With the third highest GDP per capita in the world, million dollar Ferraris and Lamborghinis being driven through the streets and the extravagant multi-million dollar buildings all around town, Singapore is one of the most expensive cities in Southeastern Asia.
Generally, visitors have to pay through the nose for almost everything they want to do in Singapore, but the keyword is "almost." There are plenty of budget, or even free, options around Singapore to ease the near inevitable strain on your wallet from spending time in the city.
Here’s how to explore Singapore without burning a hole in your pocket.
The key to eating on the cheap in Singapore is to aim for local fare. Anything that has to be imported into the city is going to be outrageously expensive, which makes fine dining a painfully expensive affair.
Instead of going to a proper restaurant, take advantage of the local food hawker centres all over the city. In these massive marketplaces, food venders cook up local dishes and street food delicacies like chicken rice, mee siam, laska and crispy dosa. These markets are government owned so they are always spotless and visitors will always find something new to try.
The best part is that many meals are as cheap as $3. As many families in Singapore rarely cook at home, the hawker centres can get particularly crowded during the general meal times; however, going at an off-time can also get you a decent discount, especially near closing time.
Explore the Southern Ridges
The Southern Ridge is a nine-kilometre-long trail that runs through four parks in Singapore, namely Mount Faber, Telok Blangah, Kent Ridge and Hort Park.
This is very much a trail for morning or evening strolls. It is much too hot during the daytime to do much hiking, but no matter what time visitors go, it is always free to do so. It is a wonderful place to spend a few hours, strolling through the forest or admiring views of Sentosa on one side or Little India on the other.
The biggest highlight of hiking through the Southern Ridges is walking over the Henderson Waves Bridge. It is 274-metres-long and eight meters wide, making it the largest pedestrian bridge in Singapore. However, the most interesting feature is its design. Like the name suggests, the bridge waves like a piece of gold silk being blown by the wind.
Watch Wonder Full Lights
If there is one sign that a city has been granted a generous dollop of wealth, it is outlandish extravagance regardless of price. One of the many pieces of such extravagance in Singapore is the free nightly light show that illuminates the sky. The Wonder Full light show is brought to the city by the Marina Bay Sands Casino two times a night on weekdays and three times a night on weekends.
Getting inside the casino is quite pricey, but watching the light show is free and equally as interesting. Wonder Full utilizes a number of different multimedia, including lights, graphic projections, water jets and a rousing score by Singapore local composer Iskandar Ismail during this 13-minute spectacular.
There are a number of great places to view the light show, but visitors should consider either viewing it in the Event Plaza or from across the Singapore River.
See Some Fairy Tales
Haw Par Villa is a theme park in Singapore, but instead of having rides and greasy food, it hosts giant statues. The park was originally built in Burma by Burmese-Chinese brothers Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par who were the developers of Tiger Balm. Eventually they decided to move the park to Singapore.
The park once had an entrance fee, but after it put many people off the park, the admission was changed to free - a cost that has since remained. Inside the park, there are over 1,000 massive statues and 150 dioramas that depict Chinese folklore, legends and history. While visitors with knowledge of Chinese mythology will get more out of this park, you don't need to be read up on it to enjoy the imagery or the stories.
Walking Tour with Singapore Footprints
Tours around Singapore generally aren't cheap, except for one. The walking tour hosted by Singapore Footprints is absolutely free. The tour company that runs it keeps the tours free by using student volunteers that serve as tour guides to walk visitors around the Singapore River and Bras Basah Bugis precinct.
These aren't some boring tours led by a less-than-pleased youth either. The guides are enthusiastic about their city and provide an interactive and fun walking tour. These tours run every Saturday and Sunday, rain or shine. While the tours are free, it is recommended to tip your guide a sufficient amount for the quality of the tour you received.
Visit the Serenity of the Botanical Gardens
When the Singapore Botanical Gardens were founded in 1859 by the British, it served as a piece of natural serenity at the end of the commercial Orchard Road. Today, the city has continued to develop and the Botanical Gardens developed with it, but in a different way.
What was once a swathe of quiet green space has expanded into an area of lush greenery, tropical flowers and peaceful waterways. It has still kept its serenity, unlike the concrete jungle outside. Like with other outdoor activities in Singapore, it is recommended to come earlier in the morning or in the evening as the daytime is much too hot. However, as the gardens close by 7pm, it is best to go in the morning so visitors have ample time to explore. It is a pleasant place to walk and an even better place to sit and people-watch. Entry to the gardens is free of charge and those who are interested in botany should enquire about free walking tours on their website.
Visit the Temples
Temples are somewhat commonplace around Singapore, but there are two in particular that demand attention from visitors to the city.
Thian Hock Keng is the city's oldest Chinese temple, built approximately in 1839. It is everything that one would expect for an old, but not ancient, temple. Thian Hock Keng isn't falling into a pile of defunct rumble even though it is no longer a functioning place of worship. Instead, the walls and the intricate carvings are intact. For visitors that come on a slow day, it is almost eerie how silent it is compared to the rest of the city.
Alternatively, the Kong Meng San Phor Kark See temple is still very much a functional monastery for Buddhist monks. Visitors can browse the buildings, drum towers and statues. Head to this temple around dinner time and you could be in for a special treat. The Kong Meng San Phor Kark See serves a free vegetarian meal to locals and visitors alike. It is not only a surprising large six to eight course free meal - but it also provides a chance to converse with the monks.
The Gillman Barracks is Singapore's latest and greatest contemporary art space. Once a former army camp, its colonial era buildings have been reinvented and separated into 13 different art galleries that feature contemporary art from all over the world.
While browsing the various art on the grounds and within any of the galleries is well worth it, visitors short on time should at least consider a stop at Singapore's FOST Gallery, the SHANGHART gallery from Shanghai, the Michael Janssen exhibit from Berlin and the Mizuma exhibit from Tokyo if they cannot see it all.