Free urban parks in Singapore
Singapore has come up with some of the most innovative ways in the world to ensure nature survives alongside the skyscrapers. Here are three of our favourite parks…
1. Gardens by the Bay
Modern, glass domes house magical mist-filled micro-worlds. Flora of every colour tumbles elegantly down the sides of metal structures. A thick carpet of green breaks cover to reveal neat bridges and waterfall-filled lakes. Gardens by the Bay is a futuristic utopian world come true.
Separated into three separate areas, you could literally spend days exploring all the intricacies of Bay South, Bay East and Bay Central. Although you have to pay to get into certain areas, there's more than enough going on that you don't have to pay for. Not only have the gardens been filled with floral wonders to delight both your sight and your smell, they have been very thoughtfully located. From different parts of the park you can savour views of the city’s glittering skyline or over the peaceful waterfront.
The real draw, however, are the purple-headed supertrees poking out above the surrounding scenery. These magnificent vertical gardens reach up to 50 metres in height. Don’t forget to return in the evening, where the artificial trees are transformed into a glittering light show.
2. Botanic Gardens
Not only were these gardens Singapore’s first UNESCO site, but this tropical botanical paradise is the only one of its kind on the list. 2019 is the time to go, as the park celebrates its 160th birthday.
Walk around the Bonsai Garden to admire the manicured miniature trees. Sit for a while at the Botany Centre where ancient trees grow around colonial buildings. Feel like you’re in a wild western movie in the cacti-filled Sun Garden. Take a stroll around Swan Lake to see the the trees and clouds shimmering on the surface of the oldest ornamental lake in Singapore.
Amongst the flora is the iconic 1930s bandstand, which is well worth snapping a picture from under. Don’t forget to pause to appreciate the circle of trees surrounding the bandstand with their baffling bright yellow leaves.
3. Fort Canning
On first glance, Fort Canning doesn’t seem as interesting as the others. But you’d be a fool to judge it this way. The hilltop park, known originally as ‘Forbidden Hill’ has acted as the stage for many of the most important historical milestones in Singapore.
Walk its tree-lined pavements, pausing at the artefacts on display along the way to learn about Singapore’s revolution and how it became the country it is today.
It’s not all stuck in the past, though. Constantly moving with the modern times, the park is now used as a creative space, hosting music concerts, theatre productions, and festivals.
Free hikes in Singapore
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4. MacRitchie Nature Trail and Reservoir Park
Set around a vast reservoir in the centre of the city, MacRitchie Reservoir Park offers outdoor adventures in and around a tropical forest. This is true fresh air territory.
Embark on the 11km walking trail, through the rainforest fringing the edges of the reservoir. Look out for macaque monkeys, monitor lizards, owls and even colugos (flying lemurs).
While you’re there, it’s also worth walking across the free-standing suspension bridge, taking you above the tree tops and offering exhilarating views over the rainforest, flora and fauna below.
5. Buhit Timah Nature Reserve
Buhit Timah Nature Reserve encloses the tallest hill in Singapore. But probably more significantly, the 163m high hill is where one of the last remaining areas of primary rainforest in the country stands.
The rainforest and the uncomfortably humid weather create perfect conditions for diverse plant life and wildlife to thrive - great for seeking out during a hike to the peak.
Hiking the hill isn’t all that difficult, with steps and guide ropes offering a helping hand. There’s a variety of paths on a scale of difficulty you can use to explore the 163-hectare reserve.
6. Southern Ridges
If you love birdwatching, then this 10km sky-high trail is the one for you.
Connecting the hilltops of otherwise separated parks, these bridges take you above the busy life below and level with the birds. Keep your eyes peeled for the red-whiskered bulbuls and banded bay cuckoos, in particular.
Don’t miss the country’s highest pedestrian bridge, Henderson Waves, snaking its way between two hills. 36 metres above the ground, not only is it good for wildlife, but also offers some of the best views over Singapore.
Free temples in Singapore
With a variety of cultures and religions making up Singapore, there are many beautiful and significant temples to appreciate. You should soak up as many of these as you can. Here are three free ones you definitely shouldn't miss...
7. Sri Mariamman Temple
The oldest and arguably the most magnificent Hindu temple in Singapore is the incredibly detailed Sri Mariamman Temple.
The pastel-hued roof of this place of worship cones up to the clouds and standing, sitting and crouching up and down it are hundreds of adorned idols looking down at the street below.
Don’t be confused by the almost-new-with-shine detail of this ancient temple. It has been restored many times throughout history, most recently in 2010 when around twenty Indian artists were sent to revitalise the temple. They set about repainting the mythological sculptures.
8. Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
Layered like a wedding cake, it’s very hard to miss the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple poking its head above Chinatown. Its eccentric exterior with its flag-frilled, fence-lined windows and golden bauble-lined roofs offers a clue to what awaits inside.
A bombardment of colour sits on the other side of the door. Multi-coloured silk fringes every surface and the deep-red walls and bright pink ceiling are only dulled by the golden shrine dominating the far-wall. It's so bright, the yellow glow is reflected in streaks along the floor.
The temple is also home to a museum where you can learn more about Buddhist culture, observe historic artefacts and learn more about the history of Singapore.
9. Thian Hock Keng Temple
More understated than the previous temples but equally as important to visit is Thian Hock Keng Temple. Known as the temple of heavenly happiness, this is the oldest Chinese temple in Singapore.
Not only is this temple significant now, but played a very important part in the past. Built for Mazu, the Goddess of the Sea, the temple was widely used by immigrants who came to pay thanks to Mazu for keeping them safe on their journey across the water.
Feel at peace as you walk the beautiful courtyard. When you’re studying the architecture, take time to ponder how they made something so ornate without the use of a single nail.
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10. Little India
Built around 200 years ago, the district of Little India is arguably more vibrant, energetic and exciting now than it’s ever been before.
Filled with temples, museums, art spaces and markets, there’s always something to feast the eye on.
Don’t miss Little India Arcade. With its bright beads hanging from the ceiling, glittering jewellery and bright clothes filling the stands and numerous handicrafts on display, this is a beautiful bombardment on the senses.
You’ll know you’re in Chinatown when the buildings get lower and everywhere is lavishly decorated in red and gold. Alongside some truly magnificent temples is a whole world of Chinese traditions and culture.
The best way of soaking up the atmosphere is by walking through it. Stroll through the red lantern-roofed market where vendors sell all sorts of Chinese essentials and luxuries, including bright silk robes and traditional ornaments.
Enjoy the sound of the bartering market vendors and their potential customers and salivate at the smell of fresh Chinese food wafting through the stalls.
12. Katong neighbourhood
If you need a break from the busy, bold and noisy world of everyday Singapore. Escape to Katong, where even the colour of the buildings is peaceful.
Row upon row of pastel-coloured colonial buildings neatly line the sides of Katong – the first heritage town in Singapore. Walk along these quaint houses with their latticed bordering and you’ll feel like you’ve travelled back in time.
The streets are so quiet you’ll feel like you’ve walked out of Singapore completely. Despite being quiet, Katong is by no means empty. Walk through its streets - spotted with traditional cafes and bars - and you’ll seen get a sense of how full of authenticity and rich in culture this district is.
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13. Street art at Bras Basah.Bugis
You can find street art in many places across the region, but perhaps the boldest and most eye-catching can be found around the district of Bugis and Bras Basah, often called BBB.
You’ll struggle to find a single inch of wall here that isn’t covered in colour. Every building on the street has been used as a giant canvas, where artists have come to show off their creations. These truly are eye-popping murals.
14. Find art in the architecture
You don’t have to look hard to find art in Singapore, as it is worked into much of the city’s best architecture. The best way to see as much as possible is by taking the Art Trail, which winds you past many of the city’s best buildings, designed by big names such as Han Sai Por and Roy Lichtenstein.
Among the highlights is the Fountain of Wealth. Making it into the Guinness Book of Records in 1998 (as the world’s biggest fountain), this lit-up spectacle is mesmerising both day and night. Nearby is the iconic Merlion sculpture, which depicts the half-lion, half-fish mythological creature.
Weave through the six granite sculptures that make up Progressive Flow, an intriguing and interactive piece of art at the NTUC Centre. Another one not to miss is David Gerstein’s Momentum, a giant red cone of almost 19m in height, depicting silhouettes of the country's many people, celebrating how they have helped build Singapore.
15. Salvador Dali Sculptures
If you thought you had to pay money to see one of history’s most celebrated artist’s work, think again. A thrilling way to experience the art of Singapore is to go on a hunt for Salvador Dali’s sculptures – many of which are sprinkled around the country.
His surrealist work can’t be mistaken for anyone else’s. Be mesmerized by his depictions of long-legged elephants, unicorns, horses, clocks, golden women and even a snail.
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16. Marina Barrage Rooftop Park
For an alternative view over the city and harbor of Singapore, walk up to the park at the top of Marina Barrage. Head up before dusk to watch the sky darken as the lights brighten in each of the windows of the skyscrapers.
17. Watch the sun set over Marina Bay Sands Hotel
A more popular but no less spectacular option for sunset junkies is to stand next to the statue of Merlion and look in the same direction as he is. You’ll soon be rewarded with a fiery sky, glowing from behind the luxurious Marina Bay Sands Hotel, and casting an orange cover across the top of the water.
Once the sun has gone down, walk from one side of the Marina to the other by crossing the Helix Bridge. The bridge itself is a visual delight, criss-crossing and circling above your head to create a purple light tunnel.
The views in front, below and all around you are also amazing. Skyscrapers glow a warm yellow and lights streak and dance across the dark water. This is a view you’ll never forget.
Free fun at Singapore airport
We’re serious. Singapore's Changi Airport didn’t win the Wanderlust Reader Travel Awards again for no reason. With free slides, a butterfly park, and even an indoor water park, for once you won’t want to be rushing through the airport.
The newly unveiled 40m-high manmade waterfall is the tallest indoor fountain in the world, and is just the newest addition to Singapore’s ever growing collection of ambitious, artistic architecture.
Stand directly below it and crane your neck back as far as it will go to get a true sense of the scale, and listen to the exhilarating rush of the waterfall.
20. Butterfly Park
Over 1000 tropical butterflies from around 40 different species fly around this tree and flower-filled, nectar-scented indoor park. Despite the artificial heat, the park is worth a look around. You'll be left enchanted.
While you’re waiting for your flight, there’s plenty of opportunities to burn off excess energy. With fun slides and newly-erected ‘bouncing nets’ you can pretend you’re a child again in this playground big enough for adults.