Travel Editor Lydia Don reflects on her past trip to Singapore, giving readers her top tourist recommendations whilst sharing ways of integrating into local society

Written by Lydia Don
Travel Editor, and English Language and Literature student at the University of Birmingham.
Images by Lydia Don

In light of finding out that I will be spending my year abroad in Singapore, I thought there was no time like the present to reflect on my previous trip to this fabulous country. Seven years ago, I was lucky enough to visit some friends who lived on Sentosa, an Island situated just off the south coast of mainland Singapore. I flew there completely blind to what Singapore was, and what it was all about. Safe to say I returned home two weeks later completely besotted with every aspect of Singapore, resulting in me turning to my parents and vowing to get myself back to Singapore in any way I could.

Little did I know, seven years later, that I would be making Singapore my home. I would love to take this opportunity to share with you why this tiny city state 6,800 miles away from Birmingham is what I believe to be one of the best countries in the world.  

What I believe to be one of the best countries in the world

Gardens by the Bay 

One of Singapore’s most iconic landmarks is Gardens by the Bay. The concept was first imagined in 2005, and subsequently brought to life in 2012 as a project aiming to turn Singapore into a ‘City within a Garden’. Considering Singapore’s ardent focus on sustainability, combining industrial with nature-based architecture in a tourist attraction was a crucial step in Singapore both working towards its sustainability goals and charming tourists. It is impossible not to be impressed with this horticultural masterpiece: everywhere you look, these structures embrace you in what seems like another world so far removed from bustling city life. Despite being so close to the Central Business District, it is so easy to lose yourself. This is Singapore’s must-see sight, so I would suggest booking tickets in advance as it is quickly booked up by both tourists and residents. 

Singapore’s ardent focus on sustainability, combining industrial with nature-based architecture

Sentosa Island’s Attractions 

Though Sentosa is partly private land for residents, this tropical paradise is certainly worth visiting if you want some respite from the skyscrapers towering out of mainland Singapore. Sentosa boasts its own Universal Studios (albeit a lot smaller than the parks in Florida and California), beach clubs and (my personal favourite attraction) a 450-metre-long zip wire taking you from Sentosa island over the beach and onto Siloso Beach Island (a separate island slightly further into the South China Sea). All of these attractions and more can be travelled to via taxi, bus or cable car from mainland Singapore if you are feeling adventurous! 

Marina Bay Sands Hotel 

Situated in Singapore’s Central Business District, Marina Bay Sands Hotel has become one of Singapore’s most famous picture postcard landmarks. Officially opened in 2010, the hotel is recognised as a ‘boat-like’ or ‘card deck-like’ hotel owing to its distinctive but interpretative appearance. Designed by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie, MBS boasts the world’s largest infinity pool and its own shopping centre. Since prices upwards of £700 per night is certainly steep for most people, I would suggest visiting the hotel’s SkyPark Observation Deck (a cantilever) for a fraction of the price, which provides breathtaking views of Singapore’s bustling city life below.  

This tropical paradise is certainly worth visiting

Hawker Centres

Food is an integral part of Singaporean culture. And Hawker Centres are the perfect representations of the melting pot of cultures that Singapore is. This is a place for locals to come together and socialise – and if the locals are there, you know the food is worth it! Meals can be as little as $3 (around £1.80) which is certainly a refreshing contrast from the notoriously high-priced groceries and restaurants across Singapore – no wonder some people eat at Hawkers three times a day! From the typical Singaporean dishes such as Chicken Rice (for which hawker stall Tian Tian earned a Micheline star) and Chilli Crab, to Malay, Thai, and Vietnamese cuisine, visiting a Hawker Centre should be prioritised if you want to learn more about authentic Singaporean life. 

What I hope to discover during  my year abroad…

Of course, my account of Singapore’s attractions above is based on my very tourist-y visit to the country. However, these attractions are certainly places I will be visiting throughout my year abroad because, despite being tourist attractions, they are undoubtedly mesmerising places on the island that made me fall in love with Singapore. To me, they represent not only nostalgia, but also future discovery. Wherever you turn in Singapore, you discover something new, and even tourist attractions have so much more to give than what they will show you on your first visit (owing to Singapore’s constant development and innovation).  

However, I am most excited to experience parts of Singapore where tourists do not typically venture to. Small, more historically rooted neighbourhoods weaved throughout Singapore’s modern skyscrapers. Meeting locals and being educated on a country’s history and development is undoubtedly an integral part of any year abroad, especially one being spent in a rapidly changing country that simultaneously aims to preserve its most important culturally historical sites that have made Singapore the wondrous country it is today. 

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