Stopover Guide: Singapore

Passing through Singapore? Marie Claire's travel editor offers some tips on making the best of a stopover in this small and vibrant country

Passing through Singapore? Marie Claire‘s travel editor offers some tips on making the best of a stopover in this small and vibrant country

Why go? If you’re flying to seductive destinations like Bali, Burma, Borneo or Australia, chances are you could well pass through the south-east Asian powerhouse that is Singapore. Many travellers take the opportunity to break up their long journey to relax and explore a city that offers an engaging and multicultural mix of sights, stories and cuisines.

When: Anytime – but expect the weather to be hot and sticky. August can be very humid with rain most likely from November to January. Bear in mind that malls and restaurants can be air-conditioned to the max so pack that pashmina. Singapore is a place where there are always big events going on, including the lively Dragon Boat Festival 12-13 July, sdba.org.sg), night-time F1 Singapore Grand Prix (19-21 September, singaporegp.sg) and the elaborate National Day celebrations (9 August). In 2015 the nation will celebrate its 50th birthday, so get ready for even more fireworks. To see what’s on during your visit log on to the events calendar at Your Singapore.

Bang on: fireworks light up the waterfront at Marina Bay

Airport tips: Whenever you go, it’s worth checking what promotions might be on, for example if you’re flying with Singapore Airlines you can get various discounts in the airport terminal and around the city simply by showing your boarding pass. Alternatively, if you are just passing through, this airline offers transit passengers a free S$40 (£19) voucher to spend in the airport that is certainly worth picking up. If you’re travelling between May and August, check out the Singapore Holiday Stopover deal that offers passengers a Singapore Sleepover for £1 (book by 5 May). Or if you have a long connection (at least five hours) you can take a free two-hour guided city tour. Changi Airport (changiairport.com) also has loads of shops, a cinema and a swimming pool.

You really must… Some travellers find the jet lag and heat makes them just want to relax, and the city does a good line in hotels with attractive pools. But it’s also worth seeing some sights – boat tours such as the River Explorer (riverexplorer.sg) and Singapore River Cruise (rivercruise.com.sg) can make you feel like a processed pea, but they do provide an effortless introduction to what’s what and where. Taxis are plentiful and reasonably priced, but traffic can be terrible so be careful about long journeys. In general weekdays are less busy and the best time to visits museums and attractions.

Singapore is a city that embraces the modern, and the great symbol of this is Marina Bay where a new, green downtown extension is arising on reclaimed land. The flagship of this is Gardens by the Bay (gardensbythebay.com.sg) with its iconic “super-trees” and two colossal conservatories holding 250,000 rare plants. Other landmark sights are the Singapore Flyer (singaporeflyer.com), an observation wheel 30 metres higher than the London Eye, and the deservedly popular Night Safari (nightsafari.com.sg). 

Sky high: the rooftop pool at the Fullerton Bay Hotel

Stay at: For total luxury and a splendid waterfront location, the five-star Fullerton Bay Hotel Singapore (doubles from £326, fullertonbayhotel.com) in Marina Bay has 100 rooms and suites, all with floor-to-ceiling windows with balconies, plus a buzzy restaurant, Lantern, and a terrific rooftop pool-with-a-view. It can be noisy so best suits party people, and there’s a complimentary shuttle to key shopping districts. 

The New Majestic (from £119, newmajestichotel.com) is a mid-range design-led hotel in Chinatown, or if money’s tight consider the no-frills but cheery hangout@mt.emily (from £57 with breakfast, hangouthotels.com) which will re-open from 14 July after a refurb. For more accommodation options, see laterooms.com.

Dine at: You can dine around the world in Singapore, but the one cuisine to try is locally-rooted Peranakan, which developed in the Malacca Straits and is a fusion of Malay and Chinese home cooking. Typical dishes include ayam buah keluek (chicken stewed with keluak nuts and a complex mix of spices) and otak otak (mashed fish with coconut milk and spices) – try it at moderately-priced True Blue (truebluecuisine.com), which is next to the Peranakan Museum (peranakanmuseum.org.sg).

Another must is some street food – take cash (and hand wipes) and join the feeding frenzy that is Lau Pa Sat Festival Market (laupasat.biz). It’s a hot and hectic favourite set beneath the skyscrapers with outlets offering inexpensive seafood, satay and stir-fry dishes, all washed down with jugs of Tiger beer.

Spice up your life: dining al fresco at Lau Pa Sat Festival Market

Bring home: Singapore is famous for its mighty malls and department stores (be prepared for crowds) with Orchard Road the best place for a full-on assault. If you prefer to cherry-pick, the city has several ethnic quarters that are good places to mix eating and shopping. Pick up spices in Little India, bargain clothes in Bugis Street, and inexpensive souvenirs in Chinatown. See getsingapore.sg for a guide to homegrown brands.

Keen shoppers should stop by during the Great Singapore Sale (30 May-27 July, greatsingaporesale.com.sg) when the malls have reductions of up to 70 per cent. Note that overseas visitors can claim back seven per cent sales tax (GST) on purchases over S$100 (£48) – take your passport with you when shopping and put all your purchases on the same credit/debit card, for full details see iras.gov.sg.

Book now: Singapore Airlines (singaporeair.com) flies from London Heathrow and Manchester to Singapore, from £610 return in April. A shuttle bus from Changi Airport to a city centre hotel costs £4.25 one-way.

Info: Marco Polo Singapore (£5.99; marco-polo.com) is a handy pocket guide and includes a detachable map. For more information see yoursingapore.com.

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