singapore takes its name after the 14th century Kingdom of Singapura, meaning the Lion City. In 1819, the British founded a trading colony under the leadership of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, establishing what would become the basis for modern Singapore. During World War II, Singapore was occupied by Japanese forces who renamed the city Syonan-to, meaning Light of the South.
After the surrender of Japan in 1945, the city returned to British rule but gradually moved towards more autonomy and ultimately independence. In 1963, Singapore briefly merged with Malaya, Sarawak and North Borneo to form the state of Malaysia. After a tumultuous union, Singapore was expelled and the modern Republic of Singapore was officially declared in 1965.
Singapore is often referred to as “The Lion City”, “The Garden City” or the “Little Red Dot” due to its appearance on world maps.
Geography and Demographics
The Republic of Singapore only covers an area of about 719.1 km2 with a population of 5,607,300. The majority of Singaporeans are ethnically Chinese (74.1%) followed by Malay (13.4%), Indian (9.2%) and others (3.3%). The four official languages are English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil.
Getting Around Singapore
Singapore has some of the best public transportation and infrastructure in Southeast Asia, so it is very easy to get to all the major attractions. The most convenient way to get around is using the MRT. You can buy a Tourist Pass in the airport or at all major train stations. This allows you unlimited travel for a certain number of days and allows you to use the MRT as well as public buses.
For areas not easily accessed by MRT or busses, the best option is taking a taxi. Taxis in Singapore are metered and reliable. You can hail a taxi by the side of the road or you can queue at one of the many taxi stands which are scattered throughout the city, located at most shopping malls and tourist attractions.
What to See and Where to Go
Singapore offers a multitude of historical and cultural attractions. For history buffs, the National Museum of Singapore offers a good introduction to the city’s fascinating past. Those interested in modern art should definitely visit the Singapore Art Museum, which contains works from all over Asia and beyond.
One of the most interesting things to do is to take a walking tour of the many ethnic enclaves that give Singapore its unique character. You can visit Little India, take a walking tour of Chinatown or admire the colourful Peranakan houses in the Joo Chiat District:
Melting Pot Discovery Tour:
Chinatown Walking Tour:
The Peranakan Story Tour:
Singapore is widely considered a mecca for shoppers in Southeast Asia. Orchard Road is probably Asia’s most famous shopping street and is lined with mega-malls that offer everything from high fashion, luxury brands, cosmetics, perfumes, and electronics. The Little India Arcade and China Square Central Flea Market are also worth a visit if you are searching for vintage clothing or antiques.
Hawker Markets and Street Food
It is often said that the two main attractions of Singapore is shopping and eating! Thanks to the many different cultures and ethnicities that call Singapore home, there is an incredible variety of food to choose from. Hawker stalls, street vendors and shopping mall food courts all offer a plethora of dishes from Indian, Chinese, Malay, Thai, Vietnamese and nearly any kind of cuisine you can think of. Taking a food tour allows you to sample the best of the best that Singapore has to offer:
Street Food Adventure:
We hope you enjoyed this short Beginner’s Guide to Singapore. For more information about the Lion City, visit our website or contact our travel experts today, to help plan your next trip to the Little Red Dot!