A melting pot culture, a swimming pool in the sky and that cocktail: Singapore is without a doubt one of South East Asia’s most cosmopolitan destinations. Quite honestly, I was surprised by just how British Singapore felt. They use the same plug sockets, drive on the left and many of the signs and announcements on public transport are in English. One thing that wasn’t so British? Intense humidity that left me feeling very unglamorous as I tried frantically to comb through my rapidly expanding hair. But you aren’t here to listen to me moan about my frizz problem.
Compared to the relatively cheap backpacker paradises surrounding Singapore, it has a reputation of the region’s sophisticated and expensive neighbour. But if you’re worried that visiting Singapore on a budget is impossible, think again. I’m here to share five tips about how you can get the most of out your money when it comes to flights, accommodation and cheap things to do around the city. If we could do it on our stringent backpacker budget, you can too!
Make it a stopover
There’s no getting around it; long haul flights can be expensive. Singapore is the ideal destination for a city break but with return flights from the UK costing upwards of £300, it can blow a big hole in your budget before you’ve even left the country. But if you’re already planning to visit another long haul destination in the region – The Philippines, for example – combining the two trips can be an efficient solution, in terms of cost, time AND your environmental impact too.
If you have a shorter stopover, Changi airport is pretty awesome and offers 2.5 hour guided city tours so you can get a taste of one of the world’s few city-states. But honestly, while you can get a great glimpse of the city in this time, it’s well worth adding a few days to your trip to immerse yourself in more of the hidden delights Singapore has to offer. If you’re backpacking, it’s often cheap to fly to and from Singapore from almost anywhere so don’t be tempted to skip it as you won’t regret the trip!
Discover the unexpected delight of a capsule hostel
In terms of accommodation, Singapore was by far the most expensive country we visited on our trip around South East Asia. While we could usually grab a private room in a guesthouse for the same price as two dorm beds, space is at a premium in Singapore so most budget accommodation revolves around huge shared rooms. So, if you’re travelling on a budget in Singapore, capsule hostels are where you need to be.
As a bit of a quirky cross between your standard hostel room and a budget ‘pod’ hotel, the rooms are large enough to sleep between 10 and 20 people but rather than your typical bunk bed set up, the space is maximised with a row of sleeping pods. We stayed at Meadows Hostel, a friendly capsule hostel just around the corner from an MRT station. It costs us £22 per night including a free breakfast of toast and orange juice so we saved money on the first meal of the day! Our double pod included a light, plug sockets, a storage locker and a curtain for privacy and I was surprised at how well the set up worked. The usual changing-in-room problems are gone thanks to the curtain, you can socialise when you choose to and you’ve got the convienient option of a single or double pod.
Hop on the MRT
Walking as much as possible is an awesome and free way to discover a new city but if you’ve got limited time, hopping on public transport can leave you with more valuable time for sightseeing. Plus, no judgements here if you just want to enjoy the air con for a few minutes.
Luckily, the public transport in Singapore is fast, efficient and easy to navigate with the MRT rail serving as one of the best ways to get around. The Singapore Tourist Pass gives you unlimited MRT and bus trips for $10 per day so depending on which areas you want to explore, it can be worth investing in one for a day or two instead of paying for individual journeys.
Enjoy delicious cuisine at hawker centres
Did you know that many budget travellers spurn restaurants altogether in Singapore? Hawker centres are the place to be for fresh, tasty food on a budget and the melting pot of culture’s in the city definitely translates to the food too. As vegetarians, we struggled a little more with this and if we were to visit again, I’d definitely do some more specific research to make sure we found the best centres for veggie friendly dishes. But generally, follow the rule of thumb of ‘the longer the queue, the better the food’ and you’ll be off to a great start.
Singapore is also home to the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred meal at an unremakrable street food stall named Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle! You may have a long wait in line but from what the critics say, it’s well worth it!
Free and cheap attractions in Singapore
Marina Bay Sands. Ah, one of the top destinations on my hotel bucket list. It can get really pricey around here, particularly if you want to splash out on a stay for the chance to use the world-famous rooftop infinity pool, but you can still spend time at the Marina Bay complex even if you are exploring Singapore on a budget. Head up to the rooftop bar where you can enjoy incredible views of the city for the price of a drink or, if you prefer to keep your feet on the ground, the huge shopping complex has some quirky stores like a superhero themed cafe to check out. The best bit? A free, high tec light show at 8pm and 9pm daily.
The ArtScience museum is also located just outside the complex and they have some great exhibitions slightly outside of the norm here. We tried to visit the interactive ‘Into the Wild’ exhibition but unfortunately, it was all sold out AND the Insta-famous ‘Future World’ exhibition was undergoing renovations during our stay but from what I’ve read, it could be worth the money to check these out.
Neighbourhoods with Character. The modern, sophisticated city has hidden depths and exploring the different neighbours reveals a variety of unexpected delights. The architecture varies from towering skyscrapers in the business district to colourful buildings in Little India, complete with its own cultural hotspots and thriving foodie scene.
If you’re looking for bustling marketplaces, head to here or Chinatown where you can pick up a whole number of goods on the cheap. We also checked out the hipster neighbourhood of Tiong Bahru where we treated ourself to cakes at the most famous French bakery in Singapore and meandered through the streets in search of quaint bookshops.
Botanic Gardens. It turns out that Jamie and I have a tendency to visit the Botanic Gardens in lots of the cities we visit and I’m not quite sure why. Maybe it’s something about a vast, green space in the heart of a city that draws us in but the gardens here are lovely for a chilled out walk away from the crowds.
Gardens by the Bay. Modern tech and natural beauty come together in Gardens by the Bay, an attraction that’s so distinctive of Singapore’s quirky character. You’ll almost certainly recognise the iconic tree-like structures that light up for a wonderful music show at 7.45pm and 8.45pm daily. You’ll have to pay if you want to explore indoor areas like the Cloud Forest but there’s so many quirky installations throughout the park that it’s not a necessity.
Sentosa Island. It’s pretty incredible to think that there’s a beach just fifteen minutes from this modern city but it’s true. Sentosa Island basically seems like a giant playground with enough activities to keep you entertained for days. From eco Segway tours to a digital media playground, it’s definitely a place where you could blow a ton of money – it’s even home to Universal Studios Singapore! But even if you just take a towel to chill out on the beach, it’s got to be worth the MRT journey to check it out.
I hope this guide has helped if you’re looking for cheap and free things to do in Singapore! While it’s definitely on the pricer side than other South East Asian cities, a holiday here doesn’t have to cost a fortune and I hope that you fall in love with it as much as I did, even if you are visiting Singapore on a budget. If you have any questions, do feel free to comment below or just let me know if you’re planning a trip!
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