So, you’re planning to visit Singapore during Chinese New Year, but you’re not sure whether Singapore is a great destination during CNY festive season?
I get it. I have spent several Chinese New Years in Singapore and the first one was the hardest. I didn’t expect that shopping malls will be quiet and finding a Chinese food will be so difficult.
Over the years, I have learned how things work during Chinese New Year, and I’ve learned to make plans early on what to do, what to eat and where to go during CNY.
If it’s your first time visiting Singapore during Chinese New Year, you might feel underwhelmed or shortchanged because Singapore isn’t like what most people portray it to be.
Well, Singapore during CNY is definitely not the same as Singapore during Christmas, or other period. During CNY, you may not be able to find Chinese food easily, but there are plenty of mouthwatering Malay, Indian and even Western food that are still open as usual.
In this article, I’ll discuss about what to expect and what you can do to make your trip worthwhile. If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments. Alright, let’s dive into it!
When is Chinese New Year in Singapore?
The date for Chinese New Year varies every year. For 2023, the dates for Chinese New Year in Singapore are 22 – 23 January 2023 (Sunday & Monday).
Chinese New Year is celebrated for 15 days in Singapore, however, only Day 1 (22 Jan 2023) and Day 2 (23 Jan 2023) are public holidays. Most people go back to work and school on Tuesday, 24 Jan 2023, unless they go on leave.
When is the Best Time to Travel to Singapore for Chinese New Year?
Generally, these are the travel traffic during the Chinese New Year period:
- D-2 and D-3 (19-20 Jan): Quite Busy
- Eve of CNY (21 Jan): VERY Busy
- Day 1 of CNY (22 Jan): Not Busy
- Day 2 of CNY (23 Jan): Not Busy
- Day 3-6 of CNY (24-27 Jan): A Little Busy
- Day 7-8 of CNY (28-29 Jan): Quite Busy
These surge in travel traffic is due to: workforce returning to their home countries to celebrate CNY, Singaporeans traveling out of the country to spend CNY elsewhere, Singaporeans abroad coming back to Singapore to celebrate CNY, and tourists coming to Singapore for vacation.
If you’re coming to Singapore overland by bus, taxi, car, avoid traveling during “Quite Busy” and “VERY Busy” periods, because tickets will be sky high and the amount of time you spent in traffic jam will make you question your decision to travel at all.
Meanwhile, if you’re coming by train or ferry, there won’t be traffic jam but there might be travel delays, and prices will be expensive as well.
If you’re coming to Singapore by flight during “Quite Busy” and “VERY Busy” periods, there might be some delay at immigration and you might have to fork out more for pricey tickets.
So, the best time to visit Singapore is OUTSIDE “Quite Busy” and “VERY Busy” periods.
PS: Your miles may vary, these are based on my own experience and observation.
How is Singapore During the Chinese New Year?
The days leading up to CNY
During the one month leading up to Chinese New Year, the Chinatown and a lot of the places in Singapore will be decorated with CNY ornaments. You will definitely hear CNY songs everywhere you go. And you can almost certainly find CNY goodies being sold at every malls/markets. It is a festive season!
People in Singapore will be busy shopping for new clothes, CNY snacks and groceries to prepare CNY meals at home. Malls and supermarkets will be more crowded than usual.
You will also find long queues at famous Bak Kwa shops. If you’re not celebrating CNY but you want to try bak kwa, my advice is try to buy them after CNY because bak kwa price usually skyrockets during the days leading up to CNY, and will go down after CNY. But, if you’re only in Singapore for a short time, then you should definitely try bak kwa before you leave.
The days leading up to CNY
What to do: See street decorations at Chinatown, try CNY snacks but avoid buying overpriced bak kwa unless necessary
Where to go: Chinatown, Gardens by the Bay, and other places in your itinerary
What to eat: Hawkers food
All the festive celebration and crowd will slowly disappear on CNY Eve. That’s because most people will finish work early and go back home to prepare for the important reunion dinner that’s taking place on CNY Eve.
Most shops, restaurants, hawkers will only open in the morning and close in the afternoon to prepare for the dinner. Some are even closed for the entire day of CNY Eve. But, most non-Chinese shops will still open as usual.
If you’re a traveler who’s not celebrating CNY, you have 2 options:
- Option 1: Be prepared that you will not have a lot of food options in the evening. Be flexible and eat whatever food that’s available on CNY Eve.
- Option 2: Make a reservation at Chinese restaurants to experience eating reunion dinner on CNY Eve. Be prepared to pay higher-than-normal prices though.
From 10.30pm to 1am on CNY Eve, there will be a Countdown Party at Chinatown’s Kreta Ayer Square. There will be live performances from local artists. I’m not sure if there will be fireworks because it’s not mentioned by the organizer.
Beside that, River Hongbao will be open until 12.15am, so if you’re not a fan of Chinatown, you can consider going to River Hongbao at Gardens by the Bay.
Public transport (MRT and bus) operation hours will be extended on the CNY Eve, so you don’t have to worry about not being able to get back with public transport. But, getting a taxi after countdown event may be challenging. I recommend that you stay at hotels near MRT.
What to do: Get your dinner early because it might be a struggle to find food in the evening
Where to go: Countdown at Chinatown or River Hongbao or Marina Bay
What to eat: Malay food, Indian food, Western food, Fast food; or eat reunion dinner at high-end Chinese restaurants
CNY Day 1 and 2
On CNY Day 1 and Day 2, most of the Chinese shops usually remain closed. Streets will be relatively quiet because most businesses are not running. At times, Singapore may feel like a ghost town with the disappearance of the crowd and closure of shops.
Again, your food options will be limited during these days. My advice is the same as what I’ve written about CNY Eve. You can try the available food options, probably some fast food, western food, Malay or Indian food. Because of limited manpower, expect longer serving times in the restaurants that are open.
Or, you can make a reservation at high-end Chinese restaurants to enjoy CNY special meals. On CNY Day 1 and Day 2, most of them don’t serve normal menu, they only serve CNY special menu, which are more expensive than the usual menu. If you’re not willing to pay between 50-100 per person, I’d recommend steering away from high-end Chinese restaurants on Day 1 and Day 2.
On CNY Day 1 & 2, you can consider spending a whole day at Universal Studios Singapore or Gardens by the Bay. These attractions are open as usual, and the on-site restaurants are usually open as well.
You can also visit the Istana; the palace of Singapore is open for public only 5 times a year, including Chinese New Year. However, you need to check the exact date on Istana Open House website.
CNY Day 1 and 2
What to do: Visit tourist attractions, Visit Istana Open House
Where to go: Universal Studios Singapore, Gardens by the Bay, Marina Bay, Singapore Zoo, Sentosa
What to eat: Malay food, Indian food, Western food, Fast food
CNY Day 3 to 15
From Day 3 onwards, shops will start to resume their business and people will gradually return to office. School starts immediately on Day 3.
As more people return to school and work, less people will eat at Chinese restaurants. Therefore, it will be easier for you to get a table. Furthermore, Chinese restaurants will resume serving normal menu, hence you don’t need to worry about paying the overpriced CNY special meals. It’s the best time for you to try CNY dishes, such as yusheng.
People will flock to Chinatown, Gardens by the Bay and various attraction places in Singapore as they are still in festive mood, hence, the city will no longer be a ghost town.
CNY Day 3 to 15
What to do: Buy bak kwa which will now be, hopefully, cheaper
Where to go: Chingay Parade (booking is required), places in your itinerary
What to eat: Try Yusheng at Chinese restaurants
How Do Locals Celebrate Chinese New Year?
1 month before CNY: People will be busy doing spring cleaning of the house, shopping for new clothes, shopping for CNY snacks, visiting Chinatown to see the street light up and decorations. Those who are in corporate setting will be busy gifting CNY hampers. Some will be queueing up at banks to get new notes to prepare for hongbao that they’ll be giving out during CNY.
CNY Eve: Those who work in corporate will usually work for half day. Then, they’ll go home and prepare to cook for reunion dinner. At night, immediate family members will gather at the parent’s house for a reunion dinner. For families who do not cook, they will be ordering takeout or dining at the restaurants. After dinner, some may stay in, while others will head out for countdown events at Chinatown or River Hongbao.
CNY Day 1 and 2: People will be visiting relatives, giving hong bao to the unmarried, gathering for CNY meals either at home or restaurants. Many will visit temples to pray for a blessed new year ahead.
CNY Day 3 to 15: Children will start going to school on Day 3. Adults will gradually return to work. Shops, restaurants, hawkers and businesses will gradually resume operation. In the evenings or weekends, those in corporate will be having CNY dinner events. People will also start to go out more, visiting Chinatown, River Hongbao and Chingay.
Where to go during Chinese New Year in Singapore?
There are plenty of places you can go during Chinese New Year in Singapore. You can read my guide on Chinese New Year Events in Singapore. My personal favorites are the Chinatown street light up and River Hongbao.
Check out my article about best things to do in Singapore where I compiled over 60 things you can do to see the real Singapore.
Singapore’s border is open to all visitors all the time, including during Chinese New Year. Most businesses are closed on CNY Eve, CNY Day 1 and Day 2. After that, businesses start to gradually resume operation. By Day 9, most businesses are open as usual.
Chinatown, River Hongbao, Gardens by the Bay.
No. Most Chinese businesses are closed, but non-Chinese businesses remain open as usual.
Singapore is busy during the days leading up to Chinese New Year. But, Singapore is quiet on Chinese New Year Day 1 and 2.
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