The kid-friendly guide to Singapore travel: everything you need to know to keep the family busy and having fun for 12 hours in the Lion City.
Singapore is fondly referred to as the Little Red Dot given that is how this city-state of 660 square kilometres is depicted on many maps of the world. Singapore is a high-income economy which has seen a lot of development in recent years and it’s unique offerings of trendy innovative restaurants, cheap Michelin starred Hawker fare, kid-friendly free parks, affordable convenient transport and colourful culture make Singapore somewhere you should add to your bucket list. With Changi Airport being one of the best airports in the world, even if you are just transiting through Singapore there’s plenty you can fit into just 12 hours (though you’ll wish you’d stayed for more!).
How to spend 12 hours in Singapore
Visit Gardens by the Bay
You may recognize the stunning soaring Supertree grove of Gardens by the Bay as it has become one of Singapore’s most iconic sights. This free green park is a great place to start exploring before it gets too hot. If you are at Marina Bay Sands Hotel there is a connecting path to Gardens by the Bay which is free to enter. Pack the kids’ swimmers and hats as one of the highlights is the free outdoor water play area for toddlers and one for older kids complete with fountains and music! There’s a playground nearby, too and a shaded area for parents to relax and enjoy a picnic.
Cool down at Cloud Forest or the ArtScience Museum
If the heat gets to you, duck into the indoor climate controlled conservatory Cloud Forest and Flower Dome (ticketed) for a treat of rare flora and fauna plus the world’s tallest indoor waterfall at 35 meters which is always a hit with Instagrammers — as is the raised walkway at the Supertrees which affords excellent views of the gardens.
Or for a spot of culture, there are plenty of museums worth a visit and one of our all-time favourites that adults and kids alike will love is FutureWorld at the ArtScience Museum, where a highly interactive experience awaits amongst other temporary exhibitions. If you fancy some shopping, get your other half to row the kids around on a gondola on the indoor rivers that run through Marina Bay Sands for a novel way to get around a mall!
Have the cheapest Michelin-starred lunch in the world
Chinatown Complex Market & Food Centre is where you’ll find traditional hawker stall Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle shop selling chicken and noodles. It gets hot and noisy in this food centre so why not hop across the road and try out the cheapest Michelin-starred meal in a no-frills aircon version of this aforementioned stall – Hawker Chan, where a plate of Hong Kong soya sauce chicken with rice or noodles will set you back around $2!
Chinatown Complex Market & Food Centre, 335 Smith Street #02-127, Singapore 050335.
Hawker Chan, 78 Smith Street, Singapore 058972, Singapore, (+65) 6272 2000
Check out Chinatown OR Little India
While you are in the neighbourhood, check out Chinatown with its colourful lanterns and trinket shops running along Temple Street and Pagoda Street. This is where you can pick up chopsticks (including kids’ training ones) and other Chinese knick-knacks, along with outfits for the whole fam in the famous Singapore Airlines batik. Don’t miss a peek into some of the traditional Chinese medicine shops where dried medicinal herbs are stored in wooden cabinets, weighed and packaged – it’s a delightful experience and the smells are so interesting. Take a tour around the beautiful Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum (cover your shoulders and knees), visit a Chinese tea appreciation class, or, if you haven’t had lunch yet chow down on dim sum at Yum Cha. South Bridge Road is something of a microcosm for vibrant, multicultural Singapore, as within a couple blocks you’ll also spot Masjid Jamae (Chulia) mosque and Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple. The compact yet highly recommended Chinatown Heritage Centre offers a glimpse into the lives of Chinatown’s early migrant residents and kids will love looking into the past with the carefully recreated interiors of 1950s shophouse tenants depicting their lives.
Chinatown Visitors Centre, 2 Banda Street, Singapore 059962
Chinatown Heritage Centre, 48A Pagoda Street, Singapore 059207
The colourful streets of Little India are a delight – can you spot all the street art on the walls? Hindoo Road and 67 Kerbau Road are some of our faves for a few holiday snaps. Foodies will love Tekka Centre for an insight into all the wonderful exotic vegetables, fruits, spices seafood and meats on offer and if you fancy picking up some cheap souvenirs you’ll always find something at the famous Mustafa Centre (open 24 hours – here’s our handy Mustafa Centre map/guide so you don’t get lost in the maze!). Another neighbourhood to wander around if you have time is nearby Kampong Glam (AKA “The Arab Quarter”); there’s boutiquey shopping along Haji Lane, restaurants aplenty and the Sultan Mosque.
Have a Singaporean dinner
Singaporeans are proud of their rich culinary offerings – many of which are affordable and easily found at casual non-air-con hawker centres. Probably the one Singaporean signature dish has to be Chilli Crab, a sweet-savoury crab dish with plenty of sauce served with steamed or fried mantou buns to dip in. You can find it at hawker centres like Lau Pa Sat in the CBD with its soaring arches and Victorian columns, Makansutra Gluttons Bay for its lovely open-air waterfront location overlooking the bay, and East Coast Lagoon SeafoodCentre where you order at the stall and dine very casually with plastic cutlery or at more upmarket restaurants like New Ubin Seafood and Red House Seafood Restaurant (where you can also order Black Pepper Crab, Seafood Combination Curry and noodles).
The advantage of dining at a hawker centre over a restaurant with kids is that you’ll find cuisine from every country so you’re bound to please everyone in the family. There’s Thunder Tea Rice (a healthy dish of brown rice, match tea soup and vegetables), Korean, Indian, Western fare as well as Singaporean staples like rojak salad, chicken rice and popiah, and fun desserts like ice kachang of shaved ice and a variety of toppings.
Have a nightcap and admire the views
Our first choice for views is the either the Sands SkyPark Observation Deck ($23) on top of Marina Bay Sands, which affords jaw-dropping views of Marina Bay area, or Ce La Vi (entry redeemable against a drink). Time your visit to see the Marina Bay Sands ‘Spectra’, a free 15-minute outdoor light and water show staged to the symphony of music, displayed over the water at the MBS promenade (check their website for timings). For a different vantage point, Level 33, the worlds highest microbrewery on the 33rd floor of Marina Bay Financial Centre is your best bet for views of Marina Bay Sands. Lantern Bar at The Fullerton Bay Hotel is another favourite with its bling pool, although the views are from a lower level here (though equally impressive) while 1-Altitude in the CBD is one of the best 360-degree views of Singapore and is the highest alfresco bar in the world.
Have less than a day but at least five hours to spare? Changi Airport offers a free sightseeing bus tour straight from the airport –book ahead!
Features image courtesy of Getty. Image 1 courtesy of Gardens By The Bay via Facebook, image 2 courtesy of @alain_ding via Facebook, image 3 is courtesy of @urbanstreetnick via Instagram, image 4 is courtesy of Getty, image 5 is courtesy of Kf Seetoh via Facebook, image 6 is courtesy of Marina Bay Sands via Facebook