So, you’re looking at stopping off in Singapore? Wonderful choice!
It’s easy to push Singapore to the back of your mind as its often overlooked as a stop off point on your trip to South East Asia. But Singapore has much to offer for backpackers on a budget, never underestimate this small diamond shaped island.
Of course you can spend 24 hours here on a stopover, but you can truly explore the whole island over a month. After calling Singapore home for 6 months I learned a thing or two about all the incredible things you can get up to in this amazing city on a budget.
Dive in and out of this guide and have a blast, I hope you manage to have as much fun as I did on this incredibly awesome Island!
First of all, Singapore might come across as rather strict with all its rules and regulations, but you’re quickly learn that Singapore is an extremely friendly nation that’s blended up of many cultures and expats from all over the globe. With these rules its easy to see why they have them, they just work and the city is one of the safest places I’ve travelled to which makes it a perfect destination for first time backpackers.
Singaporeans are very friendly people and always greet you with a smile, they are happy to help you out with your questions or interested in taking you to a tasty hawker market to show off all the great culinary foods they have to offer.
Travel from the airport and around the city
Very affordable in Singapore and well controlled. You’re looking at spending around $20-$30 to get to and from the airport to a hotel based in the city centre. It can be the easiest option if you are in a group of 4 or if you have a late flight. General journeys from the city will set you back $6-8 to get around.
The busses are well connected to other parts of Singapore that are not well connected by MRT. Check out gothere.sg for bus routes, very handy Smart phone also to have at hand if you have a wifi connection that most hotels/hostels have on offer.
MRT (Metro System)
The most popular way to get around Singapore for backpackers in a budget is using the MRT system. It’s well connected around the island as well as to the airport if you have enough time to spare. It’s cheap, well air conditioned and its easy to use. Prices are charged per distance and to get to the airport would cost you $3-4 which is not a lot. You can buy a temporary MRT card from the airport MRT station. Be sure to return the card at the end of your stay to get back the card deposit.
Most of Singapore is located or easily accessed from the city centre, it’s within walking distance if you have a lot of time to play with, just be warned that J-walking is against the law, so wait for the green light and use tunnels and crossing bridges to get to the other side more easily.
24 hour Singapore Espresso tour
If you happen to be short of time and only have a day to spare on a stop over, not to worry, you can still cover a lot of the city in one day. I recommend grabbing a Hop on Hop off tour ticket. The ticket covers 3 buses and you’re able to sit back, relax and take in all of the city. I know they are very touristy, but in Singapore it just works, you can pretty much cover everything for one affordable price. Many Hostels sell the Pass for a discount, so be sure to ask the reception if they have an offer.
If you still have some time to play with, you can walk around China town and Little India as an added addition, each spot takes around 2 hours to explore and is part of the hop off hop on route.
To top it all off if you’re still around in the evening, a walk around the beautiful Marina bay is worth every minute, following this route you can cover many different sides to Singaore in a short period of time.
If you have lots of time, grab a map and take the MRT.
Nice Weekend away
Got some more time to play with? Perfect! Singapore can be small but if you have more time you can still spend a month exploring all the hidden gems this city has to offer. Over a weekend you can cover the 24 hour plan, but spread the route out over a few days as it’s a lot to take in over a short period of time, but over a weekend you can cover it with a much better pace.
Marina Bay – part of Singapore’s newest development the Marina is magical at night time when all the sky scrapers light up and glimmer on the water below. See the Merlion doing what it does best and don’t miss a visit to the top of the marina bay sands to check out the infinity pool, its truly breath taking. At night time you can also discover a water display which is held every day at 20:00 at the Marina.
A new addition to Singapore is The Gardens by the Bay, its free to walk around the garden area and totally worth the visit to explore all the different varieties of flowers they have on offer from around the world and Singapore.
Chinatown – decked out with shop fronts a truly magical place and a great opportunity to buy gifts for back home. Check out the temple at the end and cross the road to explore Maxwell food court. If you’re lucky to be visiting the same time as Mid-Autumn Moon festival be sure to try some Mooncake which is a very popular tradition in Singapore.
Little India – Gets very busy on the weekend’s when the local workers of Singapore go back to buy their weekly shopping, but can be a nice experience to explore and smell all the interesting spices on sale. Check out the temples on route and do a bit of shopping any time in the day at Mustafa centre, its open 24 hours!
Botanic gardens – lovely on a nice summers day a great park to walk around when you fancy getting over some jet lag or when you fancy a lazy day. With turtles swimming around in the lakes and tropical Asian flowers on display it’s not to be missed if you want a day to just simply relax.
Arab street – if you want to shop around for some authentic carpets or grab a Shisha pipe, the Arab street is the place to be, with Arabic food on offer its a place to visit if you want to grab some evening entertainment. The mosque is not to be missed as well and looks great in the moonlight. I like to come here in the evenings and grab some Ginger tea.
Long Weekend extravaganza, I’ve got all the time in the world tour.
Palau Ubin – One of Singapore’s untouched island, get a cheap bum-boat over to the island located close from Changi airport you can rent a bike for half a day and cycle around and explore the old time feel of Singapore with the local huts and jungle like scenery. It’s extremely hard these days to get a feel what Singapore was like in the past with all its modern developments, but this island is like going back in a time and grabbing a glimpse of what Singapore used to be like in the past.
Chinese gardens – easy to get to with its own MRT station the gardens can be enjoyed all day with its peaceful surroundings and even better at night time when lanterns are lit up and it has a magical feel
Singapore Zoo – Built up of three (soon to be 4) parks you can spend a whole day here and its extremely great value if you buy the three park pass which you can use to access any of the parks once over the space of a month. Many hostels offer a bus transfer service to the park or you can take public transport, it just requires a bus transfer and takes around 50 minutes to reach the park area.
If you’re able to do it the zoo offers an affordable breakfast buffet which you can book in advance on their website and allows you to enter the park early and have breakfast with the orangutans, truly incredible experience. The bird park also offers many great bird shows and the night safari is unique to Singapore and can be done at the end of the day.
Kuso Island can be reached by Marina Bay by a specially made boat, the island has a lot to explore and is a nice escape from the city life, also great views of the skyline on the way back, makes for a perfect day full of fun.
Sentosa island – connected by its own Monorail system from Harbor front MRT, you will be whisked away to Singapore’s all inclusive family visitor resort. Packed with white sand beaches (sand from Malaysia!) and bars it also houses a universal studios and a hard rock cafe as well.
Many other activities also to enjoy on Sentosta island such as Segway course, Sky diving arena, butterfly centre and much much more. Be sure to check out the cable cart which can bring you back to Singapore’s mainland and bring you to Mount Faber which has some great views!
Haw Par Villa is free to enter but difficult to get to, once you are there you can experience something fun and unique to Singapore, its a bit dated, but weird and wonderful at the same time. It was set up by the guy who created Tiger Balm and wanted to give something back to Singapore. It’s full of these colourful statues that tell stories to kids about why they should be good to their parents or terrible things will happen. At some points it’s extremely weird and scary, but fun to explore if you have a free day and want to do something unique and different.
East Coast Park is only a short taxi ride from Marina Bay and offers a host of fun activities to do during the day. Rent a bike and cycle along the coastal stretch as well as stopping off and soaking in some sun along the beach. Be sure to also check out the Seafood restaurants here in the evening to try some authentic Singaporean Chili Crab.
Bukit Timar – A Fun nature reserve to explore, especially if you can hike up the Sumit, just a little tip, check the weather as it can rain buckets down onto this place, best to go along with 3 others from your hostel and split on a taxi as its hard to reach but affordable with others. The hike (well more like a walk) has easy to follow posted trails for all different levels, I did manage to do it in Flip flops, but best to wear some more suitable footwear as some areas of the trail can be extremely steep.
Shop till I’m dropping
Singaporeans love to shop, this is mostly because all the shopping areas are well air conditioned, on a hot day its one place you want to hang out.
For the best shopping, head to Orchard shopping road, its Singapores answer to 5th avenue or London’s Oxford street. Here you can truly shop, shop, shop till you drop, it’s not to be missed for any Shopaholic.
Vivo shopping centre is the largest indoor shopping mall in Singapore. It’s easily connected to the harbor front MRT and close to Sentosa island. Has all your shopping needs that you would be looking for all under one roof.
For bargain hunters, Bugis has a lot of cheap shopping to be found with a big arcade selling all sorts that lead to a more up market shopping complex. There is a lot to buy in this area, end the day with a mint Tea and Shisha pipe along close by the Arab street.
Chinatown has a lovely heritage area covered with shop fronts selling all sorts from fridge magnets of Singapore to authentic Chinese chop stick sets, perfect if you’re buying gifts for friends and family back home.
Sim Lim Centre is the place to find all your technology needs. For the biggest slection of electronics at affordable prices this is the place you want to be. Perfect place to get your camera fixed, buy a cheap replacement battery, buy a memory card or buy an affordable tablet/laptop. Be careful not to get ripped off and bargaining is encouraged here.
Mustafa Centre is located at the end of Little India (MRT Farrer park) this 6 building 5 floor centre is open to the public 24/7 and never closes, so shop till you drop any time of the day and one of the best places to pick up a bargain as all the items are marked down set price. Great for buying stuff you need like health products you have run out of.
Give me food, wonderful food!
Singapore hands down is the best place in the world for Fusion foods. All local Singaporeans consider themselves food critics and if a place is not busy or hustling doesn’t bother even turning up. Do as the Singaporeans do and go to a local food court or hawker centre to get the tastiest of local dishes. It’s not because its cheap that people turn up in their numbers, but its the vendors who make these places buzz with traditional recipes passed down from their routes of cooking with the soul. Your find Indian, Malay, Chinese, Western, Thai, Indonesian and all sorts mixed and blended with each other to make the ultimate dishes.
Food in Singapore is cheap for backpackers on a budget if you choose to stay away from restaurants and stick to Hawker spots.
Just one tip, if an empty table has tissue packets on this is the Singaporean way to reserve a table so it’s already taken, be sure not to annoy the locals with this one, of course you can also place down your own packet of tissues if you want to hold a great spot whilst you wait for your meal to be prepared.
<must check out places
Maxwell Food court – right in the heart of China town this place will never disappoint and is visitor friendly.
James St hawker centre – for the best BBQ head straight to this place, sets on fire at night time and is a popular place for clubbing heading out afterwards to the powerhouse night club, make sure you fuel up before your party the night away.
Newton centre – more of a posh food court than a real hawker, it is however very easy to please the cleanest of Tourists and if dirt scares you then this will be the hot pick for you, full of expats it is a more up market place to eat, but comes at a price but will be easy on the first time stomach, great for families.
Lau Pasat festival food court – located slap bang in the middle of the business district, this is the oldest standing food court in Singapore and looks out of place surrounded by skyscrapers but still adds a nice old charm to Singapore and is a must visit if your looking for a cheap eat close to the marina.
old airport road food centre – the grand daddy of all food courts and your find all the delightful dishes here as well as locals. Very busy during the peak times, but you’re getting a great price and a wonderful meal and the hawker centre which many locals swear as the best
just ask a local – everyone in Singapore has their preferred place to go and they all are unique in their own ways, but if you can get them to take you (treat them to lunch) having a local recommend some dishes is the best experience of all, so go on ask nicely.
must try dishes
With so much choice it can be hard to choose what you want to eat, here is my little guide to some popular dishes you should try:
Roti Prata – Asian Take on Dipping bread, a flat like pancake with a spicy sauce to dip it into, very cheap and easy enough to have for breakfast
Hor Fun – served dry or in a soup and can be added with fish or beef, very tasty and the thick noodles are a must to try for their unique texture.
Kaya toast – this sweet spread on bread tastes like honey, but instead is made with an egg/coconut mixture and goes wonderfully with your breakfast Kopi.
mee rebus – from Malaysia this hot gravy noodle comes across as a green Bolognese and is great as a dinner dish.
porridge – a savory dish is seen as a comfort food for many locals, but is not like the Scottish breakfast dish, normally comes with beef or if your brave, frog.
prawn Dumplings – very cheap and great as a side dish with any meal, be nice and share.
Satay Chicken – from Indonesia this popular BBQ dish comes with a yummy peanut sauce and served with onions and rice cake for your dipping pleasure.
Chili Crab – the true Singaporean Dish and loved by all, dig into this local delight either at the boat quay or east coast. You can try it at Jumbo seafood or the no sign bar. It is a little pricey, but between 3 people your look at spending $45 (depending on the daily catch price which changes daily) and is totally worth it, don’t forget to order the soft or fried buns for dipping in the yummy sauce!
Carrot Cake – more of a spicy Spanish omelet than its mistaken sweeter savory. Nevertheless, it’s still very yummy and gets the senses buzzing if your not used to spicy foods.
Fish Head – worth buying for its novelty picture moment, but still a very tender, tasty dish which is best enjoyed with friends
Curry Puff – a Local snack that is quick to eat and yummy enough to have another one.
Chicken Rice – just as it says and locals love it, tasty easy and simply affordable.
Duck noodle with Plum sauce – my favorite, always around $4, simple and tasty
Egg Tart – sweet and yummy, a treat for all.
Chendol – An Interesting Red bean ice with fruit bits is something unique and interesting to try if you can find it, nice and cooling in the heat and different taste than ice cream.
Durian – a fruit your smell before you see it, a must try for any visitor to South East Asia. It can be off putting at first, but its unique texture and flavor is not to be missed. You can try it in many forms and ice cream is also most enjoyable.
Sour plum – tangy taste which is very refreshing after a long day walking, if it a try if you want to stretch your taste buds
Sugar cane – raw and in its best form, try it with lemon or lime if it’s too sweet
Kopi – Singaporean coffee which is served with condensed milk, worth a try and even better with Ginger.
Bubble tea – can be found all around Singapore and is a popular drink with pearls and what every mixture of tea and sweet flavor you so wish.
Singapore Sling – extremely touristy but if you’re going to Singapore you have to give the whole Raffles hotel experience ago. Head to the long bar and give one a try, you also get as many peanuts as you can eat and don’t be shy to chuck the shells on the floor its sort of a tradition of the long bar.
If you want to shy away from the Singapore sling you can order a Hendrix, it’s made to order, unlike the Singapore sling which is prepared in bulk for all the visitors. Makes for a better drink in my opinion and is almost the same.
If you would like to know some more budget backpacking tips, feel free to check out my friend and fellow blogger Every Steph’s budget guide to Singapore.
I hope you found my guide useful and have an absolute incredible time in Singapore, its a truly unique city which is growing every day, make the most of it and do stop off if you can, it’s totally worth the visit for backpackers on a budget!