As of March 2016, Singapore has been ranked the most expensive city in the world for the 3rd year in a row. While the Lion City also tops the world in numerous other aspects such as safety and cleanliness, these accomplishments come with a price – the country has one of the highest costs of living in the world, with groceries costing 11% more than New York and clothes costing 50% more.
To the experienced traveller, Singapore is a no-no if you’re looking to see it all on a budget-friendly trip. But good news: a short stay in this pricey city is not impossible! Visitors to Singapore are often misled into thinking some of the most expensive sights are the best they’ll see on this island; but many of the island’s cultural, culinary and natural highlights also lie in budget-friendly areas. If you’re looking for the best places to be and the best deals around, look no further – here’s a 3-day itinerary for a thrifty stay in Singapore.
Tips for your trip
1. Bring an umbrella with you everywhere.
Weather in a tropical country like Singapore can be unpredictable – you could be stuck in the sweltering heat one moment, and trapped in a thunderstorm the next! When the weather affects your travel plans, the best you can do is carry an umbrella with you wherever you go.
Avoid the bulkiness of bigger umbrellas and use a compact, foldable umbrella that fits right into your handbag! Many tourist shops in Singapore sell them, though they are also available from pharmacies like Guardian and Watsons.
Opening Hours: usually 10am–10pm daily
Opening Hours: usually 10am–10pm daily
2. Buy a Singapore Tourist Pass!
Instead of grabbing an Uber or taking a taxi everywhere, it’s cheaper and much more immersive to travel on the island’s trains and buses (and if you can travel on a train here, you can travel anywhere). If you’re here for a holiday, purchase a Singapore Tourist Pass to travel using public transport. You can find them at selected ticket offices and passenger service centres.
Singapore Tourist Pass
Price: from 10 SGD (7 USD)
Contact: 6496 8300 (8am–6pm daily; closed on public holidays)
You might be interested in these Airbnbs!
3. Dress lightly, but don't bare it all.
Unless you’re used to the heat and humidity of a tropical climate, it’s advisable to dress light (in clothes such as short-sleeved shirts and shorts) while exploring Singapore. However, you should also respect local sensitivities and cover up when visiting sights of racial, religious or cultural significance.
Singapore is considered a conservative society and any dressing that is too outrageous or revealing warrants you a viral social media post by an inconspicuous yet kaypoh (nosy) passerby.
4. Not everyone speaks English
English may be Singapore’s main language, but not everyone’s fluent in it. People who lack proficiency in it may include elderly locals and foreign workers. Should the situation arise, consult a passerby for help.
5. Tipping is not required in Singapore
Many businesses and establishments charge a Goods & Services Tax (GST) of 7% to 10% instead. If you want to tip someone, be mindful of the situation: while it’s acceptable to tip your driver, server, tour guide or food delivery guy, they aren’t accepted at places like hawker centres or Changi Airport.
6. Don’t litter or chew gum
Not only is it basic consideration to throw your trash where it belongs, littering on the streets of Singapore can warrant you a fine of up to 1,000 SGD (713 USD). Moreover, unless you’re coming in from West Malaysia, the import and distribution of chewing gum is illegal in Singapore.
Day 1: Regardless of race, language or religion
One of Singapore’s most prominent aspects lies in her identity as a multicultural society. This ethnic diversity finds its roots in Singapore’s early days, when the ancestors of locals came from foreign lands. Since then, the country has come a long way in building a society of racial harmony and cohesion.
When these ancestors first set foot on the island, they were segregated into different cultural districts according to their origins – Chinatown for the Chinese, Kampong Glam for the Malays and Little India for the Indians. Even though that is not the case now, there are still wonderful remnants of these cultures in these areas. Step back in time as you explore these enclaves and experience the distinct charms of their history and heritage. The best part? Food and merchandise here are authentic and inexpensive!
8am to 3pm: Chinatown calling
Kick off your visit with a trip to Chinatown. Defined by rows of shophouses and a bustling street market, Chinatown is Singapore’s biggest ethnic enclave. Expect to spend a good part of your day here as you explore all this district has to offer.
You’re going to need energy for all the exploring you’re about to do! Head over to dim sum restaurant Tak Po for an authentic Chinese breakfast. At Tak Po, dim sum can be ordered in individual pieces instead of the usual baskets of threes or fours, allowing you to taste a diversity of dishes while watching your budget (and waistline!). Here, you can enjoy dining in a simple, casual yet classy setting as you immerse in Chinatown’s rustic air.
Tak Po 德宝
Address: 42 Smith Street, Singapore 058954
Price: 0.80 SGD – 4.20 SGD or 0.60 USD - 3 USD (for dim sum); 3.50 SGD – 16 SGD or 2.50 USD - 11 USD (for porridge/claypot dishes)
Opening Hours: 7am–10:30pm daily
Contact: +65 6225 0302
Once you’ve had your fill, take to the streets of Chinatown to explore its sights. Here are a few places for an insight on Singapore’s heritage:
Chinatown Heritage Centre
If you’re pressed for time, be sure to drop by the Chinatown Heritage Centre. Tour this museum and retrace the footsteps of Singapore’s Chinese population over the years, from their perilous journey to the island in the 1800s to first-hand tales from post-colonial Singapore.
Chinatown Heritage Centre
Address: 48 Pagoda Street, Singapore 059207
Admission: Adults – 15 SGD (11 USD), Child (7 to 12) – 11 SGD (8 USD). Guided tours come at an extra charge.
Opening Hours: 9am–8pm daily
Contact: +65 6224 3928
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
Explore its resplendent interiors for impressive, insightful exhibits on Buddhist art, history and culture. Ascend to the fourth floor and enter the Sacred Light Hall, where a recovered canine tooth from Gautama Buddha himself is housed in a majestic stupa.
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
Address: 288 South Bridge Rd, Singapore 058840
Opening Hours: 7am–7pm daily
Contact: +65 6220 0220
Thian Hock Keng Temple
It’s hard to believe that this temple once faced the sea! Dedicated to the Taoist goddess Mazu, Thian Hock Keng Temple was once visited by Chinese immigrants who came to thank the goddess for safe passage to Singapore. Even today, it remains an impressive architectural feat – not a single nail was used in its construction!
Thian Hock Keng Temple
Address: 158 Telok Ayer Street, Singapore 068613
Opening Hours: 7.30am–5.30pm daily
Contact: +65 6423 4616
Sri Mariamman Temple
Surprisingly, the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore is located in the heart of Chinatown. Despite its location, Sri Mariamman Temple is thronged by visitors and devotees alike, a testament of Singapore’s multiracial, multi-religious harmony.
At the entrance, admire its vivid, towering gopuram (entrance tower) before you step into interiors of intricate idols and murals. Learn about Hinduism in Singapore, and about the temple’s deity Mariamman, the goddess of rain and main mother goddess of Hinduism.
Sri Mariamman Temple
Address: 244 South Bridge Rd, Singapore 058793
Opening Hours: 7am–12pm & 6pm–9pm daily
Contact: +65 6223 4064
Nagore Dargah Indian Muslim Heritage Centre
Lesser known even among locals, the Nagore Dargah Indian Muslim Heritage Centre once served as a shrine to the Indian saint who propagated Islam in India. Today, it serves as a gallery showcasing the heritage of early Indian Muslims in Singapore.
Nagore Dargah Indian Muslim Heritage Centre
Address: 140 Telok Ayer Street, Singapore 068604
Opening Hours: 10am–5pm, Monday to Friday
Contact: +65 6256 8188
Website If you’re in Singapore during the Chinese New Year season (around late January to early February), look out for the Chinese New Year bazaar and the dazzling decorations illuminating the streets at night. Mark your calendars for Chinese New Year’s Eve, when festivities, fireworks and firecrackers (one of the only times when this is legal in the country!) will light up the streets of Chinatown as the island counts down to the Lunar New Year:
3pm to 9pm: Lost in Little India
Just 15-minute train ride from Chinatown, Little India is a district of vibrant chaos. It is home to several sights of interest and places of worship, as well as restaurants, markets and shops catering to Singapore’s Indian population; making it somewhat of a meeting place and all the more a cultural experience for those who visit it.
Before you embark on your journey of Little India, indulge in a late lunch. Have a sumptuous South Indian meal at Madras New Woodlands, a vegetarian restaurant situated along Upper Dickson Road. Here, you can order a delicious meal of briyani, dosai, bhatura, or idli; all of which come served with dhal, curry, sambal, chutney or other condiments. Also consider ordering their sweet mango lassi, and take home some traditional Indian sweets, like ladoo or kaju barfi.
Madras New Woodlands
Address: 14 Upper Dickson Road, Singapore 207474
Price: 7 SGD (5 USD) onwards
Opening Hours: 7:30am–11pm daily
Contact: +65 6297 1594
The temples of Little India
After your meal, embark on an expedition of Little India’s temples. It’s here that you’ll find some of the enclave’s principal sights, and further explore the beauty of Hinduism. Just like Sri Mariamman Temple in Chinatown, the temples here possess their own unique gopurams and ornate interiors, each dedicated to their respective deities.
Do note that the temples here follow similar restrictions as the ones at Sri Mariamman Temple. Be mindful to follow them!
Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple
Address: 141 Serangoon Road, Singapore 218042
Opening Hours: 8am–12pm & 6.30pm–9pm, Monday to Thursday & Saturday; 8am–12pm & 6pm–9pm, Friday & Sunday
Contact: +65 6293 4634
Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple
Address: 397 Serangoon Road, Singapore 218123
Opening Hours: 6:30am–12pm, 6pm–9pm daily
Contact: +65 6298 5771
Sri Krishnan Temple
Address: 152 Waterloo Street, Singapore 187961
Opening Hours: 4:30am–9:00pm daily
Contact: +65 6337 7957
Sri Vadapathira Kaliamman Temple
Address: 555 Serangoon Road, Singapore 218174
Opening Hours: 6am–12.00pm & 4:30pm–9pm, Sunday to Thursday; 6am–12:30pm, 4:30pm–9:30pm, Friday & Saturday
Contact: +65 6298 5053
The most colourful house in Singapore
Yet another testament to Singapore’s multicultural cohesion lies in the residence of Tan Teng Niah. Now Singapore’s most colourful building, this Chinese villa was once home to its namesake, a confectionery businessman. Today, it’s home to a few shops, but still makes for fantastic photo opportunities.
If Madras New Woodlands doesn’t strike your fancy, you can also grab an alfresco meal in the neighbouring food court.
Tan Teng Niah
Address: 37 Kerbau Road, Singapore 219168
Indian Heritage Centre
Similar to its counterpart in Chinatown, the Indian Heritage Centre showcases the rich history and heritage of Indians and South Asians in Southeast Asia. Spanning five galleries, the artefacts and interactive exhibits of this museum illustrate the experiences of the Southeast Asian Indian community from as early as the 1st century CE!
Indian Heritage Centre
Address: 5 Campbell Lane, Singapore 209924
Admission: Adults – 4 SGD (3 USD); Senior citizens (above 60) & children – 2 SGD (1.40 USD)
Opening Hours: 10am–7pm, Tuesday to Thursday; 10am–8pm, Friday & Saturday; 10am–4pm, Sunday & public holidays; closed on Mondays.
Contact: +65 6291 1601
Website If you’re visiting Singapore anywhere between late September and late October, good news: you’re just in time for Deepavali! Expect the festive cheer to spread throughout Little India in preparation for this major celebration.
Drop by the Deepavali Festive Village, a month-long street bazaar along Campbell Lane and Hastings Road. Keep your eye out for good bargains and unique, beautiful wares sourced all the way from India. By night, take a walk around Little India as you admire the brilliant decorations lining the streets, their brightness fit for a celebration of the Festival of Lights.
Day 2: Day 1, Part 2
Singapore’s so rich in culture, one day simply isn’t enough to cover all it has to offer! Day 2 is an extension of Day 1 – today, we explore the heritage of 3 other ethnic groups: the Malays, the Eurasians, and the Peranakans. Grab some breakfast before you head out, and stick with the same dress code – long pants, sleeved shirts (bring a long-sleeved jacket to play it safe) and covered shoes.
8am to 11am: Culture in Kampong Glam
Your next stop is Kampong Glam, the ethnic enclave of Singapore’s Malay community. This district bears a different air from Little India or Chinatown – while those two districts are better known for sights, sounds and flavours pertaining to their respective communities, Kampong Glam is known for being a vibrant melting pot, catering to both Eastern and Western influences. In fact, Haji Lane is known for being one of Singapore’s top hipster havens!
Before exploring these facets of the area, visit a few cultural sights first.
One of Kampong Glam’s most defining features lies in Sultan Mosque, one of Singapore’s most important places of worship. Step beyond its iconic exteriors for a tour of its equally resplendent chambers, and learn about the main religion of Singapore’s Malay community.
Address: 3 Muscat Street, Singapore 198833
Admission: Free. Visitors will be guided.
Opening Hours: 10am–12pm & 2pm–4pm, Saturday to Thursday; 2:30pm–4pm, Friday. Closed on public holidays.
Duration: around 15 to 30 minutes
Contact: +65 6293 4405
Malay Heritage Centre
Located within what was once the istana (palace) of the Sultan of Singapore, the Malay Heritage Centre plays a similar role to its counterparts in Little India and Chinatown. Step into its six galleries for murals, artefacts and interactive exhibits showcasing the history, heritage and culture of Singapore’s Malay community.
Malay Heritage Centre
Address: 85 Sultan Gate, Singapore 198501
Price: Adults – 4 SGD (3 USD); Senior citizens (above 60) & students (ID must be presented for verification) – 2 SGD (1.40 USD); Families (max 5 members) – 12 SGD (9 USD); free for children under 6.
Opening Hours: 10am–6pm, Tuesday to Sunday; closed on Monday.
Contact: +65 6391 0450
One of Singapore’s hipster hotspots, Haji Lane is home to a diversity of independent cafes, bars and shops. While it may be quite expensive to eat or shop here, many photo opportunities lie in the area’s beautiful street art!
While you’re exploring Kampong Glam, why not enjoy some local tunes? Here’s 1057 by Jasmine Sokko, a music video filmed entirely in and around Haji Lane:
11:30am to 2:30pm: Explore Eurasian heritage
Take a bus over to Katong, where you’ll get to explore the heritage of the Eurasians, the last of Singapore’s main races. Though a minority these days (representing less than 3% of Singapore’s population), there is no underestimating their contributions to the country’s people and progress.
Eurasian Heritage Centre
Editor's Note: Photo taken from the establishment's official social account
(Good for 8-10 pax sharing) Noodle for Longevity Abalone Yu Sheng with 24k Edible Gold Dry...Posted by Quentin's Singapore on Monday, January 11, 2021
Within the Eurasian Community House you’ll find the Eurasian Heritage Centre, a museum where you can delve into the background and culture of Singapore’s Eurasians. The Eurasian Heritage Centre might be smaller than its counterparts, but hosts exhibits just as rich and significant as theirs. Take a walk through the galleries for a look at special artefacts, exhibits and first-hand stories from World War 2.
Address: 139 Ceylon Road, Singapore 429744
Admission: Free (Walk-ins)
Opening Hours: 9am–6pm (Tues to Sun), closed on Mondays.
Contact: +65 6447 1578
Website For lunch, head over to Quentin’s Eurasian Restaurant for some of Singapore’s best Eurasian cuisine. Though it may seem a bit on the pricey side, dishes here serve two or three people at a time, making it a good deal. Set your taste buds alight with curry debal (devil’s curry), or try their pork semur or Kristang stew. For dessert, the sugee cake is a must-try!
Quentin's Eurasian Restaurant
Address: Eddie’s Place, Level 1 Eurasian Community House, 139 Ceylon Road, Singapore 429744
Price: around 50 SGD or 36 USD (for one starter, two mains and one dessert; serves 2 to 3)
Opening Hours: 11:30am–2:30pm & 6:30pm–10:30pm (Tues to Thurs, Sat & Sun), 11:30am–2:30pm & 6:30pm–12am (Fri), closed on Mondays.
Contact: +65 6348 0327
3pm to 7pm: Peek into the life of a Peranakan
The Peranakans, better known as the Straits Chinese, are descendants of Southeast Asia’s early Chinese immigrants. Over the centuries, they have developed a vibrant, hybrid culture with Chinese, Malay and Western influences. Though old traditions are elusive today, pieces of Peranakan heritage remain within life-sized time capsules in the neighbourhoods of Joo Chiat and Katong.
Katong Antique House
From the Eurasian Community House, take a walk over to Katong Antique House. Owned by fourth-generation Peranakan Peter Wee, this restored pre-war shophouse is chock-full of eclectic, historic portraits, furnishings and artefacts that give a true insight to life as a Peranakan across the generations. Allow Mr Wee to guide you through the premises as he regales you with tales of old Singapore, showing you a facet of Singaporean history you might have never even known existed!
Katong Antique House
Address: 208 East Coast Road, Singapore 428907
Admission: 15 SGD or 11 USD (cash only). Visits are by appointment only.
Opening Hours: 11am–4:30pm daily
Duration: around 45 minutes
Access: How to access [ex: 1 min walk from Hougang mrt station]
Contact: +65 6345 8544
Want to see what a true Peranakan home looks like? Visit the Intan, a private home museum. Set in a private housing estate in Joo Chiat, this abode is a celebration of all things Peranakan, and is both the home and business of curator Alvin Yapp and his family. Allow Mr Yapp or one of his family members to guide you around the premises; and afterwards, indulge in an authentic Peranakan meal with them.
If you’re truly on a budget, it’s advisable to come in a large group, as The Intan charges a hefty sum to smaller parties.
Address: 69 Joo Chiat Terrace, Singapore 427231
Admission: Fee depends on the number of people and the meal prepared (breakfast/tea or lunch/dinner). Visits are by appointment only.
Opening Hours: 7am–10pm daily
Contact: +65 6440 1148
7:30pm onwards: Head back to Haji Lane
If The Intan’s too expensive for you, head over to Zam Zam for dinner. For over a century, this humble eatery has been cooking up some of the best Indian Muslim cuisine in Singapore, serving generous portions at a reasonable price. Be sure to try their famous murtabak, and down it with a classic cup of teh (tea).
Singapore Zam Zam Restaurant Pte Ltd
Address: 697-699 North Bridge Rd, Singapore 198675
Price: 7 SGD (5 USD) onwards (for a dish and a drink)
Opening Hours: 7am–11pm daily
Contact: +65 6298 6320
Day 3: The Garden City
If you’ve put on a few pounds over the past few days, here’s your chance to burn them! Today, we’ll be exploring the sights that have earned Singapore its global reputation as a Garden City. Step away from the crowds and enjoy a tranquil, refreshing journey through Singapore’s serene, luxuriant parks, renowned for being clean, green and family-friendly. Note that many of the nation’s parks are smoke-free, so save the cigarettes for another day.
7am to 10am: Take a morning stroll at Jurong Lake Gardens
Rise and shine! Kick off your morning at Jurong Lake Gardens, just a stone’s throw away from Chinese Garden MRT. This area encompasses the Chinese and Japanese Gardens, which integrate architecture from their respective cultures into a lush, natural space. From pagoda towers to stone lions, these parks convey a serene, scenic experience to all who visit them.
Take time to visit the Bonsai Garden, a garden of bonsai imported from seven different countries, as well as the Live Turtle & Tortoise Museum, the largest collection of tortoises and turtles in the world!
Jurong Lake Gardens
Address: Yuan Ching Road, Singapore 618650
Opening Hours: 6am–11pm daily
The Live Turtle & Tortoise Museum
Address: 1 Chinese Garden Road, Singapore 619795
Admission: Adult – 5 SGD (3.50 USD); Children – 3 SGD (2 USD)
Opening Hours: 9am–6pm daily
Contact: +65 6268 5363
11am to 3pm: Have a picnic at the Botanic Gardens
For lunch, drop by Cold Storage at Cluny Court (located across the road from Botanic Gardens MRT) and pick up some food for a picnic at the Botanic Gardens. Singapore’s first and only UNESCO World Heritage Site, this sprawling 82-hectare garden boasts over 10,000 species of flourishing flora. Enjoy your picnic at the vast Palm Valley; and afterwards, stroll around the garden’s various sights, from the swan lake and themed gardens to the National Orchid Garden, the world’s largest orchid display!
Singapore Botanic Gardens
Address: 1 Cluny Road, Singapore 259569
Opening Hours: 5am–12am daily
Contact: +65 6471 7138
National Orchid Garden
Address: Central Core, Singapore Botanic Gardens, 1 Cluny Road, Singapore 259569
Admission: Adults – 5 SGD (3.50 USD); Senior citizens (60 & above) & students (ID must be produced for verification) – 1 SGD (0.70 USD); free for children under 12.
Opening Hours: 8:30am–7pm daily
Contact: +65 6471 7361
4pm to 7pm: Ascend the slopes of Mount Faber Park
After leaving Botanic Gardens, hop on a train to Harbourfront and ascend the stairs of Mount Faber. From the hill’s multiple platforms, get a panoramic view of the vicinity; be it the surrounding shipyards, residential areas, and even Sentosa. If you’d like a closer view of Sentosa, a platform with binoculars can be found near the hill’s cable car station.
Your next destination is known for being pricey, so we’d recommend grabbing dinner here instead. FoodRepublic at VivoCity offers a wide range of affordable local cuisine. Dine amidst a rustic atmosphere as you tuck into a scrumptious local meal.
Mount Faber Park
Address: Telok Blangah Road, Singapore 099448
Opening Hours: 24 hours daily
Contact: +65 6377 9688
8pm to 11pm: Luxury and lights at Gardens By The Bay
Take a train to Bayfront MRT and head towards Gardens By The Bay, your final stop for the day. A national icon, Gardens By The Bay is a botanical pride and joy of the country. This 101-hectare nature park is thronged with its own diversity of flora and fauna – come here in the daytime and you might even see some otters nearby!
Though the park is best known for its conservatories, they might not be friendly on your budget – admission to both conservatories costs 28 SGD (20 USD) for a single adult. Nonetheless, you can still have just as rich an experience within the rest of the gardens; and the Supertree Grove (the park’s principal sight) is accessible for free! The Supetree Grove puts on light shows at 7:45pm and 8:45pm daily, so be sure to catch them for an unforgettable experience.
If you’re up for a late night rendezvous, all non-ticketed areas around the Gardens are open till 2am; and refreshments are available at the 24-hour drinks stall at Satay By The Bay. Keep in mind, however, that local transport services end around midnight daily.
Gardens By The Bay
Address: 18 Marina Gardens Drive, Singapore 018953
Admission: (Outdoor Gardens) Free; (Conservatories) Adult – 28 SGD (20 USD); Children (3 to 12 years old) – 15 SGD (11 USD).
Opening Hours: (Outdoor Gardens) 5am–2am daily; (Conservatories) 9am–9pm daily
Contact: +65 6420 6841
The Great Singapore Save
You don’t have to spend much to have a good time here! Following this three-day itinerary, you can safely say you’ve explored one of the world’s most expensive cities without blowing a hole in your pocket. Be thrifty, spend less and save up – hopefully the next time you come here, you’ll be able to visit some of the more expensive, worthwhile sights!
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