Singapore On A Budget: For Tourists and Locals Alike
January 1, 1970
by Michah Velonza
Whether you’re living in Singapore or planning to visit for your next vacation, there are plenty of places to go to and things to do – for FREE or for a pretty low cost. Though Singapore is listed as THE MOST expensive city to live in (as of 2017 studies), that does not mean you have to break the bank or dig a hole in your pocket to enjoy our Garden-City. Hear me out on a few spots I personally like going to that are good for Locals and Tourists alike – On A Budget.
Gardens By The Bay
Yes, I know what everyone may probably be thinking, “Of course we know about Gardens By The Bay, who doesn’t?”. I am aware of how popular this spot is and how you wouldn’t need a blog to tell you so but I’m here to tell you a few other things that you might not have been aware of prior to reading this.
Gardens By The Bay is a tourist spot but even locals like myself enjoy going there every now and then because they keep it up to date the whole year round, usually according to different celebratory occasions such as Christmas, Chinese New Year, etc. This is most obvious inside the Flower Dome (yes, tickets are sold for the two domes – Flower Dome and Cloud Forrest) as well as the SuperTree Grove area (this is completely free). There are plenty of sub-gardens within the attraction and even if you’re not much of a nature fan, the architecture is pretty fascinating as well.
This is my personal favourite spot in the entire Gardens. In the daytime, it’s a nice spot to chill and even have a picnic at the Lawn area (this is located near Texas Chicken). At night, The Gardens host a signature nightly display of lights and music amidst the giant Supertrees. The show lasts for about 15mins at 7:45 pm and 8:45 pm every night for free. All you have to do is pick your spot to absorb the show in all its glorious wonder. I would suggest bringing a picnic mat or tapestry of some sort and just lay down instead of sitting down and breaking your neck to look up for 15 mins but that’s entirely up to you. As I mentioned earlier, this area is also where the different occasions of the year are celebrated through decorations and event setups. The most popular one is the annual Christmas Wonderland which is usually up by late November. Other than celebratory occasions, they also have performances, activities and even movie screenings from time to time. Do feel free to check out their calendar of events on their official website.
Flower Dome Hack
This is not really something cheap but I figured it fits into this post because you’ll basically be hitting two birds with one stone. If you’re thinking of celebrating an occasion such as a birthday or anniversary or if you just want to treat yourself to a nice meal, why not add the free entrance to the Flower Dome? How? There is a restaurant inside the flower dome and if you choose to dine there (I suggest making reservations ahead of time and also to double check this point) you’ll be able to access the flower dome during its opening hours. This is a similar case to the restaurant at the top of one of the Supertree Grove ‘trees’ – you’ll pretty much get the same good view as to purchasing tickets to access the OCBC Skywalk platform.
2. Ion Sky
Ion Sky is located in Ion Orchard’s shopping mall’s 56th floor. This can be accessed for free from the mall’s 4th floor. Fun fact is that Ion Sky just got a recent upgrade and was closed for a few months in 2017 but they’ve already reopened in late November with a customisable multimedia feature wall of some sorts. I have personally not been there since its recent reopening but I’m sure to visit again when a friend of mine comes to Singapore for a visit next month. Before you reach the lift lobby on the 4h floor to get to Ion Sky, be sure to check out their exhibition space as well which usually has free art exhibitions all year round. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the view of Orchard and beyond whether you explore the space by yourself or with family and friends. Be sure to check out their opening hours and whether or not they’re closed for private events before heading there.
Esplanade is one of Singapore’s Art venues/attractions for both local and international artists. Although they have paid concerts and events in their Concert Hall, Theatre, and Studio, they also have free events and performances at their outdoor and indoor stages – At The Concourse, and On The Waterfront. You could check out their calendar of events on their official website or just simply head down to catch whatever is on for the day. Not a big fan of the arts scene? No worries. There is also a rooftop garden at the Esplanade that is free and open to the public. I’ve had a picnic there with a friend of mine and it’s honestly a great location. You’ll have views of the Marina Bay area and the CBD skyline – great for Instagrammable shots! The area also has plenty of food spots if you ever get hungry. Makansutra (an outdoor food centre with local food) is right next to the Esplanade and if you’re on a tighter budget, a mall nearby, Marina Square, has a food court that’s a wallet-friendly option for you.
4. Hiking Trails
Singapore may be tiny but there are quite a decent number of hiking spots on the mainland and even in surrounding islands like Pulau Ubin. Some spots include the Southern Ridges, Bukit Timah, MacRitchie Treetop Walk, Coney Island, etc. The best part other than surrounding yourself in the outdoors is that these are obviously all free. Check out the National Parks website for more information on the different trails available in Singapore and maps to guide you along the way. Don’t worry too much about the details though; the best adventures are those where you get lost! Don’t forget to bring at least one bottle of water, a small towel, a change of clothes, sunnies, a cap, and an umbrella just in case it rains.
5. Sentosa Beaches
Before we talk about the beaches in Sentosa, let’s talk about getting into the island first. Most people may already know this but not everyone so here’s a tip; enter Sentosa via the Boardwalk which you could go through from the back of Vivo City. It’s about a 15-20 min walk into Sentosa depending on whether or not you stop for some pictures and food along the way. If you take the monorail from Vivo City, it’s going to cost you about SGD4. A free shuttle bus is also an option but why waste the view along the way?
Okay so back to the main point of being budget in Sentosa. There are 3 public beaches that are absolutely free for all – Siloso Beach, Palawan Beach, and Tanjong Beach. There are a variety of bars and restaurants along the beaches but if you truly want to keep within a budget, bring some food along from home or shop at Vivo City’s supermarket before heading there. Since Sentosa IS a tourist destination, the prices of everything is higher than normal, as per any tourist spot all over the world.
If you’re willing to spend a little more, here are a couple of tips. Walk along the beaches to find out what time is happy hour for each establishment and whether or not they have any on-going promotions. Second, visit WaveHouse Sentosa on a WEDNESDAY. Why? because everything is at 2-for-1! Yes, not just the drinks and food, but also the artificial wave ride! I have gone there on a Wednesday with a group of friends and I can guarantee you that this is legitimate.
6. Coastal Walks and Public Parks
Some of my favourite coastal walks and public parks in Singapore include the Changi Point Boardwalk, Punggol Waterway Park, and Singapore Botanic Gardens. Changi Point Boardwalk is one of the more ‘ulu’ spots in Singapore because it’s not as accessible and convenient to most people. So if you’re willing to travel to the extreme east side of Singapore, this place is for you. Not only will you be able to enjoy the beach views and fresh air, but you will also be spoilt for choice at the many food options available depending on your budget. My personal favourites are Coastal Settlement and Little Island Brewery. As for Punggol Waterway Park, it is located in the North-Eastern area of Singapore and it is more of a park with plenty of trees and river views. If you fancy scenic walks or a bicycle ride, this is the park I would recommend. For food options, the relatively new Cargo Container Bistros can be found there too (7 different eateries in total). Lastly, if you’d like to visit a National Park, I recommend going to Singapore Botanic Gardens. It’s a fantastic spot for leisurely walks, jogs, and picnics. On top of all that, they also have occasional free performances at The Bandstand and their Symphony Stage. Festivals and events also happen here so keep yourself updated with their calendar of events on their official site!
7. Marina Barrage
Another great spot for views of the Marina Bay area. You’ll see people head to their open rooftop lawn for picnics and kite-flying. Other than that you could also check out the background of the dam and the journey behind it on information plaques around the area. Feel free to cycle along the dam as well on rented bicycles – accessible even after dark for night cycling. I personally find it to be a very calming place to be at so if you’re looking to unwind and just relax, look no further.
8. Haw Par Villa
Not somewhere a lot of people head to these days but I honestly feel that it’s worth the visit. Haw Par Villa is essentially a park with a lot of statues depicting a variety of Chinese mythologies, folklore, etc. There is also a walkthrough of their ’10 Stages in the Court of Hell’ – not for the faint-hearted. Entrance here is free and it is conveniently located right next to the Circle Line’s MRT Station; Haw Par Villa. Plenty of photo-opportunities so be sure to go with a friend you trust!
9. Singapore Art Museum (SAM)
There are multiple museums in our sunny Singapore which double up as a good way to broaden our knowledge in various aspects such as history and the arts but most of them charge fees for special exhibitions which is completely understandable. For Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents, visit the National Heritage Board’s website for the full list of Museums and Heritage Institutions that entitle us to free admissions throughout the year.
Being someone who appreciates the arts, naturally, my favourite would be Singapore Art Museum (SAM) which is located in Bras Brasah. SAM is one of the museums that have free entry for Citizens and PRs but for those visiting, don’t worry because the entrance fees are budget-friendly (SGD6 for adults, SGD3 for Senior Citizens and Students, Free entry for children under 6 years old). The entry to SAM allows you to visit both its buildings that are about 100m away from each other. The best thing I like about the museum is that they have interactive exhibitions for everyone to have a hands-on experience in the arts. Be sure to include this in your itinerary or as a contingency plan if it starts raining.
10. Food Centres
OF COURSE, THIS HAS TO BE ON THE LIST – One thing everyone has in common is the love we have for food; travellers and locals alike. Just because you may be on a budget does not mean you should compromise on the food that you devour. Sure, the restaurants available islandwide are generally great but our hawker centres, food courts, and food centres are just as fulfilling. Some spots include but are not limited to Lau Pa Sat, Newton Food Center, Changi Village, Chinatown Complex Food Center (which by the way has the world’s cheapest Michelin Star eatery), Little India, Arab Street, and the list just goes on and on. Wherever you are in Singapore, there is sure to be someplace good and affordable to eat. If you’re worried about food poisoning and hygiene, keep an eye out for hygiene ratings that go by the alphabet (A is the best) that can be found in every stall. Some of my favourite local food is satay, Hokkien prawn mee, chilli crab, biryani, and buttered chicken.
So there you have it! My top 10 things to do/places to go and a few hacks and tips for locals and tourists alike while on a budget. Overall, I love Singapore and all it has to offer and I hope this post helps you out in one way or another.
Until next time,