Singapore may be one of the world’s most expensive cities to live in, but don’t be fooled by the way we appear on the Hollywood romcom, Crazy Rich Asians. Our city has plenty of cheap (even free) things to do when you’re feeling a little bored or cooped up on this little red dot.
From basking in the beauty of nature to exploring the charming streets filled with heritage and history to enjoying free art exhibitions and performances, here’s a list of all the cool things you can do on the island that won’t cost you a single cent. Bookmark ‘em so you can still have a good time frolicking about town when your bank account runs low.
Admire architectural wonders
All across the streets of Singapore, you’ll see towering skyscrapers next to quaint shop houses and sculptural condominiums by colorful HDBs, blending sleek modernity with sweet nostalgia. If you’re intrigued by architecture, a walking tour around the country’s neighborhoods will likely get you all hot and bothered about the mix of history and heritage with glossy, futuristic elements.
For the old souls in search of vintage buildings from Singapore’s early years, Pearl Bank Apartments, People’s Park Complex, Golden Mile Complex, and Hill Street Building are great places to start. Then on the contemporary side, you’ll be dazzled by residences like The Interlace, Reflections at Keppel Bay, Skyville @ Dawson, Parkview Square (otherwise known as Gotham City), The Hive at Nanyang Technological University, and The Pinnacle @ Duxton.
Bask in nature
We’re not called the Garden City for nothing – literally anywhere you look, even in the CBD, you’ll find plants and trees of all kinds adorning the streets with beautiful blooms and lush foliage. But if you’d like to full-on immerse yourself in the gorgeous gardens and picturesque parks around this city-state, slather on your sunscreen for a day out at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, our first UNESCO World Heritage Site. As long as you keep to the public areas and don’t wander into the ticketed grounds, your wallet will be fine.
Alternatively, Fort Canning Park is a breezy climb, while Gardens by the Bay is a cutting edge take on nature, and The Southern Ridges is known for its stunning views of the city. The Chinese and Japanese Gardens make for quite the pretty picture, but if you’re up for a stroll on the boardwalk by the water, swing by Lower Seletar Reservoir Park or MacRitchie Reservoir Park. Otherwise, get up close to wildlife at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Dairy Farm Nature Park.
Chalk up some good karma
The best things in life are free, right? So score some extra karma points and bring good vibes into your life by lending a helping hand to those in need. Local charities and non-profit organizations that have opportunities for you to give back to society include Food From The Heart, Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS), Singapore Red Cross, Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations, Touch Community Services, and Yellow Ribbon Project.
Check out free arts festivals in town
Singapore seems to have cool art festivals going on at any given time, and they’re usually (mostly) free, which is great if you’re walking around the city in search of entertainment. The Singapore Night Festival is a popular one, with art installations, roving performers, and street parties around the Bras Basah and Bugis area. Otherwise, Singapore Art Week has programmes that don’t require an entry fee, and i Light Marina Bay puts on an illuminating show with sustainable light art installations.
Oh, and let’s not forget Esplanade, with its annual happenings like alternative music festival Baybeats, Pesta Raya – Malay Festival of Arts, Huayi – Chinese Festival of Arts, Kalaa Utsavam – Indian Festival of Arts, and the performance-centric da:ns festival.
Discover the city’s last remaining kampong
For those not in the know, Kampong Lorong Buangkok is the last surviving village on mainland Singapore. The only one to resist development, this sleepy space is surrounded by greenery, with towering HDBs in the vicinity, and it’s like taking a step back in time when life was a lot more slow-paced and serene.
Today, less than 30 families live in the 26 houses, but the community is as close as ever. And with the media spotlight on the kampong, the residents are rather used to students on excursion and tourists traipsing around – just as long as you respect their privacy.
Enjoy a view of Singapore’s bright lights
It’s easy to find a rooftop bar where you can revel in the sights of the Singapore skyline, but penny pinchers can also get in on the picture-taking without spending any money. The most obvious spots to see Marina Bay Sands and its nightly laser shows are Merlion Park, Esplanade (with its roof terrace), and Marina Barrage, but you can also climb up to Mount Faber Park for a view of the city from afar.
Find inner peace at intricately designed places of worship
True to the city’s multi-cultural community, all kinds of religious places of worship are scattered around the island – from temples and churches to mosques and synagogues. The bigger, more public ones typically welcome curious members of the public, but even if you’re a skeptic, the breathtaking structures themselves are worth taking a look at.
Popular places include Chinatown’s iconic Sri Mariamman Temple; Thian Hock Keng Temple, otherwise known as the oldest of its kind in Singapore; Kampong Glam’s striking Sultan Mosque; St Andrew’s Cathedral, the oldest Anglican church on the island; the ornate Jewish Chesed-El Synagogue; and Novena Church, with its recently revamped Gothic-inspired look and vivid stained glass windows.
Get a dose of retail therapy
If the thought of going window shopping at indie haven Haji Lane or rummaging through the mess of Bugis Village tempts you to shell out dollars, check out the Singapore Really Really Free Market instead.
Popping up regularly across the country, the event features vendors who give away stuff like books, toys, and food, as well as share their skills in areas like hair cutting and tarot card reading. It may not be the most glamorous, but hey, nothing here comes with a price tag. Of course, those who want to reduce their carbon footprint can also bring pre-loved items to pass them on to others and spread the love.
Live the beach life
One of the few islands in the world to bask in eternal sunshine, Singapore’s beaches are a second home to the sun-tanners and summer worshippers among us. Just think about it: To have the breeze in your hair, the fluffy sand between your toes, and a cocktail in your hand? Sounds like a perfect weekend to us.
If you want a variety of beaches, head to Sentosa, where you’ll find the family-friendly Palawan Beach, Siloso Beach, with its myriad water sports, and Tanjong Beach, the location of the merrymaker’s club of the same name. Elsewhere, Changi Beach is where you can spot planes swooping overhead to the airport, Punggol Beach offers a peaceful oasis, and East Coast Park is a sprawling space for barbecues and camp-outs.
Marvel at museums and galleries
Unless you’re a visiting tourist, Singapore’s national museums typically offer complimentary admission for citizens and permanent residents. These include the Asian Civilisations Museum, National Gallery Singapore, National Museum of Singapore, The Peranakan Museum, Singapore Art Museum, and Singapore Philatelic Museum, where you’ll find all kinds of exhibitions, educational and entertaining.
Heritage institutions such as the Indian Heritage Centre, Malay Heritage Centre, and Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall are also free for locals to enter, while anyone can explore Reflections at Bukit Chandu without paying a dime.
Pose with public art murals
Some of our citizens may still be slightly iffy about graffiti on our clean streets, but we’ve still got a pretty cool street art scene brightening up the city’s building walls and alleyways. Make an adventurous day out of it and explore the nooks and crannies of Singapore to spot the murals hiding in plain sight.
In Chinatown, local artist Yip Yew Chong’s work showcases the early lives of Hokkien immigrants on the stretch behind Thian Hock Keng Temple along Amoy Street. If you’re in the Little India area, Kerbau Road features splashes of kaleidoscopic hues scattered amongst colorful buffalos, while Hindoo Road is where local artist Zero painted a portrait of iconic Tamil actor Rajinikanth.
Naturally, the hip neighborhood of Tiong Bahru is full of wall art, most of them heritage pieces by Yip. And in line with its eclectic array of boutiques and cafes in shop houses, Haji Lane and its surroundings are covered with vibrant strokes. At Tanjong Pagar, homegrown art collective Ripple Root takes over with its cheery designs, while the Sultan Arts Village is home to ever-changing street art by local and international names.
Scare yourself silly at a nightmarish theme park
Normally, you’d be hard pressed to find a theme park with no crowds, much less no entry fee. But Haw Par Villa isn’t your standard tourist attraction. Infamous for its nightmare-inducing display of the Ten Courts of Hell from Chinese folklore, the cultural park features more than 1,000 statues and 150 dioramas illustrating all the legends and myths you
ever never wanted to discover. Needless to say, it’s not for the scaredy-cats – unless you want to face your fears.
Splash around at water parks
Sometimes, you gotta do what you gotta do to beat the heat. To cool down. To escape from Singapore’s perpetual sweltering heat. And sometimes, that means intruding on kid-centric spaces like water parks. Or, since they’re not sizeable, water play areas.
Places to get soaked include Far East Children’s Garden in Gardens by the Bay, Aqua Playground at I12 Katong Mall, Marina Barrage Water Playground, Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, and Punggol Waterway Park.
Treat yourself to movies and concerts
If you’re living that frugal life and can’t/don’t want to pay for a night out at the movies, track down some of these outdoor screenings instead. Sentosa’s got a weekly series where you can pack a picnic to enjoy the film and you dine alfresco, while MovieMob is a roving cinema that pops up around the country with popular blockbusters and the occasional drive-in movie screening.
At Esplanade, homegrown musicians take the stage to perform regularly, and most of these gigs don’t require you to cough up any cash. Festivals come and go throughout the year as well, featuring local and international performers on the line-up of free programmes.
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