Peel back the diverse layers of Singapore and spend a day exploring it as a local would without breaking the bank.
1. Chow down all day
Singaporeans love their food, and with its multi-ethnic culture, it's no surprise there are so many Chinese, Indian, Malay and even Eurasian delights to choose from. For a truly 'local' experience, check out some of the hawker areas on Maxwell Road close to Chinatown (grab some delicious Anthony Bourdain-endorsed Tian Tian Chicken Rice), or try Singapore's version of carrot cake (stir-fried radish cake) at East Coast Lagoon Food Village in eastern Singapore — it's by the water, and the seafood is first-rate! To find the best hawker food in any hawker centre, just follow the longest queue.
2. Learn about Peranakan culture at Joo Chiat
Head to Joo Chiat and discover the lesser-known Peranakan culture. Peranakans are the descendants of Chinese and Indian immigrants who married indigenous locals from the Malay Archipelago in the 15th century. Explore the many early 20th century shophouses that line this low-rise neighbourhood with their ornate facades, intricate motifs and ceramic tiles.
Rather than heading to Orchard Road, Singapore's renowned shopping area with its bright and glitzy shopping malls, wander along Koon Seng Road with the family and marvel at the colourful glazed tiles that adorn the terrace houses and shops, or have some fun trying the traditional Nonya (female Peranakan) outfit and accessories with the family. Joo Chiat is also one of the country's best foodie destinations; so don't leave without trying the Peranakan pastries and other local delicacies.
3. Jump on the train
To travel as the locals do, ditch the cab and instead, buy an EZ-Link card from the nearest MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) train station, which you can use to ride buses and trains around town. You can also opt to buy the Singapore Tourist Pass that allows you unlimited travel for 1, 2 or 3 days. It's a fairly simple system to use, and it’s more cost effective than always taking a cab. Download an app for your smartphone called Next Ride, which will help you figure out your journeys around the island, as public transport here in Singapore is generally safe for you and your children.
4. Go museum hopping
Take a stroll with the kids through St. Andrew's Cathedral and head to the Civic District of Singapore where the museums are. Go to the Asian Civilisations Museum, a firm favourite with Singaporeans. Occupying over 14,000 square metres, the museum has more than 1,300 Asian artefacts, with regular workshops and storytelling sessions designed for the little ones.
You can also take the afternoon off to wander around Singapore's newest cultural icon, the National Gallery. Housed in the former City Hall and Supreme Court buildings, it is the first museum in the world dedicated to Southeast Asian modern art. For the children, there are lots of activities including The Enchanted Tree House, which invites young visitors to explore a magical forest, roam through a labyrinth and survive a dangerous river, as it is inspired by the idea of 'entering a painting'.
5. Time for refreshments
Forget Starbucks or Singapore's trendy cafés, and grab a delicious Ice Kopi or Ice Cendol from any one of the local food courts or hawker centres located inside the shopping malls as you wander around the city. Full of flavour and strong in taste, sample one of these refreshing coolers as you sit back and reflect on your day so far.
6. Experience something for free
Away from the shopping malls and first-class eateries, much of Singapore can be experienced for free. End your day in the island city by visiting Collyer Quay and by watching the light show from Marina Bay Sands. Visit East Coast Park and relax on the beach, as a multitude of cargo ship lights sparkle out at sea.
Explore the various cultural precincts from Chinatown to Kampong Glam, or take the train to the Gardens by the Bay and enjoy the magnificent 101-hectare garden. Don't forget to watch the 16-storey tall Supertrees come to life with an exhilarating display of light and sound every night! Either way, it's fun and completely free.
7. Learn some Singlish
It's easy to recognise a Singaporean wherever in the world they may be—just listen to the way they speak. And they love it when foreigners attempt the sophisticated language of Singlish—a real mix of all the various languages, dialects and more. To some, it is a proud display of the multi-cultural character of Singaporean society; to others, it is a colloquialism so full of grammatical errors that it makes you squirm each time you hear it!
Regardless, it is useful to understand a fair bit of Singlish, or at least understand the most common phrases used to avoid getting ‘lost in translation’. The most common of them all? "Lah" which is typically used at the end of an expression to express an opinion.
8. Visit the heartlands
There's no better way to see how the locals live than to step into the "heartlands" where the majority of Singaporeans live. In these suburban towns lie the heart and soul of Singapore. Head to the wet market, sit down at a local coffee shop, and enjoy a cup of kopi and kaya toast as you simply take in the sights and sounds. For an interesting sight of Singapore, head to Ang Mo Kio or Toa Payoh where they have dedicated bird-singing corners for bird lovers to display their prized birds groomed for competitions.