Singapore: the Lion City. This Southeast Asian capital has drawn much attention over recent years as a must-visit travel destination. But what is it that really brings people from all over the world to this fantastic city?
When it comes to national symbols, it’s hard to beat the iconic half-fish, half-lion statue known as the Merlion that guards the city. Aquatic felines aside, Singapore is famous for its cleanliness, rich multiculturalism, and the delicious food that cements the city as a food paradise!
When it comes to world-class facilities, look no further than Singapore’s very own Changi Airport and Marina Bay Sands where you will find yourself to be immersed in true luxury like no other!
No matter if you’re a seasoned traveler, a first-time-flyer, a Southeast Asian backpacker, or just stopping over in Singapore on business, The Lion City has something for you!
As they say in Singlish, “Let’s go around Singapore lah!”
Singapore is known for its tourist spots and landmarks
1. The Merlion
Singapore is famous for the Merlion, a mythical creature with the head of a lion and the body of a fish. Not quite the usual mascot when it comes to national symbols but what’s not to love?
The name Merlion combines mer, which means “sea” and lion. The symbol is a personification of the country’s history.
Singapore was originally a small coastal village called Temasek, which is Javanese for “sea town”. Legend says that Sang Nila Utama, a Srivijayan prince from South Sumatra, landed in Temasek in 1299 and encountered what he thought to be a lion. This prompted him to rename the land Singapura, which translates to “lion city” in Sanskrit.
British ichthyologist and curator Alec Fraser-Brunner designed the iconic Merlion for the Singapore Tourism Board in 1964. It has since become a national symbol and no trip to Singapore is complete without a visit to the statue that stands tall in front of One Fullerton.
2. Singapore Changi Airport
Eight-time winner of the World’s Best Airport award, the famous Singapore Changi Airport is one of the busiest and cleanest airports in the world.
Besides its unrivaled passenger experience, it’s also known for merging airport facilities, retail, and nature-themed entertainment in one complex.
Opened in 2019, Jewel Changi Airport combines urban ingenuity with the tranquility of nature. Visitors can get lost in the ten-story nexus of high-end shopping outlets, a luxury hotel, an Imax movie theater, global and local cuisines, and even an entire theme park.
The “crown jewel” is, of course, the Rain Vortex, the world’s tallest indoor waterfall. This stunning display of water cascading down seven levels of terraced forest welcomed 50 million visitors just six months after its opening.
3. Marina Bay Sands
A boat on top of a building? How did that get there?
Singapore is known for premier luxury hotel resorts and the Marina Bay Sands is among the most prominent. It was famed as the world’s most expensive standalone casino property to be built back in its opening in 2010.
If you thought Singapore’s airport was impressive, Marina Bay Sands takes it one step further by featuring a shopping mall, a museum, a movie theatre, multiple Michelin Star celebrity restaurants, two floating crystal pavilions, the SkyPark with an infinity pool, and the largest atrium casino in the world!
4. Universal Studios Singapore
Singapore is famous for Southeast Asia’s first and only Universal Studios theme park. Attracting over four million visitors annually, it’s one of the largest attractions in the country and the region.
For thrill-seekers, adrenaline junkies, film-fanatics, or just those who are looking for a bit of an adventure, the magic of Universal Studios Singapore is for everyone.
It features impressive 24 rides, shows, attractions in seven themed zones, and the chance to see some of your all-time favorite characters such as Shrek, Spiderman, Jurassic Park, Madagascar, The Mummy, and more.
5. Sentosa Island
The glamor and lights of the big city aside, Singapore is famous for its relaxing tropical island, too. The Red Dot has Sentosa Island, an island off the southern coast of Singapore’s main island.
A mere 10 to 20 minutes from central Singapore, Sentosa can be reached via any mode of transportation, including a cable car. Once on the island, you’ll be welcomed by sparkling sandy beaches lined with food stalls and bars.
Attractions include a waterpark, Madame Tussauds museum, two golf courses, hotels, and Resorts World Sentosa, which hosts Universal Studios Singapore.
6. Gardens by the Bay
While this massive cosmos of flora looks like a scene straight out of James Cameron’s Avatar, Gardens by the Bay is of earthly creation. It provides an unrivaled sanctuary to over 1.5 million plant species that hail from every continent on Earth.
A 101-hectare ode to beauty, diversity, and horticulture artistry, Gardens by the Bay comprises three waterfront gardens — Bay South, Bay East, and Bay Central. The largest and most popular is the Bay South Garden.
Singapore is known for the imposing Supertrees, iconic tree-like structures that come alive with stunning light and sounds show at night. Meanwhile, the Flower Dome, also found in the Bay South, holds the Guinness World Record for the largest glass greenhouse.
7. Shopping malls
Despite being a small landmass, Singapore is known for having over a hundred malls. From world-class shopping centers to independent retailers, the range of shopping malls is so vast that you can literally shop ‘til you drop while escaping the perpetual heat.
Singapore’s retail hub, Orchard Road, has several high-end shopping centers including the futuristic-looking ION Orchard, the couture Mandarin Gallery, and the heritage-rich TANGS.
Outside Orchard Road, other shopping hotspots include the colorful Bugis Junction and Bugis Street, the upscale The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, Little India’s 24-hour Mustafa Centre, and VivoCity, Singapore’s largest mall.
8. Parks and nature reserves
If you’re seeking out a breath of fresh air in the city, you’re in luck because Singapore is known for its picturesque parks and green initiatives.
Nicknamed “City in a Garden”, Singapore is dense with leafy nature gardens, public parks, and nature reserves.
Some of the more popular green spaces include Singapore Botanic Gardens, Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, East Coast Park, Pasir Ris Town Park, MacRitchie Reservoir Park, and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.
Singapore is known for its mouth-watering food
9. Hawker Centers
Singapore is famous for hawker centers – large, open-air food courts offering gastronomic delights at reasonable prices. From full meals to snacks and drinks, and a variety of cuisines from Singaporean, Chinese, Indian, Malay, to Western, you’re replete with choices.
Hawker centers are considered such an important part of Singaporean culture that in 2019, hawker culture in Singapore was added to UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. There are over 110 hawker centers across Singapore, including CBD’s Lau Pa Sat, Maxwell Road Food Centre in Chinatown, and Tekka Centre in Little India.
In a hot and humid country like Singapore, hawker centers can get understandably stuffy. Fortunately, you can also enjoy hawker dishes in air-conditioned food courts that may or may not be found inside shopping malls. Some of the popular food courts in Singapore include Food Junction, Cantine, Food Republic, and Koufu.
10. Chili Crab
When it comes to Singaporean food, crab is king! One of the most delicious foods Singapore is known for, chili crab has the perfect balance of sweet, spicy, savory, and satisfying.
Chili crab came about back in 1956 when a local pushcart vendor decided to start experimenting with different ways to prepare mud crabs. While stir-frying the crabs with tomato had a nice taste, it lacked that certain “Singaporean kick” to it, which is how chili sauce got added into the mix.
The original recipe has been reinvented by the owner of Dragon Phoenix Restaurant. Today, the famous dish incorporates eggs, sambal, and tomato paste into the sauce and is often served with bread to sponge up all that delicious sauce.
11. Kaya toast
Singapore is known for its classic breakfast fare, the kaya toast, which can be found in hawker centers, food courts, and cafes like Ya Kun Kaya Toast.
A traditional kaya toast consists of two well-toasted slices of bread, slathered with thin slabs of butter and kaya, a sweet spread made of coconut, pandan, and eggs.
This is commonly served with kopi (coffee) or the (tea) and soft-boiled eggs doused in soy sauce and ground pepper.
12. Tiger Beer
After a long day walking around and seeing the sites under the hot Singapore sun, what better way to kick back and relax than with a cool glass of Singapore’s very own Tiger Beer?
Tiger was launched in 1932 as Singapore’s very first locally brewed beer and has since made a name for itself as one of Asia’s favorite beer brands. The beer itself is a pale lager and is a popular pairing with some of Singapore’s famous local dishes such as chili crab and chicken rice.
Want to take your love of Tiger Beer to the next level? Tiger Sky Tower is operated by the beer company and is the highest observation tower in all of Singapore. It’s one of the best places to get a good view of the entire Singapore skyline from Sentosa Island.
Singapore is known for its unique culture
Singapore is known for being culturally diverse. Here, East meets West, North meets South. A melting-pot of peoples mainly from Malay, Indian, and Chinese backgrounds along with a steadily growing expat population, Singapore could be the poster child for what diversity looks like in an ever globalizing society.
Diversity is indeed Singapore’s strength as cuisine from all corners of the globe can be found lining the streets, while beautiful mosques, temples, and shrines from almost every religion bring color to the city, and languages from all over the world can be heard no matter where you are.
14. Ethnic enclaves
A testament to its multiculturalism, Singapore is famous for having vibrant, historically rich ethnic enclaves. Visiting Singapore lets you experience different cultures as you step into different neighborhoods.
Singapore’s Chinatown is bustling with shops, hawker food, and temples, as well as restaurants and bars that come alive at night. Little India is filled with spice shops, jewelry stores, flower shops, Hindu temples, and authentic Indian fare.
For hip boutiques and cafés, Instagram hotspot Haji Lane, and the Sultan Mosque, head over to Kampong Glam, a multicultural Muslim enclave. To bask in Peranakan culture, stroll along Joo Chiat Road. And for a vibrant Korean food scene, Tanjong Pagar or Little Korea is the place to be.
“Don’t worry about it lah! I don’t know leh. Whoa, siao ah! Are you for real?”
Once you get out and start making friends with the locals, you’ll notice that Singaporeans have a very unique way of speaking. Welcome to the glory that is a special dialect of English that Singapore is famous for, known affectionately as Singlish.
Singlish is what happens when you put speakers of Malay, Cantonese, Hokkien, Tamil, Teochew, and various others all in the same place and ask them to speak English with one another.
Some phrases are pretty similar to English but have taken on a new whole new meaning. For example, the phrase “Catch no ball”. While overseas this expression might indicate that your baseball skills are not quite up to par, here in Singapore the phrase is akin to the word “clueless” – which is what you might be unless you study up before you arrive!
More things that Singapore is known for
16. Singapore’s small size
At 728.6 square kilometers, Singapore is the 20th smallest country in the world and the second smallest in Asia.
Its territory includes one mainland, 63 satellite islands and islets, and an outlying islet. It is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor, while the Singapore Strait separates it from Indonesia.
Because of its size, it was once referred to as a “little red dot” by former Indonesian President B.J. Habibie. What was thought to be a disparaging and controversial comment was eventually used with pride.
Indeed, Singapore is known for its small size but it’s also famed for its massive economic and technological achievements.
17. Singapore Airlines
Not only is Singapore known for its world-class airport, but it’s also renowned for its flag carrier airline, Singapore Airlines.
Commencing its operation in 1972, Singapore Airlines or SIA is best known for superb service standards and the Singapore Girl, flight attendants clad in distinctive sarong kebaya (traditional nonya dress).
SIA has been recognized for its hospitality and cabin service multiple times. Skytrax has ranked it as the world’s best airline four times while it remained Travel+Leisure’s best international airline for 26 consecutive years. Business Traveller Asia Pacific Awards has named it ‘World’s Best Cabin Crew Service’ for 23 consecutive years.
18. Lee Kuan Yew
Born in 1923, Lee Kuan Yew was the Prime Minister of Singapore from 1959 until 1990 and is considered the father of modern-day Singapore.
Lee became first became politically active in 1954 and he gained popularity as the leader of the opposition party before being elected Prime Minister in 1959. He went on to spearhead the independence movement from the British.
In 1965 when Singapore officially became a city-state, he continued to lead Singapore into becoming the most economically prosperous country in all of Southeast Asia. While he passed away back in 2015, the legacy he leaves behind is the bright and beautiful Singapore of today.
19. Hot and humid weather
A country situated near the equator, Singapore is known for its perpetually hot climate. The months of May, June, and July are the hottest and driest but it’s generally hot all year-round. While this might spell tropical holiday vibes for tourists, the sweltering heat can be challenging for most residents.
Singapore’s proximity to the ocean also means high humidity all year-round and tropical monsoons. In addition, high levels of urbanization contribute to the hot weather on the island. Heat is trapped by urban surfaces and concrete structures. Air conditioning also ejects hot plumes that further heat up the surroundings.
20. Strict laws
When it comes to national laws, the Singaporean government does not joke around. Singapore is famous for having some of the most strict laws in the world.
Here are some things that you can’t do in The Lion City:
- Feeding pigeons, wildlife, and any animal at a national park or nature reserve
- Walking around naked at home while exposed to public viewing
- Flying kites in places it might interfere with traffic and public safety
- Urinating in the elevator and not flushing the public toilet
- Connecting to someone else’s wifi
- Spitting on the sidewalk
- Graffiti in undesignated areas
- Smoking in public indoor places or outside designated areas
- Selling, owning, and/or using e-cigarettes
- Selling, importing, and/or spitting out chewing gum. However, pharmacists and dentists are allowed to sell “therapeutic” gum and nicotine gum.
While some of these laws may seem like a bit much, they have made Singapore world-famous for the cleanliness and pristine nature of the entire city.
Singapore is also notable for having a zero-tolerance policy for illegal drugs. Severe by most nations’ standards, the Misuse of Drugs Act imposes long terms of imprisonment, caning, and death penalty depending on the type of drug and the amount the individual possesses.
21. Education System
Owing to its small size and limited resources, Singapore relies on its people. Good education is the fuel behind many of Singapore’s successes.
Singapore is known for world-class education and it routinely ranks among the top performers in educational attainment, as measured by the OECD. Its premier universities, the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University, consistently rank high among universities in Asia.
Students in Singapore are sorted into three ‘streams’ based on their academic and technical abilities: Normal-Technical, Normal-Academic, and Express streams.
However, by 2024, this system will be replaced with subject-based banding, in which students will take up subjects at higher or lower levels. This change is expected to remove the self-limiting labels and stigmatization brought about by streaming.
The national curriculum is targeted and precise. Moreover, classrooms are typically hierarchical and disciplined, with teachers dominating the talking time and students bearing the responsibility to be successful.
The rigorous teaching and the pressure to ace exams have been the cause of stress and anxiety of most students. The good news is, new policies are now placing importance on making learning fun rather than competitive.
Emphasis on soft skills like creativity, problem-solving, and innovation, as mandated by the Applied Learning Programme (ALP), also discourages rote learning, a technique that’s heavily favored in the past.
22. High cost of living
While exploring the Lion City on a shoestring is possible, it’s undeniable that Singapore is known for its high and rising cost of living.
The median gross monthly income from work is $4,534 in 2020, 51.1% higher than the 2010 figure and 2.8% higher after factoring in inflation. The average annual inflation rate over 20 years (2000-2020) is also fairly low at 1.48%.
This goes to show that the increase in gross monthly income is outpacing inflation and is faster than the increase in the cost of living.
Still, whether you’re a local, an expat, or a tourist, living in Singapore can be pricey. Here are some reasons why:
- Land is scarce and is, therefore, a prized commodity. Property and rental prices inevitably go up. The average cost of an HDB property (public housing) is S$532,768 while a condo costs S$1,780,051 on average.
- Great emphasis on education equates to higher costs of schooling and enrichment classes. From 2000 to 2020, the cost of education has increased by 80.7%.
- Because of the limited space, the government limits car ownership by making it expensive to own one. Singapore is the most expensive place in the world to buy and own a car. On top of the car price, you also have to account for road tax, mandatory car insurance, maintenance costs, petrol, parking, and road tolls.
- From 2000 to 2020, the cost of healthcare has increased 57.46% and the average healthcare inflation rate was 2.30% over these 20 years.
As Singapore progresses, it’s inevitable for the standards of living also improve and spending also increases.
23. Public housing
Another thing Singapore is known for is public housing.
For non-Singaporeans, the term “public housing” conjures up images of decrepit, dilapidated, poorly-maintained tenements, ghettos, or row houses.
But in Singapore, public housing is an icon that matches Singapore’s overall state – clean, well-designed, vibrant, and well-maintained.
Home to about 80% of Singaporeans, public flats are managed by the Housing and Development Board (HDB). There are over a million HDB flats spread across 24 towns and three estates.
Unlike in other countries where public housing is provided for low-income households, HDB’s high-rise subsidized housing estates support mixed incomes, are integrated with green spaces, and are generally designed to foster interactions between neighbors.
24. Economic prosperity
Why is Singapore so rich? Here are some reasons:
- It is strategically located in the middle of Southeast Asia, making it a necessary trade stop. It is also very open to trade, with the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) and other bilateral free trade agreements allowing it to trade freely and conveniently with other nations.
- Singapore has a stable one-party-rule political system that aids long-term planning. Combined with visionary leadership, accountability, and a low corruption rate, you get stable and efficient policies.
- Thanks to its quality education system, Singaporeans are efficient and competent. The country is strengthened by its skilled domestic workforce while also attracting foreign professionals that further increase its talent pool.
- Singapore is known for its ease of doing business. More on this later.
Thanks to these reasons and more, Singapore has gained economic success and will likely remain rich.
25. Business-friendly environment
Aside from its openness to trade, Singapore is also known as one of the best places to set up and do business. It is ranked second globally in the World Bank’s Doing Business Index.
Business regulations and processes in Singapore are transparent and streamlined. The whole process is fully digitized, meaning you can set up a business even when you’re not yet in Singapore.
It takes about 15 minutes to register a company online, 1.5 days to set up a business, and the required minimum issued capital is S$1 to register a new local company. With about 300 investors and more than 100 incubators and accelerators in Singapore, it’s also one of the best start-up ecosystems in the world.
Moreover, the government’s economic and manpower policies favor businesses. Singapore is known for its low income and corporate tax rates. With plenty of tax exemptions and financing, it’s no wonder both locals and foreign entrepreneurs find Singapore attractive.
While geographically speaking Singapore might be smaller than some, what it lacks in size it easily makes up in character, uniqueness, and fun!
No matter what you do or see in Singapore, it’s always a good time and as the locals say in Singlish, visiting Singapore in your lifetime is a “die die must try”!