Everybody knows that Singapore has a reputation as being an expensive city. In fact, in early 2016 the Economist Intelligence Unit determined that Singapore was more expensive than any other city, including New York, Geneva, London or even Zurich. Unfortunately, though Singapore’s cost of living has recently started to drop, the cost for tourists to visit the city remains sky-high. Does that mean you should leave Singapore off your next Asian itinerary? Absolutely not! It just means you need to be smart about how you spend your time and money while you’re visiting this bustling metropolis. Add these five fun, free things to do in Singapore to your trip and you’ll still see the best the city has to offer without breaking the bank.
Singapore’s Botanic Gardens were founded more than 150 years ago, just past the west end of shopping-paradise Orchard Road. The gardens cover 74 hectares and are divided into several themed garden spaces. The National Orchid Garden is the highlight of the park, featuring more than 1,000 different species of orchids. Other popular parks include the Evolution Garden, which explains how plants have evolved over millions of years, the Healing Garden, featuring plants celebrated across Asia for their medicinal properties, and a six-acre tropical rainforest ecosystem.
The three lakes attract a diverse assortment of birds, while many monitor lizards can be spotted relaxing in the shade under the larger plants. Entrance to the park is always free, and free walking tours are held throughout the day each Sunday. To keep costs down, consider packing a picnic lunch and bringing your own water bottles, as food at the on-site restaurants is expensive.
Haw Par Villa
Haw Par Villa is a sculpture garden that was opened in 1937 by the brothers who invented Tiger Balm. Their goal was to create an attraction that would engage visitors while also teaching them about traditional values. Over the years the park changed hands several times, with different owners adding and removing different installations. Today, it is a bizarre monument to what could have been.
The park is now home to more than 1,000 statues and 150 dioramas telling tales from traditional Chinese mythology. Most are in various stages of crumbling disrepair, although the most famous and gruesome section, The Ten Courts of Hell, has been lovingly cared for by management wanting to discourage visitors from crimes ranging from murder to disobeying an older sibling. The park has its own subway station, but bring your own food and drinks as services within the park are unreliable.
Gardens by the Bay
When you first walk into Singapore’s famous Gardens by the Bay, you’ll see a long queue of people waiting to buy tickets. Budget travellers take note – you can walk right past that line! You only need a ticket to visit the Flower Dome, Cloud Forest or Supertree Grove (or to ride the golf cart shuttles between those pay-per-use sites). The rest of the gardens are gloriously free for everyone to visit, every day of the year. Beautiful green spaces including the Colonial Garden, Chinese Garden and World of Palms can all be explored without paying a cent. There are numerous sculptures throughout the park, and you can access the water fountains, bathrooms and gift shops at the conservatories without paying for entrance.
Macritchie Reservoir Tree Top Walk
Even many locals don’t know about this breathtaking free attraction in the protected parks surrounding Singapore’s largest water reservoir. The easiest entrance point is via the Venus Drive Carpark, which can be accessed by city bus from anywhere in the city. As you walk through the forest you will encounter unique flora and fauna, including lots of lizards and many monkeys!
Make sure that any food you bring along is sealed carefully, as the monkeys will steal your bag if they can smell food inside. After about one hour you will reach the entrance to the suspended Tree Top Walk, a 250-meter suspended bridge that allows you to look down into the treetops below. The reservoir is open daily, but the suspension bridge is closed on Mondays. Check the park service’s website for seasonal bridge hours and notices of trail closures.
While the other tips focus on one specific destination, it would be a huge disservice not to include several different locations in the final recommendation. Singapore is one of the world’s most multicultural cities, and with that multiculturalism comes a wide range of religions. No visit to Singapore is complete without discovering some of its most important religious sites. At Sultan Mosque (or Masjid Sultan) was built in 1928 and designated a national monument in 1975. The mosque has regular free visiting hours and multilingual docents who can share the history of Islam in Singapore with visitors.