HOW TO GET AROUND SINGAPORE 2023: DETAILED GUIDE

Singapore MRT subway
Singapore’s subway system … gets you to many key attractions quickly and efficiently

By LINDA JAMES | Updated FEBRUARY 27, 2023 | PLAN

This article may contain compensated links. Please read the disclaimer for more information.

The best way to get around Singapore is via the public transport system, which is clean, efficient and pretty cheap – one of the best I’ve travelled on – but taxis and Grabs (a type of Uber) are reasonably priced as well.

Singapore is a very walkable city but the noon-day sun and the high humidity get the better of even the most avid walkers. So, using the city’s two most common transportation types – air-conditioned buses and trains – are great solution when it comes to getting around Singapore.

I also try to plan most of my walking in the early morning and late afternoon and either head back to the hotel in the middle of the day to avoid the heat or seek solace in an air-conditioned shopping centre.

The MRT (subway) System

The Mass Rapid Transport (MRT) system is the subway and my favourite way to get around Singapore. It’s similar to those in other major cities such as London and New York. They’re all colour-coded and signs are in English, which makes it reasonably easy to follow. The lines crossover all over Singapore making it really easy to get where you want to go and, if there’s no train to get you there, the bus lines certainly will.

There are five lines MRT lines:

  • North South, which runs from Marina Bay to the north of the island and then south-west to Jurong
  • East West connects one side of the island to the other – from Boon Lay in the west to Changi Airport and Pasir Ris in the east.
  • Circle, which doesn’t really go in a circle but more of an arc from the Riverside district to the eastern neighbourhoods and then north and west, finally going south to the HarbourFront Centre. It then extends east to Marina Bay from Promenade MRT to Bayfront MRT (Marina Bay Sands).
  • Downtown runs from Bukit Panjang in the north-west to Expo station in the east doing a loop through Singapore’s central district with stops at Chinatown, Fort Canning, Downtown, Bayfront and Bugis.
  • North East connects the HarbourFront Centre to Punggol in the north-east.
Source: Land Transport Authority, Singapore

A sixth line, the Thomson–East Coast Line, has recently opened. There are also two light rail transit (LRT) lines – Bukit Panjang and Sengkang-Punggol.

Trains run from 5.30am to around midnight daily every 2 to 3 minutes during peak hour (7am-9am) and 5 to 7 minutes off-peak. Operating hours are usually extended during holidays. Mobile phones work in the stations, trains and the tunnels, however, there are strict rules about eating, drinking or smoking.

Notice about fines on Singapore's subway
Be warned … there’s no eating, drinking or smoking on public transport!

A train trip typically costs between $S0.94 and $S1.99 depending on distance and whether you use a travel card or cash. You can buy them from ticket counters or automated machines at the stations. There are different types of travel cards, which I’ll look at below.

Buses

If you can’t get somewhere by train, you can definitely get there by bus – the network is extensive and tickets cost about the same as trains. Most buses are air-conditioned and there are double- and single-decker versions and passengers board at the front.

If you plan to pay cash, beware that change is not given. You drop the cash down the metal chute next to the driver. If you use an EZ-Link or travel pass card, make sure you touch it on the electronic reader on entry and exit. If you don’t, you’ll be charged the maximum fare for the trip.

You can also use your Mastercard and Visa contactless bank cards issued outside of Singapore to pay but there are admin fees.

Unlike trains, which generally stop at midnight, the bus service includes two late-night options – NightRider and Nite Owl. These operate on Friday, Saturday and public holiday eves every 40 minutes from Marina Bay, Sentosa and Boat Quays from about 11.30pm to 2am. The bus numbers will start with either an N or NR. Be careful though because some of these may be express for parts of the trip.

How to get around Singapore - public bus
Singapore’s public buses … efficient and air-conditioned

Ferries

If you want to get to some of the islands off Singapore, you’ll need to catch a ferry. The main terminals are at HarbourFront, Tanah Merah and Changi.

Travel Cards/Passes

Travel cards make it much easier to get around Singapore. Without a card or pass, if you want to use buses, you must have exact change. Singapore’s smart transport card is called the EZ-Link and there are also 4 travel passes that you can use to get around Singapore.

These all have different terms and conditions, which can sometimes make it difficult to choose exactly the right one for your needs. Hopefully, the following information helps to simplify your decision.

EZ-Link Card

This works the same way most other public transport smart cards work around the world: you put money on it and then tap on and your your transport. In Singapore, you can also use it to pay for some taxis as well as food and drinks from stores such as 7-11 and from some vending machines in shopping centres.

The card itself costs $S5. If you buy at one of the MRT Passenger Service Centres, it will cost $S10 as it comes preloaded with $S5 for travel. If you buy it at a 7-11, prices are similar but can vary store to store. When you run out of money on the Ez-link card, you can top up at the automatic machines at MRT stations or in a 7-11 store.

You must have a minimum of $S3 on the card to use it on buses and trains.

Pick one up at Changi Airport and you can use it straight away on your trip to the CBD. Finding your way to the MRT station at Changi is easy because the airport is very well signposted.

EZ-Link travel cards make it easy to get around Singapore
EZ Link travel cards … make using public transport easy

Singapore Tourist Pass

The Singapore Tourist Pass costs $S20 for one day, $S26 for two and $S30 for 3 – but that includes a $S10 refundable deposit, which you get if you return the card within 5 days after you buy it. It gives you unlimited travel on MRT an LRT trains and basic bus services.

Some other things to note: a day ends at 11.59pm regardless of the time of first use, the days are consecutive so you can’t use one day, skip a day, and then continue, and it doesn’t cover premium services such as the Sentosa Express or the night buses. For the 1-day pass to be worth your while, you’d have to take about 6 trips, which is unlikely given Singapore is such a walkable city. However, the three-day pass is good value as it brings it down to about 4 trips a day.

You can get the refundable deposit back at any authorised TransitLink ticket office within six days of issue. If you keep the card after that, you forfeit $S10 deposit. However, you could use the pass to buy another pass and that extends the rental period. If you do decide to keep it, you can use it like an EZ-link card and top it at any MRT machine.

Make sure you choose carefully as you won’t be able to get a refund if you change your mind.

SG Tourist Pass

This three-day pass costs $S25 and does not include a rental deposit. The terms and conditions of use are the same as the Singapore Tourist Pass above. The only way you might choose this card is if you know you don’t want to be bothered claiming the rental deposit back. This means you would only be losing $S5 not $S10 for the STP.

Singapore Tourist Pass Plus

Like the SG pass, this gives you three days of unlimited travel (same terms and conditions) to get around Singapore as well as discounts on dining, shopping and entertainment for $S38 (no rental deposit).

All of the passes are available from Changi Recommends counters at Changi Airport in terminals 1 and 3, which are open 24 hours.

Comparisons

An adult train ticket from west to east – Jurong East to Changi Airport – will cost $S2.80 (this is about maximum fare) from a ticket machine or $S2.13 using the EZ-Link card so the latter will clearly save you money and make it easier to get around Singapore because it means you don’t have to buy tickets and/or have cash when using the buses.

If you did 4 large trips a day using the EZ-Link card, you’d pay a total of $S8.52, which would only just justify the cost of the 2-day Singapore Travel Pass (almost the 3-day SG Travel Pass) but you still have the hassle of returning it for a refund.

As a sample day in Singapore, you might go Bencoolen-Chinatown-HarbourFront-Botanic Gardens-Bencoolen. This would cost $S8 via MRT buying tickets or $S5.02 using the EZ-Link.

If you’re only going to be in Singapore for a few days and plan to pack a lot in, then one of the tourist passes is probably worth the investment. If you’re there for longer and are planning to get around Singapore at a more leisurely pace, then the EZ-Link is more likely to suit your needs.

Taxis

Taxis are reasonably cheap and make getting around Singapore very easy. The flag down rate is $S3-$3.40 (except for premium services such as SilverLux) and $S0.22 a km every 400m up to 10km. There are extra charges for phone bookings, peak hour, after midnight, city area and Marina Bay (5pm to midnight) and Changi Airport.

If you have trouble flagging one, go to the nearest hotel or shopping centre, which will probably have a taxi rank. Taxis have a sign on top stating they’re taxis and showing their availability.

English is spoken by many people in Singapore but it’s probably a good idea to have the address you’re going to written down or on your phone so you can show it to the driver.

Singapore taxis
Taxis … reasonably cheap except for late night and airport fees

Grab

Uber has been banned here but you can use Grab, which is pretty much the same thing, to get around Singapore. Make sure you download the app and register an account before you leave home because you’ll have to verify your mobile number and won’t be able to do it once you arrive unless you have an international sim card.

Driving/Car Hire

You can hire a car in Singapore provided you are over 21 years old and have a valid driver’s licence but there’s probably not a lot of need to unless you plan to do a lot of travel outside of the city and have a family (just to make it easier to carry all the things you need when you have kids!).

Singapore has something called electronic road pricing (ERP), which means cars have software installed that reads a stored-value card or EZ-Link card to deduct tolls. Given the housing density in Singapore, it won’t come as a surprise to know that parking is usually pretty expensive.

Cycling

Singapore is probably not something you’d want to do in the centre of Singapore given the traffic but you should certainly think about hiring bikes in the national parks, many of which are linked by a park connector network, and on Pulau Ubin or Sentosa Island.

Tours

The list of sight-seeing tours you can take in Singapore is pretty long. There are walking tours of the various neighbourhoods, river cruise tours, “hidden gems” and even the obligatory hop-on, hop-off bus.

Conclusion

The public transport system is clean, extremely efficient and not very expensive, all of which makes it easy to get around Singapore. I sometimes take a taxi to and from Changi if I’ve had a long flight but, aside from that, if I’m not walking, I’m on a bus or train.

Want more of Singapore?

Learn how to plan your Singapore trip
Link to where to eat and drink in Singapore
Link to Singapore area guides