Singapore family travel guide and things to do: 20 reasons to visit

Singapore's heady mix of old and new and amazing food is a feast for the senses.

* STAR PICKS

*1 HUNT: NIGHT SAFARI

This brilliantly conceived and managed attraction lets you explore the world of nocturnal animals on a tram safari through a variety of habitats. Get off and on at designated stops to explore four interlinked walking trails that lead you to different geographical regions and the animals that inhabit them. The choreographed Creatures of the Night in an open-air amphitheatre show is a highlight. There are plenty of watering holes for human visitors to keep thirst and hunger at bay. 

See nightsafari.com.sg

*2. LIGHT UP: SUPERTREE GROVE, GARDENS BY THE BAY

The sound and light show held twice each night at the Supertree Grove at Gardens by the Bay is nothing short of mesmerising – and it's free. Lie on the ground (it's Singapore, so it's relatively clean!), look up to the sky, enjoy the lights and music and marvel that a completely artificial urban garden can be so visionary, so magical and so spiritual. The huge Supertrees, up to 16 storeys high, are made of reinforced concrete and metal, and covered with a living, planted skin of more than 200 species including bromeliads, orchids, ferns and flowering climbers. A walkway between two trees gives you a unique viewpoint 22 metres above ground.  

See gardensbythebay.com.sg

3. HAVE FUN: SENTOSA

Sentosa Island is known as The State of Fun in Singapore. It's full of hotels and resorts, sandy beaches with private beach clubs, golf courses and a deep water yachting marina. You could spend days there between the various attractions, from Madame Tussauds, Megazip Adventure Park and the Butterfly Park and Insect Kingdom to Resorts World Sentosa (which includes Universal Studios, the Adventure Cove Waterpark and the SEA Aquarium among others, see below).

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See sentosa.com.sg

4. EAT: JUNGLE BREAKFAST WITH WILDLIFE AT SINGAPORE ZOO

The extraordinary Singapore Zoo is universally regarded as the world's best rainforest zoo. Home to the rare, blue-eyed white tiger, proboscis monkeys, Asian elephants, pygmy hippos and sun bears among other species, it's also the only place in the world where you can have breakfast with a family of orangutans as your dining companions. The apes and other creatures make a 30-minute appearance beside the Ah Meng restaurant terrace while you tuck into your eggs. 

See zoo.com.sg

5. SOAR: SINGAPORE CABLE CAR  

Taking the cable car to Sentosa is the most expensive way to arrive (it is quicker and cheaper by the Sentosa Express monorail or even by taxi) but it's definitely the most spectacular and the most fun. Pick up the cable car from Mount Faber or HarbourFront station (which connects with the MTR) and fly through the air for a bird's eye view of Singapore, the harbor and docks as well as the Sentosa itself. 

See faberpeaksingapore.com

6. SOAR SOME MORE: SENTOSA LINE 

You can now also explore Sentosa Island from the air with the recent opening (in June 2015) of the Sentosa Line cable car with three stations on the island – Merlion, Imbiah​ Lookout and Siloso​ Point – connecting all the island's attractions. Combined tickets are available for both cable cars. 

*7. VISIT: UNIVERSAL STUDIOS, SENTOSA

As movie theme parks go Sentosa's Universal is more compact than most and easy and safe to explore. It's divided into seven zones, including Ancient Egypt, The Lost World, Far Far Away and Sci-Fi City. Regular parades featuring famous movie characters take place in the streets, and there are fireworks most Saturday nights. The rides are the main attraction, the newest of which, Battlestar Galactica, is the world's tallest duelling rollercoaster where passengers are upside down most of the time. Be aware that several rides have a minimum height limit. The place gets packed especially on weekends so it pays to buy an Express Pass on top of your day pass to skip the queues.    

See rwsentosa.com

8. EXPLORE: RIVER SAFARI

Also part of Wildlife Reserves (and sister attraction to the Zoo and Night Safari), River Safari is a passive adventure where you explore different river environments and the aquatic creatures that inhabit them, from Giant Salamanders in the Yangtze to the world's largest pufferfish in the Congo. The panda enclosure is a major drawcard, as is the Amazon River Quest, a wet and wild journey in an automated boat, which takes you through the recreated world of one of the most diverse rainforest habitats of the world.     

See riversafari.com.sg

9. PLAY: CHILDREN'S GARDEN   

Part of the Gardens by the Bay precinct, the Far East Organisation Children's Garden is a complete delight. Under fives will love the Toddler Play Zone and the Fish Fountain where they can dodge water jets and climb through water tunnels. Older kids will make a beeline for the rainforest treehouse set amongst a dense canopy of trees and the water play zone where sensors detect their movement to create a corresponding sequence of water effects. Yes they will get wet, but it's Singapore, and hot, so they'll dry off quickly. 

See gardensbythebay.com.sg/en/the-gardens/attractions/childrens-garden.html

10. WATCH: S.E.A. AQUARIUM, SENTOSA

More than 800 species of marine creatures are on show here, divided into marine environments from the south-east Asian region and further afield, including a massive sea of sharks. Among the displays you'll see lionfish with their venomous spines, seaweed-like sea dragons, manta rays and moray eels. 

See rwsentosa.com

*11. SCOFF: SATAY AT LAU PA SAT 

Singapore is synonymous with street food, even if the hawkers no longer roam the streets and are instead located in purpose built hawker centres. One of the best, blending history, Victorian-era architecture and a reputation for the best satay in Singapore is Lau Pa Sat in the financial district. Boon Tat Street, adjacent to the market closes to traffic each night, as vendors set up tables and the diners pile in. Look for stalls marked A (rather than B,C or D) which indicates the stall's rating by health authorities.

See yoursingapore.com 

12. BUDGET: ATTRACTION MULTI-PASSES  

If the Singaporeans do one thing well (and they do many) it's bundling their attractions into packages. The Zoo, River Safari and Night Safari are all a decent 30-minute taxi ride from downtown in good traffic, so you might want to consider making a day and a night of it, exploring them (or perhaps two out of the three) back to back. And at the giant Resorts World Singapore, you can bundle the main attractions (Universal Studios, Adventure Cove Waterpark and the S.E.A. Aquarium) into a good value pass valid for two days. 

13. TRAVEL: THE MRT

Experiencing public transport in a new location is always fun for kids. Singapore's network of metro and light rail, is efficient and cheap, and a great way to get around.   

See journey.smrt.com.sg

14. DEVOUR: CHILLI CRAB

Other than satay and chicken rice, chilli crab is the one dish to eat in Singapore. It's a substance over style kind of dish and very very messy, which kids adore. At No Signboard Seafood Restaurant (which has four locations in the city including Geylang and The Esplanade) you can nominate your spice level. They also do a great fried rice if things get too hot for the kids. nosignboardseafood.com

15. WALK: PULAU UBIN​  

This small island off Singapore's north east coast, home to a bunch of abandoned quarries, is one of the country's last rural areas with an abundance of flora and fauna, and perfect for leisurely nature walks if you need a break from the urban sprawl. Catch a public bumboat from Changi Point Ferry Terminal.

See wildsingapore.com

16. VISIT: CHANGI AIRPORT

It might seem odd to include an airport in a city's attractions but Changi is no ordinary airport. Consistently voted the world's best airport in traveller surveys, Changi has a butterfly garden, home to 100 species (Terminal 3), an enchanted garden (Terminal 2), kids playground areas and the Changi Social Tree where kids can upload photos onto a site that won't expire for 100 years.  

See changiairport.com

17. CHILL OUT: DEMPSEY 

Extremely popular with the expat community, Dempsey is a lush and leafy precinct of cafes, providores and restaurants occupying former military barracks on Dempsey Hill. Among favourite spots for pan-Asian brunching, lunching and dinner are Chopsuey Cafe and Jumbo Seafood. 

See pscafe.com

18. SHOP: ORCHARD ROAD 

Singapore has long been synonymous with shopping and if there's one location that's retail central it has to be the two-kilometre strip of Orchard Road from Orange Grove Road to Handy Road. Stroller-friendly underground pedestrian walkways connect the 22 shopping malls and six department stores so you never have to leave the air-con.

See orchardroad.org

19. LEARN: HAW PAR VILLA 

This quirky theme park explores the more obscure elements of Chinese history, folklore and mythology through giant tableaux and thousands of statues. Originally known as Tiger Balm Gardens, the park was built in 1937 by Burmese brothers Boon Par and Boon Haw who created Tiger Balm ointment. A highlight amongst the graphic displays is the Ten Courts of Hell  and the human-headed crab. 

See yoursingapore.com

20. FLY: SINGAPORE AIRLINES

You can fly to Singapore with many airlines but for families travelling economy Singapore Airlines really is the best way to go. The kids meals are arguably the best in the sky and service is always impeccable. 

See singaporeair.com

The writer travelled with the assistance of Singapore Airlines.

See also: Sorry Thailand, it's not you: Southeast Asia's new hotspot for cuisine

See also: 20 things that will shock first time visitors to Thailand

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