Singapore is undoubtedly one of the most expensive cities to live in. The pristine streets, modern skyscrapers and hive of business activity in this international financial centre are testament to the high standards (and cost) of living in this thriving metropolis. Nonetheless, on an island where people would queue for hours for freebies, promotions, sales, and with a government so dedicated to promoting tourism, travellers can actually enjoy a day (or even more) in Singapore on the cheap, perhaps even for free! Some of the best attractions in Singapore are open to visitors for free, and the experience of walking through the city's vibrant districts requires only your energy and time. Here, we highlight twenty of the best things you can see and do in Singapore for free!
To explore Singapore on foot and take in the city's sights for free, we highly recommend our own self-guided tours (http://comesingapore.com/m/travel-guide/category/310/self-guided-tours). These will allow you to explore the city in your own time and with complete freedom (pun intended).
Beyond attractions, ride on the excellent public transportation network, check out hostels in Singapore for budget accommodation, and dine for a dollar at the simple but uniquely local and much-loved hawker centres.
1. Singapore Botanic Gardens
1 Cluny Road. (+65) 6471 7361. Daily 5am – 12mn.
Painstakingly manicured, the Botanic Gardens are a living, breathing monument to Singapore's eminence as a garden city. The three lakes and open spaces of the Gardens are complemented by elegant displays of orchids and the only urban tropical rainforest in the Eastern Hemisphere. This green sanctuary, tucked away in the city, is perfect for an evening stroll. Alternatively, if you are accompanied by young ones, check out the excellent Jacob Ballas Children's Garden, which provides a unique garden setting for discovery and learning about the plant world.
Start from the Tanglin Gate, where frangipani blooms pave the way into the Gardens, past the cast-iron Victorian gazebo (a popular spot for wedding photos) towards the Swan Lake, where a pair of friendly resident swans reside. Take the right fork in the path past the hand-sculpted Swiss Ball Fountain, and three Sydney Harpley bronze sculptures (Lady on a Hammock, Girl on a Swing, and Girl on a Bicycle), to the beautiful Bandstand, which is a centrepiece of the Gardens. From here, continue on the Ring Road, then Maranta Avenue, bordering the only tropical rainforest, and cross the Palm Valley (a favourite spot for picnics), which groups the six palm sub-families into islands. Look out for free concerts and performances that are occasionally held on the Symphony Lake.
2. Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay
1 Esplanade Drive. (+65) 6828 8377.
Taking its name from the nearby Esplanade, the Theatres on the Bay is affectionately known by locals as the 'durian', because of its eye-catching architecture. Now an iconic feature of the Marina Bay waterfront, the Esplanade is the most prominent signal of national efforts directed at the performing arts, to recast Singapore as a fun and creative cultural hub. This world-class venue houses a Concert Hall and a Theatre, both of which feature local and international performances.
Beyond the scenic views of the bay from the waterfront and roof terrace, two Esplanade Presents series offer free performances throughout the week. Held every evening, At the Concourse is a showcase of dance, music and theatre by talented amateur, semi-professional and professional artists from Singapore and around the world. Every weekend, On the Waterfront features concerts with diverse themes and styles, ranging from nostalgic ballads to hi-octane power rock.
3. National Museum of Singapore
93 Stamford Road. (+65) 6332 3659. Daily 10am – 8pm.
Rated one of the world's most interactive museums, the National Museum of Singapore is at once modern and classical – an immersive one-stop guide to Singapore's history and cultural heritage. Once known as the Raffles' Library and Museum housing well-known Southeast Asian natural history collections, Singapore's first museum is today the grand dame of the nation's museum scene, featuring exhibits on the history, ethnology and arts of Singapore and surrounding regions.
Admission to the Museum is free, and the air-conditioned venue offers respite from the tropical heat outside. Singapore's largest museum houses two main galleries in a neoclassical 19th century architectural masterpiece – the Singapore History Gallery and the Singapore Living Galleries. The History Gallery traces the tale of the island in a myriad of exhibits, and are worth the admission for the quality and detail of these displays. The Living Galleries are open for free from 6pm - 8pm daily. These engaging galleries showcase the Singapore Story through themes close to the heart of Singaporeans themselves – food, fashion, film and wayang (shadow puppetry), and photography.
4. Singapore Art Museum
71 Bras Basah Road. (+65) 6332 3222. Daily 10am – 7pm, except Friday 10am – 9pm.
One of Singapore’s finest examples of colonial architecture, the Singapore Art Museum is today the centrepiece of Singapore's major arts and cultural district, and is the nation's premier venue for international art exhibitions. It houses the national art gallery and is home to a permanent collection of over 4000 Southeast Asian modern and contemporary art pieces, featuring exhibitions ranging from Chinese calligraphy to contemporary works examining issues of Asian identity and the modern Singapore experience.
Admission to the Museum is free on Friday nights from 6pm – 9pm, and on Open House days.
5. Raffles Hotel
1 Beach Road. (+65) 6337 1886. Daily 10am – 7pm.
Likely to remain the most noted and well-known hotel in Singapore for years to come, the Raffles has been synonymous with Asian luxury for more than a century. The grand, colonial hotel started out as a 10-room bungalow in 1887 with the Sarkies brothers. Since the main building opened in 1899, the regal and opulent Raffles Hotel has played host to royalty and celebrities, and featured in the works of Joseph Conrad and Somerset Maugham. The world-famous Singapore Sling was first concocted here, where it is still served, at the Long Bar.
The lobby, shopping arcade, and museum are open to the public for free; do note that dress standards apply. Amidst the high-end shops of the arcade lies the hotel's museum. This is a showcase of photographs, posters, and memorabilia from times gone by, returned by former guests from all around the world of their stay at the 'Grand Lady of the Far East'.
6. Fort Canning Park
51 Canning Rise. (+65) 6332 1200.
Fort Canning Park is the only natural high spot in the colonial district, and an urban oasis, a quiet retreat bounded on all sides by the bustle of the city. Fort Canning Hill acts as a 'green bridge' between the Orchard Road shopping district and the Central Business District on the Singapore River. The park is great for a walk along the cool, shaded paths through the lush greenery of a hill that is steeped in a rich history of more than 700 years. Fort Canning Hill was once known as Bukit Larangan (Forbidden Hill), as the Malays living around the area in the 19th century believed the palace of their ancestor kings had stood there, when Singapore was known as Temasek (Sea Town). Later, SIngapore's colonial governors made their residences here, and the hill was known as Government Hill, before it became a military base in the Second World War. Ancient relics, dating back to the 14th century, have been recently unearthed here, while the Fort Gate, a remnant of the fortress built in the 1860s, is a reminder of Singapore's colonial past.
Gothic gateways pave the way to where Singapore's first experimental and botanical gardens were established - the site is now home to the Fort Canning Spice Trail. A small replica of the 19-hectare garden collects more than a hundred species of plants – from spices and herbs to medicinal and ornamental plants. Nutmeg and clove trees, which were planted extensively in the first garden, can be found here as well. Within the garden is the Archaeological Excavation Site, the only such exhibition in modern Singapore. It showcases the actual archaeological dig - Javanese artefacts from the 14th century Majapahit empire which were uncovered in the dig are exhibited here, alongside the Keramat, believed to be the tomb of Singapore's last king, Sultan Iskandar Syah. Do look out for free events and concerts that are held on Fort Canning Hill throughout the year.
7. Marina Barrage
8 Marina Gardens Drive. (+65) 6514 5959. Gallery daily 9am – 9pm, except Tuesday closed.
The Barrage is more than part of the newest addition to Singapore's reservoirs and water catchment areas, and the first in the city. Built across the mouth of the Marina Channel, the Marina Barrage is also a recreational area for water sports such as boating, windsurfing, kayaking, and dragon-boating. This unique feat of engineering, as a dam, tidal barrier, and lifestyle destination has won Singapore accolades from all around the world.
The expansive green roof offers wonderful panoramas of the city's skyline and the surrounding Marina Bay area, and is popular with kite-fliers and picnickers. The Sustainable Singapore Gallery showcases Singapore's efforts towards environmental sustainability. The six galleries explore the aspects of dealing with environmental challenges, the clean-up and rejuvenation of Singapore's waterways, and innovation and strategies for sustainability in interactive and innovative multimedia. An art trail completes the Marina Barrage's image as a lifestyle attraction.
8. Singapore City Gallery
45 Maxwell Road. (+65) 6321 8321. Daily 9am – 5pm, except Sunday and holidays closed.
The URA's (Urban Redevelopment Authority) Singapore City Gallery showcases the architectural landmarks and urban development of the nation through exquisitely detailed miniature models, which give a bird's eye view of Singapore. The 3-dimensional, interactive exhibits allow visitors to witness Singapore's transformation from a jungle backwater to the first-world city it is today.
This exhibition of Singapore as a city is at once encompassing and impressive. The themed displays explore the city in terms of her people, their culture, lives, and sense of place, as well as architecture, top-down planning, strategies for sustainability, and of course, the city's history. The progressive displays of Singapore's development are eye-catching, as are those of the unique life of Singapore's heritage buildings, such as shophouses and colonial-era civic structures.
9. Civil Defence Heritage Gallery
62 Hill Street. (+65) 6332 2996. Daily 10am – 5pm, except Monday closed.
Opened in 1909 during the Edwardian period, the Central Fire Station is Singapore’s oldest fire station. Today, this striking red-brick and white-plaster building now houses the Singapore Civil Defence Force, providing coverage for the Central District. It is also home to the Civil Defence Heritage Gallery, which showcases the advances and changes in the realm of fire fighting and civil defence in Singapore. The gallery opens for free to the public, and there are displays of antique fire engines and a tour of the hose tower, which was the highest point in Singapore in the 1920s.
10. Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum
288 South Bridge Road. (+65) 6220 0220. Daily 7am - 7pm.
The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum is a majestic red-and-golden temple, built in stylistic Tang Dynasty fashion and Southern Chinese architectural style. It is dedicated to the Maitreya Buddha, which means ‘The Compassionate One’, and also called ‘The Future Buddha’. This is quickly becoming the number-one attraction in Chinatown for local worshippers and tourists alike, with an impressive four-storey high temple and an extensive museum with four themed galleries.
The eponymous relic, believed to be the scared tooth of the Buddha, is unveiled from 9am to noon and 3pm to 6pm daily. The relic stupa is made from 420kg of gold that was donated by worshippers, and depicts 35 Buddhas who have achieved enlightenment and nirvana. An impressive collection of Buddhist artefacts and sacred relics are also kept here. The museum complex features wax displays of famous monks, the life of the Buddha, and explains the roles of the future Maitreya Buddha and the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (the Goddess of Mercy, known by most as Guan Yin). Simple vegetarian fare is served for free in the basement of the temple.
11. Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
177 Hindhede Drive. (+65) 1800 468 5736. Daily 6am – 7pm, Visitor Centre daily 8.30am – 6.30pm.
This is the last remaining area of primary forest in Singapore, centred around Singapore's tallest peak, Bukit Timah Hill (163m). This 164-hectare nature reserve offers a range of outdoor activities, including nature walks, jungle treks, and mountain-bike trails. According to renowned naturalist and conservationist Dr David Bellamy, this green haven contains more plant species than found in the whole of North America. Once an active granite quarrying site, the dense foliage of Bukit Timah now hides an ecosystem of 160 species of animals.
Hindhede Nature Park is a former quarry site that is now a place for visitors to enjoy the area's scenic beauty and work out on the play equipment. The visitor's centre introduces the flora and fauna native to Singapore's nature reserves. Journey back to a time before Singapore was a city.
12. Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve
301 Neo Tiew Crescent. (+65) 6794 1401. Daily 7.30am – 7pm, except Sunday 7am – 7pm.
Free entry except weekends and holidays.
Located along the north-western coast of the island, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve is a 130-hectare mangrove swamp catchment area. The mangroves capture sediments and nutrients with the help of a massive root system. This prevents erosion and provides a self-preserving ecological system and safe haven for a wide range of coastal plants, animals and fishes. The reserve is also a stop-over point for migratory birds on the East Asian Migratory Flyway, and its significance has been recognised globally – it is part of the East Asian Australasian Shorebird Site Network.
Visit between September and March to witness the majesty of these migratory birds as they make their way south. Encounter an amazing range of wildlife in their natural wetland habitats, including wild otters, mud crabs, mudskippers, mud lobsters, monitor lizards, kingfishers and herons. Notable sites include a prawn pond with a traditional prawning demonstration, and a freshwater habitat where the nesting Baya Weaver and other waterbirds flock to.
13. MacRitchie Reservoir Park
Lornie Road. TreeTop Walk weekdays 9am – 5pm, weekends 8.30am – 5pm, except Monday closed.
This park acts as the gateway to Singapore's nature reserves, and has become a popular spot for both nature lovers and sports enthusiasts. Providing picture-perfect views of the surrounding green expanse of nature, MacRitchie is also a great spot to relax and unwind with family and loved ones. Besides paved tracks for jogging, walking and cross-country events, there are also specially built enclosures for bird-watching, fishing points and heritage trails. The park is a popular venue for water sports, such as kayaking and canoeing.
The HSBC TreeTop Walk is the highlight of MacRitchie's hiking routes, a free-standing suspension bridge that offers a vantage point for great views of the surrounding forest community of flora and fauna. Walk above the canopy of trees, 25 metres above the forest floor, crossing between MacRitchie's two highest points, Bukit Peirce and Bukit Kalang. If you're lucky, you might even catch glimpses of some animals such as flying lemurs and long-tailed macaques.
14. Changi Chapel and Museum
1000 Upper Changi Road North. (+65) 6214 2451. Daily 9.30am – 5pm.
The Changi Chapel and Museum is dedicated to the Prisoners-of-War (POW) who were interned at Changi Camp during the Japanese Occupation. Suffering appalling conditions and torture, they endured these dark years through their spirit of comradeship and will to live. Their compelling and moving stories are told through memorabilia such as letters, photographs, and personal effects donated by formers POWs and their families, as well as paintings and sketches.
A replica of the Changi Murals are featured in the museum. These life-sized murals, created and subsequently restored by Stanley Warren, decorated a ward in the internment camp that was used as a chapel, and depicts scenes from the life of Christ. The original murals are now in the grounds of an operational military camp nearby. The Changi Chapel is a re-creation of one of many similar places of worship erected by POWs during their time in Changi, and sits in a garden frequented by veterans, as well as former POWS and their families.
15. Changi Point Coastal Walk
Changi Point. (+65) 6542 7944.
This is the ideal morning stroll to accompany a laid-back breakfast, a 2.6km route that hugs the coastline around Changi, offering views of private yachts on the open sea, Pulau Ubin, and Malaysia. The boardwalk and trail are divided into segments, each offering a different experience. At Creek Walk, you can watch bumboats chug between Changi and Pulau Ubin, and young ones can build sandcastles at Beach Walk. Carry on under the lush greenery of Cliff Walk, and meet amateur fishermen at Kelong Walk, and finish the trail at Sunset Walk, a great point to watch the sun set. Continue walking to Netheravon Road, which is home to heritage trees and colonial-era buildings. They include Changi Cottage, where Singapore's founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, formulated his strategies for the future of Singapore post-independence.
16. Haw Par Villa
262 Pasir Panjang Road. (+65) 6872 2780. Daily 9am – 7pm.
This colourfully weird and wonderful theme park is dedicated to Chinese culture and mythology, and was founded by the brothers Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par. These brothers built an empire and a legendary fortune out of a formula for a cure-all ointment, sold in a little jar. Today, Tiger Balm is sold in over a hundred countries, and arguably the world's best known analgesic ointment. Haw Par Villa was developed by the brothers to show their appreciation to the Chinese community who used their products. The park depicts tales and heroes in Chinese mythology through hundreds of statues and life-sized dioramas in brilliant reds, blues, greens and gold.
Haw Par Villa is open to visitors for free throughout the day, and is no other place like it in the world; it is a rich tableau of storytelling. Scenes from the legends of old are featured here, such as the Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Journey into the West, which recounts the tale of monk Xuanzang in his search of Buddhist scriptures. The Ten Courts of Hell is the most well-known exhibit here, detailing Buddhist reincarnation and afterlife punishments in a thoroughly graphic and gruesome manner, including being ground, dismembered, torn apart, cooked, crushed.
17. Southern Ridges
Mount Faber Park, Telok Blangah Hill Park, Kent Ridge Park. (+65) 1800 471 7300.
The new Southern Ridges Walk is the latest icon of Singapore's green efforts as a Garden City. Spanning 9 kilometres, this trek of nature trails and boardwalks links three hilltop parks – Mount Faber, Telok Blangah, and Kent Ridge. The Southern Ridges feature breathtaking panoramas of Singapore's southern districts, harbour, and offshore islands. The green, open spaces are popular with nature lovers and jogging enthusiasts alike. There are a few trails across the Southern Ridges, such as the Forest, Floral, Hilltop, and Canopy Walks. Highlights along the way include Alexandra Arch, which mimics a leaf opened across Alexandra Road, the bougainvillea of the Terrace Garden, and Hort Park, Singapore's latest gardening hub.
Part of the Southern Ridges is Henderson Waves. This 274m-long, 36m-high bridge spans across Henderson Road, connecting Telok Blangah Hill and Mount Faber Hill. The highest pedestrian bridge in Singapore is worth visiting for its artistic structure – a wave of steel “ribs” undulates around the walkway, which also function as alcoves providing shelter to the public. The unique wave-form lights up with LED lights nightly from 7am to 2am, giving the bridge a distinctive glow.
18. Labrador Nature Reserve
Labrador Villa Road.
Located in the southern part of Singapore, Labrador Nature Reserve combines historical sites with nature trails through a forest area rich in bird life, on Singapore's only sea cliffs, and a beachfront park. Once used as a vantage point by the British in World War II to defend Singapore, the nature reserve still provides a panoramic view of the sea and the surrounding greenery. Thriving with flora and fauna, nature lovers will be pleased to discover the 70 species of birds and 11 types of butterflies that have been spotted here. Relics from the Second World War, such as cannon and machine-gun posts, give visitors a taste of the past.
19. NUS Museum
50 Kent Ridge Crescent. (+65) 6516 8817. Tue to Sat 10am – 7.30pm, Sun 10am – 6pm, Mon closed.
7000 Southeast Asian artefacts are housed in fine collections of the three galleries of NUS Museum on the campus of the National University of Singapore. These exhibits are divided across four collections. The Lee Kong Chian Collection features a wide representation of works spanning 7 millenia of Chinese culture, from ancient ceramics to contemporary paintings done in traditional Chinese style. The South and Southeast Asian Collection features a rotation of exhibits that changes every four months, showcasing a range of artworks and artefacts, including paintings and drawings, ceramics, sculptures, bronzes and textiles, which present a holistic account of Southeast Asian art and works from the Subcontinent. The Ng Eng Teng Collection is a donation of over 1000 artworks from the late Ng Eng Teng, known as the Grandfather of Singapore Sculpture. This extensive collection archives and records the works of this prominent Singaporean painter, potter and sculptor, varying from sketches, paintings and sculptures, to figurines and pottery. A fourth collection, the Straits Chinese Collection, is located at the Baba House on 157 Neil Road.
20. Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research
6 Science Drive 2. (+65) 6516 5082. Weekdays 9am – 5pm, except weekends and holidays closed.
The Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research inherited the nation's natural history collection from the Raffles Museum, which subsequently became the National Museum. Although the museum is considered small by national standards, the exhibits featuring the region's flora and fauna are top-notch. The Zoological Reference Collection is internationally renowned and contains the historical collection of the former Raffles Museum. It is home to one of the largest and best collections of Southeast Asian fauna in the region, containing more than 500000 catalogued specimens. Stuffed and preserved examples of rare and locally extinct creatures are the highlights here, including a tiger, a leopard, an elephant's leg bone, a preserved banded leaf monkey, a king cobra, a crocodile skull, and a huge Japanese spider crab. The Herbarium documents the biodiversity of plants in Southeast Asia, with more than 25000 specimens in its holdings.