Written by: Jaii Fredregill
Visited: February 2019
Singapore can typically be found hovering somewhere near the top on any list of most expensive cities. It is certainly not considered a popular budget travel destination, but it is easy and comfortable even on a smaller budget. Here are some of the best pocket-friendly sites and tastiest cheap eats in Singapore for those who find themselves here on an extended stopover or even for a few days.
Lily pond at Singapore Botanical Gardens
Sometimes referred to as “The Garden City,” Singapore takes great pride in some not so ordinary gardens. In addition to numerous parks and rooftops covered in greenery, there are two stops that most travelers make during their time here, Gardens by the Bay and the Singapore Botanical Garden.
The OCBC Skyway in the Supertree Grove at Gardens By the Bay.
Gardens by the Bay is made up of three parts, the Bay South Garden, the Bay East Garden, and the Bay Central Garden. Collectively it spans 101 hectares/250 acres filled with diverse plant life, lakes, shops, restaurants, two giant domes, twelve Supertrees, and a Children’s Garden located in the Bay East Garden. Read More on Sustainability at Gardens By The Bay here.
Admission to the Garden and the Supertree light show are free. If you would like to enjoy the views from the OCBC Skyway that connect the trees the cost is SGD 8 / USD 6.
How to get to Gardens by the Bay on MRT: Red (North-South) Line toward Marina South Pier to the Marina South Pier station / Blue (Downtown) Line toward Bukit Panjang to the Marina South Pier station
Marina Centre and Marina South.
18 Marina Gardens Dr, Singapore 018953
The National Orchid Garden is home to over 60,000 orchid plants.
The Singapore Botanical Gardens are over 100-years old and one of only three tropical gardens on the UNESCO World Heritage list. There is no admittance fee, but it does cost SGD 5 / USD 3.70 and SGD 1 / USD 0.75 for students to enter the National Orchid Garden.
1 Cluny Rd, Singapore 259569
Singapore was once a lush jungle. The majority of that jungle is now skyscrapers and cement, but there are a few places left where you can enjoy some lovely nature. You may even encounter monkeys, monitor lizards, and wild boars.
Forest Walk at Faber Park
The Southern Ridges is a 6 mile/10 km trail connecting the paths and trails along this area. Pasir Panjang MRT and Labrador MRT stations are the closest and easiest ways to get here by public transit. Here is a map to give you some idea.
This entire area is nice to visit, but for a leisurely scenic walk through the jungle try the Forest Walk at Faber Park. The elevated walkway allows you to enjoy spectacular views of Singapore as you move through the trees.
Part of the stair path to the summit at Bukit Timah
Welcome to the jungle. Bukit Timah is full of life, and it is difficult to walk the trails without spotting long-tailed macaques or clouded monitor lizards. Be sure to observe the signs and do not feed the monkeys as you climb the hills and steps throughout the park. Most trails are moderate to difficult, and along the trails, you will see maps posted. Bathrooms and water stations are at either end of the park. It is wise to carry a refillable container when hiking in Singapore and be sure to stay hydrated. Admission is free.
How to get to Bukit Timah on MRT
Take the Blue (Downtown) MRT line toward Bukit Panjang to the Sixth Avenue, Hillview or Beauty World station. You can then transfer to a bus or just walk about 10-minutes. My preferred route is to start from the Hillview station then hike up and over the summit toward the vistor's center then on to the Beauty World Station, where I sometimes treat myself to a McDonald's ice cream cone for SGD 1 / USD 0.75. Believe me you will sweat off enough calories for a little ice cream.
A long-tailed macaque contemplates life (and bananas).
If you’re out for more of a trek, Bukit Timah connects to MacRitchie so you can hike both in a day. Those not looking to make a day of it can go directly to MacRitchie to explore the moderately difficult hiking trails. The most famous part of the park is the TreeTop Walk, a free-standing 250-meter suspension bridge about a 90-minute hike from the official entrance. To get to a trailhead take the Yellow Circle line MRT toward Harbour Front to the Marymount MRT station then walk south for about 10-minutes to the park. If you prefer to start at the main entrance, you will need to transfer to a bus from Marymount MRT. Routes will vary depending on your starting point, so consult your mapping app.
MacRitchie Reservoir Park, Singapore 298717
MacRitchie Online Information
On 28 February 2010 the 8.6 meter tall Merlion was struck by lightening. Repairs on the loyal mascot were completed within one month.
There is more than one Merlion in Singapore, but when people talk about, “The Merlion,” they are talking about the one at Merlion Park which is located just outside the Fullerton Hotel. This fictional creature has the head of a lion and the body of a fish and serves as Singapore’s official mascot. Visit the park and enjoy a walk along Singapore's scenic waterfront.
1 Fullerton Rd, Singapore 049213
Embrace the chaos at Bugis Street market.
Finding Bugis Street might be a little confusing when you arrive because it is surrounded by shopping malls. The shopping street is not a mall; it is a crowded market full of street food, t-shirts, and cheap electronic accessories. It is a great place to pick up a souvenir or two, and due to its proximity to Kampong Glam, it’s an easy stop to check out if you want to check out the Muslim Heritage Centre, Arab Street or Haji Lane.
3 New Bugis Street, Singapore 188867
Parkview is the best free spot for any art enthusiast in Singapore.
Parkview Square is home to the Parkview building, museum and bar. Its beautiful art deco architecture looks straight out of the 1920s despite being built in 2002. There is no charge to stroll the square and admire a rotating collection of sculptures from artist like Salvador Dali. You can also take the lift to the 3rd floor and check out the Parkview Museum, which is also free and open to the public Monday-Saturday from 12:00 pm-7:00 pm.
600 North Bridge Rd, Singapore 188778
Though there is more to Singapore than just a few neighborhoods if you are visiting on a budget and want to get an idea of what this tiny island is about, Little India, Chinatown, and Kampong Glam are the key areas to stay, eat and explore. Wondering the streets in these areas cost little to nothing and can be done alone or as part of a group.
Explore the Kampong Glam Heritage Trail absolutely free. Restaurants pictured here along Arab street may not be what budget travelers are looking for, but Zam Zam and Victory restaurants (mentioned below) are just on the other side of the Masjid Sultan mosque pictured in the background.
Check out Chinatown and do some shopping (Exit A from Chinatown MRT). The best and most affordable food can be found around People's park where the Chinatown hawker is (Exit C). If you would like to get from one side to the other, find the pedestrian overpass over North Bridge Road that connects them. You can join a Free Walking Tour. It is travel etiquette to give your guide a small gratuity, but since most are informative and great at showing you around, this is still well worth the cost.
Those who like to roam freely at their own pace might want to check out a Free Self-Guided Walking Tour. Little India is a great place to start, and offers a lot of affordable food, shopping and culture.
Learn about the contribution of Indian migrants and, "involuntary migrants" at the Indian Heritage Centre.
The Indian Heritage Centre is located in the wonderful Little India neighborhood and offers a unique opportunity to learn about the integral part Indian migrants have played in Singapore’s rich history. Admission is SGD 6 / USD 4.40 for adults and SGD 4 / USD 3.
5 Campbell Ln, Singapore 209924
Make your way to Kampong Glam and the Malay Heritage Centre to learn more about the deep ties between Singaporean and Malaysian cultures.
A visit to the Malay Heritage Centre is an excellent way to learn about Malay heritage in Singapore, and some of Singapore’s more recent and fascinating history, including the evolution and eventual censorship of film, music, and literature. Admission is SGD 6 / USD 4.40 for adults and SGD 4 / USD 3.
85 Sultan Gate, Singapore 198501
You could easily spend a week or even two in Singapore just visiting temples. There are too many to list in this post, but here are three that are centrally located and within walking distance of each other. Admission to all of these temples is free.
Be sure to check out every floor of the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in Chinatown.
This temple was not built until 2007 but has quickly become one of the most visited temples in Singapore. An excellent free museum on the third floor is believed to house bones and tongue relics of the Buddha, but the highlight of the temple is the rooftop garden’s giant prayer wheel.
288 South Bridge Rd, Singapore 058840
Sri Mariamman Temple has had many restorations over the past 150-years. Admire all its detailed beauty on South Bridge Rd, between Temple and Pagoda Streets.
This is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore and dates back to 1800s. Immigrants from the Nagapatnam and Cuddalore districts of South India built the temple, to worship of Mariamman, a goddess who cures illness and disease.
242 South Bridge Rd, Singapore 058791
Thian Hock Keng Temple is one of the oldest Hokkien temples. Built in 1839, for the worship of Chinese sea goddess, Mazu, the temple is still standing strong and welcoming droves of visitors daily.
Telok Ayer, 158
One of many colorful murals in Little India.
Hostels and capsule hotels are some of the most affordable accommodation options in Singapore and cost as little as SGD 20/USD 15 per night. Budget hotels cost SGD 41 /USD 30+ on most hotel search sites. Two neighborhoods with loads of cultural and budget-friendly beds are Little India and Chinatown.
Both have MRT stations and are a reasonable distance from the main sites. There is tons of cheap, good food and nightlife, though Little India does have more bars.
Note: It is also legal to drink responsibly in public until 10:30 pm, so if you want to buy local beer at the supermarket and sit on a bench by the river to watch the boats while you drink it you can save money and enjoy the sites.
Satay is one of Singapore's most popular cheap eats at SGD 0.50-0.70 / USD 0.40-0.50 per stick.
Street food vendors work out of small stalls inside hawker centers that receive regular health inspections and are given a grade from A to D. All must post their grade in plain view for patrons. Hawkers operate at the base of at least fifty percent of the buildings in Singapore and also occupy stand-alone centers that sometimes span 2-3 floors.
New cuisines and fancy modern hawkers have popped up in places, including craft beer stalls. These are not as inexpensive as the typical food centers where you can find a meal for as little as USD 3-5. The least expensive beer in Singapore is probably the large bottles of Tiger beer that run about SGD 7/USD 5.15.
Unlike the rest of South East Asia, you can drink the water in Singapore. As I mentioned above, if you have a refillable container you can refill it. Most parks and high traffic sightseeing areas, like Gardens by the Bay have water fountains just outside the public bathrooms, which makes them easy to locate. You can also refill bottles from the tap at your hotel or hostel, which will save you some cash.
If you like duck be sure to visit the Chinatown hawker center where a plate of duck and rice will cost only around SGD 6 / USD 4.40.
If you arrive during peak hours, it is wise to find a table first and claim it by placing a small personal possession on the table, which is acceptable hawker etiquette. Most locals leave an umbrella or tissue packet to hold the table. Napkins are not provided so bring your own, or ask at the beverage stalls inside the center. Beverages are sold at these stalls separately from the food, and they often sell things like tissues and even cigarettes. To find the Chinatown Food Hawker from MRT, take Exit B.
This is the Michelin-starred chicken rice you've probably read about in your Singapore travel research.
Singapore is one of the few places on Earth where you can try a Michelin Star restaurant for SGD 5 / 3.70 USD. Visitors line up daily for a chance to try the Soya Chicken Rice that earned Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice Noodle (Locally known as Hawker Chan) this honor. Avoid the queue by dining during off-peak hours. Take Exit A from the Chinatown MRT station and ask anyone to point you toward Smith Street. The restaurant is just a short 2-minute walk around the block.
335 Smith Street #02-126, Singapore
Michelin Guide Listing
Feast at Zam Zam and Victory, two of the best places in Kampong Glam to find exceptional Muslim food.
In most of our posts from Singapore, we mention that travelers should try the Muslim food. In this post, it is particularly important, as this fare is some of the most affordable and flavorful food you can find in Singapore. Many food centers sell roti prata (grilled flatbread), murtabak (stuffed, grilled flatbread) and biryani (rice with meat and Indian spices). These dishes, and many more can also be found in very affordable sit down restaurants.
Victory and Zam Zam are two of the better known Muslim restaurants in the Kampong Glam area near Arab Street and Haji Lane. They are both great, but Victory is my personal favorite. If you would like to enjoy a break from the heat, head up the stairs next to the cashier to the air-conditioned second floor. For an extra treat try a teh tarik (pulled tea). This sweetened tea can be enjoyed hot or cold and can provide a traveler with a much-needed boost of energy.
Beat the heat at Singapore's very reasonably priced ice cream carts. Ice cream flavors include mango, yam, red bean, chocolate and tuti-fruti.
Be sure to look for the Ice Cream Uncles and Aunties that sell hand slung ice cream sandwiches from their carts for just SGD 1.00 - 1.20 / UDS 0.75 - 0.90. Ice cream is served sandwich style between either two wafers (like flat cones), or on a slice of bread like a taco. Ice cream on bread may seem strange to you if you have not grown up with it, but when street carts first started selling it in Southeast Asia, they did not have cups or cones, so bread became the vehicle of choice for this creamy, frozen treat. Carts also sell cold water and sodas for about a buck. They are easy to find behind Bugis street shopping area and at either end of Temple Street in Chinatown.
Free Wifi is available at Changi airport, malls, MRT stations, food centers and an assortment of other places. However, the access code to use it will most likely come to you via SMS and may require a local phone number.
Pre-paid SIM cards are easy to get and not expensive. The primary providers are Singtel, M1, and StarHub. You can purchase a SIM card in any arrival hall at Changi airport, or from 7-Eleven, Cheers (the local version of 7-Eleven). Each company offers several options of data, text and calling that expire after anywhere from 7-90 days.
Excellent and affordable public transit via bus or the ever-expanding MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) train system can be found all over Singapore. The maximum fare is SGD 2.08 / USD 1.58, and all trains and buses are clean and air-conditioned. Like most major cities, Singapore has adopted a refillable transit card system. An EZ-Link card cost SGD 10 at most 7-Eleven and Cheers stores or any Changi Airport Information Counter.
Regardless of where you purchase a card, it will cost SGD 5, and any amount you pay over that should be paid back to you in pre-paid / pre-loaded transit fares already on the card at the time of purchase. Once you have a transit card, you can top it up at any MRT station as needed for a minimum of SGD 10 Top Up.
You can also purchase a Singapore Tourist Card for public transit at select locations around Singapore. Changi Airport will probably be the least amount of hassle if your arrival time permits. This option is subject to an SGD 10 refundable rental deposit that you get back if you return the card before you leave the country.
Taxis / Car Service Apps
Taxi stands are in front of malls, MRT stations, and hotels. However, if you would like to call a taxi or a car, the two most popular apps are currently ComfortDelGro (Taxi) or Grab, which operates exactly like Uber.
Bikes & Scooters Rental Apps
The major players in the recent explosion of bike and scooter rental Apps in Singapore are OfO (Yellow) and Mobike (Orange). A third company called SG Bike (Red/White) has also thrown its hat in the ring, and you can find bikes and scooters for all three parked all over the island. Regardless of which app you use to rent, be sure to look your vehicle over carefully before you pay. People are not always kind to these things, and you can end up with a real clunker if you’re not careful.
Overall, if you are travelling on a tight budget, you can rest assured that if you make your way to Singapore there are plenty of places to lay your head, fill your belly and experience local sights and culture.