Singapore is a favourite destination for shopaholics whether it’s getting the best bargains during the Great Singapore Sale or strolling the stretch of interconnected shopping malls down Orchard Road. Practically every neighbourhood in Singapore now has at least one shopping centre to satisfy the most ardent shopaholic. However, for those who value experiences over material items, here are 16 things to do in Singapore that don’t involve you setting foot in a single mall.
Eat as much as you can stomach
Skip the souvenirs and indulge yourself with some of Singapore’s best multicultural cuisine.
Queue for famous local food
Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodles and Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle are two Singapore’s hawker stalls that made the news for becoming the cheapest Michelin-starred meals available in 2016. Several other hawker stalls have since received Michelin Bib Gourmands as well – be prepared to queue for an hour or more since locals and tourists alike are all eager to see what makes this simple street food fare so yummy.
Take a Singapore food tour
Don’t take chances eating mediocre food – a local food guide will ensure that you sample only the best that Singapore has to offer and impart a little about the history, culture and prep behind the creation of these local favourites. The food tours organised by Betel Box and Wok ‘n’ Stroll are some of the more popular options that take you on a culinary journey through Singapore’s unique cuisine.
See stars in a celebrity chef restaurant
International celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver and Joël Robuchon all own award-winning dining establishments in Singapore that you can splurge on for a top-notch culinary experience, but, for a uniquely Singaporean touch, leave some room to check out the restaurants run by local household names like Sam Leong of Forest森, Malcolm Lee who runs Peranakan restaurant Candlenut and the fusion food of Han Li Guang’s Restaurant Labyrinth.
Sign up for a Singaporean Cooking Class
Leave Singapore with a souvenir that will last you a lifetime – learning to cook Singaporean dishes so that you can enjoy your favourite dishes even after you return home from your trip. Local cooking schools like Grandmother’s Recipes and Cookery Magic feature local culinary experts who will teach you how to whip up delicious home-style Singaporean dishes in your own kitchen.
Explore the concrete jungle
Singapore might be a small country, but there is plenty for the urban traveller to discover outside the shopping malls.
Check out historical neighbourhoods
Singapore’s diverse cultural make up can be explored in its historic ethnic enclaves, areas allocated by town planners to immigrants of different ethnicities to form their own home communities. Chinatown was for the Chinese, Kampong Glam for the Malays and Arabs while Little India was a mini melting pot of the Indian diaspora. Today these areas have become heritage districts that contain a mix of important cultural landmarks and upcoming food and beverage establishments as well – Keong Saik, Everton Park, Jalan Besar and Haji Lane are favourite nooks for those in the know.
Spot unusual architecture in residential districts
A defining feature of Singapore is its sea of multi-storey apartment blocks (also known as the Housing Development Board or HDB estates) that can be found throughout the country. Seemingly identical at first glance, some apartment blocks have some unusual architecture and history that architectural buffs might enjoy checking out. Tiong Bahru district has some some rare pre-war art deco blocks amidst an increasingly hip neighbourhood, while Pinnacle@Duxton is a 50-storey behemoth with a rooftop garden that the public can access. Queenstown is home to some of the oldest HDB blocks including a ‘butterfly’ block.
Admire the traditional shophouse
Before Singaporeans were moved from villages into these government built apartment blocks, many lived and worked in rows of two- to three-storey shophouses, a nostalgic architectural feature that harkens back to Singapore’s early days. Many of these traditional shophouses have been conserved, and their designs reflect the multicultural influences through the years. Of note are the colourful shophouse row at Koon Seng Road in Joo Chiat, which is often featured on Singapore tourism postcards, Emerald Hill along Orchard Road, which is also a thriving nightlife district, and the NUS Baba House, a Straits-Chinese shophouse converted into a museum.
Cycle around Singapore
Singapore’s dense public transport of buses and subway trains make it easy to navigate this city-state, but a fun way to explore is to pick up a bicycle. The National Parks Board (NParks) has a growing park connector network and a plan to create a 150-kilometre round-island route to be fully completed in the next few years. For now, East Coast Park and Punggol Park are popular places to start cycling some of the smaller routes, and bike sharing services like oBike and MoBike have made it easy and inexpensive to pick up a bicycle as well.
Commune with Nature
More than just a metropolis, Singapore is home to surprising pockets of natural flora and fauna, most of which can be explored for free.
Go island hopping
Singapore is actually an archipelago with around 70 smaller offshore islands Most visitors only know of Sentosa, the most touristy of the offshore islands and home to Resorts World Sentosa and Universal Studios. The other islands are much less developed and perfect for a quick getaway from the hustle and bustle of urban life – and just a short ferry ride away. Pulau Ubin in the northeast is a favourite for cyclists and nature lovers who want to see Chek Jawa Wetlands. You can also visit or spend a lazy afternoon cruising around some of the Southern Islands, including Lazarus Island, Kusu Island and St John’s Island.
Beyond the famous Singapore Zoo and Night Safari, Singapore is home to a surprising amount of wildlife. Wild boars, migratory birds, rare pangolins and even the odd crocodile are among some of the many animals you can spot around Singapore. Many Singaporeans love the families of smooth-coated otters often sighted in the Singapore river or ‘visiting’ urban landmarks. Good wildlife-spotting areas include Sungei Buloh Wetland Nature Reserve and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Central Catchment Nature Reserve. NParks often organises guided nature walks to these areas, but sign up quick since space is very limited.
Hike with a view
Beyond wildlife spotting, there are several treks in Singapore for hiking enthusiasts that will reward you with a magnificent view. The Southern Ridges offers panoramic views of Singapore’s southern coastline and includes the iconic Henderson Waves, highest pedestrian bridge in Singapore. The Macritchie Tree Top Walk in the Central Catchment area leads to a suspension bridge in the middle of the forest that lets you take an up-close look at the tree canopy. Those who make the journey to Pulau Ubin can climb up the Jejawi Tower at Chek Jawa for a 360-degree view of the island and surrounding vegetation.
Gardens in the city
Singapore’s reputation as the Garden City is well known, and most enjoy the landscaped greenery by heading straight to the alien-like trees and greenhouse domes of Gardens by the Bay in Marina Bay. Also worth checking out are the Singapore Botanic Gardens with over 150 years of history, the world’s largest orchid display and the honour of being Singapore’s first UNESCO Heritage awarded site.
Indulge your cultural side
Gawk at priceless artwork or catch an arts performance instead of window shopping.
Spend your indoor time wandering the hallways of Singapore’s many museums and learn about what makes Singapore tick. Beyond interactive and educational exhibitions within their walls, many of these museums are historical landmarks in themselves and worth checking out even if you’d rather not enter an exhibition. The Bugis-Bras Basah District and Civic District are good places to start your museum tour with many larger and small museums within close proximity. These areas are also home to seasonal arts festivals like the Singapore Night Festival and Singapore Writers Festival.
Put aside your gadgets and get your creative juices going, what better way to appreciate art than to dabble a little in the craft yourself? Art jamming has become increasing popular. Arteastiq is a nice spot to paint and enjoy a spot of tea while you work. For the more crafty design lovers, find a workshop and create something unique to take home with you – Naiise, The General Company and Make Your Own offer a variety of classes covering anything from leather crafting to jewelry making.
Public art hunting
If you rather not be cooped up indoors, take to the streets to see some of Singapore’s most interesting public art works. Local artists have left their mark on Singapore’s streets through larger than life sculptures or street art murals all around Singapore. Check out the trails curated by the Public Art Trust that give a little insight into the history behind some of the works and artists or just have a wander and see what surprises turn up.
Live local music acts
Unwind after a busy day exploring Singapore with a little live music entertainment from some of Singapore’s favourite local bands. Some popular haunts to grab some grub while your favourite musicians take to the stage include any of the Timbre outlets, Hood Bar and Cafe or Artistry Cafe. The Esplanade is a good venue to catch a variety of free arts performances in their concourse or outdoor stage, while classical music lovers should check out the programmes at Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music.