Singapore is a great hub for travel throughout the Asia-Pacific region (and if you’re flying East, Singapore Airlines really is a cut above the rest); but its reputation as a sterile shopping stopover probably puts families off visiting. Yet on a recent visit there, I discovered that, not only is it a great place to break your journey, you could actually consider it as your ultimate destination. The cleanliness and ease of travelling around may not remind you of the rest of Asia (or even grubby Britain!), but it makes life very easy indeed with small children. If the heat gets too much, then there is always an air-conditioned shop, attraction or taxi to hand, and you don’t have to worry about Delhi belly when eating out.
I spent 5 nights in Singapore. Although I travelled on my own (a very rare treat!), I stayed with my best friend Anna who lives in Singapore with her three children aged 7, 5 and 3. So, as well as assessing the city as a family destination based on my own experiences of travelling with small people, I was also able to draw on Anna’s expertise of entertaining 3 children there year round. Here is my list of 6 things every family should when do in Singapore:
1. Sentosa is marketed as Asia’s favourite playground. It has Universal Studios and attractions called Lake of Dreams and Port of Lost Wonders, so at first glance it may seem a little over-engineered and sterile. Yet there is so much to do and see here that you are bound to find something to suit everyone in your family. Anna and I opted for a wonderful child-free afternoon in Spa Botanica, but for the younger members of your family she recommends Images of Singapore which brings Singaporean history and culture to life in a way that will appeal to your children (although it may be a little sanitised for more cynical parents…). Sentosa also has beaches, a cable car and a famous luge. You can find out about all the attractions at the island’s website
2. Singapore Zoo is one of the best in the world and no family trip to the country would be complete without a visit. One of the best things about the Zoo is the experiences they offer such as eating a jungle breakfast with the orangutans. Anna says the zoo is a must!
3. Public Transport: I’ve yet to meet a child who doesn’t love a train, bus or taxi ride and, in Singapore, you can enjoy the journey as much as the destination. While you might have to remortgage to afford a black cab ride in London, you can quickly and easily shuttle your family across town in a Singapore taxi. The MRT is how the London Underground should be – cheap, efficient, clean, quick. And the buses go everywhere. The signs are in English, Chinese, Tamil and Malay which is a great starting point for discussing the different cultures of Singapore with your kids.
4. The Fire Station: Ideal for all wannabe firefighters and their parents, Singapore opens up its fire stations to visitors every Saturday from 9am to 11am. A visit takes around an hour, includes demonstrations by the firefighters and, best of all, it’s completely FREE!
5. Sunday Brunch: A Singapore tradition, if you’re there on a Sunday you need to head to a hotel for brunch. There are many different places to choose from, but Anna’s personal favourite is The Fullerton which is particularly renowned for its desserts. It’s definitely not cheap, starting from £50 for unlimited food and soft drinks per adult and a little over £20 per child, but for this you get at least 3 hours to enjoy as much as you can eat from a part-buffet, part-table service range of food including a full English, sushi, seafood, salads, curries and a Sunday roast plus a delectable selection of desserts. While you indulge your gluttonous side, your children are entertained. Another family-friendly option is Barnacles at Sentosa, or a quick google of ‘best Singapore brunch’ will bring up hundreds of options!
6. Shopping is what Singapore is famous for, and your kids will love a bit of conspicuous consumption. Give them $10 (around £5), head to either Chinatown or Little India then let them loose. Mustafa’s in Little India is a Singapore institution, and your child’s $10 will go a long way as they decide between toys, hair clips, stationery, books, chopsticks, snacks, plates, clothes, jewellery… In Chinatown they will be able to wander from stall to stall gathering a haul containing such gems as their name written in Chinese, their Chinese birth animal, a pair of child-friendly chopsticks and a Mandarin’s hat complete with plait of black hair hanging loose behind!