It’s no secret that Singapore is an expensive city. But even if you’re down to your last Sing-dollar, it’s possible to sightsee without spending a cent. Can? Can! (That’s Singlish for yes, it’s really possible). Here are some of our favourite freebies. Have fun lah!
One of the things we love most about Singapore is its vibrant kaleidoscope of cultures. Soaking up the ambiance in Singapore’s ethnic enclaves costs precisely nothing. Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam (Singapore’s Muslim neighbourhood) are also home to some of Singapore’s most colourful wet markets and most fascinating religious sites.
In Chinatown you can explore the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple or Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple, Sri Mariamman. Join in the fun on Saturdays at 18:55 when a lion dance is performed in Pagoda Street. Free two-hour tours of Chinatown are offered every Saturday by students at Nanyang Technological University’s Tourism and Hospitality Management Club — just turn up 09:15 in front of Chinatown Visitors’ Centre. Buzzing Little India is full of colour and smells. Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple is a distinctive landmark, and free to enter. Make sure you pop into the wet market at Tekka Centre for an olfactory experience. If you happen to be in Singapore around October or November, the area lights up for the celebrations of Deepavali. Historic Kampong Glam offers free tours of the majestic Sultan Mosque, and a couple of blocks away see Singapore’ s own “leaning tower” at Hajjah Fatimah Mosque. You can pass hours window shopping in the funky boutiques in Haji Lane. Kampong Glam truly comes alive during Ramadan when every evening a party atmosphere erupts as people break their fast at the many food stalls.
Marina Bay is not just a millionaires’ playground — enjoy marvelling at the modern architectural landmarks — the triple towers of Marina Bay Sands, the Esplanade, the marvellous SuperTrees at Gardens at the Bay, the sublime lotus-like ArtScience Museum, and the historic Fullerton Hotel. The area is also dotted with large public sculptures, including the monumentally kitsch Merlion, Singapore’s bizarre half-fish, half-lion mascot — admission to Merlion Park is free. Although it may ultimately cost you the shirt off your back, the casino at Marina Bay Sands is free for foreigners to enter (it’s S$100 for locals). You must be over 21, have your passport and there’s a dress code: no flip flops, shorts or sleeveless tops. It’s an interesting quick tour to witness fortunes made and lost, and you can help yourself to a free coffee. The Esplanade offers an excellent programme of free entertainment, from visual arts to free music and theatre performances almost every evening — check their website for what’s on. The outdoor gardens at Gardens at the Bay are all free to enter including the SuperTree Grove. Tuesday to Sunday there’s free admission the Children’s Garden with waterplay and fountains. This is a great way to cool down if you’re travelling with hot and flustered kids. Every evening at 19:45 and 20:45 the SuperTrees light up in an impressive firework-like light show. Though the commentary can be a little cheesy, it's still really something. After that, move around the bay for the bigger and better Wonder Full light show at Marina Bay with projections, lasers and fountains, held daily at 20:00 and 21:30, with an additional show on Friday and Saturday at 23:00.
The tourist precinct of Orchard Road also offers some freebies — consider it a free outdoor art gallery, not only window shopping but a street full of great public sculpture including international artists Robert Indiana’s Love sculpture and Fernando Botero’s Reclining Woman, as well as some excellent local artists. Footpath entertainment is provided by a bevy of street performers. For one of the best (free) views in Singapore, head to ION Sky at ION Orchard — 56 levels above Orchard Road. It's open daily 15:00-18:00, with the last admission at 17:30. It's sometimes closed for private events.
Singapore’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site, Singapore Botanic Gardens, is free too. (The Orchid Garden however is S$5). There’s a reason this magnificent garden is one of the city’s most-visited attractions — you could easily spend a day enjoying the wide open spaces and tropical plants. There’s also a free on-site museum and children’s garden with a great splash park for younger kids.
Museum enthusiasts will appreciate free admission to plenty of minor museums. Discover war history at Changi Chapel Museum. NUS Museum and NUS Baba House (by appointment only) both house large Asian Art collections. The Singapore Chinese Opera Museum has some great costumes on display. Fuk Tak Chi Museum features artefacts from the lives of early Chinese immigrants in Singapore. Singapore General Hospital Museum is the place for folk interested in medicine. Singapore City Gallery tells the story of Singapore’s physical transformation to the modern city it is today. For some military history, head to Singapore Navy Museum and Air Force Museum. The Intan(by appointment only) is a private collection of Peranakan treasures. The Singapore Art Museum also offers free admission every Friday after 18:00.
Haw Par Villa has to be Singapore’s strangest free attraction. This bizarre cultural theme park was built in 1937 by the Haw Par Brothers, the creators of Tiger Balm ointment, who used their fortune to bring scenes from Chinese folklore to life. It really needs to be seen to be believed.
If you’re interested in seeing the wilder side of Singapore, admission is free to the city-state’s excellent nature reserves and many parks. The Labrador Nature Reserve offers a mix of World War II relics and seaside walkways, while Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve offers great bird-watching and mangrove creatures like mudskippers. As well as being home the highest point in Singapore, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve has the best hiking trails and monkey sightings are practically guaranteed. A network of park connectors could see you park hopping across the entire island.
That should keep you busy without letting the moths fly from your wallet. And if you’re really hard up for a feed (perhaps it’s time to go home?), some of the religious organisations serve free meals daily including Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu temples and churches. Notably Singapore Buddhist Lodge in Kim Yam Road, which serves free vegetarian meals 07:00 to 19:00 — leave a donation if you can.
Just transiting in Singapore? Changi Airport isn’t the world’s most awarded airport for nothing — there's a host of free things to do there too. We love the gardens — there’s a butterfly garden (T3), sunflower garden (T2), orchid garden (T2), water lily garden (T1) and cactus garden (T1). The skytrain connects terminals, so you could see them all if you have time. Movie theatres in terminals two and three show the latest films. Revive your weary feet with free foot massage machines dotted around the departure gates. If you’ve got six hours to spare, register for a free city tour.
By Sally Arnold
Last updated on 27th June, 2016.