Choosing between Dubai or Singapore for a vacation: this post compares city vibe, weather, sights, activities, nature, nightlife, shopping, lodging
Why compare Dubai and Singapore? Both are fascinating, ultra-modern, rich city-states with impressive skylines, stunning architecture and views, luxury shopping, upscale food and shopping, and lively nightlife scenes.
How do you decide whether to visit Dubai or Singapore? Dubai is an Arab Emirate located in the Arabian Gulf, while Singapore is a city-state in South East Asia close to Malaysia. Dubai is slightly smaller with 3M+ inhabitants vs 5.5M+ for Singapore. Dubai is stuck between the Gulf sea and the arid desert, while Singapore is near the tropics. Both Dubai and Singapore are very wealthy cities, but Dubai is primarily a Muslim country while Singapore has more of a cultural mix.
Let’s dig in and see how the two cities compare from a vacation standpoint.
Dubai or Singapore: what travelers say
Here are some key highlights travelers often mention when deciding between Dubai and Singapore:
- Singapore is known as Garden City due to its lush and green tropical feel and beautiful botanical gardens. Singapore laws encourage greenery on buildings and many apartments boast balconies with trees. Dubai, on the other hand, is surrounded by desert, which has its own charm – it has numerous fountains and gardens.
- Singapore has lots of rain while Dubai is mostly a dry climate. Dubai gets extremely hot in the summer but pleasant in the winter, while Singapore is around 30º year-round with very high humidity levels.
- Dubai is a blend of modern, glitter, and astonishing oversized man-made constructions, side-by-side with a traditional old town around the creek with bustling souks and wind towers. It also has a stunning beach and beautiful desert landscapes.
- Both Dubai & Singapore are very modern with fantastic infrastructures. Both have amazing skyscrapers, such as Burj Khalifa and Bur al Arab in Dubai.
- Singapore is a hub for Southeast Asia travel, while Dubai is a great base for visiting the Persian Gulf and the Middle-East
- Singapore is an intriguing blend of Western modernity and Asian culture. It’s multicultural with egalitarian laws with regards to religion, race, language, or social status. In Dubai, there are strong inequalities as the strict Muslim law favor Muslims. Dubai is also more favorable for people of Caucasian ethnicity.
- Singapore is expensive, considered one of the more expensive cities in the world. Dubai is comparatively more affordable.
- Singapore is compact and very pedestrian-friendly, making it pleasant to walk around areas like Chinatown and Little India. It has a very efficient public transportation system for getting around. Dubai is much more spread out, not so walker-friendly with big roads and large distances.
- Travelers often choose Dubai over Singapore for sunbathing and calm sandy beaches. However, Singapore also has nice beaches and parks on Sentosa Island and is very close to Malaysia’s world-class beaches.
- Dubai is known as a great destination for shopping with its oversized malls, and for its exceptional entertainment attractions, waterparks, and artificial islands, luxury shopping. Singapore is primarily known for is wildlife activities, Asian cultural experience, and shopping as well.
Dubai or Singapore: weather
As mentioned, Singapore is a tropical setting while Dubai is a desert. In December, temperatures in Dubai are very pleasant vs. hot and humid in Singapore. In May and in September, on the other hand, Singapore is a better choice as Dubai feels like an oven.
In Singapore, the frequent rains result in a very green and clean city with gardens and trees everywhere. It’s generally hot (30º) and humid (95%) with stormy evenings, which some travelers find exhausting.
In the summer months, walking outside in Singapore is more comfortable than Dubai, with an umbrella and sunglasses (strong glare due to the proximity of the equator). In Dubai, because of the strong heat, visitors tend to stay inside air-conditioned hotels and malls rather than venturing into the dusty and desert-like atmosphere.
The best time to visit Dubai is between January and March when temperatures vary between 12º and 20ºC with no humidity (unlike Singapore) and walking outside is pleasant.
Dubai or Singapore: access & transportation
When it comes to public transportation, Singapore is clearly ahead of Dubai as it has their MRT (metro and buses) is among the world’s best metro systems which makes it easy to commute everywhere.
There are also hop-on/hop-off bus lines and taxis are readily available. Singapore also has cable cars to Sentosa Island. You can walk or cycle across the city using the many city paths with rain shelters.
Dubai is not so pedestrian-friendly, with no sheltered walkways to protect walkers from the heat. Cars and fuel are cheap in Dubai so there’s significant traffic, traffic jams, and pollution in the desert city.
Dubai lags behind for public bus infrastructure. Taxis are very expensive. Metro stations are few and far apart, although quite nice – you typically have to walk nearly a mile to the nearest one and across 12-lane roads.
Dubai or Singapore: vibe & people
Singapore is a mix of Chinese (dominant influence), Malay, Arab, and English cultures, which makes for interesting history and diverse sights and cuisines. For example, Singapore celebrates many different holidays and festivals each year. Like Dubai, Singapore has a lot of expats.
Compared to Dubai, the people in Singapore are more Westernized, which makes the city easier to handle for some travelers. On the other hand, Singapore is the densely populated country in the world (6,430 inhabitants per square km!), something travelers need to get used to.
The Singapore landscape is composed of glittering skyscrapers, Chineses shops, Malay mosques, Hindu temples, and endless shopping malls, which all shine at night.
Singapore is an expensive city including for food and transport. It’s also one of the cleanest in the world and is extremely family-friendly with lots of activities for kids such as The Singapore Zoo, the Jurong Bird Park and Sentosa.
Like Dubai, Singapore has a very strict justice system and abundant police forces, which results in the city being very safe, including for women at night.
Dubai’s law system is not the most democratic and human-rights friendly. Singapore’s system is somewhat more liberal and less intrusive, resulting in somewhat better equality and freedom.
Dubai being a Muslim country, in a few places, as well as in nearby Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, you have to follow the Muslim dress code. Women also need to be escorted by men in some places. The strict Sharia law makes Dubai very safe for women, but women enjoy much more independence in Singapore.
As a tourist in Dubai, you will likely encounter many expats, though a lot pf Philipinos and Indians work there. Alcohol is not available in shops or at normal prices like in singapore, you need to go to hotels or clubs to have a drink.
Dubai or Singapore: attractions & sights
Dubai and Singapore both offer spectacular skyscraper buildings and attractions. Dubai, however, is adding new tourists attractions at a faster rate than Singapore.
Singapore is very tourist-oriented, with kiosks everywhere from the airport to the center for providing tourist information and tickets to the many activities and sights.
The city has world-class tourist attractions such as Universal Studios, one of the world’s most sought-after theme parks located on Sentosa Island (quite expensive). Flower Dome is a giant glass greenhouse with themed gardens and exotic plants. Jungle (Night) Safari, one of the city’s top attractions, is the first night zoo exhibiting hundreds of animals.
The Madame Tussauds wax museum, the Dolphin Lagoon, the Jurong Bird Park, the Singapore Flyer (giant observation wheel with panoramic views) are just a few other examples of extremely popular attractions in Singapore.
The city itself offers a lot to see, such as Marina Bay, a 360-hectare extension to the adjacent Central Business District and around the bay, and Gardens by the Bay, extensive gardens offering great waterfront views and light shows at night.
Other exceptional sights include Mandai Orchid Gardens, Clark Quay and Riverside, Supertrees, Buddha Tooth temples, and more.
In Dubai, some of the main sights and attractions include:
- Burj Khalifa: an 800+ stylish skyscraper with a stunning viewing deck and restaurant (“At The Top”) with breathtaking city views
- Burj Al Arab: Dubai’s most famous and opulent sail-shaped hotel situated on its own island with its private beach and high-end amenities
- Jumeira Beach: white sand beach on the Persian Gulf coast
- Palm Islands: artificial islands with a beautiful overall palm shape, hosting a posh boardwalk and luxury hotels and restaurants
- Ski Dubai: huge indoor ski center
- Dubai Marina: posh residential area and yacht marina with a waterfront promenade, luxury cafes, and mall with luxury brands.
You can book a desert safari tour in the evening to take you in a 4WD into the dunes. Dubai also has countless large waterparks such as Atlantis The Palm and Wild Wadi Water Park. The Dubai Aquarium and underwater zoo (Dubai Mall) is another major attraction.
Dubai or Singapore: nightlife
Nightlife in both Dubai and Singapore is a huge topic as both cities are major party hubs when the sun comes down. Though I’ll barely scratch the surface in this section, here are a few highlights.
In Singapore, the Clark Quay riverside festival village is among the most popular and affordable pub and club clusters in the city. Orchard Road (and Orchard Towers) is Singapore’s red-light district with cheap pubs and discos.
Holland Village is a popular expat area with many ethnic restaurants and bars. Saint-James Power Station is a huge entertainment building with several clubs inside. Boat Quay is a historical area by the river with many eateries and pubs.
Robertson Quay is a peaceful district with international dining, wine bars, and art houses. The Marina Bay Sands area has many restaurants and bars near the Merlion Park.
While other parts of the United Arab Emirates prohibit the consumption of alcohol, in Dubai non-muslims are free to drink. Bars and clubs will check your ID (passport) before letting you in. Drinking and driving is not tolerated, however, so take a taxi home after having even a single beer,
Clubs will generally not let men in if you’re wearing casual clothes (jeans, shorts, running shoes…).
Many people choose the Dubai Marina to go out at night as the 7-km promenade has many restaurants and lounge/shisha bars. The Dubai Mall also gets lively in the evening as it stays open quite late, with the Dubai Fountain and the Burj Khalifa light show and the nearby waterside restaurants attracting strollers.
Dubai’s beach clubs such as the Nikki Beach typically offer live music and a relaxed atmosphere for a drink. Another option is to head to clubs and bars in the big hotels, which often have foreign DJs playing. Again, you’ll typically need to dress up to get in.
(1) Featured: “Dubai From Above” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by makitdev
(2) “Singapore” (CC BY 2.0) by travelourplanet.com
(3) “Dubai Marina, view from Fairmont – The P” (CC BY 2.0) by Nishat A. Khan
(4) “Singapore” (CC BY 2.0) by jo.sau
(5) “Dubai Palm Island” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Em and Ernie
(6) “Singapore at night” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Jimmy McIntyre – Editor HDR One Magazine