A traveler could easily kill a lengthy layover at Singapore’s Changi Airport, repeatedly voted the world’s best, simply wandering between its lounges, orchid gardens and free 24-hour movie theater. But when you’re in one of Southeast Asia’s premiere cities, why not get around a bit more? Here’s how to spend 24 hours in Singapore — seeing as much as you can in as little time as possible.
Drop Your Bags At…
With just 24 hours, you’ll want to stay somewhere central. So drop your bags at the AMOY by Far East. Right on the border of Chinatown and the Central Business District (CBD) and a straight shot, 20-minute drive from the airport, it’s walking distance from many of the city’s premiere sites. The hotel itself is housed within the facade of Singapore’s oldest temple, dating to 1824; yes, walking through a temple entrance to your boutique hotel is as cool as it sounds.
The modern, nicely appointed rooms are more than comfortable, but it’s the service and amenities that really sell it — complementary mini-bar (yes, there’s beer in there), a smartphone to use for the duration of your stay, and, key to a quick visit, a free chauffeur pickup from the airport. Breeze through immigration, find your driver, and you can be at the Amoy within an hour of landing.
First Things First: Eat
If you’re in search of breakfast, walk through the Amoy’s back door and through the plaza to Ya Kun Kaya Toast. This kopitiam (traditional coffee shop) serves the best, and cheapest, breakfast you’ll find. Get any variation of the set breakfast, which includes two barely-poached eggs (stir in some soy sauce), thin toast (best spread with kaya, a not-too-sweet coconut jam), and coffee or tea, both deliciously milked-up and sweetened unless you specify otherwise.
Closer to lunchtime? Within a ten-minute walk are some of Singapore’s best hawker centers — essentially gatherings of street food-style vendors under one roof. Walk over to the locals-only Hong Kim for Outram Park Char Koay Teow — your $3 SGB (about $2) plate of noodles stir-fried with cockles, egg, chili, and tons of pork lard — or Famous Sungei Road Laksa, for a seafood-laden bowl of coconut-based noodle soup. Alternatively, head to the better-known Maxwell Center for Tian Tian Chicken Rice—poached chicken, rice cooked in chicken stock with ginger and lemongrass, and an unbeatable chili sauce.
Time For Some Culture
How best to spend an afternoon in Singapore? Depends on your proclivities. History buffs should walk right across the river to the Colonial District; take your pick of the equally-impressive Asian Civilizations Museum, with remarkable artifacts from across the continent; National Museum of Singapore, depicting the island’s long history; or the Peranakan Museum, chronicling the history of the Straits-born Chinese population.
Of course, Singapore’s more dramatically, er, modern sites are worth a look, too. There’s no walking through the city without stopping to gawk at the Marina Bay Sands, the massive hotel-casino complex that looks like three towers with a surfboard perched precariously on top. Assuming you’re not into gambling or hyper-high-end shopping (and hey, no judgment if you are), it’s worth a visit just to ride up to the 57th floor for ridiculous views of the city. It’s $23 SGD ($16 USD) for the elevator to whisk you up to the Observation Deck, but here’s a tip — go for a drink at the rooftop bar, C’est La Vie. You’ll be up one level, with a view almost as impressive, and while the cocktails are expensive, you’ll skip the admission fee.
Or walk right past Marina Bay and head for the Gardens By The Bay, a brand-new botanic garden park right in the city center. You can’t miss the futuristic-looking SkyTrees; walk between them on the Skyway, stroll through the expansive gardens without charge, or venture into the misty Cloud Forest and the Flower Dome, the world’s largest greenhouse.
The aforementioned SkyTrees
Both venues are 20-25 minutes’ walk from the Amoy, or a three-minute ride on the ultra-efficient MRT subway; don’t underestimate how much a walk in sultry Singapore, which always manages to feel like a bathroom right after a hot shower, can take out of you.
Drinking in Singapore is notoriously expensive ($14 beers and $18 cocktails — and that’s in USD — aren’t uncommon). But the flipside is a very generous happy hour culture. Try the rooftop bar at Kinki by Marina Bay. (Don’t be deterred by the name; it’s a Japanese restaurant, not anything more salacious). Happy hour on the third-floor rooftop lasts until 8pm, and includes great views across the river to the Singapore Flyer Ferris wheel and Marina Bay Sands. Stick around until 8:00 for the nightly light show, where lasers from the top of the Sands flash across the sky Vegas-style. Fancy drinkers, you’ll find even better views at Lantern at the Fullerton Bay Hotel or Me@OUE.
For one of Singapore’s particular specialties, chili crab — a joyously messy feast of huge crabs cooked in a sweet-spicy chili sauce — try out Momma Kong’s, a friendly modern spot in Chinatown. The set meals are pricey, but even two hungry people might have trouble finishing one. For two, we’d instead recommend splitting one pot of crab, an order of mantou (Chinese buns, steamed or fried) to soak up the sauce, and some delicious stir-fried kangkong greens if you’re feeling virtuous. Make sure you have a whole stack of napkins at your disposal before you dig in.
For a dinner that’s cheaper and less formal, but just as classically Singapore, head to the beautiful hawker center Lau Pa Sat. It’s housed in a 19th-century Victorian cast-iron structure, recently rehabilitated and lined with excellent vendors. But the real fun starts outside each night when “Satay Street” sets up, ten satay vendors with huge smoking grills charring up everything from chicken and lamb to whole prawns or tripe or beef heart. You can’t go wrong with any of them, but we can vouch that vendors 7 and 8 are stellar. Get a pitcher of Tiger beer to wash it down.
… More Drinks?
If you’ve got a plane to catch, we won’t keep you out too late, but keep in mind that many of Singapore’s best bars are right in the neighborhood. You’ll drink beautifully at Bitters and Love, Jigger and Pony, or 28 Hong Kong Street — all top-flight cocktail bars.
Just make sure you wake up in time to get to the airport the next day.