Singapore: a fun city to explore with kids

It has been 23 years since I last left the plane to enter the hot and humid climate of Singapore. Then I was seeing it through my own teenage eyes, staring at this novel and wonderful place with its exotic plants and smells. This time, I stepped off the plane as a nearly 40 year old with two children by my side. And yet I couldn’t help but smile as familiarity hit my senses. Development of this city has been rapid in the last 23 years and yet its essence has stayed exactly the same. I loved it then and it appears it still retains a special place in my heart. It’s the smells that hit me first and the feel of the hot, wet air as it blows across my face, both so achingly familiar that it brings back a flood of happy memories.

I’ll admit that Singapore is not an obvious holiday destination from the UK, but I would argue that it’s one of the most fun cities to explore with children and provides an easy gateway to South East Asia. I’d even go as far as to say that it’s the only city in the world in which I’d be happy living. I’m more of a country bumpkin at heart, but I could make an exception for this city. We spent 6 days there, packing our days full of exciting activities and yet we hardly touched the sides of all there is to see and do. I’m desperate to return and explore further, but for now, this is how we filled our days in this delightful city.

Day One – The Botanic Gardens & Gluttons Bay hawker market for dinner

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Jet lag hit the children pretty hard on their arrival into Singapore, with the 8 hour time difference from home. I decided the best cure was to get up and out for a physical day in the sunshine, to help their bodies adjust to the new time frame. So, armed with our new MRT cards (top up cards you can use on their buses and underground system), we headed for the well renowned Singapore Botanic Gardens, for our first taster of this green city.

Easily accessible with its own MRT station are these breathtakingly beautiful Gardens. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has 82 hectares of glorious gardens and forests to explore. The first Botanical and Experimental Garden was set up in 1822 by Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore, in a site at Fort Canning. It wasn’t until 1859 that the Gardens in its current location were founded and,  in 1874,  were developed by a series of Kew-trained botanists into the important botanical site it remains today.

There really is so much to see in this lush retreat that it’s hard to know where to start. We opted for wandering slowly through the length of the gardens towards the Learning Forest, stopping en route to walk through the six-hectare segment of ancient primary rainforest, with its distinctive sounds, smells and sights and welcome shade from the strong sun.

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Meandering through the boardwalks and elevated walkways of the Learning Forest allowed us to experience a variety of ecosystems such as lowland rainforest and freshwater forest wetlands, and walk amongst a collection of some of the tallest tree species in the SPH walk of giants. The information boards were excellent and it was heartening to see how much the children learned by stopping and reading the ones that interested them.

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On our way back towards the entrance, we stopped by the National Orchid Garden, the largest showcase of tropical orchids on Earth. This turned out to be the highlight of our visit, not only because of the quite literally stunning collection of these colourful flowers, but we were also lucky enough to see an enormous monitor lizard! The kids were fascinated to watch half his body disappear down a hole to find some food before pulling himself back out to continue basking in the sunshine.

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Our last stop was the Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden located by the entrance, for a well needed cool down in the water play area. It’s a good idea to take your kids’ swimming costumes and towel with you when you’re out and about in Singapore as most of the major sites have water play areas, providing the perfect opportunity to cool down in the hot climate.

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We could have spent much longer in this kidcentric garden, with its great nature play areas, suspension bridges and treehouses.

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Bean7 spent a long time watching and photographing the abundant red-eared sliders in the stream.

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After a busy day, we headed back to the hotel for a swim, before meeting up with their Daddy for walk along the Bayfront, past the iconic Marina Bay Sands hotel, over the famous Helix Bridge, and on to the Gluttons Bay hawker market for dinner.

 

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Day Two – Bumboat Cruise & Chinatown

So for day two, I decided to put the children in charge! Bean8 chose one major activity for the day and Bean7 one minor activity. On day three, we swapped this around, so Bean7 got to choose the major activity and Bean7 the minor one. They loved this opportunity to lead our party of three and were extremely engaged in their chosen pursuits.

Bean8 really fancied a trip on one of the bumboats up the Singapore River and around Marina Bay, so this was the focus of our morning. It was an extremely relaxing and informative way to see this part of the city, and the children enjoyed listening to the running commmentary of the tour, in particular the stories about what Singapore was like in the past before it developed into the super city of today. For example, Bean8 was interested to discover, whilst looking at the buildings of Boat Quay, that the building’s height was an indicator of the owner’s wealth: the higher the wealthier. Given the height of some of the skyscrapers that now surround these original houses, this tradition remains strong in Singapore!

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Our afternoon excursion, led by Bean7, was a visit to Chinatown, all beautifully decorated for the Chinese New Year celebrations. I love that in this city you can find these bustling quarters where you’re effectively transported to a different part of the world. There are a few museums here, but we opted for mooching around the streets, taking in the exotic smells and sights, buying a few gifts for friends, and eating a delicious lunch at one of the hawker centres in the street.

 

On our travels we stumbled upon the vibrant Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, and were lucky enough to be able to watch a service. Bean8 had done quite a lot of independent research into the Buddhist faith before our trip, so it was lovely for her to be able to experience this ceremony. The temple is home to what the Buddhists regard as the left canine tooth of the Buddha, recovered from his funeral pyre in Kushinagar in Northern India.

 

The day concluded with another evening walk followed by dinner in the lively Clarke Quay.

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Day Three – Singapore Zoo and Night Safari

There are four major animal parks in Singapore: the Zoo, Night Safari, River Safari and Jurong Bird Park. You can save money by buying combo tickets online beforehand. We only had time for two and were advised that the Zoo and the Night Safari were by far the best. Crazily (and I wouldn’t advise this), we decided to do them both on the same day!

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I’ve been to many a zoo with the children and I have to say this was one of the very best. We spent 8 hours here (yes really!) enjoying the wide variety of animals, along with a lovely cool down and play at the fantastic water play park.

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They were beyond excited at the opportunity to feed both elephants (Bean8’s favourite animal) and giraffes. Such a priviledge.

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These parks are located together, but a long way from the centre of town, so if you were planning a trip here, I’d advise taking lots of water, food, swimming kit and mosquito repellent (it was one of the only places we were bitten).

After a quick bite to eat, we walked straight from the Zoo to the Night Safari next door, for a 45 minute tour in one of their shuttles of the park’s animals and different habitats. Bean8 in particular thought it was excellent, but as it was so late and we’d been out all day, Bean7 started to flag. So sadly we had to pass on the Creatures of the Night show and the opportunity to explore the park by foot, which would have been wonderful experiences if you had more time. We did however have time to catch the fire show at the entrance, an exciting end to a delightful, yet exhausting day.

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Day Four – Sentosa Island, a Cable Car and the SEA Aquarium

To be honest I thought they’d be shattered by day four after all we’d packed into our first three days, but they were desperate to visit the aquarium on nearby Sentosa Island. They were keen to see the fish, corals and sponges we’d learned all about in our coral reef explorations prior to our holiday. So I purchased some discounted online tickets which included the cable car ride across to the island, and off we headed to the MRT.

On exiting the station, on our way up the escalators, we suddenly heard deafening regular thumping sounds. My children clung to me in fear (possibly heightened by the “What to do in an attack video” played on constant loop on the MRT, which made them ultra alert!), but no-one around us looked perturbed, so I figured it was nothing to be worried about. Our heart rates calmed as our view opened up to this Chinese New Year presentation accompanied by a booming drumming display. I love that travel provides children with so many opportunities to experience different cultures first hand, leaving indellible memories in their growing minds.

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After the display finished, we navigated our way to the cable car. I have absolutely no idea why I thought it would be a good plan to use this method of getting to the island, given that I’m terrified of heights… Half way across, dangling 88 m above the sea, I desperately tried to remain outwardly as calm as possible for the sake of the children, but inwardly I was a hair’s breadth away from passing out with fear. The kids however, loved it. But if heights aren’t for you, I’d recommend the more sedate monorail, bus or walk (on a lovely solid walkway) as a route to the island instead!

 

Once my legs stopped wobbling, we had an amazing day at the SEA Aquarium. The shark tunnel was awe inspiring.

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Bean8 was obsessed with identifying and learning all the hard and soft corals, sponges and tropical fish using the excellent information boards, ready for her snorkelling in Thailand.

 

We were all blown away by the enormous ray tank, home to 40,000 fish of 120 species, and they both memorised all the different species of rays and quizzed the knowledgeable expert on hand.

 

Finally for the dolphins and touching tank.

 

There are so many things to do on Sentosa, including Universal Studios, Kidzania, Adventure Cove Waterpark, Skyline Luge and IFly, but the Aquarium turned out to be their favourite day out in Singapore, so I would urge you not to miss this if you’re visiting the island.

Our day ended with a delicious dinner at a restaurant in the Arab Quarter.

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The following day we flew out to Thailand for a week’s holiday (a separate post), but returned to Singapore for an additional two days before flying home.

Day Five in Singapore – Four Religions in One Day and The Gardens by the Bay

Our morning started with a welcoming Mass at the Church of Ss Peter and Paul.

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This was followed by a visit to Little India and a tasty vegetarian lunch eaten with our hands at the Gandhi Restaurant.

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We then had a post prandial stroll through the streets, taking in the Sultan Mosque and the Sri Veeramakaliamman Hindu Temple, which were both sadly closed, followed by a trip to the Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple, dominated by its 15m-tall, 300-tonne Buddha.

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In the afternoon we headed over to the verdant Gardens by the Bay for a walk across the 22m-high OCBC Skyway connecting six Supertrees – steel-clad concrete structures adorned with 163,000 plants. Stunning, beautiful and extremely impressive, although again, the walkway is not a great one for people with a height phobia, but I managed!

 

We finished the day with a cool off in another fantastic free water park at the Gardens by the Bay Children’s Garden.

 

I would have loved to have made it to the Cloud Forest and Flower Domes, but unfortunately we ran out of time and energy. Oh well, we’ll just have to go back for another visit one day!

Day Six in Singapore – Escape Hunt & Home

On our final day in Singapore, we opted for an Escape the Room experience called Escape Hunt. You’re “locked” in a room for an hour and have to find clues and solve puzzles in order to find the final code and escape the room. I absolutely loved it! I’ve been desperate to do one of these for ages. My husband and Bean8 also enjoyed it, but Bean7 was ever so slightly terrified by the experience, bless him. So definitely one to do with older children, but maybe not one for senstive souls.

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And then sadly it was time for us to head home, after a truly amazing six days in Singapore. I can’t wait to return.

Worldschooling rocks 🙂


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