Beyond this must-see botanical fantasyland, however, lies more than 350 parks and four nature reserves managed by Singapore’s National Parks Board. Laced with walking and cycling trails and peppered with play spaces, bird hides, tree-top walks and other attractions, most of these verdant green spaces offer much more than your average nature escape. Here are the best national parks and gardens in Singapore worth a visit.
Singapore Botanic Gardens
Best for garden lovers
Established in 1860, the Unesco-listed Singapore Botanic Gardens is a 82-hectare tropical oasis of lush rolling lawns, primeval rainforest, serene lakes and themed gardens. The world’s largest showcase of tropical orchids is on display at the National Orchid Garden, and little travelers will love exploring the interactive Jacob Ballas Children's Garden, complete with water-play feature and forest adventure playground.
Fully opened in 2021, the undulating landscapes of the 8-hectare Gallop Extension reflect influences from the 18th-century English landscape garden movement in a tropical setting, with two beautifully refurbished historic buildings now housing a botanical art gallery and a forest discovery centre.
The Southern Ridges
Best for an urban hike
Made up of a series of parks connecting Kent Ridge Park to Mt Faber and the Labrador Nature Reserve, the Southern Ridges will have you hiking through the jungle without ever really leaving the city. The entire route spans 10km, but if you only have time tackle one section, make it the 4km stretch from Kent Ridge Park to Mt Faber. Not only is this section relatively easy, it offers forest-canopy walkways, lofty skyline vistas and the chance to cross the spectacular Henderson Waves, an undulating pedestrian bridge suspended 36m above the ground.
Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
Best for a jungle escape
When only a sweaty jungle tramp will do, head for this 163-hectare tract of primary rainforest clinging to Singapore’s highest peak, Bukit Timah (163m/535ft). One of the first forest reserves to be established in Singapore, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve’s lush forest canopy shelters a hefty portion of the nation’s remaining native wildlife, including long-tailed macaques, pythons, and dozens of bird species. If you’re really lucky, you might even spot a critically endangered Malayan pangolin.
The reserve has four main hiking routes, a mountain bike trail, and the Kampong Trail, which links Bukit Timah with MacRitchie Reservoir.
Chek Jawa Wetlands
Best for getting away from it all
It only takes 15 minutes by bumboat (motorised sampan) from Changi Village, near the airport, to reach Pulau Ubin, but when you arrive on this small, wild island nestling between mainland Singapore and Peninsular Malaysia, you’ll feel like you’ve travelled back in time. Hiring a bike is the best way to explore this ramshackle isle. If there’s one part of it you can’t miss it’s Chek Jawa Wetlands, a 100-hectare reserve where six different habitats meet. Lock up your bike at the entrance and take a stroll on the 1km coastal boardwalk through a serene mangrove swamp to the 21m-high (69ft) Jejawi Tower, which you can climb for sweeping coastal and jungle views.
Fort Canning Park
Best for history
Once the site of palaces of 14th-century kings, and later the headquarters of the Far East Command Centre and British Army Barracks, this iconic hilltop landmark rising up behind Clarke Quay has witnessed many of Singapore’s historical milestones. Today, 18-hectare Fort Canning Park features nine historical gardens, including Singapore’s first botanical garden, in its manicured grounds. Underground lies the command centre where the decision to surrender Singapore to the Japanese on 15 February 1942 was made. Known as Battlebox, it’s now a great little museum.
Jurong Lake Gardens
Best for travelers with kids
Specifically designed as a place where families and community can come together, Jurong Lake Gardens offers the ultimate day out for travelers with kids of all ages. One of Singapore’s newest green spaces, this 90-hectare attraction encompasses three main gardens, including a Japanese Garden and a Chinese Garden scheduled to reopen in late 2021. But kids adore the Lakeside Garden, which features some of the most innovative outdoor play spaces in Singapore, including the sprawling Forest Ramble inspired by a freshwater swamp forest, and the Clusia Cove water playground that mimics the tidal patterns of an ocean beach. There’s also a butterfly maze on the way, as well as a youth zone with skating and other recreational facilities.
East Coast Park
Best for cycling
With more than 300km (186 miles) of cycling and walking trails linking its green spaces (known as the Park Connector Network or PCN), Singapore is a fantastic destination for nature-based cycling. Home to a 12.5km (7.7 mile) stretch of the PCN, East Coast Park is a great option for a leisurely pedal along the palm tree-fringed Singaporean seaside. Bicycles are available for rent in this narrow park hugging Singapore’s eastern shoreline, and there’s even a bike park for practicing your technique. With no less than 80 barbecue pits located across East Coast Park, it’s also a top spot for a picnic lunch.
Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve
Best for birdwatching
Recognised as a site of international importance for migratory birds in 2002, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve is a twitcher’s heaven. Get your binoculars ready to spot resident birds such as herons, kingfishers and sunbirds in this 202-hectare network of mangroves, mudflats, ponds and forests on Singapore’s remote north coast, with seasonal visitors from September to March including diverse flocks of shorebirds and waders. Walking trails lead to great viewing spots, including a clutch of bird hides, along the way.
The nearby Kranji Marshes is another great national park for birdwatching, with its own Raptor Tower for viewing visiting species such as the black baza and Japanese sparrowhawk.
Central Catchment Nature Reserve
Best for a rainforest run
Occupying more than 2,000 hectares of forest at the heart of Singapore, the biodiversity-rich Central Catchment Nature Reserve is home to rare flora and fauna species including dipterocarp forests and the critically endangered Raffles banded langur. With a 20km (12.4-mile) network of trails and boardwalks winding through the forest around the MacRitchie Reservoir, Singapore’s largest green space is a particularly popular recreation area for runners and walkers alike. Route 3 and Route 5 include the TreeTop Walk, a 250m-long (273-yard) suspension bridge that connects the two highest points in MacRitchie, while Route 4 takes you to Jelutong Tower, a 7-deck observation tower with superb views over the canopy.