Though Singapore may be one of the most expensive countries to visit in Southeast Asia, there are plenty of free things to see and do to ease the wallet pain. Here are some of our favourite Singapore freebies.
Tour Peranakan history at Baba House: The exquisitely restored Peranakan (Straits Chinese) heritage Baba House near Chinatown can only be visited on a free hour-long tour, which offers a great insight into the life of a rich local family circa the early 20th century. The tours are run by appointment only, on Monday (2pm), Tuesday (6.30pm), Thursday (10am) and Saturday (11am). Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marvel at the colourful Sri Mariamman Temple: Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple (located in Chinatown, go figure), Sri Mariamman is built in a colourfully ornate Dravidian style and well worth gawking at. Aim your camera lens at the elaborate gopuram (gateway) before taking a walk around the temple compound. It’s particularly festive during the Deepavali festival period (generally October or November).
Explore Singapore’s hawker traditions at the National Museum of Singapore: You’ll need to shell out S$10 to see the National Museum’s permanent collection but the excellent Living Galleries are free to visit. Photography and film are covered but it’s the food gallery that will tantalise and make your stomach growl for some of Singapore’s famed hawker dishes. Also look out for free guest exhibitions via www.nationalmuseum.sg.
Walk the Southern Ridges: The Southern Ridges Trail – spanning Mt Faber, Telok Blangah, Kent Ridge and Hort parks – is one of the best walking trails in Singapore. It meanders through 10km of lush forest and canopy walks, and crosses the Henderson Waves, Singapore’s highest pedestrian bridge. Don’t forget to take water, sunscreen and a hat; see www.nparks.gov.sg for details.
Soak up the arts at the Esplanade: Ogle the Durian-like architectural style of the Esplanade before heading inside the Jendela gallery (www.esplanadesingapore.com) to check out art exhibitions. The Esplanade also hosts free short films, scads of other exhibitions and music festivals.
Chill out at East Coast Park: In space-starved Singapore, the 15km stretch of beach known as East Coast Park is a breezy spot to swim, work on your tan and get away from the madding crowds (though you should avoid it on weekends when the crowds descend). BBQ pits are gratis and you can even camp for free – BYO beer and chicken wings, of course.
Stride above the trees at MacRitchie Reservoir’s Treetop Walk: While most of Singapore is clad in concrete, you’ll find swathes of greenery outside the city centre. Head to MacRitchie Reservoir Park for an 8km round-trip hike to the Treetop Walk, where you can climb to a 250m suspension bridge that soars above the rainforest canopy. For details check out www.nparks.gov.sg.
Go green at Singapore Botanic Gardens: Founded in 1859 by the British, the Botanic Gardens today occupy a swathe of quiet green space at the edge of the commercial Orchard Rd. Come early for a pleasant walk and people-watching. Keen botanists should check the website (www.sbg.org.sg) for free walking tours.
Slow down at Thian Hock Keng and Kong Meng San Phor Kark See temples: Temples might be moderately commonplace in Singapore but these two are particularly atmospheric. Thian Hock Keng is Singapore’s oldest Chinese temple (circa 1839) and is replete with elaborate carvings. Kong Meng San Phor Kark See (a mouthful to pronounce) is a working monastery housed in a massive Escher-esque building with a bell and drum tower, statues, and various halls. Free vegetarian meals are served in the dining hall.
Pose with a Merlion: Singapore’s most iconic sculpture, the Merlion (a half-lion, half-fish creature), is free to visit. Pose with the water-spouting critter before taking a walk around Marina Bay for more free sights. Pop into nearby Fullerton Hotel and the Fullerton Bay Hotel – the former used to be Singapore’s General Post Office and the latter was the bustling Collyer Quay. Both are pristine restorations of colonial-era architecture.