Singapore is well know for being an expensive destination to visit, especially since it’s neighbours in South East Asia are all known for being great for budget travellers. While its never going to be as cheap as Vietnam or Thailand, there is definitely plenty of free things to do in Singapore and even more that with a bit of planning can be done quite cheaply.
I started putting this list together from my own experiences over my last seven Singapore trips, then began to research other Singapore tourist attractions for our stopover during our Europe trip next year. Even I am surprised at just how much there is to do for a budget traveller.
With all these options, even if you are travelling on a budget, Singapore should be on your next South East Asia itinerary.
- 1 Things to do in Singapore on a Budget
- 1.1 Haw Par Villa
- 1.2 Take a Selfie with the Merlion
- 1.3 Discover Chinatown
- 1.4 National Museum of Singapore
- 1.5 Marina Bay Sands Observation Deck
- 1.6 Hike the Southern Ridges
- 1.7 Hit the Beach on Sentosa Island
- 1.8 Eat at the World’s Cheapest Michelin Star Restaurant
- 1.9 Singapore Botanic Gardens
- 1.10 Check out the Supertrees at Gardens by the Bay
- 1.11 Eat your fill of Hawker Food
- 1.12 Visit the MacRitchie Nature Trail & Reservoir Park
- 1.13 Take a Free Walking Tour
- 1.14 Window Shop on Orchard Road
- 1.15 Visit Little India
- 1.16 Bag a Bargain at the Mustafa Shopping Centre
- 1.17 Search for Street Art in Kampong Glam
- 1.18 National Gallery of Singapore
- 1.19 Do a Day Trip to Pulau Ubin
- 1.20 Check out the Free Concerts at Theatres by the Bay
- 1.21 Experience the Night Life at Clarke Quay
- 1.22 Asian Civilisations Museum
- 1.23 Don’t Forget Changi Airport
- 2 Where to Stay in Singapore on a Budget
- 3 Getting Around Singapore
Things to do in Singapore on a Budget
Here you will find a whole pile of Singapore points of interest. I have also included the closest MRT station for each one to make it easier for you to find your way around the city. Have a read and addd the best attractions to your Singapore itinerary. I’m sure you will be back again in the future to tick more items off this list – and to eat more of the delicious Singaporean food. Use the Table of Contents above if you want to skip to certain Singapore sites.
Haw Par Villa
Often described as Singapore’s first theme park, these quirky gardens are the brain child of the brothers who created Tiger Balm. You won’t find any roller coasters, overpriced food or souvenir shops here. It was built back in 1937 as a private garden by brothers Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, better known as the inventors and sellers of Tiger Balm. It consists of dioramas and displays dedicated to Chinese mythology and morality.
Most of the displays are macabre, quirky or just plain weird. One of the most bizarre is the “Ten Courts of Hell” which shows in gory detail what will happen to you in the afterlife if you do not live a good life. The misuse of books, for example, will see you sawn in two!
Another sequence of dioramas shows the story of the monkey king, or as we are more familiar with, the story behind the cult “Monkey Magic” television series. There are also numerous animals, gods and even the memorials to the Aw Boon family members.
Admission to Haw Par Villa is free, and it has it’s own Haw Par Villa MRT stop on the yellow line, so it’s one of the top things to do in Singapore for the budget traveller.
Take a Selfie with the Merlion
The merlion is the national symbol of Singapore, and they can be found in various locations all over the island. The most famous one is now located on the waterfront in front of the historic Fullerton Hotel. Originally this statue was located at the mouth of the Singapore River, but land reclamation and development meant it was no longer in a prominent location and it was moved to where it is today. Join the crowd checking out the Merlion from the nearby platform made especially for viewing and the perfect selfie location.
The nearest MRT station to the Merlion is Raffles Place on the green line
Singapore’s Chinatown is full of colour, noise and action. Spend some time browsing the stalls before eating at any of the many restaurants in the area. Take a walk to visit the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple or the Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple. I just love this area and it’s always our first port of call for a good, cheap meal.
Get to the Chinatown MRT station on either the blue or purple line. The new line currently being built will also have a stop nearby.
National Museum of Singapore
Located in one of Singapore’s iconic buildings, the National Museum of Singapore is the oldest museum in Singapore, dating back to 1887. It’s the best place to visit to get an idea of the history of Singapore and the culture of it’s people. There is nothing nineteenth century about the museum today though, as it’s interactive elements and innovative displays teach using modern technology.
There are some amazing permanent exhibitions, but there are also temporary ones that pass through the museum too. There are also often children’s activities and workshops held in the museum too. If you get hungry during your visit there is a lovely cafe to eat at, and you can pick up a souvenir from the gift shop.
If you only have time for one museum when you visit Singapore, this is the one to go to.
Entry tickets for adults are $15SGD. Purchase your tickets in advance here and avoid the queues
National Museum of Singapore is located at 93 Stamford Rd. The closest MRT station is Bras Basah on the yellow line or Bencoolen on the blue line
Marina Bay Sands Observation Deck
I’m sure the first thing you think of when it comes to Singapore is the amazing Marina Bay Sands building and the infinity pool at the top. If you are travelling on a budget then a stay here to visit the pool is probably out of reach. You can have a small taste of Marina Bay Sands though by visiting the SkyPark on the 57th floor to check out the view across Singapore and also out to sea where you can spot Indonesia on a clear day. This would also be a fantastic place to watch the Gardens by the Bay light show too. Click here to buy tickets in advance and avoid the queues.
Another option is to visit the Ce La Vi bar on the roof top of Marina Bar Sands. This has a $20SGD entry fee, but this can be put towards your first drink, which will likely be slightly more than the entry fee. (I’ve heard that on Wednesday nights ladies can get into Ce La Vi free but I can’t confirm it. Let me know if you have done this recently)
The best MRT station for Marina Bay Sands is Bayfront, on the blue and yellow lines.
Hike the Southern Ridges
The Southern Ridges are a group of interconnected paths that create a green belt through – and above – the city. The entire pathway stretches for ten kilometres if you would like a longer hike, or of course you can choose to do a smaller section, such as the Henderson Waves, Singapore’s highest pedestrian bridge, or the Forest Walk which takes you through the canopy of the Telok Blangah Hill forest.
The best MRT station to get to Marang Trail, the start of the Southern Ridges, is Harbourfront on the purple and yellow lines. If you want to walk just a section, use Google Maps to check out the Singapore map and find the best way to get to your starting point.
Hit the Beach on Sentosa Island
Sentosa Island is known for it’s theme parks and fancy resorts, but it is still possible to spend a day on the island without breaking the bank. It’s a fantastic day out if you are looking for things to do in Singapore with kids too.
The cheapest way to get onto the island is to walk over the Sentosa Boardwalk. This 670m bridge links the VivoCity shopping centre with the Resorts World Sentosa waterfront. The Boardwalk is under cover and there are even travelators along the way to help. At a cost of $1SGD it’s much cheaper than the cable car or other alternatives. Once on Sentosa Island, there is a free shuttle bus to help you get around.
There is a lot of action going on all over the island, but one of the best places to visit in Singapore would be one of the Sentosa beaches. Palawan beach is best for families, Silosi is home to the coolest bars and restaurants, and Tanjong is best for peace and tranquility.
Some other free things to check out on Sentosa Island are the Crane Dance light and water show that happens every evening at 8pm on the Waterfront, and a second light, water and fire show, Lake of Dreams, at 11pm each night at Festive Walk.
The best MRT station for Sentosa Island is Harbourfront on the purple and yellow lines.
Eat at the World’s Cheapest Michelin Star Restaurant
Would you love to try a Michelin Star restaurant but they seem way out of your price range? Well, the cheapest one in the world is here in Singapore. Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle is now located on Smith Street in Chinatown. It was originally a hawker stand in a nearby food centre but it has become so popular it has now opened a restaurant. Meals cost around $2SGD so will fit into any budget.
The dish to try is Soy Sauce Chicken with rice, but be prepared for long lines of people all wanting to eat the same thing. I’ve seen mention online that the waits can be up to two hours. I again did not have time to wait that long, so this is another food experience that is still on my list.
The closest MRT station to Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle is Chinatown on either the blue or purple line.
Singapore Botanic Gardens
Looking for some relief from the all of your Singapore sightseeing? Escape to the Singapore Botanic Gardens, one of the best places to go in Singapore for relaxation. The gardens were founded in 1859 and in 2015 were Singapore’s first UNESCO World Heritage listing, and is the only tropical botanical garden on the list. Throughout the year the gardens hold. avariety of events, some related to the flora, others completely seperate, such as free movies and concerts. (The best place to find out what is coming up is on their website here)
On the website there is also information about up coming tours and workshops if you would like to learn a little more about the gardens.
The best MRT station for the Singapore Botanic Gardens is Botanic Gardens on the blue and yellow lines.
Check out the Supertrees at Gardens by the Bay
A visit to Gardens by the Bay has to be one of the best things to do in Singapore! Make you way here to spend an hour or two admiring the amazing Supertrees and wandering through the gardens. In the evenings you can also some here to watch the fantastic sound and light show at either 7:45 or 8:45.
If the budget stretches a little further, you may like to visit the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest and walk amongst tre treetops on the OCBC Skyway. Purchase your tickets in advance and avoid the queues.
The best MRT station for Gardens by the Bay is Bayfront on the blue and yellow lines.
Eat your fill of Hawker Food
Another one of the things you absolutely must do in Singapore is go to one of the hawker centres and eat some of the tasty food just like the locals do. The best part is that normally you can get a meal for just a few dollars. Some of the local favourites are Hainanese chicken rice, char kway teow, and of course, chilli crab.
One of the most popular hawker centres is the Maxwell Food Centre, not far from Chinatown, it contains the Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice stand. This place is so popular that it is normal to see a line that goes around the corner and out the door, even when the rest of the hawker centre is almost deserted. I unfortunately cannot tell you if the chicken rice is as good as reported, as I have not yet had the time to wait in the line to taste it.
The closest MRT station is Chinatown on either the blue or purple line. The new line currently being built will have a much closer stop, Maxwell, when it opens in 2021.
Visit the MacRitchie Nature Trail & Reservoir Park
We often think of Singapore as one great big city but there are plenty of opportunities to get out amongst the trees and enjoy nature for a while. A visit to MacRitchie Nature Trail & Reservoir Park is one of the best activities in Singapore to do that.
Here you can walk the 11km loop trail or do the Treetop Walk on a suspended bridge in the trees. There are also plenty of options for water sports on the reservoir too, such as kayaking or canoeing.
The area around MacRitchie Reservoir is large, so how to get there depends on which activity you are going there for. The Caldecott and Marymount stops on the yellow line are nearby, and there are also buses that go to other locations.
Take a Free Walking Tour
One of my favourite things to do anywhere is to take a free walking tour, and when you are wondering what to do in Singapore, why not take one of the many free tours available. The guides will always be the best people to give you local hints and tips. While I have not done a free tour in Singapore, I have done them all over the world, and have always found the guides to be enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Of course these tours are not entirely free, but rather based on tips, so ensure you tip the guide based on the quality their tour and what you can afford.
Some suggestions for a free Singapore tour are ones that show you Kampong Glam, Little India or Chinatown, take a look at the history of Singapore, visit a cemetery or some of the nature reserves, even a tour of the art in some of the MRT stations. Google “Free Walking Tours Singapore” to see all of the options for yourself.
Window Shop on Orchard Road
Orchard Road is Singapore’s shopping mecca with all the international luxury brands having shops in big, shiny shopping malls. The whole street is often buzzing with activity, and even if you can’t fit shopping into your budget (or your backpack!) it’s still worth walking down the street. While there are plenty of great restaurants in the area, if you are looking for something a little more budget friendly, head to the food courts of the shopping malls and you will be overwhelmed by choice.
If you are travelling to Singapore in December you are in for a treat, because Orchard Road in decorated with Christmas lights and decorations for the month. There are often street performers and other free entertainment, and the atmosphere in the evenings is even more electric than usual.
The best MRT stations for Orchard Road are either Orchard or Somerset, both on the red line
Visit Little India
Spend a couple of hours walking around Little India to experience one of the smelliest Singapore tourist spots. That’s good smells by the way, as the aroma of curry wafts through the area. Now is the time to pick up a good value, authentic Indian meal for lunch or dinner. Little India is bright and colourful and often Indian music will be blaring from one small shop or other. With about ten percent of India’s population being ethnically Indian, this vibrant area really could be right out of an Indian city. It can be a wonderful assault on the senses.
The Little India MRT station is the best, and is on the blue and purple lines.
Bag a Bargain at the Mustafa Shopping Centre
On the edge of Little India is Mustafa Shopping Centre. This huge mall is like a whole pile of market stalls pulled together selling a huge variety of Asian goods and some big western brands such as Apple and Calvin Klein. If you need to pick up any items (a bigger suitcase?) before you travel further, this is the place to come to find a bargain. Even better, it’s open twenty four hours a day, so you can come here even in the early hours of the morning if jetlag is keeping you awake.
The Little India MRT station is the best for the Mustafa Shopping Centre, and is on the blue and purple lines.Visiting Singapore on a budget? Yes, there are still lots of things you can do without breaking the bank. #singapore #budgettravel
Search for Street Art in Kampong Glam
Kampong Glam is traditionally the Malay part of town, combined with the location where Arabs also lived, probably because of their shared Muslim religion.
Kampong Glam encompasses the popular, super trendy, Haji Lane and Arab Street. Here you will find many cute little coffee shops and boutique stores in buildings covered in colourful street art. Shop for traditional arabic gifts from shisha pipes to lanterns in the nearby shops. Grab a selfie coffee at, well, Selfie Coffee, or just spend your time finding the best selfie spot to boost your instagram!
Also in the area is the Sultan Mosque with it’s huge gold dome, and the Malay Heritage Centre for more learning about the heritage of one of the predominant ethnic groups.
The best MRT stations to get to Kampong Glam are Jalan Besar (blue line), Bugis (blue and green lines), Nicoll Highway (yellow line) and Lavender (green line) depending on which landmark you would like to visit first.
National Gallery of Singapore
If you love art, in particular south-east Asian art, then this will be one of the top things to do in Singapore to experience it. Located in lovely old Singapore buildings that used to be the City Hall and Supreme Court, the museum only opened in 2015 and now houses more than 8000 artworks.
Admission fees for the National Gallery of Singapore are $20SGD, and this includes a free audio guide, and also various free tours which can be reserved once you arrive, which is good value, even on a budget.
The City Hall MRT station on the red and green lines is the closest to the National Gallery of Singapore
Do a Day Trip to Pulau Ubin
If you are looking to get away from the city, here is yet another one of the things to do in Singapore that will take you back to nature. Pulau Ubin is a small island off the east coast of Singapore that remains virtually undeveloped. Here it’s possible to get a glimpse of life in the villages of Singapore fifty years ago.
Pulau Ubin is a great place to rent a bicycle for a day and just explore. Or you can walk around doing the same thing too. Be sure to check out the Chek Jawa wetlands for the abundant wildlife.
To get to Pulau Ubin, take the MRT to Tampines East on the blue line, then swap to bus number 29 to Changi Village. It’s then a short walk to the Changi Point Ferry Terminal where you can jump on a bumboat ($3SGD) across to Pulau Ubin.
Check out the Free Concerts at Theatres by the Bay
The Esplanade – Theatres by the Bay is Singapore’s performing arts centre. In the past it has held concerts by big name western philharmonic orchestras as well as Chinese performance groups. It has also hosted theatre events such as Les Miserables. These are the buildings that look like two durians on the waterfront opposite Marina Bay Sands. Not only can you see all sorts of big shows here, there are always heaps of free things going on that you can watch or participate in.
Have a look at the website here to see what is coming up.
The closest MRT stations to Esplanade – Theatres by the Bay are City Hall on the red and green lines and Esplanade on the yellow line.
Experience the Night Life at Clarke Quay
Clarke Quay is the hub of nightlife, so if you are looking for things to do in Singapore at night then this is the place to head! Now drinking in Singapore is not a cheap affair, but ladies, if you plan to go here on a Wednesday it will be much cheaper, as Wednesday is Ladies Night.
There may also be free live music at Clarke Quay. When I was there a few months ago a band was set up in the centre court and was putting on a free concert later on in the evening. We watched them do some of their soundcheck, and it sounded like it would be a good evening.
The closest MRT stations to Clarke Quay are Fort Canning on the blue line or Clarke Quay on the purple line.
Asian Civilisations Museum
Another one of the top tourist attractions in Singapore is the Asian Civilisations Museum. This museum focuses on the Asian arts and cultures of all the people that over time have migrated to Singapore to make it the melting pot it is today. Some of the artifacts date back as far as 5000 years.
Free guided tours run by volunteers are available, so check on that as you arrive at the museum. Throughout the year there are also special exhibitions and events, which can be found on their website.
Entry to the Asian Civilisations museum is $8SGD, but if you go on Friday evenings between 7pm and 9pm entry is $4SGD.
The best MRT station for the Asian Civilisations Museum is Raffles Place on the green line.
Don’t Forget Changi Airport
It’s not very often that you will find an airport on a Singapore attractions list, but this really is one of the best places to go in Singapore when you are on a budget! Oh, I don’t mean go here for a day trip – even though many of the locals do! – but if you have a few hours to waste before your flight, well, there are plenty of worse places to spend it!
You can chill out in the sunflower garden or the butterfly garden, test out the highest slide in an airport, watch a free movie or play free video games. You can also pay a small fee to swim in the pool or enjoy a drink on the deck. Keep your eye out too for various places that offer free massages as you explore the terminals.
There is plenty of artwork throughout the terminals too, from the kinetic sculptures to the many statues and the Peranakan Gallery in T4.
To get to Changi, take the green MRT line to Changi Airport MRT station.
Where to Stay in Singapore on a Budget
Now that you have a whole list of Singapore tourist attractions you also need to find the best place to stay in Singapore! Here are some suggestions.
Betel Box Backpackers Hostel – This is the one we have often stayed in. I just love the atmosphere here and have always had great service. The hostel also runs some fantastic tours around the local area, including an amazing food tour that I highly recommend. The only downside is that it is not in the best area to stay in Singapore, but rather it is about half way between the airport and the city centre in the Joo Chiat area. That didn’t bother me as I liked seeing a different side to Singapore and there are also some fantastic local food choices, with East Coast park lands not too far away. Click here to check the latest prices and availability.
Here are some other highly rated hostels I have heard good things about. Click on the names to check out prices and availability
Five Stones Hostel
Tribe Theory – Business Hostel for Startups and Entrepreneurs
The InnCrowd Backpackers Hostel
Atlantis Pods @ Bugis
If hostels are not your style, here are some hotels that offer good value for money accommodation.
Village Hotel Albert Court – we stayed here once on a longer layover as it was in the area we wanted to be in. We didn’t use a lot of the services, or even have breakfast here, but it was a good, comfortable hotel and I would happily choose it again. Click here to see the latest prices and availability.
Considering splashing out? Click here to read my post – Is Marina Bay Sands Worth It?
Getting Around Singapore
I highly recommend using the fantastic MRT system to make your way to all the things to see in Singapore. It is cheap and will get you almost everywhere you need to go.
On arrival at Changi Airport, follow the signs to the MRT. As you come down the escalator to the platform, turn to your left and you will see ticket offices and ticket machines. Here you can buy transit passes for the duration of your trip. There are various multiday tourist EZ-Link passes available, and if you are planning to use the MRT a lot then they are great (you will need to do something like seven trips each day to make them worthwhile, which can be easy to do), otherwise just buy a normal EZ-Link pass and top it up as needed.
We’ve always gone with the normal pass, mostly because we travel through Singapore often so just keep the card and top it up on our next visit, but also because we don’t always do enough trips to make the daily passes worthwhile. Single MRT trips can be less than $1SGD depending on where you are going.
If for some strange reason there is no MRT to your destination, it is very likely there is a bus. The bus system is just as reliable and well priced. Buses can also be paid for with the EZ-Link card or you can pay by cash to the driver (just have the right money as you may not get change).
If you prefer a ride-sharing app, use Grab while travelling in Singapore. Grab is just like the more well-known Uber – in fact, Uber is no more in South East Asia as early in 2018 it was bought out by Grab.
There are also plenty of taxi’s around in Singapore too. Don’t try to negotiate a fare, it’s illegal for taxi drivers to charge anything other than what the meter says.
Want to read more about what to see in Singapore? Click through to my Singapore travel diaries to see what we got up to on our last three visits.
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Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.