Published/Last edited or updated: 31st January, 2017
Once you've shopped your way down Orchard Road, slurped on char kway teow at a hawker centre, and spent more than the cost of your dorm bed on a Singapore Sling at ye olde Raffles Hotel, what more does Singapore have to offer? Well, it isn't known as the "Garden City" for nothing (and the "Fine City", and the "Lion City"...), and visitors who venture beyond downtown will discover plenty of serene green refuges scattered throughout this mini-country.
While the man-eating tigers and malaria-infested swamps of 19th century Singapore are long gone, the diverse flora and fauna of its parks and nature reserves are enough to remind you that this urban jungle used to be a real one. Like everywhere in Singapore, all of the parks and nature reserves are easily accessible by eco-friendly public transportation. Pack some sunscreen and bottled water and remember not to feed the monkeys -- it's a fineable offence!
The Singapore Botanic Gardens is more than just flowers. In fact, while most visitors rush to the Orchid Garden to see blossoms named after celebrities and then leave, the park's other gardens are less crowded, more interesting, plus entry is free. All of the gardens are categorised by plant type and the Visitors Centre has free maps and brochures for each -- the Ginger Garden, Palm Garden, Marsh Garden, and educational Evolution Garden and Eco Garden.
For something a little more natural, walk through the 15 acre Rainforest Garden; some of its 50-metre trees have been there since 1819 and are a stark reminder what Singapore would look like without human influence. To beat the heat try visiting in the early morning or evening -- it's open every day from 5:00 – 24:00.
Admission: Orchid Garden: S$5 adults; S$1 students/seniors; children under 12 free; Other gardens free
Hours: Orchid Gardens: 08:30-19:00; Other Gardens: 05:00-24:00.
Getting there: From the Orchard Road area, SBS bus #7, 105, 123, or 174; SMRT bus #75, 77, or 106.
More information: http://www.sbg.org.sg/
Singapore is one of only two cities with a protected reserve of primary rainforest within their boundaries (the other is Rio de Janeiro). At about 400 acres Bukit Timah reserve may not be that big, but its biodiversity is impressive; estimates hold that 800 plant species and 500 animal species still inhabit this conservation area. Most people come here for exercise rather than nature viewing, but if you pick a trail less frequented by chatty joggers you're likely to see critters like long-tailed macaques, monitor lizards, snakes, giant forest ants, and a whole lot of birds.
The hiking trails range from an easy one hour climb to the top of the bukit (Malaysian for 'hill') all the way to five hour treks through steep jungle terrain. Trails are well-marked with rest huts along the way. You can pick up a free map from the Visitor's Centre near the park entrance (08:30-18:00) where there's also a public toilet, souvenir shop, and canteen.
Getting there: SBS bus service #67, 75, 171, 173, 184, 852, 961, or SBS 170.
More information: Website
After local bird-watchers shared the news that this swampy corner of Singapore was being visited by migrating birds from as far away as Russia and Australia, the government quickly gave it protected status. Today it's an ASEAN heritage park with a fully developed educational centre, yet still one of the most untamed places in Singapore.
The muddy mangroves are full of crayfish, mudskippers, crabs, monitor lizards, and -- it's true -- the occasional estuarine crocodile. Local species like kingfishers, herons, and bitterns can be seen year round, but the migratory song birds pass through between September and March.
In the early morning Sungei Buloh is a blissfully peaceful place with only a handful of serious birders and photographers around, but on weekends it turns into a zoo thanks to the free guided tours (09:30 and 15:30) and kids' programs. On weekends and holidays bus 925C runs to the park entrance from Kranji MRT, otherwise you'll have to take bus 925 then walk 15 minutes to get there.
Admission: Mon-Fri: free; Weekends and Public Holidays: Adults $1, Kids $0.50
Getting there: from Kranji MRT: take bus #925 (weekdays) and walk or bus #925C (weekends and holidays).
More information: http://www.sbwr.org.sg
Tanya Procyshyn is a freelance writer and photographer. With a passion for unusual destinations, she has camped alongside Komodo dragons and shook hands with soldiers in North Korea.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
Our top 10 other sights and activities in and around Downtown Singapore