Getting Around Singapore

Inexpensive and easy to use the MRT train network is the heart of Singapore's transit system.
Inexpensive and easy to use the MRT train network is the heart of Singapore's transit system.

Compact, modern, and packed with places to see, Singapore is one of Asia's most vibrant cities. A true tropical metropolis, the city of five million is one of the easiest in Asia to get around in thanks to its modern MRT and subway system, its simple road and highway layout, and its large network of pedestrian-friendly inner city streets.

Singapore itself can be divided into four key areas. The southern-central area is home to most of the island's main attractions and commercial hotspots, including the central business district and various inner city areas like Bugis and Orchard. This part of Singapore is the city's main transit hub, and all suburban train lines are accessible from its many interchange stations.

To the east and west of central Singapore, you'll find a mix of residential and light commercial areas that are served by the city's MRT system. Likewise, to the south is Sentosa Island, a popular outdoor relaxation spot for Singaporeans. To the immediate north of the central city is Balesteir, which is an important transport area for visitors seeking access to Singapore's northern suburbs and jungle.

At the heart of Singapore's transit system is its MRT train network – a network of underground and above-ground trains that span the entire central city, and most of Singapore's suburbs. Spread over four main train lines, with several smaller lines serving the airport and other areas, the MRT system is widely used by residents and tourists alike, and should be your first choice for getting around.

The MRT is inexpensive and easy to use, particularly for visitors that are used to traveling on rapid inner-city transportation. To purchase tickets, use the automatic ticket machines installed in all MRT stations. Just touch the screen with your destination and follow the instructions – all information is available in English, Chinese, Malay, and several other languages.

Singapore's MRT system uses a small one-dollar deposit system to ensure that users return their fare cards after their journey, and it's worth making use of the system to minimize your fares. Insert your previous fare card into the machine when you're returning on the train and your deposit will either be returned to you or credited towards another ticket. To save time, it's worth saving your cards for the end of the day, and returning them all at once.

For visitors that will be in Singapore for several days, it's worth getting a EZ Link Card, which will store value and allow you to bypass the often long lines in MRT stations. Ask for a card from any of the information desks in MRT stations, and keep it topped up at 7/11 and FamilyMart stores around Singapore. The cards are valid for five years and work on all MRT lines, including the airport line.

Alternatively, visitors that are only spending a day or two in Singapore might be interested in the Singapore Tourist Pass, a one-day rail card that allows for unlimited travel on the MRT system for just eight dollars. The pass is useful for visitors that are moving around within the city a lot in one day, but keep in mind that fares by themselves are quite cheap and that the card will expire after 24 hours of use.

While Singapore lacks a central train station, it does have several interchange stations that form the main backbone of the MRT. Dhoby Ghaut, the primary interchange station for the North-South and Circle lines, is located close to Singapore's Orchard Road shopping district, and will be one of the main transit points for visitors staying in Singapore's city center.

The nearby City Hall station is a popular interchange for the North-East and East-West lines, and also connects with the North-South line leading towards Orchard Road and Marina Bay. Most of Singapore's main attractions are accessible using the North-South MRT route, which covers the Orchard area, the Raffles Place tourist area, and major hotels like Marina Bay Sands.

Singapore's rail network is efficient and convenient, particularly for visitors staying in the central parts of the city. However, it isn't perfect, and many of Singapore's less central districts are either inaccessible, or simply difficult to get to, using the MRT. In this case, it's best to combine the MRT system with a local bus line, many of which operate around Singapore.

Buses are fairly inexpensive and easy to use, even for visitors to Singapore. Buses to the suburbs depart from Orchard and Bugis frequently, while suburban bus lines typically depart from major shopping malls and community centers. Before you plan out any transport by bus, it's wise to pick up a bus guide from one of Singapore's many MRT or bus stations.

Buses can be paid for using cash, in which case riders will receive no change, or EZ Link Cards, which allow for credit-based travel within the city. If you have a Singapore Tourist Pass, this can also be used to pay for bus tickets. When you exit the bus, simply brush your pass up against the reader onboard the bus to end your trip; if you forget this, expect to pay the full bus route fare.

For getting around the Singapore River and its nearby neighborhoods, the bum boats of central Singapore can be a fun and interesting option. To board a boat, flag it down as it approaches the wharf and board. Prices for boat rides tend to hover between three and five dollars, with travel outside the city center often reaching past ten dollars per person, per trip.

Singapore's taxis are surprisingly inexpensive, given the city's overall cost of living. However, due to the city's strict traffic laws and immense fines for illegal parking, boarding a taxi during the day can be a frustratingly difficult experience. Shopping malls in Orchard Road and Bugis will always have a taxi stand outside which can help you quickly find a nearby cab, often for a small fee.

Finally, visitors staying in Singapore's central districts, Shenton Way and Orchard in particular, may not even need to use the public transport system while visiting. With wide sidewalks and stairways connecting popular neighborhoods, getting around Singapore on foot is fairly simple. Keep in mind that jaywalking and ignoring traffic signals are both punishable by hefty fines in Singapore.

Whether you prefer to get around on foot or on a train, visitors to Singapore will have no trouble getting to and from the island's top tourist spots and shopping locations. Thanks to its inexpensive public transportation and pedestrian-friendly city center, Singapore is one of Asia's best cities for getting from Point A to Point B in a stress-free, simple, inexpensive manner.