Formerly a malarial swamp known by the rather unattractive name of Pulau Belakang Mati ("The Island of Death From Behind" in Malay) and the centrepiece of Britain's spectacularly unsuccessful "Fortress Singapore" strategy in World War II, Sentosa has been renamed after the Malay word for "tranquillity" and remade into one big tourist attraction, popular among Singaporeans as a quick island getaway. The jewel in the crown is Resorts World Sentosa, an enormous complex comprising of the Universal Studios theme park, S.E.A. Aquarium, the Adventure Cove water park, a casino, shopping malls and hotels.
At the eastern tip of the island is Sentosa Cove, Singapore's poshest residential neighborhood, where prices for a modest bungalow start at $10 million and climb into the stratosphere.
The small southern islets of Kusu Island, St. John's Island, the Sisters Islands, and Pulau Hantu are a little to the southeast of Sentosa. Various plans to develop them have not come to much and they remain off the beaten track, but by no means undiscovered. The first two can be reached by public ferry, and the rest by chartered boat.
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The best way in is to take the North-East (Purple) Line or Circle (Yellow) Line of the MRT to HarbourFront MRT station and then make your way to Level 3 of Vivocity, where you'll find the Sentosa Express monorail to the island. The train operates every 5-8 minutes from 7AM-11:45PM daily, and a flat fare of $4 applies (island admission included, EZ-Link accepted).
The cheapest way though, is to walk across the bridge via the Sentosa Boardwalk ($1, EZ-Link accepted), and it isn't even much of a walk since there are travellators with plenty of shade. The next cheapest is to take a SMRT bus, RWS 8, from VivoCity/HarbourFront MRT for $2 and there are some shuttle buses from hotels in the Orchard and Marina Bay districts. For access to Sentosa Cove, there is a private shuttle bus ($2) that operates every 30 min or so from HarbourFront Bus Terminal.
By taxi or private car, you'll need to pay $2 to $7 per vehicle to enter depending on the time of entry, and a $3 taxi surcharge also applies on the way out. Alternatively, the Cable Car between Sentosa, HarbourFront shopping mall and Mt. Faber is a little more scenic and the return ticket costs $26/$15.
Sentosa's ferry terminal has been demolished to make way for the casino, so to visit the Southern Islands you will have to head to downtown Singapore's Marina South Pier for the ferry to Kusu and St John's Island. Harbourfront Ferry Terminal, next to Vivocity on the mainland, has frequent ferries to Indonesian destinations like Batam.
All transportation around Sentosa (except taxis) is free.
Beach Station, the terminus of the Sentosa Express monorail, is the primary transport hub for the island. As the name hints, it's walking distance to both Siloso and Palawan beach, or you can hop on the open-air beach trams that shuttle people between Beach Station and all three beaches every 10 minutes.
For longer distances, three shuttle bus services coded A, B and C connect Beach Station to various points on the island. Buses run every 10-35 minutes from 7AM-10:30PM every day and till midnight on Saturdays.
See and do
Long a bit of a joke, Singaporean wags used to quip that "Sentosa" stood for "So Expensive and Nothing to See Actually". Well, it's still expensive, but there are now more than enough attractions to spend a day or two taking it all in, especially in the family-oriented Resorts World Sentosa. In fact the crowd during the weekends and school holidays can be quite daunting, and it's never easy waiting in long sweaty queues under the mid-day sun but Universal Studios Singapore is a standout experience for theme park lovers and for those who haven't been to Orlando. For all attractions below, a "child" is defined as being between three and twelve.
Resorts World Sentosa
Resorts World Sentosa can be reached via the Resorts World station (previously Waterfront station) of the monorail or via the dedicated buses RWS8 from Harbourfront and other points in Singapore (see Get in). If you plan on visiting more than one park, check out the Multi-Park Passes. The most comprehensive, which includes Universal Studios Singapore, S.E.A. Aquarium, Maritime Experiential Museum and Adventure Cove Waterpark, costs $188/136 for a two-day visit and is curiously more expensive than the individual tickets combined, but allows for switching between attractions as you like.
- 1 Casino, Crockfords Tower B1M, ☏ . 24 hours daily. Singapore's first casino is tucked away underground underneath the Crockfords Tower hotel. There are 500 gaming tables offering 19 different games, but the emphasis is on Asian favourites like baccarat, roulette, tai sai and pai gow, with poker a distinct minority. A dress code applies: no slippers, no singlets, and no shorts. Overseas guests free entry, Singaporean/Permanent Residents $150 Casino Levy.
- 1 Universal Studios Singapore, ☏ . Daily 10AM–7PM, F Sa 7–10PM (Hollywood After Hours). The first Universal Studios theme park in Southeast Asia, but it's quite a bit smaller than the others and can get quite crowded, so expect long lines or pay extra for the Express Pass. There are seven zones: Hollywood, New York, Sci-Fi City, Ancient Egypt, The Lost World, Far Far Away and Madagascar. The star of the park is Battlestar Galactica, the world's tallest "dueling" rollercoaster, with two tracks battling it out simultaneously: "Cylon" suspends you in the air, with plenty of loops and inversions, while "Human" is seated and reaches speeds of up to 90 km/h. Inclement weather can put a damper on plans, although some rides do remain open. Buy the tickets from a trusted local travel agent for a discount price. One-day pass $74/54, two-day pass $118/88, all rides included.
- 2 S.E.A. Aquarium, ☏ . 10AM–7PM daily. The largest oceanarium in the world. Home to majestic manta rays, enormous goliath grouper, Napoleon wrasse, and other gentle giants of the sea. The corridors can get a little cramped, especially when everybody else has the exact same idea to avoid the outside heat. $32/$22 adults/children, includes access to Maritime Experiential Museum. $10 for access to priority queues.
- 2 Adventure Cove Waterpark, ☏ . 10AM–7PM daily. Singapore's spiffiest water park has rides for all ages, ranging from Southeast Asia’s first hydro-magnetic coaster to a gigantic wave pool. Grab a tube and journey down Adventure River, passing through 14 themed zones including a tropical jungle garden and a sea creature grotto. Snorkel over a colourful coral reef with 20,000 friendly fish or wade amongst dozens of rays. Lockers cost $10 for small ones and $20 for large ones, so try not to bring too many things. Food is not allowed to be brought into the waterpark (bags will be checked) which is doubly problematic since the park's own F&B offerings are pretty dire, so plan to eat before/after or make use of the re-entry facility. Dress code applies, check the waterpark's website for details. $38/$30 adults/children.
At the beach
Among Singaporeans, a popular reason to go to Sentosa is to hit the beaches: Siloso, Palawan and Tanjong from west to east respectively. All three are artificial, but does it really matter? Unfortunately the water is rather murky due to the never-ending parade of ships across the Straits. Siloso has a nice beach promenade full of clubs and restaurants, some rather noisy, while Palawan claims to be the southernmost point of continental Asia (if you count the bridge connecting Sentosa, and ignore any competing Malaysian claims, and other parts of Singapore or even Sentosa that are further south). Tanjong, the quietest of the three, is the place for beach volleyball.
- 3 Wings of Time (Beach Station). 7:30PM daily, plus 8:40PM Sa Su only. Multimedia extravaganza with live cast, pyrotechnics, water jets and lasers. Popular, so book ahead, especially on weekends. $16.20.
- 3 HydroDash, Palawan Beach, ☏ . 10AM–7PM weekends, noon–6PM weekdays. Floating just off the beach, this slippery open-water obstacle course lets the whole family test their ninja skills. Great fun for kids and a great workout for adults. Zone 1 is for 5-6 year old kids (must be accompanied by an adult), while Zone 2 is open to 7+. Flotation vests provided. From $13/hr.
For some action
- 4 iFly Singapore, 43 Siloso Beach Walk, ☏ . A giant wind tunnel five storeys high that gives visitors a chance to try out indoor skydiving and is even big enough to accommodate eight-way formation flying. $69-89 for two skydives.
- 5 MegaZip Adventure Park, 10A Siloso Beach Walk, Imbiah Lookout, ☏ . 11:00-19:00. Zip wires, aerial obstacle courses, simulated parachute landings and trampolines, all for the adrenaline pump. $45/zip, $45/obstacles, $25/jump.
- 6 Sentosa Luge & Skyride, Beach Station, ☏ , email@example.com. 10AM-9:30PM. Up the hill in a ski lift and down again in a steerable bobsled. Kids safe. Good attraction for younger kids as the incline of the track hinders going very fast. Not very exciting for those over 15. If you are inclined to go, resist temptation to purchase multiple trips until trying it the first time. Luge trail is closed during wet weather. Skyride $11 for one-way trip. $24 for two trips with luge.
Elsewhere in Sentosa
- 4 Fort Siloso, at the westernmost tip of Sentosa (Take bus A or the beach tram to Siloso Point). 10AM-6PM. Formerly the largest British naval base in Fortress Singapore, its guns staring balefully out towards the sea in preparation for enemy attack. The Japanese rode bikes down the peninsula instead; after your visit here, be sure to visit the Battle Box at Fort Canning Hill to find out what happened next. Now turned into a museum, you can follow a tour through the area (complete with lots of wax figures) to find out what the life of a recruit was like. Free entry.
- 5 Mount Imbiah Battery (along the Imbiah Trail). Another former British military base on the island, it was largely abandoned as a battery in the 1930s, though it remained in use as an ammunitions storage facility at the time World War II broke out. Unlike Fort Siloso, Mount Imbiah Battery has not been restored and has been left in an abandoned state. Free entry.
- 6 Madame Tussauds, near Cable Car Station (Take the Sentosa Express to Imbiah station). 9AM-7PM. The local outpost of the global wax museum emporium. Figures inside are geared towards Asian visitors, with Singaporean, Chinese and Indian celebrities well represented. $44/32 adult/child.
- 7 Sentosa Golf Club, 27 Bukit Manis Rd, ☏ . The only golf club in Singapore open to the public, it features two famously challenging 18-hole courses and hosts the yearly Barclays Singapore Open. However, only one of those courses, the Serapong, is open for a limited number of guests daily. M-F $350, Sa-Su $480.
On the main island
- 7 Labrador Park and Labrador Secret Tunnels, Labrador Villa Rd (Bus 408 from HarbourFront MRT, runs on weekends/holidays only). 10AM-6PM, guided tours every hour. Opened in May 2005, there are two ways of looking at these two restored British-era bunkers: either they're done a pretty good job of making a tunnel interesting, or even if you dress it up with spot lights and recorded booms, it's still just a bunch of tunnels. There are also some machine gun posts, old artillery guns etc scattered about in Labrador Park, which also has some walking trails and a quiet stretch of seashore opposite Sentosa. Park free, Secret Tunnels $8/5 adult/child.
- 8 Southern Ridges Walk, Mount Faber. On the mainland, it's a 9-km-long walk starting from Mount Faber that passes over treetops and through housing estates. Offers an easy getaway from shopping centres and tourist attractions. The Henderson Waves are the first major stop on the trail. Free.
There are a few sights of minor interest on Kusu Island. The name means "Turtle Island" and there are indeed lots of the reptiles scampering about, but don't expect an unspoiled tropical paradise: the island was thoroughly reworked with land reclamation in 1975 and looks similar to Sentosa. Kusu island can be reached by ferry from Marina South Pier.
- 8 Da Bogong (Tua Pekong) Temple (Kusu Island). An unassuming little Taoist temple dedicated to the Merchant God. This is the focal point of the yearly Kusu Festival (Oct-Nov), when pilgrims come to the island to pray for prosperity.
- 9 Keramat Kusu, Kusu Island. An unusual Muslim shrine (not a mosque) atop a small hill, dedicated to the saint Syed Abdul Rahman and his family, who lived here in the 19th century. The shrine is painted bright yellow and is visited in particular by childless couples.
St. John Island and Lazarus Island are connected by a causeway, and it's a sweaty, largely unshaded 15-min walk from the ferry pier at St. John to Lazarus. St. John is also a popular spot for fishing.
- 10 Lazarus Island Beach, Lazarus Island. Generally reckoned to be the best beach in Singapore, which is admittedly not a high bar. You can paddle about in the shallow lagoon, although the water here is as murky as in Sentosa. Bring insect repellent and a day-use tent or tarp, as there is very little shelter from the sun or rain.
Facilities on all three islands are limited to toilets. There are no regularly open places to buy food or drink, not even vending machines, and the tap water is not potable, so bring everything you'll need with you including water. On busy weekends or (for Kusu) during the festival season enterprising hawkers may set up shop to sell basic drinks or snacks out of a cooler, but you can't count on this.
Sentosa heavily promotes their Fun Pass token system, which gives minor discounts (5-8%) on attractions if you purchase large packages. Leftover tokens are useless outside Sentosa and cannot be exchanged back, and all attractions also accept credit cards, so there's little reason to bother with this.
Every corner of Sentosa is inundated with gift shops filled with all the plush Merlion toys you will ever need (and then some).
- 1 Quayside Isle, 31 Ocean Way (Bus B from Beach Station). Sentosa's only shopping mall caters primarily to the wealthy residents of Sentosa Cove. However, there are plenty of dining choices as well as the only full-fledged supermarket on the island (NTUC Fairprice).
- 2 VivoCity, HarbourFront MRT. This giant complex on the mainland just next to the Sentosa bridge is Singapore's largest shopping mall, featuring anchor tenants like the enormous Fairprice Xtra hypermarket, Golden Village cineplx, two food courts and creative landscaping. The Sentosa Express monorail station is integrated into the mall, the ticketing station can be found on the 3rd floor beside the Food Republic retro theme food court. Next door, Harbourfront Ferry Terminal is connected to VivoCity via a bridge.
As you might expect from a giant amusement park, food on Sentosa is (by Singaporean standards) rather pricey and mediocre. Local chains have some outlets, though. Since the opening of the casinos, good (though still pricey) fine dining options are available at Resorts World Sentosa. For cheaper food options, grab a bite at either VivoCity or HarbourFront Centre.
- 1 Seah Im Food Centre, Seah Im Rd (Across from Vivocity). Popular with locals, this small hawker centre has a range of Indian Muslim food stalls and a variety of local cuisine. The building is rather old, but the food is quite good. No air con! $4~6.
- 2 Food Republic VivoCity, 1 HarbourFront Walk, #03-01. Retro themed like a collection of 1960s hawkers, only with air-conditioning (and hygiene). Slightly expensive for a food court, but the selection is good and it's usually packed. $5~7.
- 3 Malaysian Food Street, Resorts World Sentosa. M Tu Th 11AM-10PM, F Sa 9AM-11PM, Su 9AM-10PM, closed on Wednesday. Notable for its retro 1970s depiction of Malaysia, with food hawkers selling Penang laksa and KL hokkien mee. Fits in with the theme park facade, but any good foodie would rather head across the causeway for the real thing. approx $6~$9.
- 4 Arbora Hilltop Garden & Bistro, 109 Mount Faber Rd, Faber Peak. On a hill opposite Sentosa, accessible via the cable car or a 20-minute walk uphill from Harbourfront MRT. The view on Sentosa is really quite worth the hike up. Spacious outdoor seating surrounded by plants and nature with adventurous food.
- 5 Trapizza (Siloso Beach, north end), ☏ . Daily 11:30AM-9:30PM. Offers the improbable combination of pizzas, pastas, and a trapeze school. $20.
- 6 Barnacles Restaurant & Bar, 101 Siloso Rd (on beach in front of Rasa Sentosa Resort), ☏ . Daily 6:30-11PM, Su lunch noon-3PM. Mildly over-the-top beachside restaurant complete with rippling waves projected onto the ceiling. Competent if not cheap Mediterranean and Chinese seafood dishes and grills. Terrace and outdoor seating. Free parking and they'll even reimburse your Sentosa entrance fee. $70.
- 7 The Cliff, 2 Bukit Manis Rd (The Sentosa Resort), ☏ . Daily 6-10PM, Sa Su noon-2:30PM. In sight of jungle, beach and sea, repeatedly voted the most romantic restaurant in Singapore and popular with bosses out for a naughty night with their secretaries. Book a table on the lower deck for the best views. $100.
There's a string of beach clubs on Siloso Beach that can offer some pretty wild parties on Friday and Saturday nights, especially if one of the on-again, off-again foam parties pops up. The New Year's Eve party in particular is legendary, as is ZoukOut, a massive yearly outdoor party organized by Zouk, featuring a roster of international and local DJs. Beaches, beer, bikinis, and booming bass. What more do you need?
- 1 Rumours Beach Club, 40 Siloso Beach Walk (right at Siloso Beach), ☏ . The restaurant is pleasant but slightly overpriced and the outdoor seating is very nicely set up, although the volume is often cranked up way too high. Reserve in advance if you want one of the little pavilions. Free entry, beer $8, cocktails $12.
- 2 Tanjong Beach Club, 120 Tanjong Beach Walk. 10AM-8PM. Standing proudly apart on Tanjong Beach, this is the top beach club on Sentosa and priced to match. Maritime French Riviera vibes, brunchy food menu, boozy cocktails. Reserve ahead, particularly on weekends. Various daybeds and lounges available, but they come with a minimum spend of up to $400/group on weekend afternoons. Closes up surprisingly early though unless there's a special event going on. Mains $30, drinks $20.
There are a few nightspots of note on the mainland side of Sentosa Bridge.
- 3 Privé, 2 Keppel Bay Vista (Down Keppel Bay Dr, just before The Caribbean condo), ☏ . Daily noon-1AM. Built on a private island connected to the mainland by a bridge, arriving here is half the fun. There's an expensive steak restaurant indoors and an equally expensive Japanese eatery upstairs, but the crowd-puller is the slick, breezy outdoor bar with DJ playing chillout tunes. Free entry, drinks from $12.
Sentosa is not a particularly convenient base for sightseeing elsewhere in Singapore, and most of the accommodation targets visitors looking for a simple beach holiday. However, the Sentosa Express monorail has improved access to the mainland, so some excellent deals can be found if you scout around.
The cheapest place to stay is actually off the mainland on the Southern Islands. The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) has extremely basic dormitory/school trip type accommodation on St John's Island from a scarcely credible $21.40/night, but you'll need to get somebody with Singaporean ID to make bookings well in advance and, if you manage to score a spot, bring everything down to toilet paper yourself.
You can also camp for free on St John's Island, the Sisters Islands and Pulau Hantu, but free camping permits from the Sentosa Development Corporation (☏) are required.
- 1 Siloso Beach Resort, 51 Imbiah Walk (Near Siloso Beach, take the Beach tram), ☏ . A simple "eco-rustic" hotel right off Siloso Beach, with a large swimming pool and functional if aging rooms. Still, it's the cheapest option on the island, and the resort gets some good karma for employing people with special needs. From $140.
- 2 Travelodge Harbourfront, 50 Telok Blangah Rd (across the road from Vivocity). This basic motel facing an elevated highway wins zero points for style or views, and the sailors whooping it up in the rooftop bar can get noisy. However, the rooms are clean and modern and the location right next to massive shopping mall Vivocity and the MRT interchange at Harbourfront is quite good, with Sentosa, Chinatown and the Riverside each minutes away by train. $160.
Sentosa features a sprinkling of resort hotels catering to those who want a beach holiday within striking distance of the city.
- 3 Amara Sanctuary, 1 Larkhill Rd (Near Palawan Beach), ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. Surrounded by 3.5 hectares of tropical rainforest, this hotel features 120 rooms in a converted British army barracks as well as 10 standalone garden villas. Three pools, in-house spa, easy walk to the beach. Disabled-friendly. $500.
- 4 Capella Singapore, 1 The Knolls, ☏ . Luxury resort designed by Foster+Partners, built around two colonial-era bungalows. With Balinese-style terraced pools, high-class restaurants and impeccable service, the Capella often comes up high in rankings of Singapore's best hotels. You can choose between spacious rooms in the main building or private villas complete with their own plunge pools.
Site of the 2018 summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un; the first ever bilateral summit between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader. $800.
- 5 Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa Resort, 101 Siloso Rd, ☏ . Opened in 1993, the granddaddy of all Sentosa hotels is also by far the largest on the island, with 459 rooms offering a well-maintained but rather generic package holiday experience. The main selling point is that this is Singapore's only genuine beach resort, with direct access to Siloso Beach and plenty of sea sports and family-friendly activities. $400.
- 6 The Sentosa Resort & Spa, 2 Bukit Manis Rd (yellow bus), ☏ . Formerly Beaufort Sentosa, this hilltop resort-style hotel on the quieter eastern side of the island is well known for its Spa Botanica and fancy restaurants. Renovated and looking better than ever, with a deep Olympic-sized pool. 300 m to Tanjong Beach. $420.
- Resorts World Sentosa (RWS buses, Waterfront Station), ☏ . There are a number of hotels at the integrated resort. All share the same reservation number and can also be booked online.
- 7 Crockfords Tower, Resorts World Sentosa. All-suite hotel exclusively for casino high rollers. Even if you aren't staying here, take a peek at the lobby and its several million dollars' worth of Chihuly glass. Invitation only.
- 8 Hard Rock Hotel, Resorts World Sentosa. Corporate rock for wannabe rock stars. The lagoon-style pool with real sand is nice though, and the Rang Mahal Pavilion is among the better options. From $225.
- 9 Hotel Michael, Resorts World Sentosa. Designed by and named after architect Michael Graves, but mostly in shades of lime. From $250.
- 10 Festive Hotel, Resorts World Sentosa. Family-oriented hotel where most rooms feature a special loft bed for the kids. More upmarket than you'd think. From $200.
- 11 Equarius Hotel, Resorts World Sentosa. Spacious bedrooms and bathrooms, with panoramic views of the sea or forest. From $300.
- 12 W Singapore, 21 Ocean Way, Sentosa Cove. The only hotel in Sentosa Cove, done up in an over-the-top style -- expect gilded furniture, pink mood lighting and brightly colored pop art -- memorably described as "what old people think young people think is cool". The nearest beach is a 15-min shuttle bus ride away, but on the upside, the hotel does have the largest pool in Singapore (complete with water slide) and most rooms have great views over the superyacht-laden marina. From $400.