I was in Malaysia when I met a few travellers. The topic ranged to the different countries they had been to. Singapore was one of the countries that came up. Intrigued, I asked them about the country because it has always been on my list of places to visit. Their first answer was that Singapore was expensive. That got me thinking. Can a person do Singapore on a shoestring budget? Little did I know that a couple of months later, I would find myself in the country that I was dreaming of visiting. Shawn and I stayed in Singapore for a week in March and there was so much that I noticed. I could see both sides of the argument. I could see how Singapore could be expensive and how one could do Singapore on a shoestring budget.
In order to help other backpackers/ budget travellers out, I decided to put together a guide to Singapore on a Shoestring budget. I’ll help you navigate through what are the most expensive necessities and will even provide you with a list of stuff that you can do in the city for free. Brace yourself because this is going to be one long post.
NAVIGATING THROUGH THE SINGAPORE TRAVEL GUIDE
In order to help you navigate through our Singapore travel guide, I’ve divided everything into bite sized nuggets. The links below will help you navigate through the guide more effectively. Through each section we will discuss what are the major expenses and how one can navigate around them. I don’t have all the answers, but the ones that I do definitely will make planning your Singapore holidays on a shoestring budget much easier.
SINGAPORE TRAVEL GUIDE: Facts About Singapore
As usual, I would like to start my Singapore Travel Guide with a glimpse of the country as a whole. If you’ve headed to a map and searched for Singapore, you will have realized that Singapore is a really tiny country when compared to its neighbours. Yet, despite its tiny size, the country has managed to hold its ground and become not only a successful tourist hub but a thriving business hub as well. You will also find that the Singapore Airport (rated as the best airport in the world ) happens to be a bustling hub between numerous countries. We will however talk about that in just a bit.
A glimpse of Singapore’s past through a random painting I stumbled upon.
Unfortunately, I do not know enough about Singapore’s history to talk about it on my own. Fortunately, Brooke Thio from Roamscapes volunteered to take on the task to fill us in about Singapore’s history. Let’s take a look at what she has to say.
Singapore’s history dates as far back as the 14th century, when the island was already a trading post known as Temasek. Modern Singapore, however, was founded as a British colony in 1819 when Sir Stamford Raffles established a trading post on the island in order to challenge the Dutch trade monopoly over the Malay Archipelago. Assisted by Major William Farquhar, and with a treaty with the island’s Malay chiefs, Singapore’s free port quickly attracted traders and turned the island into a thriving settlement for over a century.
By 1939, the British had turned Singapore into an impressive naval base with a massive dry dock, naval guns and airfields, and, earning it the nickname “Gibraltar of the East”. However, the base had no actual fleet – and on 15 February 1942, during World War II, Singapore fell to the Imperial Japanese Army. This was a tragic time, especially for Chinese civilians, as many were randomly rounded up, interrogated, and massacred. Today, near National Gallery Singapore, the Civilian War Memorial is dedicated to those killed during the war and also represents the unity of the four major races of Singapore.
After the surrender of the Japanese in 1945, locals no longer trusted the British and began calling for independent rule. Although Singapore became joined the federation of Malaysia in September 1963 when the Crown colony was dissolved, political differences with the federal government soon led to Singapore being expelled on 9 August 1965 – marking the country’s day of independence.
Under the leadership of founding father Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore rapidly attained global recognition as a commerce, finance, and transport hub. Today, and it’s the fourth most visited city in the world and a treasure trove of multiculturalism, delicious food, and Instagram hotspots.
One of the few bird’s eye views I caught.
People call Singapore an island city-state. I really didn’t understand why till I found myself in its midst. The entire country is an island. It does have a few other islands but when people talk about Singapore, they are usually referring to the mainland. Unlike most countries, the island of Singapore is small. That means that the whole country is quite literally the city. So why is Singapore so popular?
Despite the limited amount of area under its belt, Singapore manages to have a varied terrain. From East to west, the mainland measures at just 50 kilometres and from the North to South at 27 kilometres. Yet you can find everything from hills to beaches in this country. The country may house one of the most popular bustling cities in South East Asia, yet it does not run short of green terrain. Which makes Singapore so alluring.
Singapore has a tropical rainforest climate. Being close to the sea invariably means that there is a lot of humidity in the air. You will find that Singapore is almost always warm and wet. Unlike many other countries, Singapore has two monsoon seasons. The first one is the Northeast monsoon and it usually showers Singapore with rain from mid-November to March. The southwest monsoon season on the other hand is from June to September.
This is why it is often said that the best time to visit Singapore is from February to April. It is the sweet spot when the rains have abated, and summer hasn’t reared its head. It makes a lot of activities much pleasanter and more easily accessible.
Singapore uses dollars as their currency. Note that the dollars that we are talking about are not USD but Singaporean dollars which are abbreviated as SGD. There is no shortage of money exchangers both at the airport and in the city. This time we chose to use the ATM machines to withdraw money at the airport instead. Credit cards are widely accepted throughout the city. We had absolutely no problem using ours. Except when you head to the hawkers and the souvenir shops. There you need cash.
The interesting thing about Singapore is its food. With people living in it who come from different countries in the world, Singapore at first glance doesn’t seem to have one single cuisine. You can get any type of cuisine you want. We managed to try Japanese, Chinese, Malaysian, Italian, Thai… The list goes on.
That being said, the food can get as expensive as you want it to be. Gourmet restaurants and Michelin stars dot the city. Not everything has to be expensive though. Chinatown has some amazing places to eat that are certainly worth trying.
SINGAPORE TRAVEL GUIDE: Facts For The Visitor
Understanding the country is one thing but in order to plan your travel better, our Singapore Travel guide includes a few facts that are indispensable to any visitor. It doesn’t matter whether you are travelling to Singapore on a shoestring budget or you want to enjoy the luxury that the city has to offer. Glancing through the following points will definitely give you a better understanding of what you want and what to prepare for.
ENTERING THE COUNTRY
Singapore can be easily entered via its land border with Malaysia. You do need to have a visa for both countries obviously. There are buses that ply from both sides. We haven’t done the route, so I can’t comment on it further. We did however research it because we wanted to head to Malaysia’s Lego land over the weekend. A plan that did not materialize.
The most popular way to enter Singapore is by air. Singapore’s Changi Airport is known world wide as one of the best airports in the world. In fact, the numerous amenities available at the airport makes one long for a long transit time. That should speak for itself! Being a bustling hub for numerous connecting airlines, flights to Singapore are usually affordable. Then again, it depends on from which part of the world you are travelling from. The flight costs however do fit nicely in the budget constraints of people who want to visit Singapore on a shoestring budget.
Land and air are not the only modes of transport that one would use to visit this country. While Changi Airport is one of the most popular airports in the world, Singapore is also famous as its port. In fact, the port sees numerous cruises starting off or ending or the banks of Singapore.
TRANSPORT IN SINGAPORE
Singapore on a shoestring budget: Transport isn’t as expensive as you think it is!
Everyone says that it is an expensive country and by default one may be lead to believe that transport in Singapore is expensive. Transport in Singapore however is varied and cheaper than you are lead to believe. The metro connects most parts of Singapore. It is convenient, easy to use and efficient. Places that are not connected by the metro can be accessed via bus. The buses are punctual and are cheap too.
If you want to choose a more environmentally conscious way of moving around the city, then download an app and rent a bicycle for the day. Taxis are probably the most expensive mode of transportation, but they are easily available and can be hailed upon from different parts of the city.
The beauty about Singapore is the green corridors and its lovely pavements. Walking around the city definitely should be on your list.
If you want to know more about the transport in Singapore take a look at this article by Roamscapes: GETTING AROUND SINGAPORE LIKE A LOCAL: A Public Transport Guide
ACCOMMODATION IN SINGAPORE
I truly believe that the biggest hurdle when it comes to planning a vacation in Singapore on a shoestring budget is the accommodation. From my standpoint, I couldn’t find cheap accommodation. I could only find reasonable accommodation in Singapore. It is true that Singapore has its own set of capsule hostels which are the latest vogue. If you are a single traveller, then this may reduce your accommodation price. If you however are travelling as a couple, you will find that renting out two capsules, or two beds in a hostel may well be as expensive as a hotel room.
We used Booking.com to find our hotel. The trick is to find something with a rating of above 8.0. We however booked our accommodation just a week before, so we had to settle for something that rated as 7 + on the review scores. We weren’t wowed by accommodation despite the price we paid and yet thankfully we were not indoors most of the time, so the room couldn’t depress us.
SINGAPORE TRAVEL GUIDE: Free Things To Do In Singapore
Everyone talks about how expensive Singapore is. The city can no doubt get expensive and yet there are so many free things to do in Singapore. A lot of the items on that list are pretty cool. That’s why I decided to make a list of all the free things to do in Singapore and add them to our Singapore Travel Guide.
VISIT SINGAPORE’S CITY GALLERY
If you are looking for things to do in Singapore on a shoestring budget then the Singapore City Gallery is a great place to start!
There is so much to learn about Singapore. So much to understand and to observe. That is why I always recommend visiting the Singapore City Gallery first. Entry to this gallery is free to anyone who wants to visit. It has a treasure trove of information about how Singapore evolved and how they are working towards maintaining the city/country. It is interesting to see how the development caters to people in different age groups and with different needs. After I visited the Singapore City Gallery, I found myself looking at the city in a different light.
RELATED ARTICLES: The Singapore City Gallery: Understanding How Singapore Evolved
THE GARDENS BY THE BAY
Did you know that the sound and light show at the supertree grove fits perfectly with the idea of visiting Singapore on a shoestring budget?
The Gardens by the bay are a treat for the eyes. The complex is huge and there is so much to explore. While you could spend money in this area of Singapore if you wanted to, entering the gardens by the bay is actually free. In fact, most of the gardens can be accessed without a fee. Even the famous sound and light show at the supertrees is free.
So where do people incur extra charges?
The Gardens by the bay has two indoor gardens under gigantic domes. One houses flowers and the other houses a gigantic waterfall. Entering these gardens requires a ticket. Similarly, if you want to head up to viewing platform of the Supertrees, you have to pay a fee.
VISIT NUMEROUS RELIGIOUS STRUCTURES IN SINGAPORE
Visiting the numerous gorgeous religious structures should definitely be on your list of things to do in Singapore on a Shoestring budget.
Singapore is a multicultural city. By that I mean that people of all religions and ethnicities mingle together on a daily basis. It therefore does not come as a surprise that Singapore has numerous places of worship. From mosques to brightly coloured temples and churches. Singapore has it all. I found myself learning about different religious beliefs as I explored them. People are more than happy to talk to you about them.
WALK THROUGH CHINATOWN
Chinatown is one of my favourite places to explore. Definitely conforms with Singapore on a shoestring budget because things are so cheap!
Chinatown is one of the popular places that tourists and locals congregate to in Singapore. Accessing Chinatown is free. It definitely fits into any shoestring budget in Singapore because Chinatown offers a lot of cheap options for a meal. It even has its own Michelin Star restaurant where a good meal isn’t expensive.
Chinatown isn’t just popular for its cheap food. As you walk through this part of Singapore, you will find parts of Singapore’s history. A lot of people hire a guide to take them around, but Chinatown is small enough to explore on foot. Plaques tell you about the significance of landmarks and then some. If you are looking for cheap souvenirs to take home, then this is the place to shop at.
RELATED ARTICLES: Singapore’s Chinatown: Exploring Art, Culture And Food
WANDER THROUGH THE SINGAPORE BOTANIC GARDENS
The Singapore Botanic Gardens definitely should feature on your list of things to do in Singapore on a shoestring budget.
The Singapore Botanic Gardens are another item on the list of things to do in Singapore on a Shoestring budget. Wait… Did people tell you that you have to pay money to enter? Maybe they did. What they actually mean is that just one part of the large botanic gardens has a fee attached to it. You have to pay an entrance fee if you want to visit the Orchid gardens. While they are beautiful, exploring the rest of the enormous Singapore Botanic Gardens is no less gratifying. You can spend a whole day in the area, catch a picnic and enjoy yourself. But I’m not going to talk a lot about it since I already have a detailed article on the location. You can find it below under related articles.
RELATED ARTICLES: The Singapore Botanic Gardens: Walking Through Nature
VISIT ONE OF SINGAPORE’S MANY PARKS
Singapore’s many parks make a great place to take a break in the day.
The Botanic Gardens are just one of the many gardens and parks that dot Singapore’s landscape. It is called the garden city for a reason. In fact, it isn’t just the parks that are green, the city has green corridors that connect each of the parks. This means that the it is an absolute pleasure to walk through the city. Visiting these gardens and parks is free. You can see numerous people out in the morning and the evening exercising, walking or enjoying the general fresh air.
POSE WITH THE MERLION
The Merlion is on most peoples list of things to do in Singapore on a shoestring budget.
I know that posing with the Merlion is a bit cliché, but it is definitely one of those things to do in Singapore. Luckily it is one activity that is free! Head over to the Merlion on Marina bay and take in the scenery around you. I stumbled across the Merlion on a rain day. Hopefully you get a brighter day to visit on. The Merlion next to the Marina bay isn’t the only one that is popular. A larger counterpart exists on Sentosa island. Getting up to the top may cost you a ticket/entrance fee. Clicking a photograph from below is totally free though!
VISIT SENTOSA ISLAND
Sentosa island may not feature on most people’s lists of Singapore on a shoestring budget but it certainly has some free stuff tucked around it.
Since we were on the topic, let’s talk about Sentosa island. Sure, Sentosa ranks high up on everyone’s list as one of those expensive places that drains your pocket. I’m not going to lie to you. It is. Yet there is stuff that you can do for free! No kidding! For example, if you check online, you will find that there is a schedule for free outdoor movies. It happens once every week so keep your eyes peeled. You can head to the beaches. That is free too! Click a pic with the famous Merlion in Sentosa or with the Universal Studios sign. Food can get expensive on the island. I advise packing a picnic lunch. Makes for a memorable day!
RELATED ARTICLES: Sentosa Island In Singapore: Recreation And Fun
WANDER AROUND SINGAPORE’S CHINESE AND JAPANESE GARDENS
You can see why the Japanese and Chinese gardens are so alluring!
You may not have heard about Singapore’s Chinese and Japanese gardens. They aren’t as informative as the botanical gardens, but they certainly are beautiful. I spent a lovely (hot!) Sunday wandering around them. A lot of people head out there to enjoy a picnic or celebrate birthdays. Children seem to enjoy it as well. There is definitely space for everybody and you can quite easily find a quiet spot for yourself.
WATCH THE LIGHT SHOW AT MARINA BAY SANDS
Marina Bay Sands has a deadly reputation. Doing anything there is supposed to put a dent in your budget. The light show however is free for everyone who cares to watch. The show timings for the shows are 20:00 and 21:00. An extra show at 23:00 can be caught on Friday and Saturday. Missed a show and don’t know what to do? Walking around the bay is a cool idea. Or you can think of window shopping in the Marina Bay Sands mall itself.
EXPLORE SINAGPORE’S ETHNIC PAST
The gorgeous old buildings that represent Singapore’s ethnic past.
A lot of different parts of Singapore will take you back in time. The tall straight buildings with the beautiful balconies are all part of the ambiance. It is definitely free to wander around and look. Plus… They make a beautiful backdrop for photographs! My experience with these buildings from the past was on Singapore’s East Coast road. That was till I found myself in a board game café. I have to admit that I am a bit of an addict where board games are concerned.
SINGAPORE TRAVEL GUIDE: Things To Do In Singapore That Come With A Cost
Not everything in life comes free. We do love to travel on a budget, but we also know that every traveller that visit is Singapore on shoestring budget is prone to a bit of indulgence. We know that we are. So, in that sense it is wise to know what other activities are available in the city. Some are more expensive than others. It is important to realize that you should do what you want to do and not do things because everyone else does them.
HAVE FUN AT UNIVERSAL STUDIOS
We had so much fun in Universal Studios.Definitely not part of Singapore on a shoestring budget but oh so worth it!
I have always wanted to visit Universal Studios. That was why it was a no brainer even though Shawn had been there before. The theme park has a lot of exciting things to offer from rides to shows. How long can you spend there? Depending on what you want to do, I would say that you can easily spend an entire day there. We tried to do all the rides and just barely managed to. The trick is to avoid the crowds. How to do that is explained in a rather detailed post that I wrote sometime back. You can find in the related articles below.
RELATED ARTICLES: A Traveller’s Guide To Universal Studios In Singapore
VISIT THE AQUARIUM
The Aquarium on Sentosa island.
Singapore definitely has one of the largest aquariums in the world. It isn’t my favourite place to be, but we visited anyway just out of curiosity. The collection of different sea creatures is quite diverse. It is much larger than any aquarium I have seen anywhere else in the world. It does give people an insight to what diving is like. Hope fully it will encourage people to preserve the biodiversity of the ocean.
LEARN ABOUT THE BIODIVERSITY AT THE SINGAPORE ZOO
This little guy stole my heart!
I definitely like the Singapore zoo better than the aquarium. That might have been largely because I lugged my DSLR along and spent the day trying to take pictures of the animals. That being said, the zoo is large and the enclosures for the animals are also the largest that I have seen. From my stance, the enclosures looked clean. Boards regarding each of the animals were placed at frequent intervals which meant that one can learn as one walks through the zoo. Definitely a place for children and one that adults can enjoy too!
POSE WITH WAX LOOKALIKES AT MADAME TUSSAUDS
Funky photographs are kind off my thing!
Madame Tussauds is popular all over the world for the realistic wax statues of celebrities. The effort that they take to make sure that the statues resemble the actual person is mind-blowing and so is the outcome. The Madame Tussauds wax museum in Singapore is located on Sentosa island. If you do head there then don’t forget to take a few quirky shots!
EAT AT A MICHELIN STAR RESTAURANT
Singapore is full of gourmet restaurants. Famous chefs and their brands dot the city so you can pretty much get an amazing meal if you are willing to pay for it. A number of the restaurants have been awarded Michelin stars. Check out the Michelin Guide to Singapore and select a restaurant based on which cuisine you would like to try. Bear in mind that these restaurants get costly. If you would like to dine Michelin style and not pay an arm and a leg for it, then head to Hawker Chan in Chinatown. The food gets over quickly so try to reach there early but on the plus side you can get an amazing meal for around 5 SGD.
SINGAPORE TRAVEL GUIDE: Accessories You Should Carry
Whether you are in Singapore on a shoestring budget or you are enjoying a mode of luxury travel, one thing is certain. That is that there are certain accessories that you should consider carrying when heading into the country. This is largely to do with Singapore’s tropical climate. Despite being used to the tropical climate we forgot a few items and had to buy them in the city. Hopefully our Singapore Travel Guide will ensure that you don’t make the same mistakes that we did.
I carried a windcheater when travelling largely because it is part of the list of things that I always travel with. Airports are cold, and it comes in handy. The rain in Singapore however isn’t just a mild shower. It can come down by the torrents. Another point to note was that it comes down rather suddenly. So, I found that an umbrella was a better option. No matter what you pick, ensure that you carry it on those cloudy days or you will find yourself huddled in a shop waiting for a storm to pass.
Believe it or not, the rain is also quickly followed by the sun. While it may feel like a respite because it means that you can roam around easily and get those beautiful photographs, the sun can get hot. The hotter it gets the worse for you so a bottle of sunscreen that you are not allergic to will be your biggest friend! It sure was mine!
Day one and its cloudy. I left my sunglasses at home. Sure enough, it began to pour mid-day. That was followed by the delightful sun peeping out to great me but after the cloudy weather, the sun was not as welcome as you might think largely because I hadn’t packed my sunglasses that day.
Carry water and make sure not to litter. Singapore has strict rules about littering and besides it isn’t nice! I prefer carrying my water bottle which I can refill and one that keeps my water cool. It is important to stay rehydrated. With the hot humid climate of Singapore, one tends to sweat a lot and if you don’t watch out you can get dehydrated very easily.
Singapore is an amazing place for people all walks of life. It is a city that is easy to explore and if you know how then doing Singapore on a shoestring budget isn’t an issue. That being said, it isn’t the cheapest country in South East Asia and you will find plenty of exotic (and not so exotic) opportunities to deviate from your budget. The best part about the city is that you will find that it has something for everyone so the temptation is all too real!