While prices may disappoint, the range of accommodation in Singapore will not. The island has a plethora of luxury hotels plus competently run, no-frills and mid-range establishments. There are also plenty of upstart boutique hotels, hostels and guesthouses. Many are in refurbished shophouses and practically all offer air-conditioning, a comfy communal lounge and breakfast. Here's our guide to where to stay in Singapore.
There are only a few places to stay among the grand Neoclassical buildings of the Colonial District, the area immediately north and east of the Singapore River that forms the core of downtown Singapore. If you’ve got deep pockets, however, there are some historic gems where you can stay in this district of Singapore.
The area still feels like the centrepiece of downtown, even though modern edifices in the surroundings constantly pull focus from it. The district also has a viable claim to be the island’s museums quarter, home to the lavish National Gallery, the National Museum, the Asian Civilisations Museum and Peranakan Museum.
Also worth a look are verdant Fort Canning Hill, the dignified St Andrew’s Cathedral and the diminutive Armenian Church of St Gregory the Illuminator. By far the most famous building hereabouts, however, is the grand old Raffles Hotel.
The grid of streets between Bras Basah Road and Rochor Road has been rendered a bit sterile by redevelopment, but remains a good choice where to stay in Singapore. It's within walking distance of the Singapore River, Little India and the eastern end of Orchard Road. Hotels here tend to be either upmarket or, especially around Bencoolen St, budget affairs.
Bras Basah Road supposedly got its name because rice arriving on cargo boats used to be brought here to be dried (beras basah means “wet rice” in Malay). The zone between it and Rochor Road at the edge of Little India has a transitional sort of feel, sitting as it does between the Colonial District and what were intended to be “ethnic” enclaves to the northeast.
These days it’s a nexus for the arts, with many distinguished old properties on and around Waterloo Street being turned over to creative organizations, including the Singapore Art Museum. The country’s leading institutes in the field have also been lured here, among them the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) on Bencoolen Street; and the School of the Arts, in a striking building next to the Cathay cinema.
Of all the old districts of where to stay in Singapore, the most charismatic has to be Little India, noticeably less slick and gentrified than its nearest rival, Chinatown. The original occupants of this downtown niche were Europeans and Eurasians who established country houses here, and for whom a racecourse was built in the 1840s on the site of today’s Farrer Park.
Many of the roads in Little India started out as private tracks leading to these houses, and their names – Dunlop, Cuff, Desker, Norris – recall these early colonial settlers.
Accommodation in Little India and nearby tends to be slightly cheaper than elsewhere. The hotels can be uninspired, but there's a good selection of guesthouses in Little India in the zone from Rochor Road up to Lavender Street, and with an excellent public swimming pool not far away. The area around Arab Street also has a few good places to stay.
Singapore is on of the coolest places to visit in Southeast Asia, to find some more attractive destinations read our list of the coolest Southeastern places to travel to.
The area surrounding Arab Street, known as Kampong Glam, is the most achingly hip enclave in Singapore – quite literally so for some members of the Muslim community. Its lanes packed with boutiques and modern cafés, the district is also home to the venerable Sultan Mosque, and has traditionally had an Islamic and Malay character.
Of late, gentrification has come out on top as slick upstart restaurants have edged out venerable textile stores, craft shops and traditional curry houses.
Some members of the local community have mounted a rearguard battle against the quarter’s increasing booziness, and although the authorities made assurances about fewer licenses for new restaurants and bars in the area, the damage to the cultural fabric has already been done.
This backstory shouldn’t detract from any visit, with the mosque and the Malay Heritage Centre as the obvious sights, but it’s as well to be aware that the area remains in a state of flux, even more so than the rest of perennially evolving Singapore
To find more hip places in Southeast Asia explore our guide to the best nights out in Southeast Asia.
Chinatown was one of the most colourful districts of where to stay in old Singapore, but after independence the government chose to grapple with its tumbledown slums by embarking upon a redevelopment campaign that saw whole streets razed.
As Lee Kuan Yew himself acknowledged: “In our rush to rebuild Singapore, we knocked down many old and quaint buildings. Then we realized that we were destroying a valuable part of our cultural heritage, that we were demolishing what tourists found attractive.”
Not until the 1980s did the remaining shophouses and other period buildings begin to be conserved, though restoration has often rendered them improbably perfect. Furthermore, gentrification has seen the clan houses and religious and martial arts associations often replaced by hotels, design agencies and upmarket (or sometimes not so salubrious) bars.
Ironically, getting a taste of the old ways of Chinatown now often means heading off the main streets into the concrete municipal housing estates, where older trades linger.
When it comes to guesthouses, Little India's main competitor is Chinatown, which also boasts a good selection of boutique hotels.
The nineteenth-century godowns of Clarke Quay, painted in gaudy colours and housing flashy eating and nightlife venues, feel about as authentic as the translucent plasticky canopy built over them for shelter; nearby Boat Quay feels more down-to-earth even when at its busiest. Further up the north bank is Robertson Quay, offering more of the same, though more pleasant and less hectic.
The pedestrianized row of waterfront shophouses known as Boat Quay, almost at the old mouth of the Singapore River, is one of the island’s notable urban regeneration successes. Derelict in the early 1990s, it’s since become a thriving hangout, sporting a huge collection of restaurants and bars.
The area’s historical significance may be easier to appreciate through its street names – Synagogue Street nearby, for example, was indeed the site of Singapore’s first synagogue.
If you feel inspired by the Southeastern destinations read our guide abouth the best places to visit in Southeast Asia.
Marina Bay is the blandest part of where to stay in Singapore, but is worth considering if you're after four- and five-star comforts – best epitomized by Marine Bay Sands.
It’s hard not to be awed by Marina Bay, the project that has transformed downtown Singapore’s seafront over two generations. A hugely ambitious piece of civil engineering, it entailed the creation of three expanses of reclaimed land and a barrage to seal off the basins of the Singapore and Kallang rivers from the sea.
The result is a seaside freshwater reservoir, which reduces Singapore’s dependence on Malaysian water supplies. The Marina Bay Sands casino resort dominates the area, along with the extravagant Gardens by the Bay. The Esplanade arts complex is worth a detour for its skyline views, and more of the same is available at the Singapore Flyer.
For one week in September, at least until 2021, you’ll find crash barriers around the Singapore Flyer and the nearby Padang as the roads are transformed into the circuit for the night-time Formula 1 race.
Explore the infamous Singapore Sling and fabulous shopping and nightlife, colourful neighbourhoods and mouth-watering cuisine with our tailor-made tour to Indulgent Singapore.
Although the parade of designer names on Orchard Road – often with multiple outlets for each brand – is impressive, the area has not been totally untouched by the malaise afflicting central shopping precincts the world over, losing trade to malls in the suburbs.
The most striking of the malls, Ion Orchard, right above Orchard MRT, has a bulgy glass frontage vaguely reminiscent of Th eatres on the Bay, and is topped by a tower of luxury apartments. If you shop here, it’s possible to access their 56th-fl oor viewing gallery and multimedia experience, Ion Sky; $20 worth of receipts will earn you one ticket.
Just about the only building complex of signifi cant age – though now highly modernized – remaining on Orchard Road itself can be glimpsed west of Scotts Road, where the Thai embassy has its origins in the purchase of a mansion here by the Siamese king in the late nineteenth century.
You generally pay a premium to stay on or around Orchard Road, even though its mall have lost some of their shine. Most of the area's hotels are luxury affairs, with a couple of more reasonably priced options.
Sentosa was briefly in the world’s gaze in June 2018 as it was here, specifically at the Capella hotel, that US President Donald Trump met North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. Such a choice of venue would have been unimaginable thirty years ago, before the rampant construction and investment that transformed Sentosa into the most developed of Singapore’s southern islands.
It’s ironic that its name actually means “tranquil” in Malay; back in colonial times, when it was home to a British military base, it had the rather less heartwarming name Pulau Blakang Mati, or the “Island of Death Behind”. Contrived but enjoyable in parts, the Sentosa of today is promoted for its rides, passable beaches, hotels and massive casino/entertainment complex, Resorts World Sentosa, on the northern shore.
Besides the much-hyped Universal Studios theme park, Resorts World boasts half a dozen hotels, a couple of museums and the fabulous S.E.A. Aquarium. It’s best to visit Sentosa on a weekday outside the school holidays, unless you don’t mind the place being positively overrun. Almost all transport around the island is free.
Staying on Sentosa is more feasible than ever thanks to improved transport links. Even so, returning to your hotel for a short break from sightseeing downtown can still be a bit of a drag.
Singapore’s Changi International Airport is gleaming, modern and ridiculously efficient – the country in microcosm. Arriving by bus or train is a slightly less streamlined experience thanks to border formalities and occasional jams at the two land crossings connecting Singapore to the southernmost Malaysian state of Johor.
Wherever you arrive, the island’s well-oiled infrastructure means that you’ll have no problem getting into the centre.
Changi Airport is at the eastern tip of Singapore, 16km from the city centre, and has three terminals connected by free Skytrains, with a fourth connected to terminal 2 by bus. There are the usual exchange facilities and ATMs, plus shops selling local SIM cards. Chances are you’ll not linger long – baggage comes through so swiftly that you can be heading to the city centre within twenty minutes of arrival.
Find some more exotic travel destination in our guide to the most exotic places to travel in the world.
Ready for a trip to Singapore? Check out the snapshot The Rough Guide to Singapore. If you travel further in Singapore, read more about the best time to go and best things to do in Singapore. For inspiration use the itineraries from The Rough Guide to Singapore and our local travel experts. A bit more hands on, learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay once you are there.
We may earn commission from some of the external websites linked in this article, but this does not influence our editorial standards - we only recommend services that we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.
Top image: Gardens by the Bay © Shutterstock