Greedy Girl goes to Singapore, one of her favourite food destinations, several times a year and usually for a week at a time. She recognises however, that for a lot of travellers it remains a stopover – particularly on flights between Europe and Australia.

Friends (a couple without children) recently indicated they were flying into Singapore early one morning and not departing until the usual overnight flight back to Australia. What to do?

While Changi airport has its own swimming pool and it’s easy to while away a couple of hours there, head into the city if you arrive during the day and have a significant amount of time to kill. This blog is designed for people with around 12 hours to fill, which can give you a great introduction to this wonderful city-state – and it’s also an excellent way of dealing with jet-lag if you’ve come from a long haul flight. Most travellers do not need a visa to enter Singapore but click here for a list of nationalities requiring visas.

Again, while I’m focusing on an itinerary for a small number of adult travellers in this blog, there is an enormous range of activities designed for families. Click here for some suggestions. It could be tough on kids to schedule a full day of activities, particularly after a long flight, so there’s always the airport pool, or a transit hotel if need be. It could be tricky to access strollers and the like if they’re part of your checked luggage.

But there’s no doubt that after your initial taste of Singapore, you’ll want to come back for more.

Arriving at the airport
There’s one thing you can bank on – hot weather. It never gets cold in Singapore so make sure you have something light to wear packed in your carry-on luggage, including good walking shoes. This assumes that the bulk of your baggage has already been checked through to your ultimate destination. Don’t forget sunscreen and a foldable umbrella is a great idea – both for the likelihood of a tropical downpour at some point and as further sun protection.

If you’d like to refresh before you head out and you’re not a member of an airline lounge, there are shower facilities at Changi airport (in all three terminals), available for a small fee. You can also leave your carry-on luggage at the Left Luggage counter at the airport, rather than trundle it behind you all day.

If you haven’t eaten on your flight, it may be best to get something in the airport. Singapore is not noted for getting going early (although see the note about the Marina Bay Sands Skypark below). At the very least, make sure you get a bottle of water.

Transit to the city
You’re spoiled for choice here. Given you’re in Singapore for a good time rather than a long time, consider heading to the city in a taxi. They’re cheap, plentiful and air-conditioned. Taxi ranks are conveniently located near all arrival halls and queues dissipate rapidly.

Sometimes the traffic heading to the CBD is considerable (especially during peak hours), so a great option is the brilliant SMRT – the train. Changi airport terminals 2 and 3 have train stations in their basement. If you arrive at terminal 1, there’s a free shuttle train (or bus, from the public areas) to the other terminals. Be aware though it takes around an hour to get into the Orchard precinct.

Check out the link here if you’d like to look at the other types of transport available from the airport to the city.

There’s a Singapore Tourist Pass that, for S$10 (plus a refundable S$10 deposit), allows you unlimited rides on trains and buses for a full day but according to its website, the office where you can purchase it at Changi airport doesn’t open until 12 noon – other offices elsewhere on the rail network open earlier. A standard ticket is very cheap and can be bought from a ticketing machine. If you don’t have local currency, you can change money at the airport or withdraw from a compatible ATM. You’ll need cash for the train.

Morning through to lunch
So, we’ve taken the train. Changi airport is on the East West line and there is only one direction available from the airport. Settle in for the ride to Raffles Place (don’t get excited – this is not the optimum train station for the famed Raffles Hotel – more on that later). Change to the North South line at this station and head for Marina Bay (the last stop on the line).

Marina Bay used to be the closest MRT station to Marina Bay Sands and our ultimate first stop – Gardens By The Bay (see the picture, above). The opening of Bayfront has made it all that much easier. When you arrive at Marina Bay, make another change for the Circle line and one stop to Bayfront. The way the lines work on the SMRT makes this trip look a little convoluted. Trust me – this is the easiest way to navigate.

Marina Bay Sands is an awe-inspiring construction which looks like a curved ocean liner resting precariously on top of three forked skyscrapers. Opened in February 2011, it’s a mecca for visitors, incorporating a hotel, casino and amazing shopping centre. It is also home to the famed ‘Skypark’ on the 57th floor. You can shell out S$20 just to ride the elevator to go look at the Skypark or you can make reservations online for breakfast/brunch at Sky on 57. As it’s connected to a major hotel, it opens at the very civilised hour of 7am. Note that you need to have a minimum spend of S$30 for breakfast but, in a five-star environment, that’s not exactly beyond the pale. Take the elevators at Tower 1. You’ll enjoy a great view of the Singapore CBD.

If you’re sufficiently fueled and want to keep moving, walk through the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands (most of them won’t open until around 11am) and take the gigantic escalator up to the exit pointing towards Gardens By The Bay. You’ll walk over a high pedestrian bridge towards this multi-billion dollar development and be blown away by what you see.

This will ultimately be a 101-hectare showcase of sustainable, environmentally sound development with some extraordinary architecture and lots of different spaces that feature various plant species and landscaping. Its first release, the Bay South garden, opened in June last year and a major attraction is the dramatic ‘Supertrees’ shown in the picture, above (although there are 18 of them in total). Looking like a giant set from a sci-fi movie, two of these, located in the Supertree Grove, are connected by an aerial walkway that is 128 metres long. It offers an amazing view of the surrounds and gives you an impression of just how much work has been done to reclaim the site. Morning (and in the evening when the sun has set) is a great time to explore here – the temperatures are as cool as it gets and the humidity is lower.

Gardens by the Bay glass pavilion

Inside one of the glass pavilions at Gardens by the Bay

There are also two giant glass pavilions looking like clam shells that house amazing internal gardens. One of these, the Flower Dome is home to one of Singapore’s fine dining finds – Pollen (for a review, check out the blog Pollen, Singapore – revitalising tastebuds).

While there are a number of food and beverage outlets within the precinct, Pollen would be a wonderful spot to take a break from the heat and enjoy a masterfully-cooked lunch. Given you’re unlikely to be used to the heat and humidity, make sure you stay well-hydrated, protected from the sun and keep your energy levels up. The restaurant offers regular lunch specials that are very good value for the quality of food and service. A bar upstairs also offers a nice view, across to Singapore’s gigantic ferris wheel, the Singapore Flyer.

While a great spot for visitors, this is a space that has also been embraced by locals as a key recreational outlet, particularly at night when the light shows are very dramatic.

Moving on
From here, you can head back into Marina Bay Sands for a look around the Shoppes, or if you wanted some further food options, there is a whole ‘celebrity chef’ precinct within the centre, featuring such luminaries as Daniel Boulud, Mario Batali and Wolfgang Puck. There’s also the requisite number of luxury label outlets, including Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and so on.

Singapore Merlion

The symbol of Singapore – the Merlion

Walking through the Shoppes to the Singapore River side of the building opens up the city. Facing the city, to your right, is the arts precinct with the distinctive ‘Lotus’ shaped building. You can walk all the way around and cross over the River. Directly opposite is one of the great Colonial-era buildings, the Fullerton Hotel, and nearby what once dominated the entrance to the River, the symbol of Singapore, the Merlion.

If you were to follow the river further into the CBD, you find more convivial hubs for eating and drinking, such as Boat Quay and Clarke Quay. But perhaps it’s time to explore a little of the older areas of Singapore and do a bit of shopping?

Head for Chinatown. While you can walk, it’s probably easier for your feet and better (time-wise) to get a short taxi ride or jump on public transport. Singapore is the land of the shopping mall – and Chinatown has one of Singapore’s oldest, the People’s Park complex (just across the road from the Chinatown MRT station).

People’s Park is the antithesis of the glamorous, modern shopping mall. It’s a source of Chinese nostalgia, with herbal medicine practitioners and Chinoiserie merchants rubbing shoulders with all manner of trinket sellers and, of course, food outlets. The area is much more refined than it used to be, given that Singapore has an almost continual process of urban renewal, but it’s probably as gritty as you’ll get. The proximity to the hawker stalls throughout Chinatown is also a sight to see. There are various ‘precincts’ including one devoted to that amazingly versatile Chinese staple, congee. Fancy a frog leg congee? You’ll find it here. Singaporeans are utterly obsessed with food – a big reason why Greedy Girl just loves visiting.

One of the best-preserved pieces of Singapore’s history is undoubtedly the Raffles Hotel, which opened in 1887, according to the hotel’s website. A masterpiece of colonial architecture, Raffles is a wonderful place to walk through and soak up the history. If you have the inclination, you can visit the Long Bar, where the famed Singapore Gin Sling is said to have been invented. This is a two-storey bar done in a Malay plantation style with lots of whirling ceiling fans. It looks great but, frankly, it’s a bit of a tourist trap and drinks will cost you plenty. Closest MRT station is City Hall or Bugis – don’t try to walk from Raffles Place station – which is on the other side of the river.

If you’d prefer not to go to Raffles, but want to see something more of Singapore, you may decide to head for Sentosa. You can reach the island in a number of ways – taxi, cable car or Sentosa Express train, which runs from the Vivo City shopping mall (on top of Harbour Front MRT station). Sentosa is home to Resorts World, a collection of restaurants and bars, Universal Studios and a number of other tourist attractions, but also elements of Singapore’s war history, including a British fort and the surrender chamber for the Japanese army.

There’s also the Tanjong Beach Club, where you can reserve a day bed while sipping a cocktail and having a snack – just don’t fall asleep! If you’d like to head back towards town, or the weather isn’t particularly amenable to a beach stroll, there are some other suggestions below.

Some items remain reasonably good value in Singapore, although its days as a bargain-hunter’s paradise are pretty much over. Australian travellers generally enjoy further benefits from the strength of the dollar relative to the local currency. Good buys are electronics, some watches and jewellery (particularly fresh-water pearls) and if you’re in the market for some spectacles, Singapore has a huge range. Don’t forget to ask for a receipt to claim your tax back at the airport (this is either a paper document or done electronically by some retailers).

The GST in Singapore currently runs at 7%, so if you’re buying something with a significant price tag, such as a camera or Chanel bag, it can be worth claiming back the tax. Other potential shopping opportunities are shoes (particularly women), cosmetics (make sure they’re not liquid though, lest you fall foul of the security limits when you go back to the airport) and Chinoiserie (if it’s made from timber though, make sure you declare it to your local customs officials when you return home).

The major department stores in Singapore are Isetan, Metro, Robinson’s, Tangs and Takashimaya. These can all be found within a small stretch at the corner of Orchard and Scotts Road (Orchard is your nearest MRT station) and offer some great ranges. Some quirky finds are also available in shopping centres such as Lucky Plaza (in Orchard Road) or Far East Plaza in Scotts Road. If you’re flagging and in need of a coffee, head to the Paragon shopping centre in Orchard Road and up to the 5th floor to Caffe Beviamo. Owned by an Aussie expat, it has well-trained baristas turning out very good lattes.

Once you’ve revived, you could also check out the very glam ION centre on Orchard which is full of boutiques (high end and bargain), as well as some excellent food outlets. The Orchard MRT is in the basement.

On the home stretch
If you haven’t over-indulged in food and drink during your day, you may like to check out some other little foodie delights before you head back to the airport. A nice spot to sit and take in a view from on high is the Equinox restaurant and City Bar in the Swissotel, just steps from the City Hall MRT station. The bar often has a deal for Moet et Chandon champagne and there are some quite decent free snacks – or you can order some acceptable dishes from the small menu.

Or, if you’d prefer to be outside, the Lantern Bar, on top of the Fullerton Bay Hotel is an exceptionally comfortable spot, particularly at night when you can watch the laser light show emanating from Marina Bay Sands at 8pm. There’s a more comprehensive description of the bar here. Unfortunately, the timing of the light show doesn’t work all that well with the need to be back at the airport and safely checked in for your flight. Oh well, chalk that one down for your next trip.

It’s just a matter then of hopping into a taxi, or on the train and going back to the airport. Make sure you know which terminal your plane is departing from and have your receipts filled out if need be to claim your GST. If you have a water bottle with you, don’t feel the need to drain it because at Singapore airport, you go through the ultimate level of security that restricts liquids only at your boarding gate.

Of course, there are tourist buses and all manner of other things you can do in Singapore in a day – this just reflects my personal preferences of food, a little exercise while getting some vitamin D, food, shopping, a bit of history and culture and, oh, maybe the odd snack.

Whatever you get up to in your mini-Singapore visit. It will certainly whet your appetite to experience more.

With thanks to Gardens By The Bay for providing the pictures of the Supertrees and pavilions and internal garden.

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