A stunning retreat
If you’re looking for respite from the glitz and rush of Singapore, the Botanic Gardens offer a variety of enticing green gardens and spaces to explore or simply retreat to with a good book. And with an MRT station open right by its entrance since 2011, it’s easier to reach than ever.
Fresh and sparkly attractions like Marina Bay Sands and Universal Studios open every year in Singapore — and due to land reclamation work, the island is even gradually getting bigger. While it’s unlikely that Singapore’s founders would recognise what their tropical trading post has developed into, if you took them to the tranquil gardens they would find a glimpse of what was there in the past.
Established in 1859 as a retreat for the wealthy plantation owners and colonial governors who lived in the Orchard Road area, the 74-hectare gardens held their own while other historic sites in this area came tumbling down in the 20th century to make way for mega-malls and condos. Today, the Gardens boast the title of Singapore’s oldest national park. Whether you want to smell the flowers, learn about medicinal plants on a guided tour, or just enjoy the open space, the gardens deserve a place on your Singapore to-do list.
Plan ahead and download one of their walking guides to several sections of the park, or book in for a free guided tour, held on Saturdays — check the schedule. They also have several apps you can download to use during a self-guided visit.
The gardens are just one of many free things to do in Singapore. The only place in the park that you need to pay an admission fee (S$5 adults/S$1 children or students) is the National Orchid Garden. Singapore has long been a hotspot for cultivating these delicately beautiful flowers and the garden is home to more than 1,000 species and 2,000 hybrids. There are so many varieties that VIPs who visit Singapore – from Margaret Thatcher to Ricky Martin – have an orchid named after them. Also within the paid area is the Cool House with orchids and cool carnivorous plants that can’t otherwise survive in the relentless heat.
While the Orchid Garden is the biggest attraction (most organised tours visit the orchids and nothing else), the dozen other themed gardens are completely free and just as enjoyable. Highlights include fragrant frangipani, fruit trees, the ginger garden with a walk-through waterfall, and a swatch of virgin rainforest with trees reaching heights over 40 metres. The Evolution Garden traces the history of plant life from fungi to ferns to flowers. The gardens are also a haven for small animals and you’ll see grey squirrels, songbirds and the occasional monitor lizard. You can purchase pellets to feed the turtles and fish that live in the lakes and imported swans nest around Swan Lake.
If you have children in tow, the Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden has play structures such as a maze and a modest but still cool splash park — take your swimmers! We’ve killed plenty of relatively quiet hours here.
The Botanic Gardens is open daily from 06:00 to 00:00, which means you can visit outside the heat of the day. (The Orchid Garden is only open 08:30-19:00.) Early-risers come to jog on the gardens’ perfectly paved pathways and there’s a morning gathering of tai chi enthusiasts.
In the evening the illuminated gardens is great for a romantic stroll or fine French dinner at Au Jardin Les Amis. For a casual meal without leaving the gardens, grab a sandwich or pizza from Casa Verde or a snack from the kiosks at the Ginger and Children’s Gardens.
Catch the MRT to Botanic Gardens station.
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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