Everyone has heard of it, but exactly where is Singapore? And more curiously, is it a city, island, or country?
The short answer: All three! Singapore is a city and island nation—the only place in the world that can make that claim. The Republic of Singapore is located just off the southern tip of Peninsular Malaysia in Southeast Asia. In reality, Singapore isn't just one island but several, as the territory consists of one primary island and at least 62 smaller islets.
This unique destination can be confusing for first-time visitors, but don't let that stop you from adding Singapore to your Southeast Asia itinerary.
Where Is Singapore?
Singapore is located in Southeast Asia around 85 miles (137 kilometers) north of the equator, south of Peninsular Malaysia, and east of West Sumatra (Indonesia)—just across the Strait of Malacca. The big island of Borneo lies to the east of Singapore.
Ironically, the nearest island neighbors of hyper-developed Singapore are Sumatra and Borneo, two of the world's wildest islands. They are the only places on earth to find wild orangutans and Indigenous people still carve a life out in the rainforests. Meanwhile, just a short distance away in Singapore, you'll find luxury cars on the roads and high-rise buildings.
Singapore may feel remote, but it's easily connected to several nearby major airports.
- Distance from Bangkok: 891 miles
- Distance from Bali: 1,043 miles
- Distance from Hong Kong: 1,607 miles
- Distance from Sydney: 3,913 miles
Thing to Know
Singapore is a highly developed nation in Southeast Asia with one of the world's strongest economies. Along with Hong Kong, Singapore ranks at the top of the Wall Street Journal's Index of Economic Freedom which scores free economies. An estimated one of every six households in Singapore has at least a million dollars in disposable wealth, excluding property. On top of that, real estate in Singapore is considered among the most expensive in the world.
With a land area of around 280 square miles, Singapore is slightly smaller than the city of Lexington, Kentucky. But unlike Lexington, nearly 6 million residents are squeezed into the tiny nation. Despite its size, Singapore boasts one of the highest per-capita GDPs in the world. The nation receives high-ranking marks for education, technology, health care, and quality of life. But along with a wealth of prosperity, a noticeable wealth divide exists (Singapore doesn't have a minimum wage).
Taxes are relatively high and crime is low. Transparency International ranks Singapore as one of the least corrupt countries in the world. Other countries in the region rank much lower.
Singapore ranks third in the world for highest life expectancy. The United States, for comparison, comes in at 36th (per the United Nations).
Although Singapore's epic population density and reputation for cleanliness conjure images of some futuristic metropolis made only of concrete and steel, think again. The National Parks Board is achieving its lofty goal of turning Singapore into a "city in a garden, " so tropical greenery abounds.
But Singapore isn't a dreamy utopia for everyone. Some laws are considered draconian by human rights organizations. The government is frequently called out for censorship and limiting freedom of speech. Technically, homosexuality is illegal in Singapore. With a mandatory death sentence, the drug laws are considered the toughest in the world.
Things to Do
Singapore may be a tiny country, but there is no shortage of things to do to keep busy. This isn't just your standard big city, and it truly is one of the most unique places to visit in Southeast Asia and the world. There are attractions that appeal to all tastes and all budgets, so you don't need to be a part of the local elite to have a good time.
- Get a real taste of Singapore by exploring the local food scene. For an elegant night out, try one of the many Michelin-star restaurants on the island. If you want a more local experience, hawker centers across the city contain food vendors that serve Malay, Chinese, and Indian dishes for as little as a few dollars per meal.
- Despite the futuristic feel of this modern city, there are plenty of ways to escape the urban sprawl. Head into one of the nearby nature reserves or the massive Singapore Botanical Garden for a break from the skyscrapers and concrete.
- Singapore is a multi-cultural country. Experience the rich diversity of local Chinese, Malay, and Indian cultures—among others—by taking a tour of the different neighborhoods.
- One of the biggest draws to Singapore is the shopping scene. Whether you're looking for high-end luxury brands or on-the-ground street markets, you can find it all.
- The Marina Bay district is an obligatory stop for all visitors. Many of the city's top attractions, museums, and nightclubs are concentrated in this always-bustling neighborhood.
The most common way to enter Singapore—and the easiest—is by flying. However, many backpackers traveling through Southeast Asia opt to forgo the plane and travel overland via Malaysia instead.
The majority of travelers do not need a visa to enter Singapore and are free to stay for up to 90 days for tourism purposes.
Flying to Singapore
Singapore's Changi Airport (airport code: SIN) consistently wins awards for the best airport in the world. To match, Singapore Airlines is consistently ranked as one of the best airlines in the world. The two definitely make flying to Singapore an enjoyable experience, just don't get busted for bringing in contraband items. You don't need to be a hardened smuggler to find out why local expats joke about Singapore being a "fine city," since electronic cigarettes, chewing gum, and pirated movies/music can all land you in trouble.
As strange as it sounds, the airport is often listed as one of the top attractions in the city. To see why, just stop by the swimming pool, nature trail, butterfly garden, or deluxe shopping mall. Arrive extra early for your flight to enjoy all there is to do.
Going Overland From Malaysia
Singapore can also be reached overland by bus from Malaysia. Two man-made causeways connect Singapore to the Malaysian state of Johor. Numerous companies offer comfortable buses to and from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The journey from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore by bus takes between five and six hours, depending on traffic and any delays at immigration. Unlike some of the cheap buses rattling along roads in Asia, many of the buses to Singapore are equipped with work desks, Wi-Fi, and interactive entertainment systems. You can enjoy even more luxury than flying without the airport hassle.
Tip: Singapore has strict duty and import restrictions, more so than surrounding nations in Southeast Asia. Although sometimes an opened pack of cigarettes is overlooked when flying in, regulations are more stringently enforced along the land border than at the airport. Unlike many countries, Singapore does not have any duty-free allowance on tobacco products. If you smoke, you'll need to throw away any cigarettes purchased in Malaysia.
The Best Times to Visit
Singapore is 85 miles north of the equator and enjoys a tropical rainforest climate. Temperatures stay consistently hot throughout the year, and the average high temperature is about 88 degrees F (31 C) regardless of the month you visit. Rainfall is persistent, but November and December are usually the wettest months. Afternoon showers are frequent, but there are plenty of impressive museums for waiting out thunderstorms.
Take big events and festivals into consideration when deciding on the best time to visit Singapore. Holidays such as Chinese New Year are fun but busy, and the already pricey accommodations skyrocket in price.
Is Singapore Expensive for Travelers?
Singapore is considered an expensive destination, especially when compared to other places in Southeast Asia such as Thailand. Backpackers and budget travelers are notorious for lamenting Singapore's relatively high accommodation costs. Drinking alcohol while socializing in Singapore will certainly wreck a budget.
Fortunately, there is some good news: Food is cheap and delicious! As long as you can avoid the temptations of shopping and partying, Singapore can be enjoyed on a budget. To save money on a place to stay, look into youth hostels or couchsurfing. Short-term rentals through sites like Airbnb are not technically allowed, although options are available.
Singapore maintains its clean city and excellent infrastructure through liberal taxation and, to some extent, by collecting fines for small infractions. If caught, you can receive a fine for jaywalking, not flushing a public toilet, mindlessly feeding pigeons, or consuming food and drinks on public transportation. Fines are paid at kiosks located around the city much like ATMs.
Budget Travel Tips for Singapore
- The tap water is safe to drink in Singapore. You can save money and cut down on plastic by refilling a water bottle.
- A night out on the town can be costly. A pint of beer in an inexpensive pub can cost upwards of $8. Increase those prices by at least 50 percent for nightclubs and places with live entertainment. Locals often opt to enjoy cheaper drinks in food courts.
- Singapore's efficient MRT train system is a great way to see parts of the city that are just beyond walking range. If you intend to move around frequently for several days, consider purchasing an EZ-Link card that can be tapped on readers at train stations and on buses.
- Food courts such as the famous Lau Pa Sat are great for sampling lots of local fare without spending a lot in sit-down restaurants. Locals fill food courts for cheap eats; follow their lead!
- Don't spend all of your time in the malls! Numerous nature trails and elevated bike paths connect parks and green spaces throughout the city. Take advantage of these pleasantly designed spaces for free!