“The world’s most expensive city in 2016”, says CNN.
“Of the world’s most expensive cities, Singapore has kept its title for the third year running,” says Fortune.
“If you’re looking for an affordable place to live, scratch Singapore off your list,” says CNBC.
Yikes, that’s pretty scary to hear, and enough to chase any would-be visitor away. Because surely you wouldn’t want to be having to pay for a meal with gold bars or sell your family heirlooms just to buy a bottle of water.
The good news is that, and this is coming from a local, it can get expensive if you choose to buy a big car, or live in a very convenient centrali-ish location. But if you’re just visiting for a week, then things like these wouldn’t have an impact on your travel budget.
Still not sure? Here’s a bunch of stuff you can do, without breaking the bank. Warning: this is a gigantic post! And it’s only Part 1! Part 2 will be up soon, on what to eat and where to stay. Stay tuned!
WHERE TO GO WITH KIDS?
1. Gardens by the Bay has a beautiful water play area and playground (called the Far East Organisation Children’s Garden) that kids will absolutely love. Cost: Free.
2. If you’re escaping a cold Winter, then a beach is a must-do. Singapore’s beaches don’t rank as high as its South-East Asian neighbours’, but there are family-centered activities around them that probably make up for it. Some beaches like East Coast Beach have bicycles and inline skates for rent. It is also home to Road Safety Park, which is an area with mini roads and traffic stops, a little petrol kiosk and bus stops – it’s a little run down but kids love it. Cost: Free, unless you rent a bike. There’s also a hawker centre around, and a jetty to hang out at. You’ll want car park E2 for all this.
If you find yourself at East Coast Beach on a Sunday, learn to build awesome sandcastles at Castle Beach. For free.
3. If you could choose just one thing to blow your budget on, it should be Universal Studios Singapore. All those rides, all those shows, all that entertainment! Your wallet will feel the pinch but your kids will remember this as the best day of their lives, plus they’ll fall into bed that night faster than you can say goodnight.
4. Go splash at a water playground! Hint: You’re gonna get wet!
What’s a country to do when it has limited land area, but yet it’s hot and humid pretty much all year round? Introduce water play areas on the rooftops of shopping malls, that’s what. Many shopping malls have this facility, but we particularly like the ones at Kallang Wave Mall, Tampines One, Vivocity and NEX. Cost: Free.
For serious water play, there’s the Adventure Cove Water Park that’s awesome but if spending $36 for entrance fee (it’s $28 for kids) is a little hard to swallow, head to the local public pools instead, where you’ll pay less than $2 per entry. Sengkang Swimming Complex has tall slides for big kids and a little water play area for little ones, plus a jacuzzi, Jurong East Swimming Complex has tall windy slides, a kids play area, jacuzzi, wave pool and a lazy river, and Jurong West Swimming Complex has a long slide, kiddy area, lazy river and a jacuzzi. These public pools are all within walking distance from MRT stations.
If you really want a water park where you can spend an entire day at, there’s a cheaper alternative in the East called Wild Wild Wet. Cost? $20 for adults and $14 for kids (off peak)
5. Play giant chess at the Singapore Sports Hub’s library. Pieces are light enough to maneuver easily, yet sturdy enough not to topple over. Cost: Free.
ARE YOU A CULTURE VULTURE?
1. Kampong Glam houses Singapore’s second oldest (and possibly most impressive) mosque, Sultan Mosque – it also conducts free tours. It’s home to trendy shops and hip cafes, and you can probably spend a couple of hours roaming around. Cost: Free.
2. Little India is probably Singapore’s most colourful neighbourhood. The smell of Jasmine fills the air as you walk along the streets, colourful saris swish around you, you’ll give in to getting a temporary henna tattoo – Little India doesn’t just welcome you, it demands the attention of all your senses! Cost: Free.
3. Chinatown in Singapore buzzes with excitement all year around, particularly around when Chinese New Year is around the corner (typically end January/early February – check local calendars to find out as they vary year to year). Cost: Free.
4. Find out how a Peranakan family used to live by visiting Baba House. Cost: free but advanced registration is necessary.
5. Into music? The Esplanade-Theatres by the Bay often holds free performances and activities. Check out their website for the latest updates. Cost: Free. Getting wet at fountains: optional.
6. Love museums? There are many to choose from, with reasonable admission rates, starting from $2 (many are free for locals). Traveling with kids? We’ve found the Singapore Philatelic Museum to be the most kid friendly.
DO YOU LIKE WALKING?
1. The MacRitchie Reservoir Treetop Walk is along a beautiful nature trail within the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. There are many routes you can take, ranging from easy to are-you-crazy. If you do not get lost (like we did), it can be a really pleasant walk (not even a hike), and you’ll be rewarded with beautiful views. Cost: Free.
2. The National Heritage Board has various heritage trails that you can embark on. There are no guides; just download the maps and off you go at your own pace. There are markers around the trails so you can read up on each location along the way. Find a trail that suits you here. Cost: Free.
3. If you’d like a free guided tour, Singapore Footprints is run by a group of university students – they organise weekly guided walks around the civic district, as well as Chinatown. Cost: Free.
4. The Chinese Gardens and Japanese Gardens are located side by side so set aside a cool morning to explore. There are many pretty spots for photos but not much shelter. Note that kick scooters and bicycles are not allowed within the park. You will be asked to leave them at the entrance to be picked up later, but this could be inconvenient because there are many points of entry, and you may choose to exit from somewhere else other than your original point of entry. Cost: Free.
5. It never fails to amaze us that nestled thick in urbanisation is a beautiful park, free for all to explore. The Singapore Botanic Gardens is without a doubt, one of the most beautiful places in Singapore. UNESCO agrees too and recently named the Botanic Gardens as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sometimes there are also free concerts at Palm Valley on weekends. Cost: Free
Here’s what we think of it (spoiler alert: we love it).
WANT A PEEK INTO WHERE SINGAPOREANS LIVE?
About 80% of Singapore’s population lives in public housing. The best way to see how Singaporeans live is to visit a housing estate, and most of them are easy to get to. Each housing estate is equipped with amenities like schools, food courts or hawker centres, recreation centres and sometimes even shopping malls near train and bus interchanges. Cost: Free.
1. Tiong Bahru estate is one of Singapore’s oldest but hippest housing estates. The unique designs of the flats are not found anywhere else in Singapore. Most of the blocks are about 4-5 storeys tall, and the estate is made up of elderly couples who have lived here since the flats were built in the 1950s, to young families with kids on bikes. Also, it’s home to Singapore’s only remaining World War II air raid shelter.
While you’re there, go on the heritage trail (it’s free) and grab a bite at any of the cafes if you’ve got a bit of a budget, or at the hawker centre (it’s rather famous, even among locals). Take a closer look at the Tiong Bahru murals here.
2. Bishan estate is one of Singapore’s most populated estates. It’s home to one of Singapore’s most beautiful parks – the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio park. A lovely place for a walk if you’re up for one. Check out Bishan-Ang Mo Kio park here (I had to go for a tetanus jab after our visit! – But you won’t if you’re careful. I wasn’t).
UP FOR SOME QUIRKY FUN?
Haw Par Villa is quite possibly informally voted as one of Singapore’s weirdest places. It was originally built on the grounds of a villa from one brother to another as a token of love, and filled with scenes of Chinese mythology and folklore, depicting Chinese values such as filial piety and family togetherness. Which is sweet. But over the years, it was opened to the public, and now the descriptive plaques have disappeared, so visitors are left to form their own opinions on what they think each diorama or statue might be trying to depict. In any case, it’s free.
WANT TO TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT?
1. Hop on a boat and enjoy the sea breeze on DBS Marina Regatta Sailing Programme and experience the beautiful Marina Bay from a different angle. Everyone else will have a picture of Marina Bay Sands, but you’ll have one from a boat. Book early here, and remember to bring a copy of your passport or identity card when you arrive, together with your printed indemnity form. Cost: Free.
2. Put on your monkey suit (or not) and sign up for an adventure that will require you to climb, swing, balance, jump, and stretch long forgotten muscles. Forest Adventure is a fun activity that will take up about 2 hours, but there’s a price to it. Cost: More here for updated costs; go on Tuesdays for better rates.
This is by all means not an exhaustive list and I will probably add on to it regularly. But it’s a good place to start, I think. At least to show that there’s lots to do without burning a hole in your pocket.
If you’re Singaporean or have visited Singapore, I’d love to hear what you enjoyed! If you know of anyone who’s thinking of visiting Singapore or putting off a visit because of cost, I’d love for you to share this with them!
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