Singapore is famous for being one of the most expensive cities in the world, and is often avoided by budget travellers on the Southeast Asia loop. Contrary to this reputation, there are loads of free activities on offer that give you a full Singapore experience (without breaking the bank).
The 82-hectare Singapore Botanic Gardens was first founded over 150 years ago. One of its entrances, the Tanglin Gate, is conveniently located near the Orchard Road shopping belt, and it’s also served by the Circle and Downtown MRT lines. The gardens are home to over 10,000 species of flora and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015. Keep an eye out for the three-foot monitor lizards that sometimes bolt across the paths.
Relax at one of Sentosa’s beaches
Skip the long queues at VivoCity for the Sentosa Express tram and save some pennies by walking across the Sentosa Boardwalk. Recently renovated, this 10-minute stroll along the water is picturesque, with the cranes of the port in the distance. If you’re not keen to strike out on foot (or it’s raining!), there are also travelators to whisk you along the boardwalk. Bring a beach mat and a picnic and relax on one of Sentosa’s three beaches. For Instagram gold, head to Palawan Beach, where a rope bridge connects to another small island designated the “Southernmost Point of Continental Asia.”
With its surreal resemblance to an alien landscape, Gardens by the Bay has quickly earned a reputation as a must-visit location. The Gardens are dominated by the Supertree Grove in Bay South Garden. A “Supertree” is a vertical garden that is home to more than 300 species of plants. The gardens are open nearly 24 hours (5am–2am) and the best time to visit is at night when the Supertrees are lit up.
Set up by the Haw Par brothers of Tiger Balm fame in the 1930s as a way to teach the public about the morality values of Chinese mythology, this is another unbelievable location. The park is full of life-sized statues and dioramas depicting various stories from Chinese lore. Although the park has started to show its age in recent years, the depiction of the “Ten Courts of Hell” is worth the visit alone.
Watch sunset at Marina Bay Sands Boardwalk
Singapore is famous for its stunning skyline and you shouldn’t miss that just because you’re on a budget. The Marina Bay Sands Boardwalk gives you an unimpeded view of the Central Business District skyline. Try to visit around 6pm, so you can people watch and then see the sun go down. At 8pm and 9:30pm daily, there is an impressive water and light show that tells a story through images projected on a screen made of water.
It’s a bit of a trek to get to this out-of-the way location, but the Changi Point Coastal Walk benefits from that by being very quiet. The entire stretch is just a few kilometers along the water. Cross the small footbridge over to Changi Park where you can enjoy planes flying very low overhead as they come in for a landing at Changi Airport.
Brave the MacRitchie Treetop Walk
The TreeTop Walk at MacRitchie Reservoir is a free-standing suspension bridge spanning the 250 meters from Bukit Peirce to Bukit Kalan, the two highest points in MacRitchie Park. Not an activity for those afraid of heights, as the bridge towers 25 meters above the forest floor.
The size of a five-story city block and open 24 hours, the rumor is that you can buy literally anything at Mustafa Centre. Get lost among its tower shelves and see what the most bizarre things you can find are.
East Coast Park takes the trophy for being Singapore’s largest park, covering nearly two square kilometres of reclaimed waterfront land. The best way to explore the 15-kilometre coastline perimeter of East Coast Park is on wheels, thanks to the dedicated cycle and skating lane. On weekends you’ll see people using all kinds of transportation to get around the park, from bicycles and scooters to Rollerblades and even quadricycles carrying entire families. There are several bicycle rental shops along the park, usually located near car parks or eateries. East Coast Park also offers barbecue pit rentals, which you can book in advance through the National Parks website.
The Southern Ridges are a great way to see the city on foot from above. This easy hike takes you on a 10-kilometer trail from Mount Faber past the Henderson Waves and ends at Kent Ridge Park. Be sure to carry water and extra sunscreen, as there aren’t many places to refuel along the trail. The trail is accessible just a few minutes from the Harbourfront MRT station.