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Sarah on Aug 03, 2015

What to do in Singapore: Activities, attractions, tips and more

Singapore is an exciting place to be. At the tip of the Malay Peninsula in southern Asia, the city is a travel crossroads and shows the influence of countries and cultures all over the globe. Boasting both amazing modern skyscrapers and traditional temples, bustling urbanity and soothing gardens, food from every corner of the world and a tropical climate year-round, it is a highlight on any cruise itinerary;  your only regret will be that the ship isn't in port for long enough.

Shopping, eating, sightseeing, wandering: the list of things to do in Singapore is neverending. It doesn't stop at urban activities either, as the island state has plenty of land set aside as nature reserves and wildlife parks.

As a major hub for travel of all kinds, Singapore serves not just as a dot on the itinerary but also as an embarkation and disembarkation port. Cruises to and from the city are offered by many lines, with Singapore to Sydney a common itinerary. This is great news for those wanting to spend a little more time exploring - just tack on a few days to the beginning or end of your cruise and get properly acquainted with one of the most worldly cities on the map.


Getting onshore
There will be no mucking about with tenders in this busy harbour. The Singapore Cruise Centre is located to the southwest of the city centre and is a dedicated facility handling both cruise and ferry passengers. A major renovation in 2012 has left it looking great and welcoming passengers to the city with style. Ships dock at the International Passenger Terminal which has easy access to public transport.

The Marina Bay Cruise Centre opened in 2012 to provide an alternative terminal for ships and a facility which can house the biggest vessels in the world. It is also well-connected with public transport and even closer to the city centre - within walking distance if you are prepared to hoof it for a few miles.


Money and spending
The official currency of Singapore is the Singapore Dollar, which in 2015 has been sitting at an exchange rate of somewhere around 0.9-1 Australian Dollars. Credit cards will be accepted in a lot of shops and restaurants but it's always a good idea to pick up some local currency. You should have no worries finding an ATM or Bureau de Change in the port facilities or city centre.

Tipping is not customary in Singapore but a 10% service charge will be automatically added to your restaurant bill as part of the cost. Taxi drivers do not expect tips.

Singapore is one of the world's most expensive cities, so make sure there's some room in your budget for anything you might like to buy. It is difficult to give an idea of how much things like meals would cost, because it depends on whether you are in an upscale restaurant or a food hall. The good thing about Singapore's diverse nature is that you will find delicious hole-in-the-wall style eateries where you can pick up a delicious, casual and inexpensive meal, and markets where souvenirs will be much more affordable. Its the public transport fares and malls you have to look out for, although taxis are usually quite reasonably priced.

Language and local customs
The multiculturalism of Singapore is astounding - it is a true melting pot. There are four official languages, one from each of the four biggest ethnic groups: English, Chinese (Mandarin), Malay and Tamil. English is commonly used for business, government and by tourism operators, so you should have no communication issues.

With so many cultures, it can be very difficult to know which etiquette rules apply where. Here are some general guidelines for those visiting: be friendly and polite but not too familiar (don't touch people beyond a handshake), and show respect to those older than you. Don't discuss religion or politics and do not make jokes about these subjects or about the country! It is also very important to follow the laws of the country, and they are strict. You are forbidden to litter, chew gum, jaywalk, bring food into the MRT or smoke in public.

What to do in Singapore

The options are endless! We recommend you start by taking the public transport of your choice downtown. With a refundable deposit of S$10 and a further S$10 fee, you can have one day of unlimited rides on the public transport network. If you are disembarking and staying longer, it's cheaper for a two or three-day pass. They are available at the Harbourfront ticket office near the Singapore Cruise Centre, but if you are docked at Marina Bay you will need to first travel the short distance into Raffles Place to buy it.

Don't want to bother with a day pass? Get a taxi for the short ride downtown and use your feet from there.

Visitor Information Centre
Most cities have these and they are a very helpful place to start. The striking main Visitor Centre is found at 216 Orchard Road and can help with all kinds of enquiries, bookings and information. IT has exhibitions on Level 2 and free Wifi. There is another at ION Orchard and one in Chinatown - look for a red and white lowercase i symbol.

Walking Tours
These are a great way to see any city, and in Singapore there are plenty on offer, both free and paid, guided and unguided. Pick one and walk your way to discovery! It might include a riverfront stroll or a meandering route past the historic spots in the Bras Basah & Bugis precinct.

Orchard Road
Number one destination for anyone who loves shopping, Orchard Road is an avenue of retail therapy renowned around the world. It has both luxury retailers and high-street brands in a range of malls and department stores, along with lots of entertainment options, restaurants, spas and hotels. Even those who aren't out to spend money can enjoy the hustle, bustle and spectacle of Orchard Road.

Singapore Flyer
This enormous ferris wheel is a good way to see as much of the city as you can before returning to the ship! Each capsule is the size of a bus, and carries up to 28 people for a total capacity of 784. Revolutions take 30 minutes and passengers reach a height of 165 metres for spectacular views.

Singapore ferris wheel

Singapore Botanic Gardens
You'll have to get a taxi or a bus out to visit the Botanic Gardens, but it's worth the journey for such a beautiful 60 acres of gardens. This is one of the last green spaces in the city and literally a breath of fresh air! The National Orchid Garden is one of the highlights.

You might dismiss Chinatown as being something you can find anywhere, but in a city where much of the population is Chinese, it's quite an experience! It is Singapore's largest historic district and is a great place to go for silk, handicrafts, jewellery, antiques and fantastic food. The Chinatown Heritage Centre is also worth visiting.

These are only a few of the places to visit in Singapore -  take a few hours to wander aimlessly and you will find a hidden gem around any given corner.

Sentosa Island
This island is reachable by car, train or cable car, and very close to the Singapore Cruise Center at HarbourFront. It's packed with attractions: Universal Studios, a mile-long beach, a Butterfly Park, the Merlion statue, an Underwater World and Dolphin Lagoon, a 4D Adventureland, and Adventure park, Madame Tussauds, a luge track and more.

Shore tours in Singapore

Tour or explore?
The great thing about Singapore for cruisers is that there's no reason to take a shore tour if you don't want to, and if nothing on the roster interests you. With public transport so readily available near the terminals, it's not a problem to get yourself around and you can see a lot of things under your own steam. The only reason to get on a line-organised excursion is if there is something you want to see outside of the central city and are worried about time constraints - or if you just prefer the convenience of having it all planned for you and don't mind paying!

These are a few of the tours you might find available from the big cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, Princess, Carnival, Holland America and P&O. Bear in mind that some have Singapore only as a port of embarkation or disembarkation, and therefore have limited shore tour offerings which end up at hotels or at the airport for onward travel.

City Highlights
These might involve bus rides, walking and river boats to take you to see and visit attractions like Chinatown, the Botanic Garden and National Orchid Garden, Singapore's colonial architecture, temples, markets and more. A good and stress-free way to get an overview of the city.

Singapore Island
You could get out of the city centre and explore what else the island has to offer. Holland America offers a general day-long tour visiting markets, temples, the Kranji Dam and War Memorial, and more. With Princess, see the battlefields of Singapore with a tour to Kranji War Memorial, Changi Prison and other historical war sites.

Nature and Wildlife
Night safaris at the world's first nocturnal animal park, visits to Singapore Zoo and the Exotic Jurong Bird Paradise are offered by various lines for the nature lovers. Princess even has a safari breakfast at the zoo as one of their offered excursions!

Have you cruised to Singapore? Let us know what you thought! You can also check out our range of cruises from Singapore on Cruise Sale Finder.

I have enjoyed visiting as much of the world as possible over the years. Europe and the Mediterranean are personal favourites, but there is so much to see very close to our little Australasian corner of the globe- one of my top travel experiences was snorkeling with tropical fish and turtles in New Caledonia! Cruising is a fantastic way to see it all, and we hope to make booking a cruise easier for both first-timers and old salts. From ship tips to destination news and views, we will keep you up-to-date. Happy cruising!

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