A mix of old and new, Singapore is a fascinating place to take your family. There’s no shortage of fun activities and attractions to enjoy. We’ve jetted off to the Lion City for a week’s holiday determined to find the best that this city has to offer for families.
The first thing we notice about Singapore is the heat. Located just 129 kilometres from the equator, it’s hot all year round with plenty of humidity. However, there is plenty of air-conditioned locations to escape the heat including our comfortable hotel room.
We’re staying at the newly renovated Swissôtel Merchant Court, a luxurious but family-friendly hotel located in Singapore CBD near Clarke Quay.
Newly renovated, the hotel provides amazing service, comfortable rooms and a large resort-style swimming pool complete with a couple of waterslides. (Read my full review of Swissôtel Merchant Court for more information).
Gardens by the Bay
We start our sightseeing at Gardens by the Bay, a large 18 hectare area comprising of the gardens and two enclosed domes housing conservatories. (The Cloud Forest and Flower Dome). Every night, the Supertrees Grove lights up and at 7:15pm and 8:15pm, a free light and sound show commences.
Get there early to get a good spot. Locals recommend lying flat on your back on the concrete seating around the Supertrees to get the full experience.
You can also do the OCBC walk across the Supertrees at night. You can buy a ticket ($8) and take the elevator up to the walkway for a 20 minute wander. However, it can get incredibly busy and due to capacity limits, there can be long lines to wait to go up. On the Saturday night we visit, tickets were sold out with a wait time of an hour.
Visit Gardens by the Bay during the day if you have the time as the Children’s Garden area is fantastic. It’s open from Tuesday to Sunday.
It includes a water play area with sprinklers and mini tipping buckets, a preschooler play area and a large shaded amphitheater for parents and caregivers.
In addition, there’s a treehouse area and adventure park section.
It’s a popular spot for local parents as admission to Gardens by the Bay is free including the Children’s Garden. There’s also a cafe if you get hungry or thirsty.
The conservatories which can be entered for an admission fee come highly recommended and are perfect if you have kids that like different types of plants. Otherwise, you can stroll around the outdoor gardens like the Chinese Gardens and Indian Gardens.
The next day we visit the acclaimed Singapore Zoo. The innovative design of the zoo uses moats and other unobtrusive design to keep animals and humans apart. This provides a more authentic wildlife experience as animals aren’t in cages. Instead they are roaming around freely.
Allow for about 4 to 5 hours at the zoo as there’s plenty to see. There’s lots of animals to see including lemurs, komodo dragons, leopards, lions, giraffes, orangutans, gibbons and a polar bear.
There’s also feeding opportunities with elephants, giraffes, white rhinos, baboons and giant tortoises. The chance to feed elephants is a highlight of our visit.
Singapore Zoo is a great destination for families. It has plenty of shaded rest areas, food outlets and also a tram which makes covering the large zoo much easier especially those with babies and young kids.
There’s also the Rainforest Kidzworld with a carousel, pony rides and a water play area. We finish our day out at the zoo with by cooling off here with water sprays, water slides and a giant splash bucket. Make sure you pack your swimmers!
If you plan on visiting more zoos such as Night Safari, River Safari or Jurong Bird Park, purchase a Park Hopper tickets which provides you with admission to various combination of zoos within 7 days. It offers significant savings over purchasing individual admissions. For more tips, read my full review of Singapore Zoo.
We also return on another night to experience Night Safari (located next door to Singapore Zoo and part of the Zoo complex). This zoo is teeming with over 1000 animals from 115 species although you can’t always spot them! When other zoos are shutting for the day, the Night Safari is getting ready to open running from 7:15pm to midnight each night.
Don’t miss the Creatures of the Night show, an entertaining 20 minute show. The stars of the show are nocturnal animals which come out to demonstrate their sense of hearing, smell and other skills which help them thrive in the dark. These include a racoon, a binturong, snake, owl and even a demonstration from an African Serval leaping for prey.
After the show, it’s time to jump on an open-air tram fitted with audio commentary which transports us around the Night Safari seeing various nocturnal creatures such as tigers, hippos, leopards, wolves and Asiatic black bears.
We can also alight from the tram and explore the zoo using the walking trails. These trails provide an opportunity to get up close to more animals, many of which cannot be seen along the tram route. Our excursion along the Leopard Trail brings us closer to leopard, lions, civets, fruit bats and giant flying squirrels.
The Night Safari gives a completely different view of the zoo and I highly recommend it. It’s an after dark experience we won’t forget. For more tips, read my full review of the Night Safari.
National Museum of Singapore
The history of Singapore is a fascinating one and to learn more, we visit the National Museum of Singapore. It’s an enagaging museum best suited to families with kids aged 6 and older. The museum charts the journey from a Malay settlement in the 14th century to the modern city state it now is. The exhibits covers a variety of topics including Singapore as a British Crown colony, the Japanese occupation and the first ten years of independence from 1965 to 1975.
The Museum features a variety of audio and video exhibits including a speech by Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
We visit each section of the museum and marvel at the interesting and interactive exhibits. Some of course are more suited to kids than others.
In the Growing Up exhibit, we find ourselves at a drive-in and climb into a car to watch various film archives.
The Secret Garden exhibit is particularly fun and interactive. This exhibit features elements from the William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings and reacts to visitor movements. We touch the rocks to make a noise before blowing into a flower which lights up the display.
We also contribute to the installation by folding origami flowers and attaching them to a flowering board.
One exhibit that’s particularly striking is the Story of the Forest digital installation which stems over three floors of the rotunda.
We see frolicking deer and other forest animals brought to life from drawings from the William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings.
It ends on the ground floor where we lie down on bean bags and watch the light show.
Visiting the museum provides a better understanding of the history and culture of Singapore as well as the tremendous progress that the country has made since Independence. Admission to the National Museum of Singapore is $15 for adults and $10 for kids 7 and older.
Singapore National Gallery
If you have little culture vultures, visit the Singapore National Gallery, a newly opened gallery which is home to more than 8,000 of the region’s art pieces from the 19th and 20th century. It’s the largest public collection of modern art in Singapore and Southeast Asia and provides a unique perspective on the role that art played in the development of the societies of southeast Asia from colonies to independent nations. It’s worth a visit just to see the magnificent buildings it’s housed in. The buildings joined by a glass roof are the former Supreme Court and City Hall buildings.
Within the gallery, is the Keppel Centre for Art Education, an entire area just for kids to learn about art through imaginative play. Even before we enter the Keppel Centre, we spot an interactive art piece involving coloured discs.
Inside, we discover The Enchanted Tree House room designed by artist Sandra Lee. This interactive area is targeted at kids 5 to 12 to explore a magical forest, climb into a cubby house and crouch down to crawl underneath to find a periscope.
In the next room, we meet friendly gallery staff member “Aunty” Angie who helps my daughter with her art.
There’s still more rooms in which we can make artwork, stack cardboard boxes and read kids art books.
From hands-on art, we move on to creating tech-based art. The Who’s in the Woods exhibit enables users to design and colour an animal on a touchscreen before pressing Submit to have it appear on the large screen.
It’s worth a visit to the Keppel Centre if you have creative kids. The Keppel Centre for Art Education offers free admission to families with young children. Admission to the galleries of Singapore National Gallery costs extra at $20 per person.
Singapore’s multicultural society is notable with people from all over the world residing in the Garden City. In fact, Singapore has four official languages: English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil. This diversity has contributed to a vibrant society that’s celebrates with a fusion of culture, food and traditions.
To gain a better appreciation of the ethnic diversity of Singapore, we spend a day visiting different areas. We start the day in Kampong Glam, the historic Arab quarter of Singapore. It’s filled with Middle Eastern cafes, carpet shops and exotic textile boutiques.
The centrepiece of the area is Masjid Sultan Mosque.
Nearby is Haji Lane. This hipster street features fashion boutiques, small bars and quirky shops housed in historic pre-war buildings.
It’s then on to Little India, a bustling enclave filled with the sights and sounds of the sub-continent. The open-air Tekka Centre located next door to the Little India MRT is filled with sari shops, goldsmiths, moneychangers, and a hawker centre.
We stop to purchase a few Indian outfits and enjoy a delicious and cheap South Indian meal at Ananda Bhavan, one outlet of the oldest vegetarian cafe in Singapore established in 1924.
Around us, people are in celebration mode gearing up for the traditional Tamil harvest celebration Punggol.
Our last stop for the day is Chinatown which is also preparing for its own celebration of Chinese New Year. A large inflatable rooster takes pride of place reminding visitors of the upcoming Year of the Rooster.
It’s worth visiting Chinatown in the evening as this is when the area comes to life as locals and tourists alike visit.
We can’t leave Singapore without visiting Sentosa Island. I’ve had friends rave about this self-contained island and its hotels, beaches and many tourist attractions. The attractions include Universal Studios Singapore, S.E.A. Aquarium Resorts World Sentosa, Adventure Cove Waterpark and Kidzania.
All these attractions can get expensive so check out the Sentosa Fun Pass to save money. Getting to Sentosa is easy. Take the cable car, Sentosa Express ($4 return) or walk across the covered walkway. We jump on the Sentosa Express and get off at the last stop to experience Palawan Beach.
It’s surprisingly better than I expect for a city beach. It’s clean and the water is refreshing. It’s a treat to float in the water and look out to the many cargo ships moored in the straits.
Curious about the tall wooden structures on the other side of the bridge, we go for a wander. Turns out we’re crossing over to the most southerly point of continental Asia!
Up we climb to see the expansive views from the watchtowers.
We then jump on the Sentosa Beach tram for a ride around Sentosa’s beaches before heading back to Singapore CBD.
We’ll spend longer on Sentosa the next time we return to Singapore. And return we will. After a week in a Singapore, the verdict is unanimous. Singapore is a great place for a family holiday. Whether you’re in to beaches and theme parks, shopping and eating or visiting museums and galleries, there’s something for everyone!
For more information about visiting Singapore, visit the official tourism website Your Singapore.
Family Forays would like to thank the Singapore Tourism Board for their assistance in planning this trip.
You can’t help but eat when you’re in Singapore – there’s just so many choices of cuisine including Chinese, Malay and Indian as well as flavours from all over the world. Visitors are spoiled for choice with a range of eating options from prize-winning restaurants to hawker centres. I can’t get enough of the seafood especially deep fried prawns in peanut sauce!
We eat at a range of places including a six-course meal at a seafood restaurant where we devour the black pepper crab, one of Singapore’s culinary specialties.
Public transport works exceptionally well in Singapore. We travelled around Singapore mostly using the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system. The MRT covers almost every part of Singapore and connects to buses. Fares range from SGD0.80-SGD$2 and is distance-based. You can purchase standalone point-to-point tickets at stations, or pick-up an ez-link card with a stored value, which deducts your fares as you travel. We purchased ez-link cards for $5 non-refundable cost and then loaded it up as required. We got leftover amounts refunded in cash when we left. Download the train route map at www.smrt.com.sg.
The MRT is super efficient and is great for families even those with prams. Just line up behind the specially marked lines and board. Don’t worry about rushing to catch a train. They conveniently arrive every 3 – 5 minutes on certain lines. You can also purchase the Singapore Tourist Pass, a special ez-link card that offers tourist unlimited travel on Singapore’s basic bus services and MRT trains for the duration that it is valid. Available in 1, 2 or 3 day options, use for your unlimited rides on buses and MRT trains. www.thesingaporetouristpass.com.sg
Public buses are also useful and operate all around Singapore complementing the MRT system. Like the MRT, fares are distance-based and typically cost under SGD$2. Use the ez-link card purchased from MRT stations, which can be used on buses too. www.publictransport.sg/content/publictransport/en/homepage/CommutersGuide/bus.html
Taxis offer point-to-point transfers if you need to get to your destination swiftly. We used taxis a few times to get to and from Night Safari and to and from the airport. They’re competitively priced, between $20 – 25 SGD out to the Zoo and airport with familiar surcharges such as tolls, peak-hour and booking fees.
Singapore is a short 8 hour direct flight from Sydney. We flew with Qantas and enjoyed full-service airline perks like meals, entertainment system and luggage allowance.