Dubai v/s Singapore: Which Destination Should You Pick?
Both Dubai and Singapore are fast-paced modern cities where architectural marvels look like they are out of the world. Juxtaposing these two very different destinations and perceiving them through a traveler’s lens, we’ve rounded up the best bits of each and drawn comparisons based on budget, accommodation, nightlife, and vibe to help you make an informed decision.
Whether it’s the tallest building in the world or the first seven-star hotel, Dubai is a city that pushes boundaries. It wants to be the best. At the heart of this modern city, you’ll find sleek skyscrapers, shopping malls packed with luxury brands, and some of the finest dining and entertainment in the world. There’s a little enclave of ancient Arabian history in the souks of Dubai Creek, but the vibe in Dubai is futuristic .
Singapore on the other hand, is an island-city located in south-east Asia that has slowly gained prominence over the years as one of the most developed cities in the world. Touted as one of the most expensive places in the world to live in, the sovereign-state is home to some of the most diverse groups of people, who’ve come together to create a distinctive blend of cultures that’s been woven into the fabric of its society, and by extension, its tourism.
Let’s talk numbers!
Dubai isn’t known for being a budget destination. It’s more about living it up in the lap of luxury. The average monthly cost of living ranges between US$1500 and US$1900. Alcohol is highly taxed and there are strict rules in place regarding its consumption. Tourists can drink at licenced venues, but the average price of a pint of draft beer costs a princely US$12, so you might want to consider switching to tea. Dinner in Dubai ranges from Michelin-star tasting menus in glittering restaurants to cosy curry houses with a vast difference in price to match. The average meal out in Dubai for two people costs around US$50. Bargain accommodation can be found in cheap and cheerful hostels with a bed in a shared dorm costing around US$30 per night. You can find some good deals on luxury hotels in low season, but the average cost is around US$150 per night.
Like Dubai, Singapore has a reputation as an expensive city. There are certain things that cost loads more here than in the rest of South-East Asia. For example, beer and food. An average dinner for two in a Singapore restaurant costs around US$40, and a pint of draft beer will set you back around US$8. There are affordable deals to be found in smaller, boutique accommodation where a double room in a mid-range option costs between US$70 and US$150 a night. But a stay in a big-name 5-star hotel like the Marina Bay Sands will set you back as much as $300 a night for their most basic room. Overall, the average cost of living in Singapore is around US$1600-US$2000 per month and it is often classed as the most expensive city in the world.
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Dubai has a fast and convenient metro that links the main attractions of Sheikh Zayed Road, and in Deira and Bur Dubai. Taxis are not too expensive and easy to find, and in a city where pavements are scarce and walking is generally avoided due to the heat and traffic, sometimes a taxi is the only option for a short journey. Most people in Dubai drive everywhere, so hiring a car is considered the norm and is the best way to see the desert sights outside of the city.
Singapore has an extensive metro network that covers every main neighbourhood and attraction. This is by far the quickest, easiest, and most comfortable way to get around the city. Taxis are only allowed to stop at designated taxi ranks in the centre, so flagging one down can be a challenge. There’s plenty of pavements and walkways, with sprawling parkland linking areas of the city, so as long as it’s not too humid and you avoid the thunder storms, it’s a joy to explore Singapore on foot.
Is it safe? Should I keep a knife in my sock?
The UAE abides by Sharia Law, so there are strict rules in place regarding alcohol consumption and dress. It’s a good idea to read up on UAE customs and laws before you arrive in Dubai. Most visits to Dubai are without issue and generally violent crime is low. However, drink spiking has been known to be a problem, and the legal system places a lot of onus on the victim. Ergo, solo female travellers should take extra care. There are special compartments in the metro for women and children, and men entering these can receive a hefty fine.
Singapore is an exceptionally safe city. The crime rate is low and violent crime is very rare. Possibly as a result, the laws and customs in Singapore can be strict, especially surrounding littering and drunk and disorderly behaviour. Drug laws in Singapore are very strict with harsh punishments even as extreme as the death penalty for trafficking and prison sentences for possession. There is a risk of Zika virus in Singapore, so those who are pregnant should check with their doctor before travelling. Overall, Singapore deems a lot of things illegal that other countries do not, so read up on the laws and customs before you travel to avoid any trouble.
Tourist Attractions: Awaken your inner Dora the Explora
Besides luxury shopping, fine dining and its towering skyscrapers,, Dubai has loads of cool tourist attractions to keep you entertained for days, if not weeks. Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world, and the view from here across the city skyline and out to the Arabian Gulf is incredible. Man-made Palm Jumeirah island is home to boardwalks, swimming pools and luxury hotels. At Dubai Creek there are preserved Arabian streets in the form of winding souks selling everything from gold to spices and textiles. Families can spend days adventuring in any of the city’s several theme parks. Legoland, IMG World of Adventure and huge sprawling water parks fill the outskirts of the city. Within the Dubai Mall you’ll find one of the world’s best aquariums.
Speaking of Singapore, there’s a bunch of stuff you can do besides exploring temples and the city’s thriving street food scene. If you’re travelling with kids, make sure you visit Singapore Zoo at twilight for a unique night safari when the animals are at their most active. The Supertrees at Gardens by the Bay are otherworldly . Explore the serene temples of Chinatown and Little India for a peek into the traditional side of South-East Asia.
But macha, what’s the partaay scene like?
Dubai is famous for its flashy nightlife in the form of five-star dining on the rooftops of towering skyscrapers, and world-class DJs and bands headlining the clubs. Due to alcohol licencing laws, most bars and clubs are found within the walls of resorts and hotels. BASEDubai and WhiteDubai stay open until 4 a.m, and the busiest nights are on Thursdays and Fridays when the atmosphere becomes electric. There’s plenty to do after dark without alcohol fuelling you. Sit back at a beach-side hookah bar with a pipe and mint tea for a smokin’ authentic taste of Arabia.
When the sun goes down on Singapore, Clarke Quay comes to life. Lively bars and restaurants line the riverside and a drink here comes with views of traditional junk boats bobbing up and down. See the city’s skyline lit up against the backdrop of the night sky from the deck of a dinner cruise. For a night out to remember , head to Club Street in Chinatown where tables and chairs spill out onto the street from open-fronted bars.
Let’s talk all things culture!
Although Dubai is considered to be a modern metropolis, it is still deeply rooted in the ancient Arabian culture which can be seen today. Dubai Creek was once home to pearl fishers, and this area is still a sand-coloured labyrinth of souks selling gold, spices, and fabrics. The Dubai Heritage Village is a look back in time and you’ll find traditional wind towers in the preserved streets of the Al Fahidi Historic Neighbourhood. This is also a great area to get your art fix as the restored buildings are filled with independent galleries.
A melting pot of Chinese and Indian influence, Singapore has a rich cultural history. Beneath the office blocks, there’s a traditional heart to the city and it’s rooted in its diverse culture. Find serene temples, all teak wood and pagoda roofs on the streets of Chinatown, or admire the colourful Hindu temples of Little India. The National Gallery in the heart of the city is packed with world-famous works and a serves as a window into the cultural heritage of South-East Asia.
What’s the shopping scene like?
Dubai is considered one of the best destinations in the world for shopping, and isn’t called the shoppers’ paradise for naught. If shopping is what you’re into, this is the place for you. Home to Dubai Mall, one of the biggest shopping malls in the world, there’s nothing you can’t find in Dubai. Luxury brands like Gucci, Prada, and Armani all have outposts here and anyone looking to bag a bargain or take part in the old tradition of haggling should head to the atmospheric souks of Old Dubai.
Taking advantage of its South-East Asian location, Singapore is one of the best places to find the most up-to-date technology. There are entire multi-story malls dedicated to bargain electronics like cameras, phones, and tablets. Shopping for souvenirs and trinkets in the hawker lanes of Chinatown is an entertaining way to spend an afternoon, and the malls of Orchard Road are packed with designer names and luxury brands.
What’s cookin’ in their kitchens?
Dubai serves cuisine from all over the world in its high-class restaurants. If you fancy a pizza, fresh sashimi, or hamburger and fries you’ll find it here. Seven course degustation menus are served in glitzy Michelin-starred restaurants and nearly every celebrity chef has an outpost somewhere in Dubai. Harking back to its ancient Arabian roots, you’ll find delicious Middle Eastern cuisine in cosy restaurants of Old Dubai, where lamb is cooked slow and dishes sparkle with deep red pomegranate seeds.
There are two sides to Singapore’s fantastic foodie scene. You can either explore the luxurious dining options within the modern heart of the city at a Michelin-starred restaurant ,or head to any of the city’s famous hawker centres where woks billow steam and little carts sell a whole range of street foods. Fast food options stretch beyond the golden arches of Mcdonald’s in the form of cute dim sum restaurants across Chinatown. Get a fiery fix from any of the family-run curry houses in Little India.
Dubai boasts of some truly beautiful and fabulous beaches. A lot of the stretches of pristine sand are connected to hotels, and you may need to pay a fee to access them. However, there are loads of public places to enjoy the crystal clear sea. Jumeirah Beach Park is one of the most popular spots and has been awarded a Blue Flag for its exceptional facilities. Umm Suqeim Beach is where turquoise water laps at golden sands and you get a stunning view of the Burj Al Arab building against the horizon like a sail. Although Dubai’s water looks calm, it can have a strong undercurrent so be careful when swimming.
Singapore may not be as famous for its beaches as compared to its South East Asian neighbours. However, the man-made beaches of Sentosa Island could give Thailand a run for its money. Relax on a sweep of fine sand at Tanjong or Palawan beach where palm trees line the shore and the shallow waters are perfect for paddling.
What cool activities can we do here?
There’s a world of activities waiting for you in Dubai. Adventure seekers can get their adrenaline hit out in the desert with a sand-boarding session, 4×4 off-road experience or dune buggy riding. The public beaches are packed with watersports like jet skiing, flyboarding and parasailing. Get a bird’s eye view of the iconic Palm Jumeirah Islands with a session of tandem skydiving, or watch the sunrise over the ethereal desert landscape in a hot air balloon. The possibilities are endless in Dubai.
There’s a sprawling outdoor playground right at Singapore’s doorstep. Take a short ferry across to Sentosa Island and try stand-up paddle boarding, jet skiing, or swimming with dolphins at Dolphin Park. The island of Pulau Ubin is an outdoor enthusiasts’ paradise. People come here to explore the natural surroundings by kayak through swamp waters, its lush hiking paths on foot, and its paved forest trails on bikes.
A Quick Summary
Although they are both futuristic mega cities filled with innovative architecture, there are a million and one differences between Dubai and Singapore, and it’s not just the weather. Where Singapore is humid and set in lush jungle, Dubai rises up out of the endless desert like a mirage. Dubai’s strengths are in its shopping scene, nightlife and luxury hotels. Singapore is all about temples, street food and laid-back bars.