Singapore is one of my favourite places in the world. The love affair started when I lived there, and has continued when I’ve holidayed there with kids (twice). Every time I visit it has new family-friendly attractions, new infrastructure and swanky new shopping centres and restaurants. And while Singapore is in a constant state of reinvention, you only have to look around to see its British colonial history and traces of its WWII occupation.
There are beaches, theme parks, bustling shopping precincts, jungles, hiking, zoos and museums, all shaped by Singapore’s unique cultural blend. On my last visit in October 2014, I was amazed by how much there was to do with kids – we needed more time.
I think many visitors, Aussies in particular, view Singapore as a stopover destination. But it’s worthy of a standalone holiday – a family could easily spend a week here and not run out of things to do. Visiting Singapore with kids is the perfect introduction to Asia, and here’s why:
1. It’s a clean, green, well-run machine
Let’s face it: many Asian countries are still developing and their streets and public facilities can be pretty grimy to say the least. But not in Singapore. In fact, I’m guessing that Singapore’s streets, trains, and public toilets are cleaner than those in your hometown. Even the outdoor hawker centres are given hygiene ratings, A being the best (and I never see anything but As). The public can also rate toilets for their cleanliness! Greenery is everywhere from the CBD to the ‘burbs and even the airport – from the moment you arrive, you’ll see lush foliage and bouganvilleas lining the highway. And efficient? Can I tell you that in all my time in Singapore, I’ve never once consulted a timetable. Trains and buses come every 2-5 minutes, everything is clearly signed and there’s always someone to help you with directions. Perfect conditions for a family holiday.
2. Everyone speaks English
3. Singaporeans love children
My oldest daughter first visited when she was six months old (which I think is a fantastic age to travel, by the by). Everywhere we went, people would talk to her, help us with strollers and high chairs, and even ask to hold her. In Din Tai Fung, the famous dumpling restaurant, one waitress cuddled her while we waited for a table and perused the menu. We had to ask for her back! Singaporeans seem very relaxed about bringing kids out and about, even at night. On our last visit, there were hordes of small children out shopping with their parents at 9pm at night! You wouldn’t see that in Australia.
3. Singapore has theme parks, zoos, museums and water parks
No matter their age or interest, kids will find something to excite them in Singapore. Sentosa Island alone is home to large resorts, Universal Studios, an aquarium, Madame Tussauds, a luge, cablecar, Butterfly Park and MegaZip adventure park. Singapore Zoo, Night Safari and the Bird Park are wonderful for kids of all ages. And for older children, there are museums and galleries to explore the history, art and culture of Singapore and the broader region. I could go on and on…
5. Singapore is safe
Singapore has next to no crime, and I have always felt safe there day or night, with children or on my own. There aren’t many places in the world where I can say the same.
6. It has a slower pace
Despite being home to more than 5 million people, Singapore feels quieter than other big Asian cities such as Hong Kong, Shanghai or Bangkok. While some might argue it lacks the energy of these places, I think this is precisely what makes Singapore so approachable for families. Less hustle and bustle means your kids are less likely to feel overwhelmed by throngs of people, or experience sensory overload.
7. There’s fantastic, cheap food everywhere
Singapore reputation as a food mecca is deserved. The locals love their food and are thrilled to see visitors trying their homegrown favourites (try asking a Singaporean for their recommendations and you’ll talk for hours). At hawker centres and markets, children can pick and choose their meals without any of the pressure to be quiet or sit still. Love that!
8. Singapore is only one flight away, with almost no time difference (for Aussies!)
You can fly for eight or nine hours, land in Singapore and still feel fresh and ready to explore straight away. Best of all, there’s next to no jet lag. And anyone who’s travelled with kids knows there’s nothing worse than a jetlagged toddler!
9. It’s cheap (except for the booze)
It’s easy to enjoy a budget-friendly family holiday in Singapore. Hawker centre meals are a bargain – on a recent trip to Newton Circus we spent about $50AUD for a family of five and devoured a feast that included beers (and lime juice for the kids). There are great hotel packages to be found, public transport and taxis are much cheaper than at home, and there’s a good mix of free and paid attractions.
10. Singapore has a mix of cultures
When it comes to experiencing new cultures, you get plenty of bang for your buck in Singapore. The largest ethnic group in Singapore is Chinese, plus there are significant Indian and Malay populations. Delve a little deeper and you can also explore Nonya culture (a Malay-Chinese fusion) and regional Chinese influences such as Teochew and Hokkien. Drop by Little India, visit a mosque in Kampong Glam, or observe a traditional Chinese tea ceremony. For your kids, it’s like a pan-Asian tour without the multiple stops!