The city-state of Singapore has long held a fascination for many travelers. It’s often used as an example of successful development among Southeast Asian countries. And movies like Crazy Rich Asians, have helped boost the city’s status within popular culture. Known for its glitz and glamour, Singapore has a reputation for being an expensive city. But there are actually plenty of things to do in Singapore on a budget. And many of them are family-friendly too!
Last month, our travels took us to the city of Singapore, as we made our way from Indonesia to the Philippines. We spent two days exploring the city, located on the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. I’ve been to Singapore before, countless times when I was a kid and even as an adult. And the rest of my family, with the exception of my youngest, have all visited the city before as well. So we knew what to expect when coming to Singapore. And we were excited to visit another Asian country on our travels.
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Discovering places to visit in Singapore for free or for cheap
After spending five and a half months in Indonesia and experiencing Indonesian culture, we had grown accustomed to making our dollars stretch. So when we came to Singapore, we braced ourselves for the shock to our wallet. Cost of living in Singapore is on par with American cities like Seattle or San Francisco. According to the Singapore Department of Statistics, the average monthly household income in Singapore is around SGD 11,780 (roughly $8,600 USD).
What this means for travelers is that Singapore isn’t necessarily a cheap place to visit! If you’re trying to do affordable world travel with your kids, Singapore may pose a challenge for your budget. Fortunately, there are plenty of free things to do in Singapore. Or at the very least, there are plenty of cheap and affordable things to do.
During our time in Singapore, rather than visiting the big ticket attractions like Universal Studios or the Singapore Zoo, or spending time at museums around the city, we tried to only explore free or cheap things. We made it a goal not to spend over SGD 100 total per day for food, transport and attractions. And for the most part, we were pretty successful!
How to get to all the cheap and free things to do in Singapore
Getting around Singapore on the cheap is actually really easy to do. The city’s MRT system is extensive, and takes you all over the city. We even took the MRT from Changi Airport to our hotel on Albert Street. It cost us less than SGD 6 (this doesn’t include the cost of an EZ-Link card) for all four of us. Granted, it took more than an hour, but we were thankful not to have to spend more than we needed to.
If you’re planning to use the MRT, you can purchase an EZ-Link card at the airport or at an MRT station. These cards make getting on the MRT easy and quick, and you can top them up with more money at any station. The cost an EZ-Link card is SGD 10, and includes SGD 5 in fare. Children under the age of 7 can travel for free. You’ll need to get them a pass at the MRT station, and will also need to provide proof of age.
Fares on the MRT range from SGD 0.92 to over SGD 2, depending on the distance. There are several different colored lines that travel throughout the city. The main lines that travel through the central part of the city are the Downtown line (dark blue), the Circle line (yellow), the North East line (purple), the East West line (green), and the North South line (red). Many of the cheap or free things to do in Singapore are located near MRT stops. So depending on where you plan to stay in Singapore, public transportation is a great option if you’re trying to get around the city on a budget.
Our favorite things to do in Singapore on a budget
Since we only had two days to explore, we didn’t have time to see all the cheap or free things to do in Singapore. The Rough Guide To Singapore has some suggestions for fun things to do in Singapore. Many of them are cheap too.
But what I really wanted for this post are affordable attractions and activities that are fun for families. So I asked a few of my blogger colleagues to help out with putting together this list of places to visit in Singapore that are both budget-friendly and family-friendly.
If you’re planning on visiting Singapore, you don’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy the things that the city has to offer. Here are our favorite family-friendly things to do in Singapore on a budget.
Visit the Gardens by the Bay
Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay is one of the city’s most iconic attractions. It’s also one of the most beautiful places to visit in Singapore for free. Gardens by the Bay is located at Marina Bay, accessible by MRT at the Bayfront stop. The park is open all year round.
Entrance into the park is free. But within Gardens by the Bay, there are sections that you will need to pay admission fees to enter or access. These include the cooled conservatories (Flower Dome and Cloud Forest), the Floral Fantasy exhibit, the OCBC Skyway, and the Supertree Observatory. However, many parts of the park, including the outdoor gardens, are free to visit.
The most famous part of the park is the Supertree Grove. These are giant structures covered by plants and vines. Walking through the Supertree Grove, at ground level, is free. However, if you want to walk among the tops of the Supertrees, along the OCBC Skyway, you’ll need to pay SGD 8 for adults and SGD 5 for kids.
For families visiting Gardens by the Bay, you can also enjoy an afternoon at the Far East Organization Children’s Garden. This playground has play structures built into a forest-like setting. There is also a splash park for kids to cool off during those hot Singapore afternoons. This part of the park is free to enter.
Spend a day at the Botanic Gardens
Contributed by Emma from Wanderlust and Wet Wipes
Singapore’s Botanic Gardens is one of our favorite things to do in Singapore on a budget. While it does get busy, it is a far cry from the tourist hubs like Gardens by the Bay, Chinatown and the like. The gardens were granted UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2015 and for good reason!
There is much to do in the Botanic Gardens which are split into 4 “cores”: Tanglin (the heritage core), Central (the visitor belt), Bukit Timah (the educational and discovery zone) and Tyersall-Gallop (designed to integrate the relatively new Learning Forest into the Gardens’ existing rainforest).
Each core has plenty to explore, including different types of gardens (Ginger Garden, Healing Garden and Ethnobotany Garden to name just a few). Our favorite area is the Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden. It’s a big educational garden consisting of several areas designed with kids specifically in mind (it’s the first garden in Asia dedicated to children).
The Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden has a farm, an orchard, a forest, a stream, ponds and a waterfall. Two big bridge walkways and many paths connect the two main play areas: a treehouse playground and an adventure playground. The park has a zip line, a sandpit and a maze, plus a water play area (due to reopen at the end of 2020).
The Visitor Centres are staffed by (in our experience) incredibly helpful and friendly staff. And there are different food and beverage outlets to keep you fed and watered. The gardens are open from 5am-midnight daily. With the exception of the Orchid Garden, which charges around SGD 5 per adult and SGD 1 per student, the park is free to enter. Children under 12 are free.
Check out things to do in Singapore on a budget along Boat Quay
The city of Singapore began as a port city many centuries ago. Traders from Asia and Europe stopped in Singapore to trade goods. Ships on their way south to the spice islands in the Malay Archipelago, in what is now part of Indonesia, would pass through the city as well. And in the 1800’s, Boat Quay, located along the Singapore River, served as the center of all of this shipping activity.
Singapore still serves as a port city today. But much of the shipping activity has moved out to the marina. Boat Quay, which used to be lined with shipping businesses, is now lined with restaurants serving up all varieties of seafood. River cruises ply the waters of the Singapore River. What once transported hundreds of ships filled with goods, now transport tourists armed with cameras.
While the restaurants at Boat Quay may not necessarily be on the cheap side, walking along the river is free! It’s an easy option for free things to do in Singapore. And it’s an easy way to fill in some time in the afternoon. If you’re a history buff, you’ll appreciate seeing all the colonial architecture along the river and in the surrounding neighborhoods.
Explore a Crazy Rich Asians film location
We love movies that feature the cities we love. When Crazy Rich Asians was released, we were over the moon! While the movie isn’t a completely accurate portrayal of Singapore (not every Singaporean is rich, and there is a lot more diversity to Singapore than just the Chinese), the movie certainly showcases the city of Singapore in its best light. Watching it made us extremely excited to visit.
Fortunately, many of the film locations from Crazy Rich Asians are free to visit. I’ve already mentioned Gardens by the Bay, which features prominently in the movie. In addition, you can also check out the Marina Bay Sands hotel. Take note, if you want to go all the way to the top of the hotel, you will need to pay for a fee. Entrance to the Skypark is a staggering SGD 26 for adults and SGD 20 for kids. Ouch!
If you’re up for a stroll, walk along Ann Siang Hill near Chinatown. Alternatively, hang out at Merlion Park near the Central Business District. Or take a visit to the historic Raffles Hotel, where the famous drink, the Singapore Sling, was said to have been invented.
One of my favorite scenes in Crazy Rich Asians is the wedding scene. The scene takes place at Chijmes, on Victoria Street, just north of downtown. Chijmes used to be a convent and school in the 19th century. But these days, it’s a dining and shopping area. The chapel building is used as a function hall. It’s free to walk around the Chijmes complex. However, if there is an event taking place, some parts of the space may be closed off.
Visit the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum
Contributed by Marianne from Mum On The Move
Located in the heart of Chinatown, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum is a magnificent temple building. The temple comprises five floors, plus a roof garden. And it was designed to incorporate the best of the Tang Dynasty and the Buddhist Mandala.
The most revered part of the temple is The Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic Chamber. The room is found on the 4th floor. Its importance is evident in the magnificence of the room. The room has gold floor tiles surrounding the solid gold stupa.
Take the kids up the stairs from here to the “secret” roof garden. There, you can challenge them to count all the Buddha statues in the Ten Thousand Buddhas Pavilion. They can also have a go at turning the enormous Vairocana Buddha Prayer Wheel.
The excellent Buddhist Culture Museum can be found on the 3rd floor. It is probably a little over the heads of most younger kids. But for older kids it is a great place to learn about the life and teachings of Buddha. The 100 Dragons Hall on the ground floor is where the daily ceremonies take place. It’s best to try to visit during a ceremony to enjoy the sound of the chanting monks and congregation.
Both the temple and museum are free to enter.
Discover things to do in Singapore on a budget at Little India
Although the Chinese make up the majority of Singaporeans, at 76% of the population, the country is actually quite multicultural. Malays make up 15% of the population, while Indians make up 7%. The remaining population of Singaporeans fall into the “Other” category, and are mostly of mixed heritage or European descent.
What this means for Singapore is that there are a lot of interesting neighborhoods to explore that are rich in ethnic and cultural heritage. Our favorite neighborhood to explore is Little India. This neighborhood centers around Serangoon Road and Race Course Road, and is full of shops and markets selling Indian goods. You can buy saris, get henna tattoos, or even buy gold jewelry!
One of the places to visit in Singapore for free in Little India is Tekka Center. The ground floor is filled with food stalls, while the upper floor has shops selling fabrics, clothes, and jewelry. Other places worth visiting are the Hindu temples in Singapore, such as the Sri Veeramakaliaman Temple. We also enjoyed walking along Serangoon Road and looking at all the shops on the street!
Eat your fill of hawker fare at Lau Pa Sat
If there’s one thing that Singapore is known for, it’s the food! And if you’re looking for things to do in Singapore on a budget, then eating at a hawker centre should be top of your list.
One of the oldest hawker centres in Singapore is Lau Pa Sat, also known as Telok Ayer Market. This hawker center was originally built in the 19th century by the British as a fish market. The market, which was originally located along the waterfront, features a unique octagonal shape. It was designed by Irish architect, George Coleman.
In 1838, the market was moved to its current location, between the Telok Ayer and Downtown MRT stations, just south of the Raffles Place MRT station. The octagonal shape of the market was retained. In 1972, the market was converted into a hawker center. Lau Pa Sat has since been designated as a national monument of Singapore.
At Lau Pa Sat, you can take your pick of traditional Singaporean dishes like laksa and Hainanese chicken rice. You can also sample grilled satay just outside the market. All of these dishes are quite affordable (SGD 4-9, on average), and the portions are generous.
Take a stroll through Kampong Glam
Contributed by Ariana from World of Travels With Kids
The Kampong Glam area is a culturally rich place to visit in Singapore with kids. And the best thing is you don’t have to spend much to appreciate its diversity. In fact, if you’re looking for free things to do in Singapore, this place should be on your list!
Kampong Glam centers on Arab Street and the gorgeous gold domed mosque Masjid Sultan. In the past the Arab traders congregated in this area. As a result, the shops have a distinctly Arab theme. My children were enraptured with the Turkish lamp shops.
There were two perfume shops on Muscat Street. The children enjoyed smelling a few different fragrances and would have loved to buy one of the delicate perfume bottles shaped like an animal. Also free is a stroll down trendy funky Haji Lane. Here, kids can feel the hipster vibe and enjoy a stop at the Elephant Parade. Just off Haji Lane there are several fantastic Singapore murals within easy access and the kids were absolutely delighted by these.
We recommend a visit to the Malay Heritage Centre for older children (modest entry fee of SGD 8 per adult). The place highlights the history of Malay Singaporeans. Or families can visit the Mosque (We did not take our kids as it was closed). A meal in the Kampong Glam street area wasn’t the cheapest food we found in Singapore. But we couldn’t resist some Turkish food. (Many restaurants also offered Lebanese food)
If you’re looking for a place to stay in Kampong Glam, the Village Hotel Bugis, located on Arab Street itself, is a great option. In short, we enjoyed hours of cultural wandering for virtually no cost!
Walk along the Fort Siloso Skywalk at Sentosa Island
Contributed by Keri from Little City Trips
We love hanging out at Sentosa Island on a Singapore stopover. But if you’re looking for things to do in Singapore on a budget, a visit to Sentosa can be a pricey day out if you’re not careful!
You do have to pay an entry fee to get on the island by car (SGD 2 to SGD 6 depending on time. Alternatively, there is currently FREE entry by foot or bicycle). And the scenic cable car is by far the most expensive option! However, once you are on Sentosa, transport on the island is free.
We recommend taking transit bus A or C from the transit hub to Siloso Point stop. From here it’s a very short walk to the Fort Siloso Skywalk (near the entrance to Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa Resort). Take the elevator (or stairs if you’re feeling really keen!) 11 stories up to the heights of the forest canopy. Then walk the 181-metre long suspended bridge over the forest to Fort Siloso, which houses a military museum.
There are some poignant displays here about Singapore’s involvement in World War II. There are also magnificent views from this strategic defence point. The kids’ highlight, though, was undoubtedly the bridge crossing, And without needing to pay for the exorbitant cable car costs, we still got some brilliant birds-eye views back over Singapore. The more daring will enjoy standing on the see-through viewing platform! It’s all stroller friendly. So it’s a great free activity for your younger kids.
Afterwards, you can stick around for the brand new “Magical Shores” sensory light and sound show. It’s located on Siloso Beach from 7.30pm each night.
Take an excursion to Haw Par Villa
Contributed by Kristy from World For A Girl
Long before the theme parks of Sentosa, Singapore’s most famous family attraction was Haw Par Villa. Also known as Tiger Balm Garden, this unique and fascinating “theme park” is a far cry from the romanticism and cuteness of Disneyland. Haw Par Villa is incredibly different from anything else you will see when visiting Singapore with kids. If you’re looking for places to visit in Singapore for free, it’s well worth the taxi ride.
Built in the 1930s by the wealthy sons of the creator of the beloved medical cream, Tiger Balm, Haw Par Villa recreates life-size scenes from traditional Chinese moral tales and Buddhist stories. The hundreds of dioramas dotted around the park (not far from West Coast Park) depict dramatic scenes from Chinese mythology. These dioramas were used by local parents to teach religious principles to their children.
For modern tourists, wandering around Haw Par Villa is a surreal experience. The depictions of gruesome battles between devils and a whole array of sinful characters make it more appropriate for older children and teenagers. However, there are plenty of funny statues around the park. These include tortoises riding piggy-back on ostriches, and gigantic sumo wrestlers that are just plain amusing.
If visiting with young children (like we did), steer clear of the rather frightening-looking Ten Courts of Buddhist Hell Grotto. The theme park might be almost a hundred years old but the statues in the grotto are shockingly graphic even by today’s standards!
Venture out to Pulau Ubin for a day
Contributed by Chandresh from Family on the Wheels
A fun day trip option for things to do in Singapore on a budget is Pulau Ubin. This island is located northeast of Singapore, far away from the skyscrapers and high developmental zone.
Rustic roads, swaying trees, various plantations, serene beaches (though not sandy), and lakes are all that define Pulau Ubin. The best way to explore this beauty is either with a leisurely walk or by renting a bicycle. With the help of a map and marked roads, you can explore the rich ecosystem of the island.
From Chek Jawa Wetlands (having marine life and corals) to small treks and really quiet non-touristy beaches, Pulau Ubin gives you a break from the pace of life. Kids will love to sit around the sea outside. And they’ll love watching planes fly across the sky and ships pass in the sea.
Pulau Ubin consists of a sensory trail that explores native plants and fruit-bearing trees. There is a butterfly hill, which is home to 140 types of butterflies. The Chek Jawa Broadwalk is a 1 km long trail through a wetland full of mangroves. The wetland is home to crabs, barnacles, sea cucumber, sea robin, sea stars, and sea anemones.
To get to Pulau Ubin, take a direct bus from Clarke Quay to Changi Village. From Changi Village, head over to the Changi Point Ferry terminal – Bumboat boarding zone, which is around 100-200 meters from the bus dropping point. You’ll be transported via bumboat to Pulau Ubin Island in around 20 minutes. The cost of a bumboat ride is SGD 3 per person for one way, and they run from 5.30 am-9 pm.
End your exploration of things to do in Singapore on a budget at Jewel
No trip to Singapore would be complete without spending time at Changi Airport (there’s a reason why many consider this airport the best airport in the world!). There are plenty of things to do in Singapore on a budget just at Changi Airport alone. The airport has art installations, a butterfly garden, a cactus garden, and even an indoor slide!
The latest addition to Changi Airport is Jewel, a shopping area located in Terminal 1 of the airport. The highlight of Jewel is the Rain Vortex, the largest indoor waterfall in the world. Unfortunately, when we visited, the Rain Vortex was under maintenance, so we didn’t get to see the waterfall in all its glory. But nonetheless, the architecture of the building, as well as the interior design, complete with lush forest landscapes, was still spectacular to see.
Besides shopping, there are several family-friendly activities that families can do at Jewel. The Canopy Park is an indoor play area that includes a topiary walk, large slides, a mist garden, and a flower garden. Admission to the Canopy Park is SGD 5 per person. Other attractions at Jewel include the Canopy Bridge, Hedge Maze, Mirror Maze, and Skynets. These attractions all charge their own fees for admission, ranging from SGD 8 to SGD 15. Admission to the Hedge Maze, Mirror Maze, or the Skynets include admission to the Canopy Park.
If you’re looking for a free experience at Jewel, however, you can explore the Shiseido Forest Valley, the indoor garden that surrounds the Rain Vortex. There are around 60,000 shrubs in this garden, as well as 900 palms and trees. Walking trails allow visitors to explore the garden and walk down to the bottom part of the Rain Vortex.
Taking time to enjoy the things to do in Singapore on a budget
Singapore has always been one of my favorite cities to explore. And our latest visit to Singapore has reignited my love for this city. I enjoyed learning about the city’s history, and getting to know all the different and unique neighborhoods. It’s truly a multicultural city!
Although Singapore is notorious for being an expensive city, we found there are actually many affordable ways to explore the city. Hopefully, this post has given you ideas for places to visit in Singapore for free or for cheap. You don’t have to live like a crazy rich Asian to enjoy this city.
Have you discovered things to do in Singapore on a budget that didn’t get mentioned in this post? Share it in the comments!
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