Singapore offers a city of colorful contrast, from its modern metropolis to green gardens and ethnic neighborhoods; all in one, clean, organized spot. A charming mix of Western influence and Asian roots, you are bound to fall in love with this vibrant and thriving city, even if only for a fleeting few days stay.
This year marks Singapore’s 50th anniversary of independence from Malaysia. As a small city, island state, it quite impressively boasts the fastest growth in urban and economic development in Asia. It has quickly transformed from a tropical swampland into a sprawl of modern skyscrapers, beautiful temples, with colonial history and a melting pot of international cultures and cuisines.
It is no secret that Singapore is expensive, especially by Southeast Asia standards. Following a trip to Thailand, your wallet may go into shock. But good news, there are many free (or super cheap!) experiences in Singapore that will keep you from breaking the bank!
Ever since the grand opening of Marina Bay Sands in 2010, the waterfront promenade has put its definitive stamp on the Singapore skyline. A true epicenter of entertainment, boasting the world’s largest floating stadium and a resort with a world-class casino, multiple nightclubs, theatres and dining options sure to delight every style.A night at the iconic Marina Bay Sands Resort will set you back $300, but you are able to admire the expansive views from across the bay. A free “Wonder full” light and music show illuminates the hotel at 8 and 9.30 pm each evening.
Take a walk across the DNA-strand inspired Helix bridge to experience the skyscrapers up close and personal. Check out the funky ArtScience Museum, shaped like an unfolding lotus blossom.
The interesting shaped Esplanade Theatre offers free performances, art exhibitions and live music along the riverside. Locals have dubbed them “the Durian” as the twin structures resemble the spiky, smelly tropical fruit that is unique to Singapore.
2. Clark Quay
Enjoy dinner and drinks along the riverfront over a stretch of five blocks of Clarke Quay. These restored warehouses that have been converted into popular restaurants and nightclubs, alongside floating pubs and eateries made from refurbished Chinese tongkangs. For a taste of history, take a relaxing Bumboat ride along the Singapore River, fully narrated with the inner workings of this city state. The river water may be a tad murky but the row of pastel painted buildings sure make up for it!
Lock in your love and throw away the key into the river to symbolise unbreakable passion for your sweetheart. the ultimate show of romance.
3. Haji Lane
Haji Lane is a true fashionista’s paradise, tucked away in the heart of the Muslim quarter. It’s brimming with small, eclectic boutique shops with everything from funky accessories and clothing to design and home pieces. There’s something unique to be found for everyone!Not long ago, Haji Lane was a row of rundown, abandoned shop houses, until Singapore’s creative minds came together and gave this little lane a funky makeover. With its trendy boutiques, street art and Middle Eastern cafés, Haji Lane is the polar opposite of the designer shopping stretch of Orchard Road.
Experience the outlandish visions of the illuminated Gardens by the Bay. The ultimate goal is to transform Singapore’s tropical concrete jungle into a thriving “City in a Garden.” Set along the waterfront, this garden features two cooled conservatories, a Flower Dome, Cloud Forest and the Super Tree Grove. Don’t forget to take a stroll along the OCBC Skyway, a 128-metre suspended walkway spanning the Grove for a spectacular panoramic view of the Gardens against the Marina Bay skyline. It’s a cheap S$5 for adults, S$3 for kids. The prime time to visit is the Gardens is at Dusk to watch the grove transform into a beautiful array of colours as the sun goes down. Step inside this stand-out techno garden and gaze upwards at a collection of up to 50 metre high artificial trees, using solar energy to illuminate themselves at night.
5. Little India
The ethnic enclave of Little India is a stark difference to the rest of Singapore. Wander through streets of of this bustling ethnic neighbourhood with Indian pop music blaring from shops and an aroma of incense, spices and jasmine garlands filling the air.A stroll down Serangoon Road will lead you to shopping and food stalls galore, along with a mix of Hindu and Buddhist temples. Of course you must dig into an authentic Indian dish of tandoori or fish head curry from the Zhu Jiao Hawker Centre. The Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple is a Hindu temple founded in 1881 and protected by the powerful and fierce Goddess Kali. The statues inside show Kali donning a necklace of human heads and standing on the corpse of her husband. Ironically enough, people view Kali as the “Destroyer of Evil” and offers her protection to people who are good.
China Town offers a new spice of character, housing Singapore’s largest ethnic group, lanes of historic and restored Chinese shop fronts, and souvenirs galore. Boasting a vibrant mix of red and gold lanterns, much like the Chinatown found in cities around the globe, this neighborhood is a mecca of cheap shopping and eats. Residents of Singapore are bound by one common language: Singlish, a slang consisting of English, Malay, Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese and Tamil words.Similar to Little India, Chinatown is home to a plethora of Hindu and Buddhist temples, just waiting for you to discover. The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple where the tooth of the Buddha is reputedly kept.
It’s okay to observe the religious practices but do be respectful when taking photographs and abide by customs such as removing your shoes and dressing modestly. Be sure to check out Kong Meng San Phor Kark See is a sprawling, stunning working monastery housed in 12 buildings with dragon topped pagodas and free vegetarian meals served in the dining hall. Make a wish at UNESCO-awarded Thian Hock Keng, or Temple of Heavenly Bliss. Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple, Sri Mariamman, was vuilt in 1823 in the heart of Chinatown. Built in the South Indian Dravidian style, the temple is richly embellished with six tiers of sculptures of Hindu deities. They are painted in a variety of bright technicolours, which adds to the visually spectacular quality of the architecture.
I stayed in Chinatown in an Airbnb for just $50 a night, with my own room, and a stunning city view!
7. Hawker food stalls
The place to go for a cheap (and delicious!) meal is of course where the locals go! Singapore offers a vast range of Indonesian, Bangladesh, Indian and northern Asian cuisines that will leave you feeling a few pounds heavier. Hawker centers that are packed with affordable food stalls where it’s possible to fill up for a couple of dollars – not bad for crazy exy Singapore!For a traditional Singapore breakfast breakfast, try sugary kaya toast, enveloping slivers of cold butter and a generous spread of kaya, a traditional jam made from coconut and eggs. served with runny boiled eggs, and a cup of Kopi C coffee or teh (tea). For lunch, check out Maxwell Food Centre, for Singapore’s scrumptious national dish of Hainanese chicken rice. Served with fragrant rice and a spicy chilli and ginger paste. Try char kway teow, (flat rice noodles fried with sweet and savoury soy sauce, chilli, eggs, bean sprouts, cockles, Chinese pork sausages, chives and sometimes prawns and fish). Sample laksa at Sungei Road Trishaw Laksa. The simultaneously sweet and spicy broth is is packed with shellfish and fresh coconut flavour. Or try Ji Ji Wanton Noodle Specialist for noodles with char siew (barbequed pork).For dinner, head to Satay by the Bay for a sizzling array of satay, a Malay-style grilled meat skewer that’s served with peanut dipping sauce, cucumber chunks and ketupat (rice cakes). If you’re a seafood fan, chilli crab will hit all the right spots with tangy egg-tomato gravy that seeps into the succulent flesh of stir-fried crab. You won’t be able to resist dipping steamed buns, mantou, to soak up every bit of the tasty sauce.Or best yet, book a dinner with locals! I paid $17 S and got a delicious authentic 5 course meal with an adorable and welcoming family.
8. Botanic Gardens
Escape from the city to enjoy peace and tranquility in Singapore’s 156-year-old Botanic Gardens. Perfect for a picnic, walk, or reading a book. A testament to Singapore’s reputation as a “City in a Garden,” showcasing the national flower: orchids!
Merlion – half mermaid and half lion, and all strange. These statues stand proud welcoming visitors from the sea . Be amused by the bus loads of Asian tourists excitedly striking poses with the beast.
10. Changi International Airport
And for the last stop on our tour we visit the Airport of all places! ! It has evolved into the global benchmark for design and passenger experience around the world, offering a wide range of amenities catering to passenger’s physical and emotional needs, with each terminal offering it’s own dose of shopping, dining and relaxation options. Roam around to find gardens of butterflies, orchids, cacti and even a rooftop sunflower garden! There’s a swimming pool, movie theatres, 3D entertainment deck, a 4-story slide free foot massages, snooze lounge, hotels, and shopping galore! You may just be passing through this tiny island-state, but if you have at least 6 hours to spare till your connecting flight, join a free 2.5 hours guided tour of the city! You will be begging for that normally dreaded five hour layover!
Bonus: Take a walk!
There is so much color, green space and architecture just waiting to be discovered! If you don’t fancy the physical activity in the typically 90 degree heat, the city is very easy to get around by subway and bus with a super efficient public transport system.Avoid single tickets by opting for a Tourist Pass (available at the airport or Tourist Information) but only if you plan to use the MRT 5 – 6 times a day to get your money’s worth. You pay S$10 per day (or S$20 for three days) and get unlimited rides on all transport. Otherwise opt for the ezLink card (S$5 / for the card, plus S$7 top-up value), for discounts on a pay-as-you-go basis.
If you are able to spend a bit more on your trip, here are your must hit experiences!
1. Indulge in a Singapore Sling
Indulge in a flaming red sweet and sour cocktail of gin at the iconic Raffles Hotel, while and tossing peanut shells onto the floor, the only place in Singapore where “littering” is permitted. This baby will set you back at $27, but a true rite of passage as a tourist in the country. Cheers!
2. Sentosa Island
Sentosa is home to a yachting marina, golf courses, and luxurious residences, a holiday destination for Singaporeans and tourists alike. Enjoy the island’s 3.2km stretch of sandy beaches, especially Siloso Beach, Palawan Beach and Tanjong Beach. Take a scenic cable car to this beautiful island for S$23.
Singapore’s version of Universal Studios consists of 7 themed zones – Madagascar, Far Far Away (Shrek theme), The Lost World, Ancient Egypt (including The Mummy), Sci-Fi City (including Transformers) and New York (including Sesame Street). Each with their own attractions, shopping, and dining options.
Head to Mount Faber for these funky rainbow stairs.
3. Singapore Zoo
The highlight of Singapore’s Zoo are the unique animal encounters. Enjoy breakfast with Orangutans (S$33) or trek through the jungle on a Night Safari (S$32)
4. Infinity pool
Swim on top of the world with the world’s largest infinity pool atop Marina Bay Sands Resort. With stunning views over Singapore skyline, you will be floating on Cloud 9. But be warned, it’s for guests only with room prices starting at $300 a night.
5. Skypark Observation Deck
Don’t miss the SkyPark Observation deck, an elevated open-air concourse that crowns the resort at aring 57 levels above the heart of the city.
6. Singapore Flyer
The Singapore Flyer is the world’s largest observation wheel. From the top you can get a wonderful view of the entire city and on a clear day, well into the parts of Malaysia and Indonesia. S$29.50 for a 30-minute ride. Ride at dusk for the most enthralling experience!Don’t let a budget hold you back from experiencing this modern island metropolis in all its glory. Allow a few days to explore the different cultures and amazing diversity of food gracing Singapore!