Where to go when you want to escape the city
You’ve snapped photo upon photo of the soaring Singapore skyline. Dug into classic chilli crab and sampled sticky satay from a food stall at a hawker centre. Shopped for antiques in Chinatown and fresh spices in Little India. And now you’re ready to swap the fast-paced flow of people for waves lapping a beach – at least for a little while.
Thankfully, the Singapore jetties are lined with a veritable flotilla of boats ready to whisk you away. Whether it’s just for a day or you want to pair bright city lights with a week under swaying palm trees, here’s our pick of islands that are short on travel time – and big on rest, relaxation and ravishing views.
GO BACK IN TIME ON PULAU UBIN
Life moves more slowly over on Pulau Ubin. As well as the last remaining traditional ‘kampong’ villages in Singapore, the island is like one big nature park. The former stone quarry has been reclaimed by birds, and at low tide people gather at the Chek Jawa wetlands to spot colourful anemone and starfish. For a (slightly) speedier way to see Pulau Ubin, rent a bike or take a kayak tour through the mangroves.
Getting there: A quick 20 minutes by public ‘bumboat’ from Changi Point Ferry Terminal, near Changi Village Hawker Centre.
The clue to Kusu’s fame is in the name, which means ‘tortoise’ in Chinese. In local folklore, it’s said that a giant tortoise transformed itself into the island to save shipwrecked sailors. Today it’s a spiritual site, with a number of Taoist temples and a tortoise sanctuary.
Top Tip: Bring a picnic or fill up on market stall goodies before coming to Kuzu, as there’s no food for sale on the island for most of the year. This changes in October, a festival month that brings thousands of pilgrims to the island temples.
Getting there: Go to Marina South Pier for round-trip tours taking in St John’s and Kuzu.
STAY AWHILE ON BINTAN
The palm-fringed beaches and swaying hammocks of Bintan feel a world away from Singapore. In fact, you can be here in under an hour. This Indonesian island is ideal for weekend breaks from Singapore – although boutique resorts such as The Sanchaya could tempt you to linger much longer. If you do, there’s plenty to discover – from the ancient sea market in the capital, Tanjung Pinang, to elephant sanctuaries in the rainforest.
Getting there: A 45 minute to 1 hour ferry ride from Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal.
GO REMOTE ON KARIMUN ISLAND
Also known as Karimum Besar, this tiny gem provides the perfect balance of secluded beaches and resorts – meaning you won’t have to go far for fresh seafood and refreshing drinks. Bring along your snorkel to make the most of crystal clear water, or mess about with kayaks and paddleboards.
Getting there: Take a ferry from the Singapore Cruise Centre to be at Karimun in under 2 hours.
SENTOSA THRILLS AND SPILLS
We’ll be honest – this isn’t one for getting away from the crowds. But if you’re looking for a break from cultural sightseeing, travelling with children or just want a fun day out of the city centre, Sentosa is your go-to island. As well as Universal Studios rollercoasters, there’s an impressive aquarium and family friendly beaches to keep little ones entertained.
Getting there: Sentosa is connected to the mainland by a free footbridge. Or you could zip over on the Sentosa Express, which links to the MRT via Harbourfront station.
Pack your beach bag and slip on your sunglasses. There’s just one reason to come to Lazarus island: a curve of untouched sand. Arrive early to claim the best spot, as most travellers arrive after lunch.
Getting there: Take the ferry from Marina South Pier to St John’s, then stroll over the bridge to Lazarus.
When you’re ready to dive back into city life, find off-the-beaten-path activities in our guide to spending 48 hours in Singapore.