Singapore is filled with some of the best food around the world, especially Asian cuisine. Check out my post on the top 3 best hawker centers to hit up! If you are here for one night or week, there are many things to explore on this small island. Compared to other countries in Southeast Asia, Singapore is a finance hub and thus more expensive destination. It has even ranked as the most expensive city in the world! But don’t let that put you off this amazing city state. Below, I’ve listed my top free activities in Singapore to maximize your budget and enjoy the culture.
History of Singapore
Singapore is quite an enigma. Independent only since the 1950s, this newly created country has pulled from the best of British rule and Asian culture. In my opinion it is one of the best compilations of cultures and offers a wide variety of food, clean streets and structured environment that many Westerners crave and find lacking in other parts of Southeast Asia. But it also offers some somewhat strange laws, with chewing gum outlawed and canning still a normal practice of justice for severe crimes, even rape. A small land attached to Malaysia, Singapore continues to reclaim (read create) more land, expanding the current lands and adding islands to allow for population growth. The city state targets a population of 7 million, but there are currently more trees than people. The government boasts its 50-year plan and constantly looks toward the long-term; with an essentially one-party government, it has no reason to not look forward. Singapore is a unique land and one I strongly encourage those in the area to visit, especially for it’s contrast to neighbors like Indonesia and Malaysia.
Here are the top free places to visit when in Singapore:
Make a Beeline to Some Free City Views
Go to Capital Land Building (Capital Spring) to see free views of the city from 8-10:30 and 2:30 – 6pm on the rooftop. While you’re there, you can enjoy one of the best hawker stands on the 2nd and 3rd floors.
Soak Up Some Rays on Sentosa Island
Take the metro to Harbourfront and then you can walk from Vivian City Mall on the Sentosa Boardwalk for free. If you don’t want to walk, you can follow the signs to the 3rd floor at the mall and take the Sentosa Express for 4 SGD. Once off the boardwalk, walk toward Universal Studios. Below the Universal Globe sign is a car park and bus stop. You can take Bus A or C for free around the island. Buses come every 15 minutes. You can alight at the Beach Station to visit Palawan Beach. Visiting the beach is free, but there are paid attractions around, such as the Palawan Pirate Ship which offers children’s water rides and play area.
Progressive Dinner in Chinatown
This vibrant neighborhood is filled with all kinds of restaurants, not just Chinese, so I recommend doing a progressive dinner in the area. We started with some Vietnamese food, then Japanese okonomiyaki street food, then Chinese skewers and finally ended the night at Nic & Tom’s Eatery for their cheap tuckshop rice. It was a great way to get a taste of different foods and not break the bank! If you’ve got a little extra SGD, head to Smith Street Taps for a craft beer. Pints start at $13, so not exactly a cheap drink, but they offer cult brands like Brewlander and Moon Dog. The bar stall is located on the second floor of the rainbow designed hawker food building in Chinatown.
Stroll through Gardens by the Bay
No trip to Singapore is complete without a stop at the Instagram-famous gardens and flower domes. Entrance into the gardens is free and open to the public. Only the Cloud Forest and Flower Dome are paid ticket entries. You can easily wander through the gardens for hours, taking in the Supertrees and beautiful grounds. Be sure to ride the escalators up for an ariel view of the trees. If you walk along the path in front of the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest along the waterfront, you may get lucky enough to see a family of otters! There are signs asking for you to keep your distance and please don’t feed or engage them. At night, they offer a free light show under the Supertrees at 7:45 and 8:45 pm. Check out Garden by the Bays event calendar to find out more.
Visit Marina Bay Sands Shopping Center & Fountain Show
This upscale shopping mall also holds various restaurants such as Din Tai Fung, a theatre for live performances and a wonderful ground floor food court with dozens of different stalls. I would definitely recommend stopping in the food court for a meal. My favorite milk tea was found here at the drink’s café on the left corner of the stalls. Outside the mall by the LV ball will be a free light show, held at 8 and 9 pm nightly. It lasts about 15 minutes and is fun activity for children and adults alike.
Get Lost in Kampong Glam
The historic Arabic Quarter, this area is now home to beautiful street art by Yip Yew Chong which provides vibrant displays of the textile industry of old and life in the small village. Muscat Street and Arab Street are filled with local cafes, shops and restaurants to enjoy an authentic local experience. Depending on the time of day, you can also visit the Sultan Mosque.
Take a Free Walking Tour
While tour guides do work on tips (and please tip!), this is still a low-cost activity that provides amazing history and local stories of Singapore. I took a walk with a retired local who gave us a 3-hour walk through the colonial district, including the National Gallery and old Parliament. He provided political insight into the government today, interest facts about the past (including some current excavations) and a local’s perspective on this melting pot.
Grab a Picture with the Famed Merlion
There are technically 8 different Merlions through Singapore, but the iconic one is on the water by the Fullerton and across the bay from Marina Sands. Go early if you want to avoid the crowds. The city occasionally repaints the statue to keep her looking nice and clean, so it may be boxed off during a visit.
Window Shop on Orchard Road
There is not just one, two or even 10 shopping malls on the famed Orchard Road. If you need to cool off, or want to see the latest fashion, take a stroll down the road that used to hold fruit orchards, nutmeg plantations and pepper farms.
Indoor Rainforest Waterfalls anyone?
Go to the Changi Airport early to see the Rainforest Waterfall at Jewel Mall. You can drop your bags and head to the world’s tallest indoor waterfall, a mere 10 minute walk from airport terminals 1 and 3. If you are at Terminal 2 or 4, use the AirTrain or a free shuttle bus. The mall has many restaurants and international stores to keep you occupied for several hours.
I hope you have a great time in one of my favorite cities in the world!
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