10 More Free Things to do in Singapore (pt 3)
Just when I think Singapore can’t get any better, I visit again and discover even more great places to go and things to do. Some are things I just hadn’t yet discovered. But most are new places, new events or new activities that have been created since my last visit.
Singapore is constantly growing and developing, due to a well-organized long-term development plan for the entire country, which includes ever-expanding natural, leisure and public spaces; great architectural projects; and environmentally sustainable development.
When I visited earlier this year, I enjoyed so many new adventures that I couldn’t help but write yet another post with 10 Free things to do in the best city in the world. Many of them take place around Singapore’s new Marina Bay Sands complex and neighboring parkland spaces. A few are located in other parts of Singapore.
Starting at Marina Bay, here are some great new things to do for free in Singapore:
Marina Bay City Gallery
This is a branch of Singapore’s URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority), the organization responsible for Singapore’s long-term planning and growth. While the main URA gallery in Chinatown showcases overall Singapore planning, the Marina Bay Gallery focuses solely on the new Marina Bay area.
This gallery displays a huge 3-D map/model of Marina Bay that has descriptions of the Bay’s main points of interest and several fun interactive displays where visitors can learn the history of the bay region, how the bay is being developed, and fun things to do.
The Gallery building itself was designed and built with several eco-friendly environmentally sustainable features including LED lights, solar panels and floor to ceiling walls of glass which greatly reduce the amount of electricity required.
Marina Bay 5 Walking Tours
URA has laid out 5 different walking tours around Marina Bay, each focusing on a particular theme: architecture, running paths, public art, heritage buildings and the waterfront. Informative brochures for each theme give distances, expected walking/running times, and points of interest along the route. Distances are 4-6 km, tour times about one hour.
Each tour showcases 12-20 points of interest. Each feature is illustrated in the brochure with a photo and a description. The self-guided tours are a fantastic way to observe things you might have otherwise missed and to learn about Singapore’s iconic buildings, history and newest additions to the city.
Three running trails are suggested, ranging from 3.5 km to 9.5 km. Singaporeans are really taking advantage of their new public running spaces! You’ll see dozens of joggers around Marina Bay every evening.
Marina Bay Nighttime Water-Laser show
Every evening at 8 pm and 9:30 pm Marina Bay presents a phenomenal, state-of-the-art multimedia water front show that encompasses video, music, laser lights, blasting water and fireworks. According to their website, the original music score was created and recorded by a 140-piece orchestra. The complete presentation took 3 years and 100 specialists to pull together. With all that preparation, it’s not surprising to hear it’s the largest light / water show in SE Asia.
If you’re anywhere around Marina Bay during show times, including across the bay at the Merlion, the Esplanade or One Fullerton Place, you can’t fail to notice something exiting happening over at Marina Bay Sands waterfront. Rather than wonder what’s happening and miss a very cool show, plan to be over there during show time one evening. Most people sit on the outdoor stone steps provided.
Friday and Saturday nights there’s a third show at 11 pm. Be sure to catch the show at least once while you’re in town. Although I personally found the theme pretty cheesy, the technical wizardry is pretty spectacular.
Super Trees and botanic gardens
Singapore’s new high-tech Supertrees mimic functions of real trees, including producing energy (via solar panels), catching rain water, moderating temperatures and providing shade. The 18 steel-structured Supertrees, ranging in height from 25-50 M (80-160 ft), are covered in vines, flowers and ferns. They create a unique and impressive, lush forest on reclaimed land at the gorgeously landscaped Bay Gardens South.
Eleven Supertrees are fitted with solar panels. Several others serve as air exhaust receptacles for the two nearby plant conservatories, dubbed Flower Dome and Cloud Forest. Still others have large rain water catchments. A sky walkway connects two of the Supertrees, offering spectacular views over the gardens and the city. One of the 50 M trees has a restaurant on top.
Entrance to Bay Gardens South is free. Visitors are welcome to stroll around the extensive landscaped gardens and admire the Supertrees from ground level. On the other hand, the two conservatories and Supertrees skywalk have entrance fees. Marina Barrage (below) is also located within Bay Gardens South, further out along Singapore’s outer harbor.
Marina Barrage is a unique eco-friendly building featuring a wide spiraling roof of grass that creates a giant open field on top of the building. It’s been designed with Singapore’s youth in mind as a place to fly kites, have picnics and generally hang out.
There are phenomenal views of Singapore, the outer harbor and the immediately surrounding botanical gardens from the roof.
Bay East Gardens
Bay East Gardens and Bay Gardens South are both part of the larger Gardens at the Bay Botanical Gardens, all recently opened in 2012.
Bay East Gardens lie across the canal from Bay Gardens South and the Marina Bay Sands complex. The beautifully-landscaped East Gardens run along the canal for two km, offering paved pathways and open fields for walking, jogging, cycling and relaxing. There are also stunning views of Singapore and the outer harbor from the gardens.
Gardens South and East are connected by a pedestrian bridge at Marina Barrage, out at the far end of Gardens South. The gardens are so large that it would be easy to spend a half day or full day strolling around, admiring landscaping and city views, picnic-ing, photographing or exercising.
Free Rooftop City Views – Orchard Central Shopping Mall
Quite to my astonishment, a passing tourist turned me on to this amazing free spot to enjoy sweeping views over Singapore city. While I was standing on Orchard Road one afternoon examining the crazy escalators placed on the outside of Orchard Central Shopping Mall, a woman noticed me and stopped to fill me in on her own great discovery.
She told me to go up to the roof and view the city for free. “Who needs to pay $20 to go up to Marina Bay Sands Hotel observatory when you can see the city here?” she exclaimed.
As soon as I had a chance, I went up to see for myself. I thank that woman to this day for her great discovery: sweeping views of Singapore in all directions, all the way to the harbor, to Marina Bay, to Sentosa island, inland towards Malaysia and the immediate area of skyscrapers around Orchard Road.
Stunning sunsets unfold there at dusk. Orchard Central’s outside-the-building escalator ride up to the roof is cool, too.
Hike the Southern Ridges
I discovered the extensive southern ridge hiking trails this year from URA’s informative pamphlet, ‘Rediscover Singapore’.
URA is bent on a serious mission to incorporate more natural spaces and outdoor activities into Singaporean life. Several projects are slowly connecting various parts of the country via walking, hiking and cycling trails. The Southern Ridges region is one of those projects.
They’ve already connected Mt Faber as far as Labrador Nature Reserve. And they’ve done it with quite a flare! There’s an extensive section of elevated walkways through a forest, an award-winning bridge over a major highway, a huge horticultural park and gardening center, a jungle canopy walk and another beautifully-designed over-highway bridge connecting these once separate areas. When the project is complete, the walkways will continue all the way to Harbor Front area at the coast near Sentosa Island.
As of mid 2012 you can easily hike 2-3 hours in each direction, which will give just about anyone but die-hard mountain climbers a good work out entirely surrounded by nature in the middle of the city.
I started my hike on top of Mt Faber along the Faber Hill Loop. That connects to Henderson Waves, the uniquely designed wood-lined pedestrian bridge arcing 36 M above a major freeway. From there I enjoyed a lovely jungly hilltop walk on Telok Blangah Hill Park. That gives way to my favorite park of the hike, dubbed the Forest Walk, which is an extensive system of elevated steel scaffolding-like walkways and stairs set at the level of the tree tops.
Next came Alexandra Arch, a graceful curvy steel bridge, which leads to a long walk through extensive landscaped gardens at the horticultural center. Finally I reached the Canopy Walk through more lush forest.
I could have continued further, but I’d had enough for the day. I walked 5.5 km in each direction, 11 km total (6+ miles), which took about one and a half hours in each direction.
Get detailed info for each section of the hike and free download maps/descriptions at Singapore National Parks website.
Haw Par Village
As I mentioned in my post Five Unique Things to do in Singapore, Haw Par Village is a park you’ll find nowhere else on the planet! It’s a unique attraction that I visited on my very first trip to the country back in 1992.
The entire park is so unbelievably kitsch, ridiculous, and over-the-top, that I spent an entire morning with my jaw agape and eyes bulging, while I gasped, “ohhh!” and “Look at that!” and Holy SH**” to my companion.
Har Paw Garden was built by the same Chinese Singaporean brothers who invented the wonderful, multi-purpose Tiger Balm ointment. I personally swear by Tiger Balm, which I regularly use for sore muscles, insect and marine stings, headaches, and all manor of minor skin irritations. I carry it with me on all my travels.
On the other hand, I certainly would not want to immerse myself in their Haw Par Villa on a regular basis! But it’s definitely worth one visit while you’re in Singapore, especially considering the entry is free! Go on out there- you’ll be amazed.
Which of these activities would you most like to do in Singapore?
Do you know any other great free things to do in Singapore? Share here!
If you found this post useful, you’ll love my FREE eBook, 100 Free Things to do in Asia. It describes 10 free things to do in 10 different Asian cities and destinations.
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For more great free things to do in Singapore, check out my 2 previous posts: