25 free things to do in Singapore
Singapore may be one of the most expensive countries to visit in Southeast Asia, but there are plenty of free things to see and do to ease the pressure on your wallet. Here are some of our favourite Singapore freebies.
Join in the celebrations at one of Singpaore's many festivals
With festivals that range from the artistic (Singapore Night Festival) to the musical (Mosaic Music Festival) to the kid-friendly (Singapore Botanic Garden's Children Festival), there’s quality free entertainment for visitors most months of the year. Check out the Singapore Tourism Board listings for upcoming events.
Admire the Supertrees at Gardens by the Bay
You’ll have to fork out extra to enter the conservatories and the OCBC Skyway at showstopping horticultural super park Gardens by the Bay, but it doesn’t cost a cent to wander through the iconic Supertree Grove. Swing by just before 7.45pm or 8.45pm daily to get the best vantage spot to watch Garden Rhapsody, the captivating 15-minute sound and light show.
Stroll among overgrown tombs at Bukit Brown Cemetery
First established in the early 20th century, Bukit Brown Cemetery was once Singapore’s largest Chinese cemetery but was subsequently abandoned. Today it’s a birding and wildlife spot, and has been identified as a heritage site worth preserving. Sadly some areas have already been redeveloped by the government in the name of road widening, and the remainder is pegged for new housing developments. Enthusiasts, historians and activist groups run free walking tours of the cemetery; check out their Facebook page for details.
Marvel at Singapore's most atmospheric temples
Paradoxically in the middle of Chinatown, the colourfully kitsch Sri Mariamman Temple is Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple, and well worth a look-in. Replete with elaborate carvings, Thian Hock Keng (Singapore’s oldest Chinese temple), is also particularly atmospheric, and don't miss the 44m heritage mural painted by Singaporean artist Yip Yew Chong on the temple's outside rear wall. A peaceful afternoon can be spent exploring Kong Meng San Phor Kark See, a working monastery housed in a massive Escher-esque building with a bell and drum tower, statues, and various halls.
Walk the Southern Ridges
The Southern Ridges is one of Singapore's best walking trails, spanning Mt Faber, Telok Blangah, Kent Ridge and Hort parks. It meanders through 9km of lush forest and canopy walks, and crosses the undulating Henderson Waves, Singapore’s highest pedestrian bridge. Don’t forget to take water, sunscreen and a hat; see the National Parks website for more details.
Get classical with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra
As part of its community outreach program, the Singapore Symphony Orchestra conducts free concerts at various tertiary institutions, concert halls and gardens throughout Singapore. The Classics at the Park sessions at the Singapore Botanic Gardens are particularly atmospheric: come early and bring a picnic basket. Check dates and locations via the SSO website.
Take a free art tour
Many of Singapore's hotels have made their art collections accessible to non-guests, from the Pan Pacific’s Public Art Space (which hosts rotating exhibitions) to the artworks integrated into the public areas of Marina Bay Sands (it's hard to miss Sol LeWitt's Arcs, Circle and Irregular Bands in the underground pedestrian walkway linking the hotel and Bayfront MRT station). But art lovers are really spoiled at The Ritz-Carlton Millenia, where anyone is welcome to take a 30-minute iPod tour of its enviable collection, from Dale Chihuly glass blowings to enormous Frank Stella installations. Don’t miss the Warhols near the ballroom.
Chill out at East Coast Park
In space-starved Singapore, the 15km stretch of beach known as East Coast Park is a breezy spot to swim, work on your tan and escape the crowds (though it does get busy here at weekends). Kids will love the Marine Cove playground, complete with rock climbing walls, slides and digital game stations.
Get an education at the National University of Singapore Museum
The local university is home to a museum well worth checking out, and not just because it's free. The NUS Museum features historical artefacts, Chinese ceramics, paintings and sculptures. Spend time browsing the exhaustive Lee Kong Chian collection and the impressive sculptures from the Ng Eng Teng collection, Singapore's foremost modern artist.
Go green at Singapore Botanic Gardens and Fort Canning Park
Originally established in Fort Canning Park by Sir Stamford Raffles, Singapore's Botanic Gardens today occupy a swathe of quiet green space at the edge of the Orchard Rd district. It's free to wander the stunning grounds on your own, though if you're a keen botanist, check out its website for free walking tours. Overlooking central Singapore, Fort Canning Park also remains a lovely spot for a stroll; don't miss the spice garden. Free tours are run monthly; visit the National Parks website.
Find more free art at Gillman Barracks and the Esplanade
Singapore’s latest and greatest (free!) contemporary arts space, former colonial army base Gillman Barracks houses 11 galleries. Back down by the river, ogle the Durian-like architectural style of the Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay before checking out the Jendela gallery exhibitions. The Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay also hosts free short films and music events.
Find peace at St Andrew's Cathedral and the Armenian Church
Aside from being architectural masterpieces, these churches offer glorious respite from the heat of the city. St Andrew’s Cathedral is Singapore’s largest church, and the Armenian Church its smallest and oldest (built in 1836).
Go all-out kitsch at Haw Par Villa
What happens when you earn a fortune selling Tiger Balm? Use the money to build your own theme park, of course. That's what the Aw brothers did at Haw Par Villa, where more than 150 dioramas depict scenes from Chinese mythology, including some almost comically graphic scenes from hell.
Stride above the trees at MacRitchie Reservoir’s Treetop Walk
One of the many swathes of greenery that have come to define Singapore as the world's most impressive garden city, MacRitchie Reservoir Park is the place to go for a proper hike. It's an 8km round-trip hike to the TreeTop Walk, where you can climb to a 250m-long pedestrian suspension bridge that soars above the rainforest canopy.
Pose with a Merlion
Singapore’s most iconic sculpture, the Merlion (a half-lion, half-fish creature), is free to visit. Pose with the water-spouting critter before taking a walk around Marina Bay. Colonial architecture fans would be wise to pop into the nearby Fullerton Hotel and the Fullerton Bay Hotel while you're in the neighbourhood – the former used to be Singapore’s General Post Office and the latter was the bustling Collyer Quay.
Visit Singapore’s largest mosque
Most people come to Singapore’s Arab district Kampong Glam to shop, eat and drink in Haji Lane, but it’s also a charming neighbourhood to wander around in the early morning before the crowds arrive. It’s free to enter the Arabian Nights-esque Sultan Mosque (outside prayer times), with volunteers on-hand to provide an insight into the city-state’s Muslim heritage.
Take a trip back in time
Leave the modernism and frenetic pace of present-day Singapore behind when you meander up the dirt road to Lorong Buangkok, one of Singapore's last remaining kampongs (villages). With the area now lusted after by cashed-up developers, it's unclear how long this window into the past will continue to exist, so visit while you still can.
Understand past and future city plans
Delve into Singapore's amazing story of planning and transformation at the Singapore City Gallery, and learn how this once sleepy fishing village transformed into the futuristic metropolis of today. The detailed 11m-by-11m scale model of the central city area allows visitors to see the city's future skyline, once proposed building developments are complete.
Discover your zen
A peaceful afternoon can be spent strolling the picturesque grounds of Singapore's Chinese Garden and lantern-studded Japanese Garden. Unique landmarks include the Stone Boat House and the seven-storey pagoda, which offers sweeping views of the gardens and surrounds. The impressive display of tiny bonsai trees is also worth a look.
Visit the island of fun
Often referred to as Singapore's good-time island, Sentosa is free to visit as long as you're happy to make the trek along the Sentosa Boardwalk from VivoCity shopping mall. Once there, you can use the monorail, trams and buses to whiz around the island. Beaches here are perfect for relaxing, and come nightfall, there are free weekly outdoor movies.
Enjoy a bird's-eye view of the city
Perched 56-storeys above futuristic ION Orchard shopping mall, ION Sky offers jaw-dropping views across Singapore. On a clear day you'll be able to spot neighbouring Malaysia and a smattering of Indonesian islands. Entry is between 3-6pm daily.
Go art and antiques hunting
Many parts of Dempsey Hill, a former British Army barracks, have been converted into warehouse shops where a number of art and antique shops ply their wares. You’ll find everything from oriental carpets to teak furniture, landscape ornaments to ancient temple artefacts.
Get a dose of art and culture
Doors swing open at SAM at 8Q, the younger sibling of the Singapore Art Museum (currently closed for renovations till 2021) on Friday evenings from 6pm. Visitors are welcome to explore the four floors of this contemporary art museum for three hours for free.
Discover the secrets of the stars
Look toward the heavens on Friday nights at the free stargazing sessions held at the Science Centre Singapore. Due to the observatory’s position so near to the equator, constellations from the northern and southern hemispheres can be seen. Sessions start at 7.50pm, however the limited number of tickets are handed out from 7.30pm, so be early.
Get freebies at Changi Airport
Got a few hours to kill at the airport? No worries, there’s plenty to do: take a walk through the butterfly garden, tap in to the free wi-fi, chill at a TV lounge, or plonk into a massage chair. If you’ve got five hours (or more) of transit time, book a free city tour.
First published in August 2013.
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