Travel Guide | Singapore

College Tourist Student Guide to Singapore

Learn the ins and outs of this tiny but busy island city

Temasek (“Sea Town” in Old Javanese) had quietly existed as a small town and trade centre, maybe since the 2nd century, before Sang Nila Utatma, prince of Palembang, stumbled across it on a hunting expedition in the 13th century. He encountered a creature in the jungle, and was (falsely) informed by his men that it was a lion. It had most likely been an Asiatic Golden Cat, but no matter, the prince believed it to be a good omen and renamed the island “Singapura” – the Lion City.

Singapore has risen from humble beginnings, survived both British colonial rule and Japanese military occupation during World War II, and grown into the bustling independent metropolis that it is today. With over 5 million people crammed into 276.5 square miles of space, it’s obvious why so many of the buildings in Singapore are high-rise ones. The main island sits just north of the equator, at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. Its central location (and beautiful airport) makes it a popular jumping off point to the rest of South East Asia, and an interesting destination where Chinese, Malay, Indian, Eurasian and many other cultures intersect.

city skyline singapore night image

Top Must See 5:

S.E.A Aquarium

This is the world’s largest aquarium, housing over 100,000 marine animals from over 800 species.  Standing in front of the open ocean tank is a pretty amazing experience, intended to make you feel like you’re on the ocean floor. That is, if you can ignore the hoards of tourists – perhaps go on a weekday afternoon to avoid this. It is a little pricey, so maybe choose between the aquarium and the zoo.

Singapore Zoo/ Night Safari

You’d feel like you’re right up close with the animals in this zoo, which features exhibits that utilize hidden barriers, moats and glass, instead of metal cages and fences. If you would like an even more intimate experience, you can pay extra to have breakfast with the orangutans. The newest addition to the zoo is the river safari, where you can check out Jia Jia and Kai Kai, Giant Pandas from China.

 panda at river safari singapore image

Marina Bay Sands SkyPark

Hands down, this is where you can get the best view of the city skyline – from an observation deck 200 metres up in the air. If you’re into photography, you can get really great pictures at sunset. To avoid paying the fee, opt to go get a drink at Ku De Ta, which is also located at the SkyPark. The bummer is that only hotel guests get to swim in the vanishing edge pool.


Its name means “peace and tranquility” in Malay, and you can find this at one of the three beach areas on the island resort. The Sentosa Express, which leaves from Vivocity, takes you to several of its other attractions, such as the gigantic Merlion statue (the emblem of Singapore), Resorts World, of which Universal Studios is part of, and the MegaZip Adventure park.

Singapore National Museum

 The oldest museum in Singapore houses cool artefacts like the very first daguerreotype of Singapore Town and the hearse of Tan Jiak Kim (a prominent businessman in the 1800s). Entry to the Living Gallery is free, but there may be admission charges for selected exhibitions and programmes.


The suburbs, also known as the “heartlands”, might be a good place to visit if you want to get a taste of how the locals live. Take the MRT (metro system) or bus a little further out to neighborhoods like Toa Payoh or Serangoon and park yourself at a kopitiam (open-air food court) that stays open into the wee hours of the morning.

outdoor fruit stall in geylang singapore image

Fun for free:

Haw Par Villa

Saying that this place is weird might be downplaying it (even locals nowadays are confused by this place). It used to be a theme park, made for the purpose of teaching traditional Chinese values, and depicting certain mythological tales. Over the years, the high entrance fees caused the number of visitors to dwindle, and eventually management decided to stop having fees altogether. The best part of the park is the Ten Courts of Hell, where you can learn of all the gruesome things you can expect to happen to you when you die. Fun times indeed!

 You can catch a cable car ride over to Sentosa from the Jewel Box, or take an easy trek up this hill for a view of the southern part of Singapore. The park is connected to Telok Blangah Hill Park by the Henderson Waves bridge, which is a cool bit of architecture in the middle of the rainforest. There are wood-paneled cut outs perfect for sitting and taking in the view. It’s a popular spot for skaters, joggers and groups of kids with their guitars.

Cultural festivals

With so many different cultures coexisting in one small space, you can expect there always to be some kind of event going on. The Chinese population celebrates Chinese New Year in January or February, depending on the lunar calendar, and there will be tons of lion dance troupes out ushering in good luck to homes and businesses. All you have to do is follow the sound of cymbals and drums. During Hari Raya Ramadan, plan to have a dinner of traditional Malay delicacies at the night bazaar in Geylang Serai. Little India gets beautifully lit up during Deepavali, a Hindu festival that celebrates the victory of good over evil, and light over darkness. Visit Buddhist, Taoist or Hindu temples to participate or just observe ceremonies.

buddhist temple singapore image


What to Eat:

 Eating is jokingly referred to as Singapore’s national pastime, and it is definitely true that food is taken seriously here. There are so many 24-hour food establishments, and Singaporeans will travel considerably long distances to get what they want.

Swee Choon

Dim Sum is a great option when you’re grabbing dinner with a large group of people, or craving a late night snack with a friend. Try going after midnight to avoid the queue – Swee Choon is open 6 days a week, from 6pm to 6am.

BK Eating House

Located near the popular party district Clarke Quay, BK is perfect pitstop for a cheap bowl of fishball noodles and a beer before you head home for the night.

Try This

Hainanese Chicken Rice: It sounds simple enough: boneless pieces of steamed or roasted chicken laid over rice, dressed with dark soy sauce and a spicy garlic chilli. This dish, however, is so popular that it is considered the “national dish” of Singapore by some, and can be found anywhere from hawker stalls to major restaurants.

After Dark:


There are three different rooms at Zouk: Zouk, Velvet Underground and Phuture. Depending on the night, the DJs will be spinning anything from house to R&B. Once a month, Velvet Underground hosts Poptart, a pop, punk, postrock and indie night. You can probably find the guestlist on their Facebook page which gets you free entry.

Club Kyo

Ladies should take advantage of Thursday nights at Kyo, where you get free entry plus complimentary vodka cranberry cocktails. Ladies night is a big draw at a lot of clubs in Singapore.



The metro system is easy to use and spotlessly clean. Rush hour proves to be a tight squeeze, but trains come very frequently.


Less reliable than the MRT, but also convenient.


Watch out for certain surcharges applied on top of the meter fare during set hours and in certain locations. It may also be hard to hail a taxi during rush hour.

Local Knowledge:


English is considered the main language, but there are three other main languages used on the island as well – Malay, Mandarin and Tamil. There are countless other dialects that people use amongst themselves, as well as the delightful creole language, known as “Singlish”.

Taina Teravainen

Emerson College | 5 stories

Taina is a semester away from graduating from Emerson College with a BFA in Writing, Literature & Publishing. She hails from the little island city of Singapore and often writes about the search for home.

One response to “College Tourist Student Guide to Singapore”

  1. […] have come together in a really beautiful and interesting (and super clean) city. (check out the College Tourist Student Guide to Singapore for more to […]

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