Write a list of the world’s most expensive cities, and Singapore instantly makes it to one of the top. Don’t let that scare you off if you’re traveling on a budget: it’s easy to be a frugal Singapore traveler if you know how.
One day my good friend Nari mentioned to me that he was visiting Singapore for a business conference and asked if I wanted to join him. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
The following week, I booked my tickets with TigerAir and got my Singapore Tourist visa arranged from Travel Tours Group.
All my bags packed and ready to go, I boarded my flight to Changi Airport, Singapore.
Travel Tip: Once at Changi, a few levels down lies the MRT metro station (Mass Rapid Transit – also called Mr. T), where I picked up my Singapore Tourist Pass, which offered unlimited bus and train rides for 1-3 days at discounted rates. (S$ 20 for 3 days).
A quick 40 mins MRT ride got me to Bras Basah station, and my home in Singapore – Rendezvous Grand Hotel, Room 733.
Day 1: Raffles Hotel, Marina bay circuit, Esplanade Theater, Merlion, Marina Bay Sands, Gardens by the bay.
Raffles Hotel – As far as Singapore icons go, Raffles Hotel is definitely not to be missed. The hotel is named after Singapore’s founder, Sir Stamford Raffles, and is an enduring icon of the city’s rich colonial history.
Many visitors make a beeline straight for the Long Bar to enjoy the famous Singapore Sling which was concocted here at Raffles Hotel in 1915.
Marina Bay circuit – A short walk from Raffles Hotel, is the famous Singapore Formula-1 Marina Bay night race circuit. I happened to visit 2 days after the race and was exhilarated to see the fresh tyre marks on the circuit.
Esplanade Theatre – Fondly nicknamed “the Durian” by Singaporeans for its resemblance to the popular fruit, the Esplanade theaters on the bay is a must do in Singapore.
You can instantly feel the palpable creative vibe, whether it’s the ever-changing larger than life display near the main entrance or the world-class performances that are staged here. You can also enjoy free music, dance and theater programs.
Travel Tip: Pop by the roof top cafe for one of the best views of the Marina Bay Skyline for free.
Merlion Park – Walk along the Singapore river boardwalk to reach the national symbol of Singapore – The Merlion. It’s a tourist hotspot and gets busy during the day. Watch out for those Selfie sticks.
Merlion park has a lot of cafes and bars nearby for a breezy afternoon lunch with a view.
Move along the boardwalk through the financial district of Singapore and make your way to Marina Bay Sands Hotel.
Marina Bay Sands is a destination for those who appreciate luxury. Notable for transforming Singapore’s city skyline, it comprises three 55-storey towers of Extravagant hotel rooms, Upscale shopping, World class casino, Michelin starred restaurants. It’s architecture is made complete with the Sands Sky Park (the boat shaped structure) which crowns the three towers.
Travel tip: Pay S$ 100 to enter the casino or Display your original passport for a Free entry.
The hotel guests can enjoy the breath-taking experience of swimming in the infinity-edged swimming pool overlooking the horizon.
Us mere mortals can visit the observation deck at the Sands Sky Park (level 57), and be wowed by the 360-degree views of Singapore.
Price: S$ 22 – Rs. 1100
Travel tip: Instead of paying for the observation deck, visit the lounge – Ce La Vi (level 57), grab a cocktail and a spot on the balcony, and explore the city sights from the sky.
Best Time to Visit: 7 pm at dusk, when you can gaze at the view and watch the city come to life with sparkling illumination.
Make your way down to the ground floor and walk along to Gardens by the bay to get a glimpse of the illuminated Super Grove trees.
Entry to the garden is free, but admission fees apply to the two conservatories, Flower Dome and Cloud Forest, and at the 128m-long aerial walkway.
Gardens by the bay is open from 5am to 2am daily. The two conservatories and aerial walkway will be open from 9am to 9pm.
Travel Tip: Don’t miss the free light show at Gardens by the bay at 7.45pm, 8.45pm (Daily).
Watch the Gardens by the bay Light show here:
After being enthralled by the spectacular lights, it’s time to head towards the last act of the evening.
Make your way back to the promenade of Marina Bay Sands for an electrifying Light & Water show.
Admission is Free.
Sunday – Thursday: 8:00pm, 9:30pm.
Friday & Saturday: 8:00pm, 9:30pm, 11:00pm.
Watch the Light & Water Show here:
Finally take a ride back to your hotel on a double decker bus, whilst enjoying the skyline and nightlights of the city.
Day 2: Little India, Arab Quarter, Chinatown, Clark Quay.
After spending the previous day among the mammoth modern structures, it’s time for a cultural excursion and put your Tourist Pass to good use.
Start with breakfast at Little India – As you walk down Serangoon Road and neighboring streets, explore their mix of Hindu and Chinese temples, colorfully painted houses and the familiar smell of Indian cuisine.
Fill your tummy with South Indian vegetarian food, North Indian tandoori dishes and local fare like roti prata (round pancakes) and teh tarik (pulled tea in Malay). Don’t forget to shop at the 24-hour shopping mall Mustafa Centre.
Head to Sultan Mosque in Arab Quarter – With its massive golden dome, bright salmon-red exterior and grand central prayer room, this is probably the most impressive mosque in Singapore, as well as the largest.
Next stop is colorful Haji Lane – a row of quirky street art, multi-label stores, boutiques as well as hip bars and cafes.
Travel tip: Visit Selfie coffee on Haji lane, where the baristas pour a dense layer of creamy stuff on top of a coffee, and then print photos onto the foam.
Hop on to a bus or head underground to MRT and make your way to China Town. Singapore’s historic Chinatown is a bustling mix of old and new, filled with traditional shops and markets as well as souvenir stores for magnets, key chains, bags, chopsticks etc at great prices.
Bustling Chinatown is home to the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore, the Sri Mariamman Temple. Feel the spiritual vibe, recite your prayers and relish the delicious pongal prasad at the holy sight.
The Tang-styled Chinese Buddhist temple in Chinatown gets its name from what the Buddhists regard as the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic. Offer an incense stick and sit down for some quiet contemplation amid Chinatown’s hubbub.
All this walking around would have gotten you hungry. Head to Maxwell Food Center and binge on some scrumptious and affordable local cuisine.
Tian Tian is the most famous hawker stall in all of Singapore. It serves the tastiest Hainenese chicken rice and has queues extending a few meters. The service is really fast and the meal costs just S$ 4.
Travel Tip: Hawker centers are great places for affordable food and maintain the highest level of hygiene and cleanliness. A stall with the longest queue is usually the most popular and serves the yummiest dish. Just join the line, pay for your meal and find an empty table. If you find tissue boxes on a table, that means it’s taken. Please do clean up after you’ve eaten.
It’s now time to head back to China town MRT, and take a ride to Clarke Quay for some evening flavors.
You could choose to take a lazy river cruise ride on a traditional Singapore Bum boat from Clarke Quay to Boat Quay. Price: S$ 5
Or unwind at the varied drinking holes which line across the quay.
Travel tip: Drinking is expensive in Singapore as the government imposes a Sin Tax on alcohol. There are many bars which offer Happy Hours till 9 pm. Cheers!
Day 3: Sentosa Island, Universal Studios, S.E.A. aquarium, Palawan beach, Holland Village, Lorong Mambong street.
Start your day with a local breakfast favorite, Kaya (coconut jam) toast and Kopi (milk coffee) and take the MRT to Harbour Front/Vivo city mall (nearest MRT station to Sentosa).
Travel tip: An average meal at Sentosa could cost anywhere between S$ 30 to S$ 40. Visit Seah Im Hawker center near Vivo City mall for some affordable and delicious local food.
Sentosa – There are a couple of ways to get to Sentosa from Vivo city – by Cable car, Sentosa express metro or Sentosa bus.
Whether you’re in search of thrills and spills or a relaxed beachside afternoon, you will be spoilt for choice at Singapore’s favorite leisure destination.
Universal Studios – Experience cutting-edge rides and attractions based on blockbuster films like Transformers, Jurassic Park, Shrek, Puss In Boots, The Mummy, Battlestar Galactica. Price: S$ 74 – Rs 3700
Travel Tip: Visit klook.com for a discounted price – S$ 60 – Rs 3000.
The marine realm of S.E.A. Aquarium, is home to more than 100,000 marine animals of over 800 species, across into 49 different habitats, each one as fascinating as the next. It’s an experience you won’t forget. Price: S$ 24 – Rs 1200
Travel tip: Visit klook.com for a discounted price – S$ 15 – Rs 750
You can’t leave Sentosa without vising Palawan beach, the southernmost point of Continental Asia.
Travel tip: All transport within Sentosa (except arrival) is free of charge and you can hop on and off at any point.
End your day at Sentosa with the Award Winning Outdoor Night Show, set against the majestic open sea. Be mesmerized by a multi-sensory presentation of water display, laser show, fire effects and spectacular music as you soar through space and time in a magical adventure.
Watch Wings of Time here:
After a whole day of excitement at Sentosa, pay a visit to Lorong Mambong street in Holland Village for for a hip evening out. It’s got a laid back vibe and frequented by many expats in Singapore.
If you have a few more days in Singapore, here is what the city has to offer.
Gardens and Wildlife
- Singapore Botanical Gardens – Spread over 52 hectares close to the center of the city, the Botanic Gardens combine both primary jungle and manicured gardens which together hold thousands of species of plant life. Free Entry.
- Singapore Zoo Gardens – In its lush jungle setting, Singapore’s renowned ‘open’ zoo is a haven for both animals and visitors. More than 2,000 creatures are housed in landscaped enclosures, with rock walls and streams replacing cages. S$ 33 – Rs 1650.
- Night Safari – The dark holds many i surprises… and more so at the Night Safari, where you can look a one-horned rhinoceros in the eye or hear the howls of a pack of striped hyenas. $ 45 – Rs 2250.
- River Safari – Housing one of the world’s largest collections of freshwater fauna, the park features over 6,000 animals including 40 threatened species. S$ 30 – Rs 1500.
- Jurong Bird Park – Southeast Asia’s largest bird park, Jurong Bird Park is home to over 8,000 birds of 600 species from all over the world. S$ 29 – Rs 1450.
- Take a trip back in time to Pulau Ubin – Nature lovers will find it well-worth the visit to this rustic island, home of Singapore’s last rural village with massive wetlands, which is an unspoiled paradise rich in corals, fish and other marine life.
- Rent a sports car at Marina Bay Sands – Revving up an engine and unleash the power of a Ferrari or a Lamborghini on Singapore’s Formula One circuit. Cruise along for a turbocharged tour for a few hair-raising laps. S$298 – Rs 14900.
- iFlySingapore Indoor SkyDive at Sentosa – Simulate the thrill of a 10,000 ft free-fall and go body-flying in the world’s largest wind tunnel, for a rush like no other. S$119 – Rs 5950.
- Reverse Bungee at Clarke Quay – Experience the gravitational force akin to a rocket launch, reaching a height of 60 meters with a speed of 200 km/h, not meant for the faint of heart. S$ 45 – Rs 2250.
- Morning Hike to the Southern ridges – 9-kilometer chain of green, open spaces spanning the rolling hills of Mount Faber Park to West Coast Park. Being about 36 meters above ground, it is one of the best spots in Singapore to catch panoramic views of the city. Free Entry.
- High End – Find a plethora of designer mega stores at Orchard rd, Marina Bay Sands and Vivo City mall.
- Budget – Visit Mustafa Center, Bugis street, Lucky plaza and Far East plaza for affordable shopping.
Budget Hack Tips
- Eat local food at Hawker centers. Average meal costs: S$ 4 – S$ 6.
- Walk in to convenient stores like 7/11 or Cold Storage and load up on snacks and drinks for the day.
- Tap water is potable. Fill up your water canister.
- Use Tourist card or EZ-Link card and ride MRT or Bus, which connect to every inch of the city.
- Pick up free tourist maps and find your way around the town.
- Free public Wifi is available at every major landmark. Skip buying Sim cards.
- Shop smart and bargain at Bugis street.
- Find budget hotels in Little India and Chinatown.
- Pick up your allowed limit of 1 liquor + 1 wine + 1 beer from duty free at Changi airport.
- You are allowed only to bring in one opened pack of cigarettes. Vaping is illegal.
- Don’t get fined.
Beware of Strict laws and Fines in Singapore.
More details here: 10 weird laws in Singapore that could get you in trouble
In conclusion, Singapore is an anomaly. Southeast Asia’s tiny city-country is notoriously spotless compared to other cities in Asia. Hardly all shopping malls and concrete as one would expect, Singapore has numerous green spaces, is bike friendly, and a matrix of skywalks connect various parks to help you forget that you’re in a bustling city.