There’s something so comforting about stepping off the plane into the brown tones of Singapore Changi airport. I couldn’t even count how many hours I’ve spent in that airport in my life so far, and there’s a reason why it’s consistently ranked the best airport in the world. But more than that, stepping foot in Changi means (if you’re lucky) the opportunity to enjoy a Singapore holiday.
Working in travel I used to hear all the time “meh, Singapore is so boring.” This perception that it’s tame, bland and uninspiring was really pervasive in the tourism industry (in my experience anyway). And I always delighted in the challenge of changing someone’s mind. Because to me, Singapore is absolutely full of excitement and adventure.
On our latest trip, I really would have liked to spend more time in Singapore. Alas, we were really restricted with available days. I’m still so glad we made it happen though because we got to show our kids the wonder of Singapore. And now they want to go back as much as we do.
So here are our tips from four nights in Singapore with two kids under four. I hope this helps you to plan your own Singapore holiday!
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Singapore Zoo and River Safari
Singapore Zoo is often heralded as one of the best in the world, and there’s a reason for that. Aesthetically, it’s incredible. Set around a beautiful lake, from tropical plants to multiple water features, there’s always something to see even when you’re not looking at animals. But the enclosures themselves are great. MY favourite example: the orangutans are free to roam around the zoo. You just look up and, oh hey! There they are! The zookeepers follow them around to make sure they don’t get up to too much mischief… But it’s amazing to see them out and exploring right above you.
It’s a huge zoo, so having a ticket for the tram that travels around the complex is great. But if you don’t, just strolling around is wonderful. In terms of hitting the zoo with kids, you can hire a stroller or a little drag-along cart; we took the cart and, well these pics speak for themselves…
We also hit the River Safari, which wasn’t part of the complex last time we were in Singapore. It’s kind of a smaller-scale Aquarium, but for freshwater and brackish water dwellers. Mr. Winter is a fish fiend so he always gets a kick out of anything fish-related, but the Amazon exhibit, in particular, was a highlight for him. For me and the kids, seeing the dugongs was an incredible experience. There’s also a (slightly randomly-placed, in my opinion) Giant Panda exhibit in the middle of the complex.
If you feel like something different, take a boat ride around the complex (Mr. Winter and the kids did that) or take a log-flume ride (our friends and I did this – the kids were too small). Let’s just say the log-flume-thingy won’t get your adrenaline pumping (AT ALL). But it was good for a laugh.
Newton Circus Food Court
Newton Circus is an institution in Singapore. It’s changed a bit since I was last there in 2011… a bit of a facelift and seemingly an accompanying price rise. But you’re absolutely guaranteed to have an amazing meal and the atmosphere is top-notch.
Tuck into a delicious chilli crab (Singapore’s specialty), devour delicious satays, or grab a huge plate of char kway teow. Knock it all back with a longneck of Tiger beer.
You could travel to Singapore, stay on Sentosa, and never even leave this fun little island. It’s just jam-packed with things to do. Our highlights were:
Like I said above, I live with some very fish-obsessed individuals so aquariums are always high on our list. The Singapore option is certainly impressive in size and scope, and its location is great. It’s not the cheapest activity, but I’m always prepared to pay more for animal-related activities if it ensures they’re well taken care of. Singapore Aquarium achieves this. I love the interactive learning opportunities scattered around, offering visitors the opportunity to reflect on our environment. There’s a lot of promotion of conservation and what we can do to look after our oceans and waterways. Issues such as pollution and climate change are tackled well for both smaller and bigger humans.
Eat, Eat, Eat!
There are SO many amazing places to eat on Sentosa. I’m not kidding: there are five Michelin-starred restaurants for a start: Forest, Feng Shui Inn, Osia, Syun and Tunglok Heen. They’re all located in the ResortsWorld complex and focus on their own contemporary Asian cuisine.
For us, we needed to focus on two things: keeping costs down, and keeping the kids happy. So no Michelin stars for us. In the ResortsWorld complex, where we were after enjoying the Aquarium nearby, there are still several decent options: a Hard Rock Café, Malaysian Food Street (a hawker centre!), and chain restaurants Ruyi and Streats. We opted for Streats because we liked the menu, but we didn’t have overly high expectations. Our meals were absolutely delicious though; I had the char kway teow and satay combo.
Heading down to Siloso Beach, Coastes and Mambo Beach Club looked like wonderful options (I had a quick chance to check them out while waiting for the luge riders – see below). We kept walking down the Beach Walk to Tanjong Beach Club for dinner… keep reading for a wrap-up.
If you take the Sentosa Express train over to Siloso Beach, the Skyline Luge is right there when you disembark. The luge has four tracks, each 600-700m long: the Jungle Trail, the Dragon Trail, and two new tracks that go through the forest. The luge is open at night too, so make sure you leave a ride or two for after sunset!
Our little fella was too small to go on the luge, so I drew the short straw and looked after him while everyone else went. H and I hung out on Siloso Beach instead. You wouldn’t really think of Singapore as a beach destination and that is absolutely fair… but it IS possible to swim.
The Sentosa Express takes you to Siloso to get on the Luge, and from there it’s a nice stroll along the Beach Walk from Siloso Beach to Palawan Beach, and then Tanjong Beach where we ended our day. It takes about 15-20 minutes: S had a quick nap in the backpack during the walk!
Tanjong Beach Club
You guys know I looove a good beach club (my favourite Bali ones are here). So I was pretty keen to try one in Singapore. Compared to Bali, the vibe of Tanjong Beach Club is certainly different, but so is Singapore as a whole. The whole beach club thing doesn’t represent as good value as those in Bali either (pay for entry, pay for towels, pay for food etc) but it was still a fantastic spot to spend an evening.
We watched the sunset over Tanjong Beach while sitting in the pool drinking sangria and eating the most amazing truffle fries. The busiest shipping lane in the world was right in front of us, slightly obscured by palm trees and fairy lights. I can’t think of anywhere else in the world you’d experience a view like that.
On Sentosa as a whole, there are some other amazing activities to try too, such as the Cable Car (we didn’t bother since we went on a huge one in Langkawi), iFly, KidZania, and Universal Studios. I really could talk for days about Sentosa.
Kampong Glam is the traditional Malay quarter of Singapore. There are several sights to see in Kampong Glam, such as the Malay Heritage Centre and the Masjid Sultan mosque. For me though, Kampong Glam is all about the cruisey nightlife. From the Atap Bar speakeasy on Arab Street to craft cocktail bar Maison Ikkoku on Kandahar Street, there are so many trendy options to choose from.
My personal fave though is Piedra Negra in Haji Lane. Probably some of the absolute best Mexican food I’ve eaten outside Mexico, and a super funky place to sit back eat and enjoy a Corona or ten. My recommendations: the Esquites and the Ceviche de Molcajete (though any Ceviche option on the menu is divine). There were plenty of options suitable for kids on the menu too, though our littles were the only ones there. They loved it!
Singapore Unlimited Attractions Pass
If you’re planning on staying a few days and trying to see as much as possible, the Singapore Unlimited Attractions Pass represents excellent value. There are so many attractions included in the pass: the Zoo, SEA Aquarium, Universal Studios, Singapore Flyer, Kidzania, Gardens By The Bay… over 35 activities all on one pass. It also comes with a handy little guidebook so you can make sure you know exactly what you want to do.
Singapore hotels I love
This time I stayed in an Airbnb, but there are a few hotels I still recommend.
The Ritz-Carlton Millenia is absolutely gorgeous. Our friends who travelled with us stayed here for a night after we left and confirmed it’s just as amazing as ever. Book here.
The York Hotel is a great 4-4.5* option just off Orchard Road. It’s not extra fancy but it’s really clean and comfortable, the service is excellent and the rooms are really big. A family would fit in a superior twin quite easily and it’s always been a popular option for my family-traveller clients. Book here.
The W Sentosa is my absolute dream property (as is any W property, actually). Book here.
I’d be remiss not to mention the Marina Bay Sands. Not sure I could actually call myself a travel blogger if I didn’t. The lead-in rooms are exxy but of course, you can’t use that infinity pool if you’re not staying at the property. That said, I had clients (a family with young kids) stay in the Orchard Suite and they were suitably impressed. Book here.
What’s the deal with Airbnb in Singapore?
We stayed in an Airbnb apartment in Novena, which is a suburb over from Newton. That meant we were an easy ten-minute walk to Newton Circus food court, and another five minutes on to Orchard Road. In Novena itself, the United Square shopping mall on Thomson Road has great high street fashion stores, a supermarket (with booze section) and several decent places to eat.
Staying in an Airbnb apartment was great for us: we had our own kitchen to whip up food for the kids, and we could sit around at night when they went to bed playing music and having a few drinks with our friends. On our last night, we ordered food delivery through Foodpanda.
There is, however, a big BUT when it comes to using Airbnb in Singapore… it’s not technically legal. This post explains the laws with regard to rentals in Singapore. In short, Singapore is one of the most densely populated places on Earth and renting out scarcely available flats to tourists can cause big problems… which is why it’s heavily regulated.
Unfortunately, I didn’t know this before booking our apartment on Airbnb. I point it out now to save anyone else the worry. Whether you book anyway is your own ethical and financial decision, but it’s worth knowing I think.
Practically, we had no issues, but I’ll admit to being a little bit worried about what would happen if something went wrong. Singapore is expensive enough as it is… Without having to book last-minute accommodation for six people because you’ve booked your accommodation in a dodgy way. I don’t think travel insurance would cover that one.
Singapore is NOT cheap, especially coming from Australia. Last time I was there, costs were pretty reasonable but this time, the exchange rate was actually 1:1. Travelling in Singapore is definitely not like travelling in Malaysia or Thailand, cost-wise.
In terms of getting around, taxis are pretty cheap (again, because of the change in exchange rate, it wasn’t as cheap this time as our other trips). Grab (a rideshare service like Uber) is big in Singapore and having used it a lot in Malaysia, we automatically went to use it in Singapore. However, laws are stricter in Singapore than Malaysia when it comes to carrying children. Only taxis in Singapore are insured to carry children without car seats so unless you have your own, you can’t catch a Grab with kids. Obviously, car seats are ideal but sometimes this isn’t possible.
Several phone carriers offer international SIM cards for short-term travellers. This was wonderful for us. We paid a small setup fee and pre-loaded our SIM, and we were able to make calls and access the internet, with a generous amount of data.
What would I add or change?
There are so many things I would have liked to do on this trip that we didn’t get a chance to. Gardens By The Bay is probably the number one activity on this list and I think the kids would have got a real kick out of it. I also really wanted to visit the ArtScience Museum at the Marina Bay Sands. We did also spend a couple of hours strolling along Orchard Road… In hindsight, this was a waste – we didn’t buy anything other than a Boost Juice or see anything particularly interesting. We just went because it was close-by and we wanted to get out of the apartment before dinner. I think we could have used that time to do something a bit more fun.
The thing is, though, my kids still need naps. And when travelling in a hot, muggy climate they’re not used to (not to mention taking in so many different sights, sounds, and smells) they got tired really easily. I’ve mentioned in other posts that we tend to work our itineraries around naptimes. This breaks the day into morning and afternoon activities. We can either head back to our rooms for naps or structure the day so there’s a restful spot (such as a beach club) or a long drive in the middle of the day. All that said, the reality is we were never going to cover all the things on our list with a three-day/four-night itinerary.
We’ll certainly be back, and Mr. Winter and I will likely have a night or two on our own in Singapore at the end of 2019. Marina Bay Sands, ArtScience Museum and Gardens By The Bay will be our top priority (as well as relaxing kid-free!)
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