Singapore is known for its cleanliness, safety and first world standard of living, but it has much more to offer as a one of the best family holiday destinations, especially for those travelling with kids. Since it is the gateway through which much of the northern hemisphere passes to the south (and vica versa), Singapore with kids makes the ideal stopover point to off the plane out, stretch everyone's legs and enjoy the warm weather. Even if you never leave the hotel poolside, it is a worthwhile 48 hours. Here is the suitcases&strollers travel guide to a great Singapore holiday.
The Destination: Singapore With Kids
For adults, Singapore is a shopping and entertainment haven with many of the world’s most coveted high street and high end labels, celebrity chef restaurants and regular international acts all on one tiny island. Better still, the whole island is extremely child friendly, so parents can bring kids with them to most restaurants and attractions.
Attractions In Singapore With Kids
Almost everywhere is kid-friendly in Singapore. So much so that it’s useful to carry a bag of water play gear with you everywhere you go – many public outdoor spaces and shopping centres have free water play areas which will be far too tempting for kids in the tropical heat – so you’ll definitely have need for spare clothes, nappies and a towel.
One of the most popular destinations is the Singapore Zoo. It’s a surprisingly impressive experience – orang utans and other small monkeys appear to swing freely around the treetops and the show Elephants At Work And Play is spectacular. There are exhibits suitable for extremely young toddlers (look out for the pygmy hippo and the Fragile Forest) through to Breakfast with the Orang Utans and white tigers. There is also the additional River Safari, a unique concept where you view the animals from a moving boat. (The entrance fee for the River Safari is separate to the general Zoo admission.) If you are travelling with toddlers or infants, it's wise to save the River Safai for another holiday with kids as the boat (which is it's unique selling point) has heigh restrictions.
The highlight of the zoo is undoubtedly the water play park right at the end which requires swimsuits and towels. Unless you are partial to KFC or long queues, it pays to pack a lunch, plenty of water and aim to be there early. The zoo can be incredibly crowded and very hot.
Also memorable is the Night Safari. While it sounds kitsch, the motorised train runs pretty close to some rare and interesting wildlife. Although it is a shorter experience than the zoo, it is not suitable for younger children – even if you get the first train, you are unlikely to get home before 9pm.
The island of Sentosa has reinvented itself into a family destination complete with manmade beaches, casino complex, two aquariums and Universal Studios and really is a must for family-friendly activities.
Universal Studios is well worth a visit if you like theme parks, but tickets do not come cheap. While small kids will enjoy themselves, you should weigh up the cost of the ticket and the fact that adults won’t be able to enjoy the rides together with young kids around. (For more about the other attractions at Sentosa, read the suitcases&strollers story here.)
The Botanical Gardens has a dedicated children’s garden called Jacob Ballas. For children under 10 this is a fun and safe space to climb the giant treehouse, interact with herbs and other plants and run among the water fountains, even if it is starting to look a little tired.
A shinier and more exciting option, though, is Gardens By The Bay which has also newly opened the Far East Organization Children's Garden with a special toddler section to separate the littlies from the big kids (look out for the very cool tree house) as well as two water play areas. The water jets are coordinated to spray in time to songs like "The Circle Of Life" and "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" which can get a little noisy when it's very crowded, but there are plenty of shaded areas for parents to chill and even a dedicated children's shower and change area (so you don't have to change them in the toilets). The best bit is that part of the Gardens is absolutely free (but closed on Mondays). The Gardens By The Bay proper is suitable for scooters and has several interactive features to keep children entertained beyond just the plants. For a taster, the suitcases&strollers our video below.
Food In Singapore With Kids
Water from the tap is safe to drink in Singapore and most western and Asian food items can be easily bought. There are a number of organic supermarket stores including Brown Rice Paradise and Four Seasons Organic Market.
Children are welcome and common in most eateries – there are very few establishments that ban kids. Even many hawker centres and food courts have baby chairs and (particularly the Asian cuisine restaurants) are filled with families, even til the wee hours. Plastic cutlery sets and colouring in kits are common, as is waitstaff eager to interact with children.
If you want something a little more ritzy, try ordering Peking Duck at Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck restaurant. It's fancy enough that you'll feel you had a night out, but still very welcoming of children (who love eating the pancakes with their fingers).
To try Singapore's famed chilli crab, head out to any of the multiple outdoors restaurants at the East Coast Seafood Centre (1202 East Coast Parkway, Singapore). For dinner only the place packs out with huge numbers of people all crowding round tables chowing down on the saucy delicacy. Even if you're kids won't try it (it's pretty spicy), they will get a kick out of seeing their parents get elbow deep in their food (meantime you can order plenty of more child-friendly Chinese dishes for the little ones). Bring your darkest and oldest clothes (it's messy work) and scooters and bikes as there's plenty of space to run amuck.
[For more fun family food options in Singapore, see the suitcases&strollers story Family-Friendly Restaurants.]
Shopping In Singapore For Kids
Most of the major shopping centres cater well to both adult and children’s brands across a variety of price brackets from the high fashion to dirt cheap.
Paragon is one of the more popular, right in the heart of Orchard Road. It has a convenient playground on the fifth floor which is entirely dedicated to children’s brands. For more ideas of other places to shop for childrenswear in Singapore, see the suitcases&strollers story Shop Singapore.
Ask inside the retailers for how to claim your GST back when you exit the country.
The Practicalities of Singapore With Kids
Singapore is one of the most family-friendly places in the world. Most shopping centres have multiple baby change and breast-feeding rooms equipped with free nappy trash bags (although these are often off-limits to men) and many public toilets will have a special dedicated child's cubicle, even in the airport.
Moving around Singapore is very straightforward as special child restraints are not legally required in taxis. The train system (MRT) is also stroller-friendly but its wise to avoid public transport during weekday peak hours. Buses are complicated with a stroller (it must be folded down before you can board and you need to enter by the rear doors), so best for older children only.
While the Orchard Road area is a shoppers’ paradise, avoid going to the Orchard-Scotts Road area with younger children. At weekends and in the evenings it is extremely crowded and easy to lose people. The underpass is also complicated to navigate if you are unfamiliar and a lot of stairs are involved – so its best avoided with a stroller. Instead, opt for one of the many other air-conditioned and stroller-friendly shopping centres such as Vivo City.
Medical facilities in Singapore are some of the best in the world. Consult your travel insurance for recommendations on where to go in an emergency, but the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital is the local children’s hospital of choice.
Family Friendly Accommodation in Singapore With Kids
For an apartment-like stay that won’t feel so
much like a hotel in Singapore, try Treetops Executive Residences Singapore. The serviced apartments are
certainly larger than a hotel room, come with a kitchen and have pool and
tennis court facilities to rival any of the private condominiums on the island. It also has a restaurant so for families travelling with kids which means the flexibility of being able to cook or eat poolside or even go out without having to travel any great distance. It tends to attract very friendly guests so you may even make some friends in the playground. It is also conveniently located right at the start of Orchard Road.
If you want a central Singapore hotel option, Pan Pacific Orchard, Singapore has fantastic family facilities. With the exception of the basic entry level room, all the rooms are large enough to accommodate families with one small baby or larger. They provide almost everything your kids could possibly need – bottle sterilisers, a nappy bin, baby bath, high chair, toddler toilet seat, a few toys and books, miniature robes and plastic tableware and bottles (you get to take these last two home with you). Strollers are also available on site so you don't have to lug yours along with you. Plus the pool is filled with ionised mineral water which makes it chlorine-free (safe even for newborns) and the luxurious St Gregory spa welcomes kids for some treatments. Best of all, it is right in the heart of Orchard Road.
A quirky but interesting option is the Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa Resort & Spa. This very family-friendly hotel makes for a fantastic getaway from the busy-ness of Singapore proper – so much so that you won't feel like you are staying in Singapore at all. It has extremely impressive children's facilities and is the only hotel in Singapore right on the beach. This is a great compromise if you want a seaside holiday with proximity to Singapore's shopping and sights. But if you are want to feel like you really spent time in the city state, this probably isn't the right choice. (Perhaps look at the sister property Shangri-La Hotel Singapore – closer to Orchard Road – instead).
For more ideas on cheap, family-friendly activities in Singapore, read Family Days Out in Singapore
For tips on transiting in and out of Singapore Changi
Airport and things to do there, see the suitcases&strollers
For an insider's guide to Singapore from the Founder of suitcases&strollers, read her interview on Straits Canopy.
Images: Singapore Tourism Board