Singapore is a Southeast Asian island country and city state. It’s small. At only 278 square miles (719 sq km), Singapore is an easy city to see during a long layover between flights.
I flew into Singapore Changi airport at about 6AM from Auckland, New Zealand. My next flight was not until 9PM. This was more than enough time to see a bit of Singapore city.
The only problem was I had not done any research before my arrival! Was there public transportation? Could I leave my baggage at the airport? Where in the city should I go first? Find out how I got around and where I ended up in this post!
Free Singapore Tour and Left Baggage at the airport
The information booths and the fast and free Wi-Fi connection at Singapore’s airport were helpful for planning the day ahead.
First I went to the info booth and found out there is a Free Singapore Tour you can take around the city by bus. The tour lasts 2.5 hours, so this makes it really easy for people with only a few hours in between flights.
Find the blue booth in the terminal where you can sign up for the tour which leaves at set hours of the day.
The bus tour stops at all the Singapore highlights, allowing tourists to get out and snap photos for a short while. Otherwise, you are confined to the bus. I opted not to do the free tour because I knew I had a lot more time to spare and I wanted to be free to roam where I pleased.
Instead, I hopped on Wi-Fi for a few hours and mapped out my own plan. I would be going by public bus to Singapore city and then I’d be free to roam around on foot anywhere I wanted. This meant I needed to lose my 15kg bag—pronto!
The kind women at the tourist information booth pointed me to Left Baggage. I was able to easily follow the signs after that.
Left baggage is located in different places depending on your Terminal:
Terminal 1 – Level 3
Terminal 2 – Arrival Hall North on Level 1 and Departure Transit Lounge on Level 2
Terminal 3 – Level 1 and the Departure Transit Lounge Transit Area
For only about $5, I was able to leave my one bag for up to 24 hours in this secure room at the airport.
Now I had only my day pack with me. I had water, my camera, phone and charger, and $50 Singaporean dollars packed. Ready to go!
Getting to the city from the airport
I made my way down to the lower level of the terminal and followed signs for immigration.
A few flights must have arrived recently because there was quite the crowd leading up to the customs desks! I walked up to the agent with my passport and my next boarding pass in hand.
“Why you here?”
“I’m just going to explore the city for the day. I have a flight tonight at 9PM.”
He asked me for my boarding pass for my next flight. I luckily still had it with me! I was ultimately headed for Bali, Indonesia with 2 more flights to go. Air New Zealand had printed off all 3 boarding passes for me in Auckland.
The boarding pass quickly got me my stamp of approval. Yay! I had my visa into Singapore!
Now I followed signs for public transportation out of the airport. I made my way down to the basement level where I found a flow of buses passing by outside.
For $2.50, I would take the #36 bus to get to the city center, specifically Orchard Road.
Orchard Road is known for its shopping, entertainment, and dining. I figured I’d do a bit of holiday shopping while there and then grab some lunch.
The bus ride quickly gave me a clear picture of what Singapore is all about. From the bus window, I viewed crisp, clean city streets, bright hi-rise buildings, and gorgeous trees and flowers lining the curbside.
This city pays close attention to its aesthetic beauty.
Marine Parade Promenade—The local stop
The bus ride took about 45 minutes to bring me to the center of Singapore City. But before I got there, I hopped off the bus where I saw all the locals getting off.
One tip I’ve learned from my travels is some of the best places are found by following the locals.
I had no idea where I was, so I followed people down the sidewalk and around the corner. This took me into a wide pedestrian walkway lined with small shops and foodcart-style eateries. There was hardly a Westerner in sight!
I found tons of great little shops here selling all kinds of odds and ends: jewelry, clothing, bags, home goods, artwork, decorations (it was Halloween the next day!), and more.
This was Marine Parade and everything for sale was marked at very reasonable prices. I could see it as the place I would come to do my regular shopping if I were living in Singapore long term.
It’s also the place I would go to eat!
I couldn’t resist trying an ice cold smoothie from one stand. The blast of heat outside was already getting to me after coming out of New Zealand's winter and cool Spring temperatures.
I got the red dragon fruit and soursop juice because I had never tried it before.
This bright pink beverage packed a seriously flavorful punch! Officially my new favorite smoothie flavor. Too bad I’ve never seen the combination anywhere else in the world!
Smoothie in hand, I was ready to get back on the bus and head into the main city area.
On the way in, we crossed a bridge over Marina Bay and I caught a glimpse of some of Singapore’s famous structures—the Singapore Flyer, the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, and the domes.
I considered hopping off the bus right after this bridge to explore the area and these famous buildings. But I knew I had the whole day ahead of me and could always walk back to this area later!
Orchard Road, or not!
Sometimes we make a plan and the plan doesn’t turn out to be what we had in mind. I arrived on Orchard Road only to find I really wasn’t in a shopping mood. Nor was I in the mood to see a movie at the cinema.
Apparently, catching sight of those glorious structures in the distance at Marina Bay made me eager to take in some architecture.
I found the Art School building on Orchard Road to be absolutely beautifully designed. The creeping vines hanging down the sides of the building looked so cool! But I had no interest in exploring more than the outside of this place.
I then came across the National Museum and decided to go inside only to find myself admiring all of the clean lines and light captured by the interior of the museum building. I had no interest in purchasing a ticket to see much else.
Clearly, I needed to make my way back to the bay. Something there was calling to me.
The way to the bay – Fort Canning Park
Outside the museum were these cool little statues. I couldn’t resist posing with them.
There were stairs behind these crazy sculptures leading into Fort Canning Park. The pathways of this park would reconnect me to the bay via the streets running parallel to the Singapore River. I figured it’d be a nice walk, if nothing else.
I found a walkway in the park leading into the Spice Garden. Lots of unique Southeast Asian and world spices were growing here all intricately labeled.
The path ran along the edge of a hillside where green and red bamboo stalks shot up out of the ground.
I was surprised there were not many other people walking around this park. There were no tourists other than a single Indian family I came across.
Instead, I found lots of Singaporean men sleeping under the trees on the ground or on park benches here. Some of them were having a bite to eat.
By now it was lunchtime. Maybe they were all taking a break in between shifts? What a lovely place for a rest.
Around a bend in the path, there was a sectioned off area where an archaeological dig had taken place. I was suddenly reminded of my time last year in Cologne, Germany with my cousin. She had taken me to see all of the Roman archaeological features around the city.
The dig conducted here in the 1980s through today contradicts stories of ancient Singapore as a sleepy fishing village. Artifacts suggest it was once a thriving Malay Kingdom and trading port.
Almost there – Parliament and Arts House exhibitions
Soon I made it out of the park and down to the litter-free streets again.
I came upon the parliament building which is decorated with bright pink flowers. This building is a photo opportunity with the skyline of all the biggest skyscrapers in the city as a backdrop.
Next, I passed by the Arts House. This is a venue for all sorts of exhibitions and concerts.
The grounds out front had a few pop-up exhibits. One was all about the Parisian leather and luxury goods manufacturer, Émile Hermès.
I had a walk through the “Little House of Wanders”—a collection of Hermès’ goods. This collection of items—e.g., feathered parasols, sun spurs, leather saddles, studded chests, etc.—was a part of Singapore’s 50 year celebration.
If you’re lucky, there will be some neat exhibitions here when you come through! They’re worth a stop if for no other reason than to get a break from the heat!
The bridge over Singapore River
Soon I was walking across the bridge over Singapore River. Singapore river dumps into Marina Bay where I would find those buildings I caught sight of earlier.
The bridge itself was an architectural feat. I loved its bright white curves set against the green river lined in flowers. I almost felt like I was somewhere in Europe with the tour boats sailing down the river.
I’m not in Europe. I’m in Southeast Asia, I had to keep telling myself.
This city was so impressive already, I could hardly imagine what was to come next. And the best was just around the corner!
In my next post, I’ll show you everything I found around that corner. What I saw and where I wandered makes up the remaining chunk of time I spent exploring Singapore between flights and is why Singapore is now my new favorite world city.
The architecture of the buildings at Marina Bay and the structural designs within the Gardens by the Bay blew me away. I know it’ll wow you, too!
Quick tips from this post
- Leave your luggage at left baggage at the airport for around $5
- Sign up for the Free Singapore Tour at the airport to see Singapore highlights fast and easy
- Take the #36 bus for $2.50 to get to the city center on your own
- Go to Orchard Road to shop, visit the cinema, museum, and art school
- Walk through Fort Canning park for a bit of nature and a bit of ancient history
- Stroll by the Arts House to catch a concert or a unique exhibit on the lawn
- Go directly to Marina Bay if you want to be wowed by this city’s modern architecture (find out more in Part 2!)