Four hours in Singapore: tips for time-starved travellers

If you had just four hours to spend in Singapore, what would you do?

Four hours may not sound like much, but a brief morning or afternoon may be all you have if you’re on a stop-over in the city-state, or have a bit of spare time on a business trip.

Thankfully, while you could easily fill a much longer break, Singapore lends itself well to short stays. It’s small and most key attractions are within walking distance of one of the stops on its modern, cheap and speedy MRT (mass rapid transit) rail network.

So, let’s consider how to make the most of that brief opportunity...

Choose green not grey

If you think of Singapore, ultra-modern, squeaky-clean skyscrapers may come to mind. But actually one of the best ways to spend your time - and a little less of your money - is to explore its lush green spaces.

Head to the futuristic Gardens by the Bay, which is home to a spectacular cloud forest. Admission is free to its Supertree Grove, where the tallest ‘trees’, or vertical gardens, measure up to 16 storeys high. If you can make it there in the evening, at 7.45pm or 8.45pm, then you’ll be treated to a light and sound show.

A visit to the Singapore Botanic Gardens, a Unesco World Heritage Centre in the heart of the city, is also free. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a free concert by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra while you’re there - check out their timetable of free events.

Visit a unique home museum

Have you ever visited a museum in someone’s house and been guided around by the homeowner?

Well, that’s what you get at The Intan, the private home of Alvin Yapp, where he guides visitors through his collection of 1,500 objects from Singapore’s Peranakan culture.

Given time is short, you might want to opt for a one-hour tea tour, but booking is essential.

Chinatown for food and temples

If you want a true taste of Singapore, then head to one of its famous hawker markets for cheap but scrumptious street food.

The Chinatown Complex Food Centre is the largest, where you can choose from over 260 food stalls; whether you fancy stir-fried noodles, satay or even BBQ stingray or frog porridge, then this is the place for you.

While you’re in Chinatown, stop to admire some of the temples. Among them, its colourful exterior makes The Sri Mariamman Hindu temple hard to miss. Likewise, look out for the more modern, but still striking Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. Wondering where the name comes from? The temple is home to what is said to be the left canine tooth of Buddha.

Let Singapore do the hard work for you

If you’re passing through Singapore’s Changi Airport, then one of the easiest and cheapest ways to take in the major sites is with one of its free guided tours into the city.

You must have at least 5.5 hours until your connecting flight - OK, we’re stretching the 4-hour concept here, but we’re allowing for some transit time... There are two options, each of which take you to some beautiful and famous sites: the Heritage Tour, which runs five times daily, and the City Sights Tour, which runs twice daily.

If you want to try one of these tours, when you arrive at Changi Airport, don’t clear immigration. Instead, stay in the transit area where there are tour registration booths. Alternatively, you can book in advance.

Hang around in Changi airport

While you may have your heart set on an energetic few hours in Singapore, circumstances do change. Perhaps you’ll be too tired after lots of travelling or simply wowed by the airport. In which case, just stay there!

After all, the airport is almost a destination in itself. You could spend your time at the world's first 'Butterfly Garden' in an airport, indulge in an oriental foot reflexology massage or catch a film at one of its cinemas.

You can always head into Singapore next time.

So much more

We’ve just scratched the surface with these tips. If you know of a better way to spend a few hours in the city, we’d love to see your suggestions.

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