Millions of visitors arrive in Singapore each year, eager to check off their bucket list of hiking through the futuristic Supertrees at Gardens by the Bay or taking in the panoramic views from the Skybar atop the Marina Bay Sands. While these once-in-a-lifetime experiences are worth the trip, Singapore is much more than its popular tourist attractions. Push the boundaries beyond what’s listed in the travel brochure and discover Singapore from a different level. In this reimagined trip, you’ll find a deeper connection, a richer understanding, and delightful surprises hidden in the most familiar places. Here’s a local’s guide on what to do with 48 hours in this flourishing city.
Morning: Birdwatching in the urban jungle
At dawn, bird lovers armed with cameras and binoculars head to rural areas like Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and Jurong Lake Gardens, hoping to catch a glimpse of the blue-and-yellow mangrove blue flycatcher to the yellow-necked lesser adjutant, which resembles a creation dreamt up by a Muppets puppeteer. Verdant canopies all around Singapore provide shelter for more than 300 native bird species and 170 migratory birds, making Singapore a birder’s dream destination.
Mid-morning: Feast on traditional fare
Kick off your morning with an old-school breakfast of kaya toast, soft-boiled egg, and kopi (coffee) at Chin Mee Chin Confectionery, one of the oldest coffee shops in Singapore in the Joo Chiat/Katong neighborhoods. Then, stock up on authentic Nyonya snacks at heritage bakeries and cafés or shop for sarong kebayas and beaded crafts at Peranakan boutique shops. A must-visit for many Singaporean families is Kim Choo Kueh Chang, a beloved institution in Katong for nearly 80 years. From grandparents to grandkids, multiple generations have made a special trip to pick up Kim Choo Kueh Chang’s glutinous rice dumplings, with fillings ranging from sweet coconut to savory mushrooms, pork, and chestnut. Finally, cool off from the afternoon heat with an icy house-made treat from Birds of Paradise Gelato Boutique. The Michelin-recognized gelateria infuses its gelato and sorbets with fresh fruit, herbs, flowers, and spices, and shines with Southeast Asian flavors like white chrysanthemum and lychee raspberry.
Afternoon: Mold traditional earthenware
Concealed inside a jungle on the west side of Singapore, Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle is a hidden gem that even many Singaporeans are unaware of. This nearly 60-year-old family-owned pottery factory carries a treasure trove of peony-adorned Peranakan ware, blue-and-white vases, Buddha statues, and pieces by local artists. Visitors can go on a guided tour to see how clay is turned into ceramics in Singapore’s oldest surviving dragon kiln or try their hand at the potter’s wheel by signing up for a pottery workshop.
Evening: Sunset sail around the coast
Watch the mesmerizing sunset as you sail around the coast of Singapore on the Royal Albatross, the region’s only luxury tall ship. Launched in 2001, the superyacht’s sails and rigging were designed by Jim Barry, who also worked on the Hollywood blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean. Guests board the ornate ship from Resorts World Sentosa, and cruise around the calm ocean waters while enjoying live entertainment and a four-course dinner.
Night: A toast to the city
One of the best things about a city that doesn’t sleep is the endless nightlife options, especially around Marina Bay. If you’re a beer aficionado, you should head up to LeVel33, the world’s highest microbrewery. Pair freshly shucked oysters with the elegant LeVeL33 Brut Beer, brewed with the same yeast as the Champagne Barons de Rothschild. Or if you’re in the mood for a refreshing summery cocktail, check out Vue, Singapore’s first rooftop spritz bar.
Morning: Hike amongst treetops
Many of Singapore’s parks are connected through a network of green corridors, trails, and bridges. One of the most eye-catching connectors is the Henderson Waves bridge, Singapore’s highest pedestrian bridge that links Telok Blangah Hill Park and Mount Faber Park. To get a full workout, embark on a 6-mile Southern Ridges hiking trail that starts from Mount Faber to Kent Ridge Park. During the treetop forest walk, hikers are rewarded with stunning views of the city, the ocean, and the surrounding rainforests.
Mid-morning: Stroll around Chinatown
One of the original ethnic enclaves in Singapore, Chinatown is a multicultural blend of the past and the future. It’s home to some of the oldest places of worship in the country, including the Hindu Sri Mariamman Temple, the Buddhist Thian Hock Keng Temple, and the Masjid Jamae mosque. And within the historic shophouses, you’ll find trendy boutiques, souvenir shops, and stylish cafés. After you’ve worked up an appetite exploring Chinatown, stop by Amoy Street Food Centre for an inexpensive Michelin-worthy lunch. There are four Bib Gourmand hawker stalls at the legendary food center, including A Noodle Story and J2 Famous Crispy Curry Puff.
Afternoon: Learn the art of tea at Tea Chapter
A former British colony, Singapore’s affinity for tea is almost built in its national identity. However, in a multicultural country, that love extends to the frothy teh tarik (Malay pulled tea), Indian chai, and traditional Chinese tea. To learn more about the latter, locals frequent Tea Chapter in the heart of Chinatown. The three-story shophouse is a tranquil space for tea lovers who want to sample refined white tea, earthy pu er, or floral jasmine tea in a traditional setting.
Evening: Fire up your appetite
Head to the Dragon Chamber for dinner—if you can find it. The entrance to this Chinese underworld-inspired speakeasy is hidden behind a glass fridge tucked in the corner of a classic Singaporean coffee shop. The unconventional 45-seat main dining room features bold murals from regional artists and an eye-catching bar modeled after a traditional medicine hall. Dragon Chamber specializes in guerilla-style dishes that range from fusion (cheeseburger egg rolls) to bizarre (braised crocodile foot) to extravagant (noodles with wagyu short ribs and truffle gravy).
What Singapore lacks in size, it makes up for in creativity. Its vast richness can be found in little-explored corners, alleyways, and neighborhoods. Even as Singapore’s urban landscape continues to evolve, time-honored traditions continue to be safeguarded. Behind the island’s high-tech image, there’s a hidden side that’s waiting to be explored. For a glimpse of the often unseen side of Singapore, visit National Geographic’s virtual gallery, where six renowned photographers set out to capture the country’s essence in the most unexpected places.