Tiny Singapore has a lot to offer, but you can still enjoy a snapshot of the island-state if you're only there for a short time.

In the 12 years that I've been living in Singapore, I have steered many visiting friends on what to do on a 24-hour stopover. Here's how to spend your time before your onward flight.  

How do you get from the airport to the city?

Singapore is a masterclass in public transport. You can catch the MRT, bus, taxi or Grab (Southeast Asia’s version of Uber) from the airport right into the center of the action. It only takes 40 minutes to cross the entire island, so it won't take long to reach your hotel, wherever you decide to stay. For those on a really quick visit, make use of the luggage storage facilities at the airport terminals so you can explore hands-free. 

A Singapore Tourist Pass costs from SGD$22 a day, which gives you unlimited access during that time to buses and the MRT. Taxis are extra but still kind on the wallet. Popular locations are fairly close together, for example, a five-minute taxi ride whisks you from the Marina Bay area to Chinatown, or a 10-minute taxi ride could take you from Little India to the upscale shopping trawl of Orchard Road. It’s also an easy city to walk around, although maybe you will want to seek some shade around midday.

Don't want to miss anything in Singapore? Here are the best places to visit

A series of artificial trees rise up above a walkway
Swing by Singapore's iconic Supertrees at Gardens by the Bay © FuuTaMin / Shutterstock

What should I do with 24 hours in Singapore?

The fastest way to understand Singapore is through its food. The hawker centers (street food stalls) are where Singaporeans gather and bond over their favorite dishes. Singapore’s hawkers are such an important part of the culture, they were recognised by UNESCO’s Intangible Heritage list. Everyone has their favorite hawker, but a good place to start is Lau Pa Sat near Singapore’s financial district, as it serves every dish you can think of. Found in what looks like an oversized band stand, this popular food court is open 24 hours. Satay St, next to the food court, is lined with hawkers from 6pm each day who serve skewers of meat cooked over hot coals. 

Still hungry? Here are Singapore's best flavors

You can walk from here around the bay or take a six-minute taxi ride to Gardens by the Bay where you can take the perfect Instagram shot by the famed Supertrees. While you’re there, ride an elevator to the top of the tallest Supertree to get a 360-degree view of the city that includes the sea, Marina Bay Sands and the Singapore Flyer. If you have more time, spend a couple of hours in the aircon-filled glasshouses that are the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest, open from 9am to 9pm.

People sit at tables outside cafes on a brightly decorated street
Make time for the creative Kampong Glam quarter, known for its street art and independent stores © Brostock / Getty Images

For your next stop, take a taxi to the heritage area of Kampong Glam. Among the pastel-colored shophouses and street art, you’ll find cute cafes and independent stores, such as Sifr Aromatics, a perfumery that can make you a bespoke scent. On the second floor of a shophouse in Haji Lane you will also find Type8ar, filled with 50 vintage typewriters.

Kampong Glam gives you the chance to enjoy some of the city’s best treats. Indulge in a sweet potato donut coated in palm sugar called gulu melaka at KS Keria, sample a gateaux with Singaporean flavours at Julie Bakes or cool down with a bowl of chendol (shaved ice, jelly noodles and pandan) at Makan Melaka. Look out for Tarik, a former hole-in-the-wall that serves pulled tea, where the eat is poured from a height, which now takes center stage as part of Kampong Glam’s biggest mural.  

Next, visit Sentosa Island, home to beach clubs, theme parks and a former 19th-century fort, and where a tall ship sets sail. Sip cocktails on board the ship and take in the famed Singapore skyline as the it glides along the coast. 

Where can I stay in Singapore?

If you land at night and need to rest your head, there are two new Singaporean hotels to check into. The design-led 21 Carpenter is found in a heritage building near Clarke Quay. During the day, its stainless-steel rooftop pool with views of Marina Bay provides the perfect place to cool off after a spot of sightseeing. Alternatively, Artyzen near the upscale shopping district of Orchard Rd gives a nod to Singapore’s Peranakan culture, serving up tropical colors in the bedrooms and traditional kopi (coffee) or teh (tea) among the treats at breakfast.

A plane takes off over a city by a quay
It's possible to visit Singapore even with a relatively short stopover at Changi © Sakdawut Tangtongsap / Shutterstock

How much will a layover in Singapore cost?

You don’t need to have a bulging wallet to have a fun time in Singapore. A budget stay at the YMCA One Orchard hotel, which also has a rooftop pool, will set you back around S$128 per night.

There are many free and cheap activities too, such as hiring a bike for a small fee and cycling along Sinapore's parkway connectors, or lingering in one of the city parks. Throw down a picnic rug in the UNESCO site the Botanic Garden (free entry) or the beach at East Coast Park. It's also free to visit Singapore’s first theme park, Har Paw Villa, built in the 1930s and filled with sculptures from Chinese folklore. However, if you’re tempted to enter the onsite Hell’s Museum and discover what awaits in the afterlife, this will cost S$20. 

Looking for more budget tips? Here's how to save money in Singapore

What if I’ve only got a few hours in Singapore?

If your layover is at least 5.5 hours, you can sign up for the free Singapore tour from Changi Airport. The proviso is your luggage is checked through to your final destination.

Another fun way to experience the city is to book a vintage Vespa sidecar tour with Singapore Sidecars. The Singapore in a Nutshell tour lasts between one to three hours and will take you past the iconic Marina Bay Sands building, through the colonial Civic District and into heritage areas such as Little India and Chinatown. You don’t need a motorbike license as the team will chauffeur you around the city and you can just enjoy being a passenger, but you will need to travel from the airport to the starting point.

If your layover is only a couple of hours' long, check out the glass-domed centerpiece that is Jewel at Singapore’s Changi Airport. Not only will you find cafes, designer stores and a cinema, but also the world’s tallest indoor waterfall, 2000 trees, and a canopy park.

No matter what you do, you’ll find that a stopover in Singapore is worth it.

Explore related stories

Smiling of Beautiful tourist woman traveling at Wat Arun, Bangkok on her vacation


7 of the best places in Southeast Asia for solo travelers

Jul 12, 2024 • 11 min read