Singapore may be one of the most expensive countries in the world to live in, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of free things to do that are fun and meaningful ways to experience the city.
We’ve rounded up our favorite cultural, historic and outdoor freebies – a little something for everyone.
1. Enjoy Sentosa’s beaches and trails
Spending a day on the resort island of Sentosa with its theme parks and casino can be an expensive affair, but there are a surprising amount of free activities for a budget day out. Bask in the tropical weather on any of the island’s three lovely white sand beaches, stroll through historical bunkers and exhibits about WWII at Fort Siloso and enjoy an 11-story view of the southern coast from the Siloso Skywalk.
Local tip: The Sentosa Express monorail is a cheap and convenient way to enter the island at just $4, but if you walk across the Sentosa Boardwalk and catch the island’s internal shuttle buses, it’s completely free.
2. Watch free arts performances at the Esplanade
Recognizable thanks to its unusual spiky durian-like rooftops, the Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay is Singapore’s national performing arts center and one of the busiest in the world, hosting frequent free dance, music and theater showcases evenings and weekends. Its outdoor waterfront theater is particularly scenic, set against the backdrop of Marina Bay.
3. Capture Singapore’s iconic skyline at Marina Bay
Get that postcard-worthy shot of Singapore – for free – by strolling around the scenic Marina Bay, especially pretty at night when the city lights are out in full force. Marvel at some of Singapore’s most iconic architecture here: the three towers of Marina Bay Sands, the swirling spirals of the Helix Bridge and the spouting half-lion half-fish Merlion statue.
Planning tip: There is a 15-minute Spectra show with projections, lasers and dancing fountains every evening on the waterfront in front of Marina Bay Sands. There are two shows at 8pm and 9pm on weekdays and an additional 10pm show on Friday and Saturday.
4. Get up close with the Supertrees at Gardens by the Bay
While the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest observatories, the Floral Fantasy Supertree Observatory and OCBC Skyway walk require admission tickets, you can actually see a lot of Gardens by the Bay for free. There are several outdoor gardens with different landscapes and art sculptures to check out, as well as the famous alien-like Supertrees.
Planning tip: Swing by the Supertree Grove in the evenings just before 7:45pm and 8:45pm every night to catch Garden Rhapsody, a spectacular 15-minute light and sound show amidst the Supertrees. If you catch the 8pm Spectra show, you can take a slow stroll over to Gardens by the Bay with time to spare for the 8:45pm Garden Rhapsody show.
5. Trace the historic Singapore River
The mouth of the Singapore River was once the heart of trade and the spot from which modern-day Singapore grew after the British set up port here in 1819. You could pay to ride one of the bumboats that transported goods along the river, but it’s more fun (and free) to walk along its river banks.
The warehouses of Boat Quay and Clarke Quay have been turned into restaurants and clubs in bustling nightlife districts, while former government offices like the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall and Asian Civilisations Museum are now heritage architecture. Keep an eye out for the many bridges that span the river as well – Anderson Bridge, Cavenagh Bridge and Elgin Bridge are gazetted National Monuments.
6. Relive the old days in Chinatown
You can learn plenty about how the early Chinese settlers once lived while wandering the streets of Singapore’s Chinese heritage district, Chinatown. Look out for wall murals around the neighborhood by local artist Yip Yew Chong that depict his memories growing up in Singapore in the 1970s.
Several important temples are located here and can be visited for free – the five-story Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is rich in finery and apparently home to the Buddha’s left canine, while Thian Hock Keng, dedicated to sea goddess Mazu, is one of the oldest Chinese temples in Singapore. Chinatown Complex Food Centre is also the largest hawker center in Singapore and the best place to pick up a cheap meal in the area.
7. Invigorate your senses in Little India
Colorful Little India, the epicenter of the South Indian population in Singapore, is a fascinating place for a stroll. Pop by the Tekka Centre early in the morning for a glimpse of daily life, or pay a visit to the Hindu Sri Veerakaliamman Temple with its intricate decorations.
The rainbow-hued Tan Teng Niah House is a popular spot for Instagrammers looking for that perfect shot, but keep an eye out for murals around the neighborhood that evoke the area’s unique history, like the buffalo that were tended by early Indian settlers here and the horse racing track that gave Race Course Road its name.
8. Marvel at the mix of cultures in Kampong Gelam
The former Malay and Arab quarter is one of Singapore’s oldest neighborhoods, and today it’s a gentrified hip hangout. Most people make a beeline for hip Haji Lane nearby with its traditional shophouses and colorful shopfronts, but you’ll find plenty of murals all around this area – Gelam Gallery in the back alleys in front of the mosque is a good place to start, and you’ll find graffiti and art galleries around Aliwal Arts Centre and Sultan Art Village too.
And don’t miss the majestic Sultan Mosque with its twin golden onion-shaped domes – enter outside of prayer time to better appreciate its architecture from inside as well as outside.
9. Walk the Southern Ridges for lofty views
Some of the best views of Singapore’s skyline can be seen along the Southern Ridges, a 10km trail that stretches from the country’s second-highest hill, Mount Faber, to the historic Kent Ridge Park. Highlights along the route include the Henderson Waves (the tallest pedestrian bridge in Singapore), the majestic Alexandra Arch, elevated canopy walks and the manicured gardens of HortPark.
10. Visit the Botanic Gardens, Singapore’s first Unesco heritage site
Inscribed as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2015, the Botanic Gardens are the first (and currently only) tropical gardens on the list. These lush gardens sit surprisingly close to the Orchard Road shopping stretch and are perfect for those who need a break from city life. Most of the gardens are free to enter except for the National Orchid Garden.
11. Explore the mangrove forests of Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve
Nature lovers can enjoy a hike in any of Singapore’s public parks for free, but if you only have time for one, make a trip to the remotely located Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve in northwestern Singapore. Bird watchers will appreciate the many migratory birds that can be found here, along with the rich biodiversity in its varied mangrove forests, mudflats and tropical rainforests.
Planning tip: Buy a $5 pass to ride the Kranji Farms Shuttle on weekends and you can also visit Singapore’s rare remaining farms nearby after exploring the nature reserve.
12. Check out Singapore’s free museums
Singaporeans and permanent residents generally enjoy free or discounted tickets at most museums, but a handful offer free entry to everyone regardless of nationality. With over 8000 artifacts and artworks about Singapore’s development, the NUS Museum is great for historians, while the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Singapore City Gallery offers a great bird’s eye view and scale model of the city’s growth.
Local tip: Even if you aren’t planning to pay for an admission ticket to the art galleries, you can walk through the National Gallery Singapore building for free to admire the restored colonial architecture of the former City Hall and Supreme Court.
13. Hang out at Changi Airporta
Have some time to kill before catching your flight home? Spend some time at Changi Airport. The 40m-tall Rain Vortex in the Jewel extension is the tallest indoor waterfall in the world, and the surrounding greenery of the Forest Valley makes for a great photo backdrop. There is a light and sound show every hour in the evening from 7:30pm -11:30pm.
The freebies don’t stop after check in. In the transit area, there are several gardens to wander, free 24-hour movie theaters and TV lounges, and transit passengers with at least 5.5 hours to spare can even take a free short tour of Singapore.
Local tip: Sign up for the free Changi Rewards membership and you can ride the four-story-tall Slide@T3 up to ten times, along with other perks if you plan to shop at the airport.