The highlights of Singapore are well-worth a visit to this Asian super-city, but nothing beats a 24-hour adventure like a local. Our very own Singaporean man-about-town, Roland Soh, takes us through his perfect day in his home city from morning to night!
Let me start with this: eating is the national past time of Singaporeans. Following closely behind is shopping, but ask a Singapore local to pick between a meal and a shopping spree, and you’d be surprised just how many choose the former. So when it comes to spending a day in Singapore like a local, you’ll need to prepare your wallet and your appetite!
I know, because I was born and raised in Singapore. I live in a big housing estate called Sengkang in the north-eastern corner of Singapore. My 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom apartment is a mere 92 square metres, but that’s more than enough for me and most Singaporeans. That’s because we’re the kind of people who love taking advantage of our incredible hometown, and getting out of our house to enjoy all the things that make Singapore so great: safety, greenery and ever-modern architecture.
Which probably has you wondering – how do local Singaporeans spend a perfect 24 hours? I can’t speak for everyone, but I can tell you just what I’d do if I had a whole day to enjoy. So get your feet and stomach ready – here’s how to spend a day like I do exploring the highlights in Singapore!
Serangoon Garden Hawker Centre
If you’re about to head out for breakfast with a local Singaporean, there’s a good chance they’ll ask you “eat what?”. That’s Singlish for “what do you want to eat?”, and is perhaps the best question to ask in the morning. For me, that question is usually answered with bak chor mee – which means minced meat noodles.
The best place to get it? At Serangoon Garden Hawker Centre. Hawker centres are perhaps my favourite places to be in Singapore (here’s some tips on how to conquer them) since you’re surrounded by incredible food that doesn’t break the bank. The bak chor mee at the stalls here is special because it has a secret combination of vinegar, sesame oil, light soya sauce and chilli. The vendors protect the secret recipe at all costs, so don’t bother asking!
No true Singaporean breakfast is complete without a cup of kopi, which is our own tasty version of an Americano. Most of us will order our kopi black, since there’s no better way to get the flavour than leaving it untouched. Personally I like my coffee thicker and stronger, so I’ll ask the vendor to add more coffee and less water. It’s not for everyone, though, so try it if you dare!
10AM: Beach adventures
That cup of kopi has enough caffeine to give you quite the boost for the rest of the morning, so we’ll use that energy to head about 45 minutes from Serangoon Garden Hawker Centre. Our destination isChangi Beach, which most visitors to Singapore will miss simply because it takes longer to get there. It’s well-worth the journey, though, since Changi Beach is unique as its near the airport. Every few seconds, you can actually see planes taking off and landing over your head!
Most Singaporeans, including myself, suffer from a bad case of ‘kiasu’, which means we just can’t loosen up and chill out. Life in Singapore is always “rush, rush, rush”, so unwinding with a bike ride around Changi Beach is a favourite for many of us. Do as the locals do and rent a bicycle, strap on some roller blades or go for a walk. Whatever way you choose, this is a thoroughly local way to spend your morning.
Casa Verde Restaurant
You’ve had a particularly local breakfast, so now it’s time to change it up with something more international – and with a great location. Next up is Casa Verde Restaurant in the Singapore Botanical Gardens. I love this place mainly because of its great line-up of pizzas and pastas – my favourite is the Aglio Olio spaghetti. But the real selling point of this charming eatery is its pet policy (dogs welcome)! If you’re an animal lover, you’ll be in heaven here. I love the mix of locals and expats, dogs and humans.
Heads up: Getting a table here can be quite a chore, since it can get crowded around lunchtime. Be prepared to mark your territory with a pack of napkins – which we call a chope. This is a local way of saving your seat!
Singapore Botanical Gardens
After you’re full-up on spaghetti, you’ll probably need to walk off the extra calories (to prepare for your next meal, of course). Thankfully, you’re already in the best place in Singapore for a stroll – theBotanical Gardens! I love the surroundings here, plus the scenic pond where you’ll likely spot fish and tortoise.
Beyond just walking, one of my favourite pasttimes here is people watching, and there’s no better place to do it than here. This is a popular place for Singaporean retirees to go for outdoor yoga, Tai Chi and badminton! If you’re feeling particularly energetic, you can jump it on the fun!
Haji Lane is most certainly not a local secret at its a favourite for tourists and locals alike, but it’s a spot I’ll never miss when I have a friend visit. Haji Lane is great simply because of its colourful visuals. I love the splish-splash of colours on this street – some of the street art here is truly mind-boggling! I’m not much a shopper, but a bit of window shopping past the quaint cafes and shops selling knick-knacks here is not to be missed.
4PM: Mid-day snack
If you’re exploring like a true Singaporean, come 4PM and you’ll be ready for another snack. If you’re on Haji Lane, there’s a culinary gem not too far from you. On Jalan Pinang – just a street over from Haji Lane – Artistry Cafe is a quirky art-gallery-cum-cafe that serves up dishes almost as creative as its fine art!
Apart from a great cuppa, make sure you save room for some of their famous Peanut Butter and Jelly French Toast. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the Bacon and Dark Chocolate Ice Cream Waffles – they’re my favourite!
Peony Jade Restaurant
For dinner, it’s go big or go home – and there’s no better place to do it than Peony Jade Restaurant. This place is swanky, and located in the heart of Clarke Quay – one of the coolest places to be in Singapore after the sun sets. This restaurant isn’t so far from the Singapore River, so there’s a lively buzz of bum boats humming a stone’s throw away.
Peony Jade is famous for its Szechuan and Cantonese fare, and it’s a popular place with weddings, too! This is the kind of restaurant that’s best with a group, so invite your friends. While you’re here, don’t miss out on their Roast Duck or their Singapore Chilli Crab!
10PM: Live music
Crazy Elephant Bar
There’s no better way to let your dinner settle than with some live music. You’re already in one of the liveliest districts for star-lit urban adventures, so you’re not too far from Clarke Quay’s Crazy Elephant Bar. Dubbed a rock n’ roll blues bar, you can expect a great lineup of crowd pleasers and more than a few rowdy audience members singing along.
This place is popular with locals and expats alike, and if you’re there on Sunday, any group can get in on the musical action by performing themselves!
1AM: Late night retail therapy
Mustaffa Shopping Centre
If you’re looking to end the night in local style, do yourself a favour and head to Little India. This is the home of Mustaffa Shopping Centre, a 24-hour bazaar that’s got nearly everything you could imagine on sale. It’s in one of the most popular parts of town for after-hours adventures, so you can expect pretty impressive crowds even after midnight.
3AM: (Post) Midnight Snack
If you’ve still got a bit of steam left in you, the last stop has to be Geylang District – but its not for the faint of heart. Considered Singapore’s Red Light District, Geylang has two important features: on one side, great food; on the other, some neon-lit bars you’ll need to steal yourself to enter.
For me, the obvious choice is the food, as it’s been nearly seven hours since my last meal! My choice here is a local favourite: chicken rice cooked in claypot. My favourite place is Geylang Claypot Rice – a blue- and yellow-tiled restaurant that’s usually packed with locals. Once you’ve chowed down, it’s time to wrap up your night and head back to your hotel. Congratulations: you’ve had a perfectly local day!
Let our destination experts like Roland help you discover the highlights and hidden charms of Singapore. Contact our team to design a custom journey for you – with all the best local gems, too!