The glitz and glamor of Singapore may not be synonymous with budget breaks, but there are plenty of free things to see and do to ease the pressure on your wallet. The garden city has plenty of incredible cultural and wildlife-filled activities that don’t cost a cent. Here’s our round up of the best freebies Singapore has to offer.
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 and the surrounding outdoor gardens and lakes. 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.
Savour the lights of Marina Bay at night
Singapore’s iconic Marina Bay skyline is best enjoyed when night falls and the city lights are out in full force. Take a stroll around the bay which is home to distinctive Singaporean architecture like the spiky domes of the Esplanade, the statuesque Marina Bay Sands complex and the lotus-inspired ArtScience Museum. Snap a cheesy pose with the water-spouting Merlion, a half-lion, half-fish creature that’s become an icon of Singapore’s tourism, or check out the colonial architecture of the historic Collyer Quay district.
Explore Singapore’s heritage neighbourhoods: Tiong Bahru and Joo Chiat
Head out of the downtown area to Tiong Bahru, the oldest housing estate in Singapore. Art deco-inspired architecture and family-owned shops sit alongside trendy cafes and modern art galleries, wandering around this gentrifying neighbourhood is a pleasant way to while away an afternoon.
Over in the east, Joo Chiat and Katong is a must for those looking to experience all things Peranakan, the unique mixed culture born from the intermarriage of local Malays and new immigrants. Slurp down a bowl of spicy Katong Laksa, pick up some traditional beaded shoes and admire the rainbow Peranakan-style terrace houses on Koon Seng Road.
Explore Singapore’s Free Museums
While most of Singapore’s museums are free for citizens/PRs, some extend free admission to everyone. The NUS Museum features the exhaustive Lee Kong Chian collection consisting of historical artefacts, Chinese ceramics and paintings, as well as impressive sculptures from the Ng Eng Teng collection, Singapore's foremost modern artist. For more of Singapore’s history, the Singapore City Gallery boasts a detailed 11m-by-11m scale model of the central city area that tracks Singapore’s amazing transformation from sleepy fishing village to the futuristic metropolis of today.
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 Road district. Singapore’s first Unesco World Heritage Site is 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. (All walking tours are currently suspended due to COVID-19)
Trace the historic Singapore River
You can pay a small fee to ride in the little wooden bumboats that trawl the Singapore River, but it’s more fun (and free) to trace the river on foot. The former trade hub still sees a lot of activity along its banks, from nightlife districts Boat Quay and Clarke Quay to historic buildings like the Asian Civilisations Museum and the Victoria Theatre & Concert Hall. Take note of the many bridges that span the river, some date back to the 19th century like Cavenagh Bridge, Singapore’s oldest suspension bridge built in 1869.
Catch free arts performances at the Esplanade
Unusual durian-shaped architecture aside, the Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay is one of Singapore’s premier performing arts venues and often hosts free showcases of dance, music and theatre in their public spaces. Performances in the Outdoor Theatre are particularly scenic, set against the backdrop of Marina Bay.
Find peace at Singapore's oldest religious places of worship
Multicultural Singapore has a diverse selection of religious buildings worth checking out. Replete with elaborate carvings, Thian Hock Keng is Singapore’s oldest Chinese temple and particularly atmospheric – don't miss the 44m heritage mural on the temple's exterior rear wall tracing the evolution of the early Chinese immigrants in Singapore. Sri Mariamman Temple is one of Singapore’s oldest Hindu temples, though paradoxically located in Chinatown, and its colorful pagoda covered with Hindu deities is quite a sight.
In between prayers, you can also pop into the majestic Sultan Mosque with its twin golden onion domes, located in the centre of the Malay heritage neighbourhood Kampong Gelam (previously spelled Kampong Glam). And if churches are more your thing, St Andrew’s Cathedral is Singapore’s largest church, and the Armenian Church its smallest and oldest (built in 1836).
Get a view of Singapore from above
Many viewpoints require an entrance fee or some sort of purchase, but there are several lofty spots where you can admire the skyline for free. Skyville@Dawson is a public housing block in Queenstown with a public-access rooftop garden 47-storeys up and a magnificent panoramic view of the island. If you’re in the mood for a hike, take a walk up to the peak of Singapore’s second highest hill Mount Faber and enjoy the view of Southern Singapore from the Cable Car Station or other viewpoints in one of Singapore’s oldest parks.
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.
Ponder the quirks of the Chinese Culture
In Chinatown, the 5-storey Tang Dynasty-inspired Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum is home to an impressive number of Buddha and Bodhisattva statues and a sacred Buddhist relic believed to be the Buddha’s left canine. And for something really quirky, head to Haw Par Villa, a theme park built by the brothers who earned a fortune selling Tiger Balm. Walk through more than 150 dioramas depicting scenes from Chinese mythology, including some almost comically graphic scenes from hell.
Follow a public art trail around the Civic District
Skip the galleries and head outdoors for some art appreciation. The Public Art Trust commissions sculptures and murals in spaces around Singapore and their Civic District trail highlights nine works by some of Singapore’s most renowned artists scattered along the mouth of the Singapore River.
Go mural hunting in historic districts
If murals and street art are more your jam, Singapore’s heritage ethnic neighbourhoods have a lot to offer. Little India has a growing collection of murals depicting Indian culture thanks to the annual ArtWalk Little India, and Chinatown has several nostalgic murals by Singaporean artist Yip Yew Chong that showcase life in Singapore’s early days. Kampong Gelam’s eclectic Haji Lane is an Instagram-favourite for its many colorful murals, while Aliwal Art Centre and Sultan Art Village have walls that see everchanging graffiti, a rarity in Singapore.
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 a great option for a proper hike. It's an 8km round-trip ramble to the TreeTop Walk, where you can cross a 250m-long pedestrian suspension bridge that soars above the rainforest canopy.
Watch for wildlife at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve
You’ll forget that you’re in Singapore when you enter Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, with 202 hectares of mangroves, forests and mudflats and no sign of buildings in sight. This place is a hotspot for migratory bird watching, and watch your step on the boardwalks as you might also encounter a host of other wildlife, including a crocodile or two if you’re lucky. Located in Kranji on the northwestern coast, you can see Malaysia’s Johor Bahru just across the channel.
Visit Sentosa, the island of fun
Better known for Universal Studios and its many hotels, 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 whizz around the island for free. The beaches here are perfect for relaxing, and there are several nature treks to explore.
Fort Siloso on the western tip of the island is Singapore’s last remaining coastal fort with bunkers and relics of WWII guns, and is connected to a 11-storey high bridge offering spectacular views of the southern coastline.
Go wild for freebies at Changi Airport
Still got a few hours to kill before your flight home from Changi Airport? Fear not, there’s a startling amount of freebies on offer in what is regularly voted the world's top airport. The centrepiece of the Jewel extension is the Rain Vortex, a 40m high indoor waterfall that’s the tallest in the world and surrounded by a startling amount of greenery for an indoor space. There is a light and sound show every hour in the evening from 730pm -1130pm.
Even when you’re checked in, you can take a walk through the butterfly garden, chill at a TV lounge, or plonk into a massage chair. If you’ve got five hours (or more) of transit time, you can even book onto a free city tour, though this has been suspended until further notice because of COVID-19.
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