Muslim solo female travelers have traditionally been far and few between, and for religious and cultural reasons we are often considered to be the least likely demographic to engage in solo traveling.
Over the past few years the numbers of Muslim solo travellers have spiked and this is partly due to the number of younger female travelers who are learning how to travel alone as a woman.
Muslim women customarily travel with our male guardians or in family groups. The younger generation of educated, financially independent women are now seeking out immersive and authentic solo travel experiences that explore other cultures and destinations.
Or like myself, a more mature single woman travelling alone. One who has stopped waiting around for a relative to join them on a travel adventure.
I have learned over the years of solo traveling that my experiences and my expectations for a solo trip may be far different to that of a fair skinned non-muslim solo female traveler. Some of what we experience as Muslim solo travelers on our trips comes about because we are often visibly different in looks and dress from the local population, or because we are not.
In my experience, the culture and customs of the local people at the destination has a major impact on the female solo travel experience. If people are going to molest or disrespect you, they won’t care if you are alone or with others, in fact in some cases it gives the offender more of a thrill to have a potential audience.
My least memorable travel experiences took place when I was traveling with my parents. I can only imagine that the unwanted advances and groping that I endured would have been so much worse had I been alone.
If you are planning on traveling alone for the first time these Top Travel Tips for any traveller as well as The truth about travelling solo as a Muslim woman may be useful. Both articles contain guidance for every aspect of your trip preparation and travel as well as solo female travel tips.
Key Concerns for Muslim solo female travelers
Since I embarked on solo travel I have become acutely aware of what my priorities are when traveling alone. I make mental and sometimes actual notes of places I would like to visit and scan my regular news media for any travel advisories or warnings. I also take on board the recommendations of relatives, friends and colleagues who have already traveled to a destination that I may be considering.
In addition to the usual safety issues, Muslim solo travelers also have to contend with Islamophobia and threats of physical violence.
Safety, Security and fears of Islamophobia
- The ability to walk down the street without fear that some stranger will rip off our hijab and start hurling profanities is always paramount, especially after the rising intolerance towards Muslims and foreigners in certain European and North American destinations.
- I want to be able to move around city streets without fear that someone will push me into oncoming traffic, or waiting for a train without wondering if the person behind me will try to throw me in the path of an oncoming train.
- For me, being treated with dignity, respect and courtesy and never feeling objectified or demeaned in interactions with the opposite gender is a non-negotiable requirement.
- Safety and visible security or police presence in the city or the areas where tourists are more likely to frequent empowers us to explore more of the destination, knowing that help is only a shout out away.
- I always use an anti-theft cross body bucket bag that has cut-proof straps and slash proof fabric. It also has two pockets to hold a water bottle and umbrella. Since I started using this bag I am much less stressed about being the clueless victim of a slash and grab or a pick-pocket.
- When I venture out alone at night I ensure that the area is very well lit and that there are other travelers around. In summer sunset is close to 9pm so that is more than enough time for dinner or street food.
Solo female travel destinations
I must confess that there are certain places that I would never travel to alone, based on my own experiences on family trips or public perception. I have tended to opt for destinations that I consider safer for solo female Muslim travelers.
Thus far it has been limited to cities that have a well developed public transportation and tourism infrastructure and where travelers can move around freely. I prefer to visit a destination where I can enjoy the experience of learning about the culture and people and not concentrate on how afraid I am to move around. The destination must-haves include the following:
- A city or town should be walk-able and many of the hotels, museums, sightseeing attractions are centralized in the same area. This cuts down on transportation costs but also means that multiple activities can be done on the same day.
- Accessibility to transport links and solo activities from the centralized areas is useful and allows one to focus on enjoying the adventure instead of spending too much time travelling to get to it.
- Halal or Muslim-friendly food options are always a challenge in countries with majority non-Muslim populations, but there are usually vegetarian and vegan options available.
Accommodation for solo female travelers
If I had started traveling solo when I was much younger I may have considered hostel accommodation. However, I value my privacy and quiet space and find that hotels and apartments are more suitable for my needs.
When selecting accommodation I look for hotels or apartments that comply with the following criteria:
- Close proximity to the main train station or on a metro line. If you do choose a hotel close to the main train station google it online to get an idea about the area. Some of the areas around the main train stations are less attractive than stops further along.
- Proximity to the bus or tram stations are an added bonus.
- Within walking distance to some of the major attractions.
If I know the area that I would like to stay in I check for accommodations within my budget on booking.com and TripAdvisor.
I choose the one that has the best reviews and location within my budget. The reviews on either of the two websites often give a good idea of what the pros and cons are of the accommodation. I also check how the management respond to negative reviews or complaints about hygiene and safety.
Accessible and Reliable Transportation
One of the best tips for traveling alone for the first time is to ensure that you know how to get safely from your arrival entry point to your accommodation.
Private transport or airport transfers can be quite expensive if they are not included in the price of the room booking. Nowadays I rely on public transport as it is much cheaper and it is an important consideration when choosing a destination.
- Many big cities have direct and affordable transport links from the airport to the city including taxis, busses or trains and I have found these to be quite safe and affordable. In Istanbul the travel bags are scanned even when you take a train and this actually made me feel safer somehow.
- I always choose flights that arrive during day time and with enough daylight to reach my accommodation because when you are tired and dragging a suitcase you are less likely to be alert to immediate dangers. I have seen strangers lost in the city get mugged at night and prefer to minimise my exposure to criminal actions.
- When I have travelled to a city where the public transportation was questionable, I opted for an airport transfer to ensure that I was able to reach my hotel without any issue. For the return journey I took a taxi from the hotel to the airport as it was much cheaper.
- There must be reliable public transport and rail links that make it possible to travel around the city or country for sightseeing or visiting other places of interest.
- Ride sharing services like Uber, Taxify or Lyfft that provide safe passage from areas where public transportation may not be available.
- Reasonably priced and regulated taxi services and driver services in cities where the public transportation infrastructure is lacking.
Best places to travel alone
There are many places that I have enjoyed visiting but I have listed my favorite places for traveling alone in Europe and the best places to travel alone in Asia.
Without exception the locals were friendly and hospitable and made me feel like I was among family, instead of alone in a foreign country. If you are planning on taking a trip alone, any of these are a good option.
Istanbul – Turkey
My first visit to Istanbul was in March 2000, at the end of a very cold Winter. Although it was technically Spring, I needed a heavy woollen coat, thick thermal gloves and socks to keep warm. Since then I have been back to Istanbul many times, and since discovering the joys of Turkish food I will probably pay a few more visits in shaa ALLAH.
To learn more about what to do in Istanbul read my Solo Traveler’s Istanbul Travel Guide.
In the years since my first visit, Turkey has gone from being an overtly secular state that was inhospitable to observant Muslims; to a place where Muslims from all parts of the world feel safe and enjoy spending time. I recall very clearly on my first visit that I saw a few old ladies wearing hijab and dressed in all black in the area I was staying, and a few younger married women who wore the long Turkish coat style dresses with head covers.
After the regime change it seemed like Muslims felt more comfortable to reflect their faith in their outward identity and more men wore beards and women of all ages wear hijab. Instead of the empty mosques at prayer time during my first few visits, now Muslims in the city are able to observe prayers in congregation without fear of persecution.
There are numerous accommodation options for all budgets in all areas of the city. Istanbul has many luxury hotels in Sultanahmet, across the Golden Horn in Beyoglu and Cihangir as well as on the Asian side in Uskudar or Kadikoy. It will only depend on your requirements and what you want to be close to.
- I loved Hotel Miniature, a boutique hotel located close to the Sultanahmet tram station. The staff were very helpful and provided much useful information and tips. Check rates and availability.
- Doubletree by Hilton Sirkeci – is opposite an entrance to Sirkeci metro station and close to Gülhane tram stop. We got a free upgrade to a suite through my Hilton Honors membership. Check rates and availability.
- Nuru Ziya Suites – Beyoglu: This is very close to Istiklal street and walking distance to Sishane metro and the Tunnel. If you book online directly through their website they offer free one way airport transfers, for a minimum number of 4 nights. Check rates and availability.
- Best Western Plus – The President Hotel, Beyazit: This is down the road opposite to the Beyazit tram stop and close to the Grand Bazaar. It was my least favorite hotel because the room was tiny and felt claustrophobic even for a solo traveller. The breakfast was good though and they had a wide variety of traditional turkish baked goods. Check rates and availability.
Food options in Istanbul
You will never run out of new foods and delicacies to try in Istanbul because of the varied regional and international offerings. Since 2008 Turkey has had a Halaal Certification body that provides assurance regarding the permissibility of food and food products for Muslim consumers.
Many restaurants in Istanbul are Muslim owned and some do have official certification while others do not. There are Non-Muslim communities in Istanbul who have their own food culture so confirm whether they are halaal before consuming meats.
There are so many hidden gems within the tourist areas that it is not necessary to overpay for authentic delicious Turkish food.
- The Gülhane Kandil Cafe at Gülhane Park is a great place for an affordable Turkish breakfast with a beautiful view.
- My favorite restaurant in Istanbul is the Deraliye Ottoman Palace restaurant near to the Sultan Ahmet tram station.
- In the Sirkeci area as well as behind and adjacent to the Spice Bazaar there many small local shops and stalls that sell traditional Turkish foods. You can find many of these in my Backstreets of the Bazaar Quarter food tour.
- In Besiktas there is an entire street dedicated to Turkish breakfasts and you can reach it by going up Ortabahçe Cd and passing the eagle monument. For inspiration check out the Born on the Bosphorus food tour.
- The Taksim area is very touristy and overpriced but there are so many options around the next metro stop. For more ideas check out the Shop, Cook, Feast post.
- The Beyoğlu district has many quaint neighborhood eateries and you can read more about these in my Hidden Beyoğlu post.
- The backstreets of the Old City are teeming with authentic Turkish specialities and you can read more about where to go in my Culinary Secrets of the Old City food tour post.
How to get around Istanbul
Istanbul has an extensive and efficient rail, metro and tram system that serves most of the European side and extends to the Asian side. There are also metered taxis as well as Uber services.
- You can purchase an Istanbul Card at the airport kiosk and take the metro from the airport into the city. The Istanbul card can be used for the metro, the tram as well as the funiculars in Beyoglu. One card can be used for a solo traveller, a couple or family too as long as there is sufficient credit to swipe for each person for every journey.
- A tram line operates in the Sultanahmet side and passes most of the tourist sites and the one on the Beyoglu side was being upgraded during my last visit.
- There are also taxis and Uber services a call away. We used an Uber to get from the DoubleTree by Hilton in Sirkeci to the apartment in Beyoglu and the rate was very reasonable for a luxury vehicle that could take all 3 of us plus luggage.
- The tourism industry in Istanbul is one of the most organized industries I have encountered. Any tour can be booked from most hotels including overnight trips to other cities. The hotel pick-ups are timely and transportation is in air-conditioned coaches with knowledgeable tour guides. The only thing I would not recommend are the dinners that the travel desk can organize, often with transportation to touristy type restaurants. The food is often ridiculously expensive and not very good quality or value for money.
Why I love Istanbul
- I love seeing the mountains and smelling the ocean as one drives from the airport to the city.
- I love the baklava and Turkish delight at the Güllüoğlu store in the Spice Bazaar and the fact that I could go there after 15 years and the same people were still working there.
- I love Turkish tea and being offered a cup at every store whether I want to buy anything or not.
- I love that Turkish men are respectable and decent and that in all my visits I have only once felt disrespected when walking around in the markets and being called to buy from the wide array of Turkish souvenirs.
London – United Kingdom
I find London to be one of the most expensive cities to stay in, whether you travel as a single woman or with family or friends.
A few years ago I ended up taking a trip alone to attend a Blogger’s Conference in a suburb called Chiswick, on the outskirts of west London.
I decided at the outset that I did not want to live very far from the conference venue so that I could reduce the amount of daily travelling. I found that Chiswick had a few guesthouses, hotels and airbnb rooms available and most were within budget. In my estimation this area is the best place to stay in London for a solo traveller. It has a village feel while being within close proximity to the city center.
The London hotel scene has changed much and there are more reasonably priced hotels that don’t look like the flophouses around the busier train stations.
Where to stay in London
- Very often the city hotel or guesthouse rates are high for very small rooms with private bathrooms. There are also options with shared bathrooms in guesthouses or bed and breakfast accommodation.
- Many of the very expensive bed and breakfast accommodations and guesthouses around the Oxford Street shopping district are badly lit and expensive for the small size rooms.
- I selected the Best Western Chiswick Palace & Suites because it was on Chiswick High Street, the rooms are small but clean and have private bathrooms. They also had ground floor rooms as well as an elevator for the upper floors. Check rates and availability.
- The hotel’s reception desk is on hand to assist any sightseeing tours or taxi bookings that may be requested .
- The hotel’s proximity to underground rail links was useful for traveling into the city on the days I had the London East End Food Tour or went sightseeing to Borough market. There are two underground stations within 10 minutes walking distance from the hotel.
Food options in London
London has many Muslim immigrant communities and a halaal food certification authority that inspects, audits and certifies compliance with halaal principles.
- Regrettably there were no halaal eateries in Chiswick but there were seafood, vegetarian and vegan options at many of the cafes and restaurants. Turham Green Terrace had a number of artisanal food stores that made me regret not having a place to cook.
- The area of Tooting Broadway (Northern Line) has many halaal eateries and butcher shops and a sizable Pakistani and Indian community. There are numerous Indian sweet shops where I used to go for the best jelebi.
- Brick Lane is in the east London suburb of Spitalfields and is home to a large community of Bangladeshi immigrants. The Jamme Mosque is on the corner of Fournier Street and Brick Lane as formerly a synagogue. The area is accessible via Liverpool Street and Aldgate East tube stations. Many of the restaurants are muslim owned although some do serve alcohol.
- When I went to visit my cousin’s family in Mile End I noticed that there were many halaal eateries right at the exit of the tube station. My cousin’s daughter indicated that this area was popular with Bangladeshi and other immigrant muslim communities too.
- I recently came to know that certain ASDA supermarkets stock halaal certified meat and poultry items and this may be an option for travellers choosing self catering accommodation.
How to get around London
London has an extensive public transportation system with rail, underground and bus links to all areas of the city. There are also regional rail and bus links to towns further afield.
- I bought a London Pass that enabled me to use the bus, rail and underground transportation as well as free or reduced entry fees for popular attractions.
- There are black cabs and other metered taxi services available at the airport and for travel within the city, but those tend to be pricey and best avoided if you’re on a budget.
- There are regular bus services from Central London to all areas of the metropolitan area, with many connecting at the busier train stations.
- Chiswick is serviced by two stops on the District Line between Heathrow Airport and London. It made traveling from and to the airport very convenient and was also useful for getting into the city for sightseeing and visiting relatives.
- On the day of my return journey the hotel made a taxi booking with a fixed rate to drop me at Heathrow Airport.
Why I love London
- I love the convenience of the public transportation system that makes anywhere in the city just a train or bus ride away.
- I love that the immigrant communities in various parts of the city have made it easy for Muslims from elsewhere to find halaal food.
- I love that the many of the city’s attractions are within walking distance of each other.
- I love that British people I encountered are not the fearful hateful Islamophobic and xenophobic individuals that their elected officials seem to be.
George Town, Penang – Malaysia
My first Penang trip was with my parents in 1994. That was before the gentrification of George Town, the capital city of the state of Penang in Malaysia, and the declaration of a huge swathe of the old city as a UNESCO World Heritage site. We were there for only a few days and spent much of it sightseeing and shopping at Prangin Mall.
When I decided to revisit Malaysia, the first place on my list was George Town, because I had been fascinated over the years by the transformation. It went from what looked like a slum area thirty years ago, to one of the foremost foodie hotspots in Asia, if not the world. The area from the airport to the city used to be lush green fields and tropical growth, now it is mostly residential neighbourhoods comprised of high rise buildings.
Where to stay in Penang
I tried to find the hotel that I stayed at on the trip with my parents in 1994 but I the only one with the same name still in existence is not at the same place and is much smaller.
- On my solo trip to Penang I stayed at the Seven Terraces Hotel in Stewart Lane, one of four hotels in the George Town Heritage hotels portfolio. Seven Terraces Hotel is at the center of the heritage area and I was able to walk to the cooking class opposite the Campbell Street wet market as well as the food tour that started in Little India. Check rates and availability.
- The hotel is made up of restored 19th century Anglo-Chinese terraced shophouses that have been completely re-designed and adapted for modern travellers. The rooms are spacious and the furnishings take you back to the time of the Peranakan mansions, with sumptuous velvets and deep dark woods.
- There are many hotels on the beach front at George Town as well as beach resorts further down the coast at Batu Ferringhi.
- Many of the properties in the core Heritage area of George Town have been redeveloped into boutique hotels, guesthouses, self-catering apartments and backpacker hostels.
Food options in George Town, Penang
Over the years Penang street food has garnered world attention as some of the best in the world. From Indian, Chinese, Malay and everything in between, there is so much to see and delight in.
- Little India has so many halaal food options and all equally spicy and aromatic. The food here tends to be mostly South Indian as many of the immigrants were from the state of Tamil Nadu. There are however a few Hyderabadi restaurants too.
- The area between Lebuh Campbell and Lebuh Kimberly has some of the best Chinese food but most of it is not halaal. Many of the eateries allow you to bring outside food and sit at a table as long as you order something from their own menu for a minimum amount.
- Pasar Chow Rasta in Jalan Chow Rasta is the wet market where you can find fresh fish, meat and chicken. There is also an early morning wet market in Campbell Street.
- There are also shops selling every type of Malaysian delicacy for cooking and is a good option if you are staying in self catering accommodation.
- I loved the food at Kebaya restaurant of the Seven Terraces hotel and had dinner there on two occasions to sample Malay specialities. They are not halaal but do serve vegetarian and seafood options.
How to get around George Town
Like most Malaysian cities George Town has a very reliable airport taxi service and metered taxis for use within the city. There are also Uber and Grab services operational.
- Taxis are available at the airport and these are prepaid with rates based on the type of car and the distance to the destination. I booked a taxi from the Penang International Airport to the hotel at the airport taxi desk.
- The Heritage area of George Town is small enough to walk to every corner within a few hours. Walking around the heritage area is a wonderful way to observe the pace of life and to admire the street art that is visible on walls all over town.
- Many of the museums and places of interest are closed on a Sunday so check in advance.
- There are many walking tours available for Penang and I had booked a cooking class and evening food tour before my trip.
- The Seven Terraces hotel is located quite close to the beach front and I could walk there on a Sunday afternoon and enjoy a cold beverage and sliced fruits while breathing in the fresh sea air.
- All the hotels will arrange any guided tours with their preferred operators if requested.
- To get to the airport for my return trip to Kuala Lumpur, the hotel reception called a metered taxi and I reached the airport with time to spare.
Why I love George Town, Penang
- I loved my daily walks in the Heritage area and seeing the dilapidated pre-war buildings side by side with restored shop houses converted into cafes, restaurants and lodgings.
- I loved visiting the wet market and the street food stalls even though I couldn’t eat everything.
- I loved walking around the heritage area of George Town and photographing all the street art and steel rod caricatures based on Penang culture, that I could identify in historic World Heritage area.
- I loved that it felt like one of the safest cities in Asia.
- I loved the staff at the Seven Terraces Hotel who were so kind and generous with their advice and made me feel like I was saying goodbye to my family when I left.
Florence – Italy
During the train journey from Rome to Florence, I was mesmerised by the rolling hills of the incredibly fertile countryside and the beauty of nature that made every frame appear like a masterpiece painting.
After my initial horror at being in a place that was all narrow streets and fifty shades or more of beige, I fell in love with those caramel and ochre tones and the relaxed pace of life.
Where to stay in Florence
The tourist accommodation in Florence is less expensive than that in other major Italian cities and many are within walking distance of the Santa Maria Novella train station.
- On my first trip I selected an affordable small family run hotel, Hotel Bella Firenze. It is set in a restored and renovated 19th century building a few blocks down from the main train station and within walking distance to the Mercato Centrale. There was a bus stop right at the hotel for busses going to the Uffizi Gallery and central historic areas. Check rates and availability.
- On my second trip to Florence I stayed at delightful self-catering apartments in a secure compound right in the city center. Once inside the walls the din of the city traffic disappeared and my senses were overtaken by the fragrant aroma of rosemary and other aromatics in the gardens. This was located in a mostly pedestrian street with many cafes and trattorias and was within walking distance to the Duomo and Pont de Vecchio. Check rates and availability.
Food options in Florence
Florence is renowned for it’s Bistecca alla Fiorentina, the famous T-Bone Steak seared on a hot grill and eaten very rare. Another delicacy is Lampredotto, Florentine style slow cooked tripe served on a pannini with herb sauce. As much as I would have loved to try both there did not appear to be any halaal options available at the time.
- I found the Mercato Centrale Firenze in the San Lorenzo area to be the ideal place for fresh produce and authentic honest Tuscan food.
- The ground floor of the covered market has fish, meat and fresh produce vendors along with a few food stalls selling prepared foods. I had a very fresh and delicious seafood platter at a ‘fish and chip’ shop.
- The first floor of the covered market has artisanal traders selling breads, confectionery, salumi, cheeses, pasta, wine, coffee and chocolate amongst others and they are open from 10am until midnight.
- The owner of the hotel that I stayed in recommended Trattoria Dall’Oste, a steakhouse on the next block, that uses their shopfront to display their cuts of meat in chilled window units. They served very healthy portions and I appreciated the service from the elderly waiter. The prices were reasonable but the menu seemed more tourist friendly.
- On the Other Side of Florence food tour I tasted fabulous authentic vegetarian food that still brings a smile to my face and attended a cantuccini (aka biscotti) making workshop. The Oltarno side has many multi-generational family businesses as well as newer offerings that appeal to more modern tastes.
How to get around Florence
The central historical area of Florence is very compact and the city is very walkable. The sidewalks are narrower than most however, and on many roads you will find restaurant seating in a demarcated area on the road.
- The Santa Maria Novella train station appears to be the main transport hub for travellers into and out of Florence. There are rail connections to other cities in the North and South of the country as well as trains to small towns in Tuscany.
- The airport can be reached via Volainbus shuttle services.
- There are local bus routes to the main tourist attractions and museums as well as regional busses to the towns of Siena, Pisa and San Gimignano. The bus station for the regional bus routes is located near to Hotel Bella Firenze.
- Most of the hotels have a tour booking service to assist guests with bookings for museums and tours.
Why I love Florence
I did not expect to depart from Florence with a heavy heart and a regret that I could not stay for longer. Yet on the day that I left to board my train for Venice, I felt a physical tug of my heart strings, as I said my final farewell to what has become one of my favorite cities.
- I remember the moment that I fell in love with Florence. I was standing on the Ponte alla Carraia, the bridge over the river Arno that I was crossing to go to the Other Side of Florence food tour on my second day in Florence. I stood to take some photos of both sides of the river and at one point felt completely spellbound by the beauty and colors (yes, all the beige) against the blue skies.
- I love the green spaces where locals and tourists alike can spend some time eating gelato and enjoying the cooling breeze. In the late afternoon or evening I would take stroll down to the Piazza Santa Maria Novella, a park like environment encircled by hotels and cafes but still very peaceful.
- I loved that I could walk home from dinner at night and not worry about my safety.
When I decided to add a 2 day stay in Singapore on my whistle stop trip to Malaysia for my first visit in 24 years, it was more as an afterthought more than anything else. I decided to travel to Singapore from Penang and included this on a multi-leg Malaysia airlines ticket.
I remembered Singapore as a place that was expensive, over policed and sterile. The only things I really wanted to do there were to have afternoon tea at the Raffles Hotel and take a food tour.
I had visited Singapore on three occasions previously, and had visited Sentosa island on the very first visit in 1993. Subsequent visits were mostly for shopping with my parents. I was curious to see whether I would find the fabric shop where my father and I bought my cousin’s bridal lace.
Where to stay in Singapore
On trips with my parents we stayed in a hotel near Collyer Quay and at The Boulevard Hotel on Orchard Boulevard near Orchard Street in one of Singapore’s chicest neighborhoods. The Boulevard Hotel has been converted to a luxury boutique hotel called the Singapore Edition that is poised to re-open in 2019.
- On my solo trip to Singapore I stayed in the Intercontinental Singapore, located in the core central area. I got an upgrade with my IHG Ambassador membership and in this case it was to a Junior suite. Check rates and availability.
- The room comes with the use of a smartphone that has all the necessary tourist information pre-loaded for making tour bookings directly.
- The Intercontinental was within walking distance of the Raffles Hotel and a short taxi ride away from Arab Street as well as the The Gardens by the Bay.
- On my next visit I would definitely try an apartment, preferably in the Kampong Glam or core district.
Food options in Singapore
- Some of my most memorable meals on vacation were at a restaurant near the Mohamed Mustafa department store on Serangoon Road in Little India. Since then the department store has expanded and the same owners have an entire shopping center with foreign exchange, travel services and a hotel on Syed Aliwi Road nearby.
- The Mustafa Centre now has it’s own cafe on the ground floor and there are at least ten other cafes and restaurants within walking distance including vegetarian and meat options.
- The area of Kampong Glam is the Malay heritage area of Singapore and is also home to Arab street, where all the best textile shops can be found.
- I spent the morning at the Poppy fabric store and they offered me a lunch of delicious halaal chicken biryani bought from a shop a few streets away. This area has also undergone a major gentrification over the past 20 years and now there are so many artist studios and designer clothing stores, cafes and coffee shops alongside the older more traditional textile shops.
- I had such a wonderful experience at the Raffles afternoon tea that I can’t wait to revisit when they re-open after their refurbishment. The staff were so conscientious even though I was one of the few solo diners, and always ensured that I was attended to and not overlooked.
How to get around Singapore
There are rail, public buses, taxis and limousine services to Singapore city from the Changi airport. I found Singapore’s public transit system less user friendly than expected and relied on metered taxis for all my excursions.
- I took the city shuttle bus from the airport to my hotel and it cost S$9 for a one way trip.
- The concierge at the hotel provided a full brochure of all the places of interest, tours and activities in Singapore and I would have been able to buy tickets using the complimentary smartphone issued by the hotel for the duration of the stay.
- I had already purchased my tickets online for the Gardens by the Bay and confirmed my reservations for the afternoon tea at the Raffles Hotel and did not avail of the hotel smartphone booking services.
- Taxis are available to all areas of the city and the airport and I used them to get to Arab Street and the Gardens by the Bay for the afternoon experience.
Why I love Singapore
- As a young adult I did not appreciate the discipline and order of this island nation. Now that I am more mature I value cleanliness and order and Singapore is all that and more.
- I love that the heritage areas of Singapore are being revitalised and that the shophouses are being repurposed without losing the unique character of the area. In Kampong Glam fancy new coffee shops exist side by side with biryani joints operated by the same family for generations.
- The Gardens by the Bay was one of my all time favorite experiences and I regretted not going earlier so that I could have seen the Floral Kingdom in the daylight.
- The hospitality of the staff at the Poppy Fabric shop in Singapore was heartwarming. I had gone to Arab Street that day reminiscing about the shopping trip with my dad so many years ago. I was disheartened when I realized I was near the end of the road and had not found the fabric shop. A Malay woman spoke to me as I passed one of the last shop-houses on that side of the road. I was unable to hear what she said and stepped closer, then realized she was speaking in Malay. I laughed and apologized for not being able to understand her. She apologized in English saying she had spoken Malay because she assumed I was from there. I smiled and said, ‘well technically I am Cape Malay’ and she was so happy because she had heard about us at some point. I spent half a day in the shop with her and the owner who had been in his mid-thirties when I visited with my father and was now a grandfather himself.
BONUS DESTINATION – Cape Town, South Africa
You’re probably thinking ‘it’s her home town, no wonder it’s on the list’. I admit I am completely biased in this respect because I spent my formative years and most of my adult life in the city. However, I didn’t realise how blessed that made me until I went to live and work in small towns in the UK.
If you are planning your first visit to South Africa then the First Timer’s Ultimate Travel Guide to South Africa is a must read, especially the safety tips.
Click on any of the links below for more information about Cape Town and to whet your appetite to visit the Mother City.
- Why Cape Town is the best city in the world
- The Local’s Cape Town travel guide
- 10 ways to get around Cape Town
- Top 10 attractions in Cape Town
Muslims are part of the fabric of society in Cape Town and there is a very low incidence of Islamophobia. There are more than 150 mosques or Islamic centres in the city and residential neighborhoods, and the city center alone has 10 mosques with a further 3 mosques in District Six.
Muslim women who wear hijab are dime a dozen in Cape Town so no one stares or makes one feel uncomfortable. You are more likely to be treated with courtesy and respect, even from non-Muslims. I found that after I started wearing hijab, using public transport became distinctly more pleasant, because even minibus taxi drivers ensured that I was seated so as to avoid unnecessary contact with the opposite gender.
Where to stay in Cape Town
Cape Town City center has hotels for all budgets from many of the major international chains as well as apartments available. Check rates and availability.
- One of my favorite hotel apartments is at South Beach, Camps Bay. You wake up to the smell of the ocean and relax on the balcony in the evening watching the sunset.
- The Holiday Inn Express Cape Town is a very affordable option for budget travellers and is close to the main tourist areas in the city center. Check rates and availability.
- There are also luxury hotels on the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront with shuttle services to the city center.
- There are a number of Muslim owned halaal accommodation options in the suburbs of Cape Town. Southern Light Country House is a halaal certified property located in the leafy suburb of Constantia. Check rates and availability.
- For more halaal establishments check here.
Food options in Cape Town
Halaal food is easy to find in the city center and halaal eateries display halaal certificates prominently.
- My favorite city centre cafe for local cuisine is Mariam’s Kitchen. They have numerous branches in the city center and foreshore with takeaway and sit-down facilities.
- There are a number of halaal food halls in the Cape Town city center, the most popular being Food Inn India in Long Street and Eastern Food Bazaar in Longmarket street.
- The recently revitalised and renovated Batavia Cafe in Rose Street Bo Kaap is fully halaal and serves a variety of Cape Malay heritage dishes.
- The Cape Town Hilton Hotel has a halaal certified restaurant at 126 Cape Kitchen and Cafe.
How to get around Cape Town
- There are regular public buses as well as metered taxis from the Cape Town International airport into the city center.
- Many hotels offer free airport transfers or shuttle busses into the city center and you should enquire about it at the time of booking.
- Cape Metro Rail has an extensive rail commuter system that serves the Northern and Southern Suburbs from the city center.
- There are regular MyCiti bus services or Golden Arrow public bus services from the city center to the Waterfront, Atlantic seaboard suburbs and Cape Flats.
- Metered taxis are available through city hotels as well as from demarcated areas in the city center and Waterfront. These are quite expensive and well known for being a rip off to unsuspecting tourists.
- There are also Uber and Taxify services and these often are considered cheaper than metered taxis.
- Shared taxis (minibus taxis) operate from the Cape Town Railway station deck as well as pick-up points around the city. This is the cheapest way to travel but can be dangerous if you don’t know where you are going. These taxis are often overloaded (18-20 instead of 15 passengers) during peak hours and should be avoided as far as possible.
- Intercity bus services like Intercape and Greyhound operate from the Cape Town station to the rest of the country.
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