21 Spellbinding Facts About Singapore You May Not Know!

Marina Bay Sands

Although it is the smallest country in Southeast Asia, Singapore packs quite a punch when it comes to fascinating facts! This modern city-state might be best known for its towering glassy skyscrapers and pristine streets but Singapore is also home to a wealth of interesting history and culture, much of which you might not know!

If you haven’t yet visited the Lion City, this list of facts about Singapore will convince you to book your trip ASAP! And if you have visited, prepare to fall in love with this magical country all over again. Without further ado, here are our favourite facts about Singapore! 

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21 Amazing Facts About Singapore

1. You can’t pee in Singaporean elevators

If you already know anything about Singapore, you will likely have heard that it is one of the world’s cleanest cities. This isn’t a standard easily achieved though! 

To keep the city pristine and smelling fresh, Urine Detection Devices have been fitted to a number of elevators. If somebody has an unfortunate accident or deliberately attempts to besmirch the lift, the UDD sets off an alarm. 

Once the alarm has been raised, the elevator door will lock, trapping the peeing perpetrator until the police arrive to arrest them. You may feel like this isn’t a great use of police time but when you consider that Singapore has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, it becomes quickly apparent why the city-state is so well maintained. 

Don’t get caught peeing in one of these!

2. Singapore’s national language is Malay but there are four official languages in total

Singapore is a hub of multiculturalism. This former British colony is home to a range of cultures which has resulted in a variety of rich languages being spoken across the country. 

Malay is the national language according to the Constitution of Singapore because the Malay people have been acknowledged by the constitution as the indigenous people of the country. 

The other official languages are English, Tamil and Mandarin Chinese. These languages were chosen as it was deemed that they best represented the ethnic makeup of the country at the time. 

Chinatown in Singapore
Mandarin Chinese is another of Singapore’s official languages.

3. Singlish is the local slang

Singlish, also known as Singapore Colloquial English, is a collection of words and phrases that have been influenced by Singapore’s multicultural society. If you have been diving into books about Southeast Asia and have come across Crazy Rich Asians (affiliate link) by Kevin Kwan, the chances are that you’ll already be familiar with this slang. 

Lah, Leh, Lor and Meh are all examples of words that appear at the end of sentences to convey additional meaning, for example, ‘lah’ helps to show a sense of both exasperation and finality. 

You may also know that Singaporeans will use the terms ‘auntie’ and ‘uncle’ to refer to their elders. This is a way of showing respect to the older generation so make sure you’re confident the person is older than you if you intend to use it!

Singaporean people hanging in park
Singlish stands for ‘Singapore Colloquial English’.

4. Singapore is one of only three city-states in the world

Singapore is classed as a city-state. This essentially means that the city, along with any surrounding territory, is an independent self-governing country. City-states are completely contained within the borders of one city. There are only three city-states in the world. The other two are Vatican City and Monaco. 

Singapore attractions
Singapore is a city-state.

5. The Singapore Sling cocktail was designed to be a socially acceptable beverage for women

If you have sipped your way through any of Asia’s most famous drinks, you will have likely already heard of the Singapore Sling. This famous cocktail was invented in the grand Raffles hotel in the early 1900s. 

At the time, ladies were not allowed to drink alcohol in public as it was seen as unbecoming. Spotting a profitable gap in the market, bartender Ngiam Tong Boon decided to create a cocktail for women which was similar to fruit juice in appearance. He used gin, lime juice, pineapple juice, grenadine, cherry liquor, Cointreau and Bénédictine to create the unassuming Singapore Sling. 

YouTube video

6. Buildings in Singapore are not allowed to exceed 280 metres

Even though star-brushing skyscrapers are one of the first images to spring to mind when you think about Singapore, there is actually a cap on how high you are allowed to build. Owing to the proximity of the city to Singapore Changi Airport, air traffic control restrictions have dictated that buildings be no taller than 280 metres. 

As of 2021, three buildings are 280 metres high in Singapore. They are the United Overseas Bank Plaza One, Republic Plaza and One Raffles Place. The tallest building in Singapore is Guoco Tower which stands at 290 metres. Special permission had to be granted for the construction of this exceptionally tall building. 

Tall buildings Singapore
The buildings in Singapore have a cap on height!

7. Singapore has changed time-zone six times

Since 1905, the city-state of Singapore has changed its time zone on no fewer than six occasions! The most recent of these was in 1982 when it was changed from UTC+7.30 to UTC+8. This was done so that Singapore could share a time zone with Malaysia and avoid disruption for travellers and businesses. 

Time zones
Singapore most recently changed its time zone in 1982.

8. One hawker stall in Singapore has been awarded a Michelin star

It is no secret to those who have visited Singapore that it is home to some of the best food in the world. A melting pot of cultures combined with a well-travelled population has resulted in some truly mouthwatering dishes. 

And the best thing? You can try delicious Singaporean food all over the city, for cheap! Eat like the locals and head to some of the acclaimed hawker centres for a taste of the local specialities. Two of these places are so tasty they have even been awarded Michelin stars!

Hawker Chan and Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodles have both received the Michelin accolade (although Hawker Chan lost their Michelin star in 2021) and contend with long queues every day as a result. If you’re on a budget but want to try world-class food, these are the places to visit. Just make sure you’ve carved out an hour or two from your schedule – you’ll be queuing for a while!

Hawker centre in Singapore
Hawker centres offer high-quality and affordable food.

9. Singaporeans have the (joint) most powerful passport in the world

According to the 2021 report by Henley and Partners, Singaporeans come joint top of the list for the most powerful passport in the world. They tie for first place with Japan. In theory, their passport will allow them visa-free access into a whopping 192 countries!

Passport stamps
The Singaporeans have an incredibly powerful passport.

10. Singapore is also known as the Lion City

It was in the 14th century that Singapore got its Lion City nickname. It is believed that a prince called Sang Nila Utama visited Singapore from Palembang and is said to have seen a lion. It was him that named the city based on the Sanskrit word for Lion City (Singapura). 

Although it is a nice story, there have never actually been any documented cases of lions roaming Singapore outside of captivity so the actual origin of Singapore’s name is likely to be quite different. Maybe it should have been called Tiger City instead?

Sumatran Tiger
There might have been tigers in Singapore at one time but never any lions!

11. In the 1970s, the Singaporean government banned men from having long hair

Ask anyone who backpacked through Southeast Asia in the 70s what it was like and they will likely glaze over with a look of nostalgia. Back in those days, you could smoke on aeroplanes, guidebooks were your best friend and travel was still reserved for the intrepid. 

Being a free loving traveller back then wasn’t easy though. Both the Singaporean and Malaysian governments publicly waged war on hippies and made it very clear that ‘Suspected Hippies in Transit’ (that is to say, SHIT) were not welcome. 

One way the Singaporean government tried to screen visitors was by banning the entry of men with long hair. The ban was so widespread that musical legends like Led Zeppelin and the Bee Gees were refused entry to perform! The ban was in place right up until the 90s.

Getting the bus to Borobudur in Java
Backpacking used to be very different to how it is now!

12. Singapore is home to the fastest pedestrians in the world

New York may be the city that never sleeps but no one quite rushes around like the Singaporeans! A study designed to work out where the fastest walkers in the world live found that those in Singapore covered 19 metres in 10.55 seconds, coming out top of the list! 

Even more interestingly, the Pace of Life study which was released in 2006 looked at walking speed as an indicator of the physical and social health of a city. It determined that walking quickly can have a positive impact on the ageing process of the body and also result in good mental health. 

Fast people in Singapore
Singapore is a fast-paced place!

13. The National Anthem of Singapore is on the back of a $1,000 SGD note

We’ll forgive you for not knowing this one. After all, if you’re anything like us, the chances are you won’t have even seen a $1000 note, let alone withdrawn one!

However, if you can get your hands on one of these notes, you’ll just about be able to see that the lyrics to the entire Singaporean National Anthem are written out in micro-text on the back. Pretty cool, huh? And for those of you who will never get the pleasure of holding one of these notes (that includes us), you can check out the lyrics in the video below.  

YouTube video

14. Chewing gum is illegal in Singapore (sort of)

Since 1992, chewing gum has been illegal in the country. This was introduced as a way of maintaining Singapore’s very high standard of cleanliness. There was initially push back on the plan by opposition politicians at the time claiming that the law infringed too much on people’s freedoms. 

Since the Singapore-US Free Trade Agreement in 2004, rules regarding chewing gum have been somewhat relaxed. Nowadays, chewing gum which is deemed as having health benefits, for example, dental gum or nicotine gum, is available at pharmacies. 

Singapore is one of the world’s cleanest countries.

15. The National Courtesy Campaign was introduced to teach Singaporeans manners

Launched in 1979 by the Ministry of Culture, the National Courtesy Campaign was designed to make Singapore a more pleasant place to be. This campaign was an attempt to help locals adapt to the growing numbers of people who would be living in the city. It was also hoped that the increase in politeness and cleanliness would attract more foreign tourists and business people.

In 2001, the National Courtesy Campaign was rebranded as the Singapore Kindness Movement. This registered charity runs public education schemes aimed at creating a kind and pleasant environment for everyone in Singapore. 

Singapore Walking Tour
The National Courtesy Campaign has led to Singapore being a friendly and welcoming place.

16. 64 islands make up the country of Singapore

Although Southeast Asia is known for its incredible islands, few people know that Singapore is not just made up of a singular island. In fact, in addition to the main island, there are a further 63 islands, most of which are uninhabited.

Prominent islands which make up Singapore include Sentosa, home to Universal Studios Singapore, St John’s Island and Pulau Ubin. 

Singapore from the sky
Many don’t know that Singapore is a collection of islands.

17. The first-ever Formula One night race was held in Singapore

This is one for all you petrolheads out there! The Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix made history by hosting the planet’s first-ever night race around the Marina Bay Street Circuit in 2008. This circuit also holds another accolade too, it has more corners (23 in total) than any other circuit on the F1 calendar!

And just one more F1 fact before we move on… There was also a chicane on this circuit known as the Singapore Sling but this was removed because cars kept jumping over it, causing a lot of damage!

Formula One
The Marina Bay Street Circuit is in Singapore.

18. Bukit Timah Nature Reserve has more tree species than the whole of the North American continent

The beautiful Bukit Timah Nature Reserve in Singapore is made up of primary rainforest and spans 163 hectares. It’s protected under the Parks and Trees Act of 2005 and is a hub for flora and fauna. 

According to researchers, one hectare of land within the Nature Reserve contains more species of tree than you can find in the whole of North America. In Bukit Timah, there are over 500 species of wildlife and an incredible 1,000 species of flowering plants

Tree in Singapore
Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is a hub for flora and fauna.

19. You can find a ‘Hug-Me’ Coca Cola machine in Singapore

In keeping with Singapore’s reputation as one of the nicest countries on the planet, a ‘Hug-Me’ Coca Cola Machine was installed at the National University. The machine works using hugs for currency and if you’re not too embarrassed to embrace the machine, you’ll be rewarded with a free bottle of coke.  

Coca Cola on beach
Would you hug a machine for a free Coca Cola?

20. The Singaporean flag reflects the ideals of the country

The flag of Singapore is made up of two horizontal stripes, one red and one white. The red is believed to represent the equality and brotherhood of man whereas the white, signals everlasting purity. 

In the top left section of the flag, there is a white crescent moon next to a circle of five white stars. The stars represent Singapore’s ideals of progress, peace, democracy, equality and justice, whereas the moon symbolises the rising up of the nation on a global scale. 

Singapore flag
Singapore’s flag is red and white.

21. If you are seen naked by your neighbours, you could incur a fine of up to $2,000 SGD

In Singapore, pornography is illegal and walking around your house in the buff is no different. It is deemed that because your naked body could offend your neighbours, it falls under anti-pornography laws which could result in harsh punishment. 

The maximum fine for parading around your own house naked is $2,000 SGD but if you are really unlucky, you could even be sentenced to 3 months jail time!

How many of these Singaporean facts did you know? Let us know in the comments below!

Sheree Hooker | Editor @ South East Asia Backpacker + Winging The World

Sheree is the awkward British wanderluster behind Winging The World, a blog designed to show that even the most useless of us can travel. Follow Sheree’s adventures as she blunders around the globe, falling into squat toilets, getting into cars with machete men and running away from angry peacocks. In recent years, Sheree has also taken on the role of editor at South East Asia Backpacker.

Find her on: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

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