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Singapore: A City Worth the Expensive Price Tag?

The island nation of Singapore, located off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, packs a progressive punch while holding true to its melting pot of cultures. The sparkling clean capital of Singapore tempts visitors with creative architecture, bustling hawker centers serving international cuisine, and magnificent orchid gardens.

As one of the most expensive cities in Southeast Asia, budget travelers tend to limit their stay to just a few days. Singapore isn't the best place to linger, especially if you're on a backpacking trip. Brad and I were no exception with our four jam-packed days!

However, there are plenty of free attractions and cheap eats to balance out the sticker shock of hotel and alcohol prices. My advice would be to have accommodations booked and a detailed itinerary before arrival. To help get you started, I've organized things to do in four different categories: free, hawker centers, expensive (worth it), and expensive (kinda worth it).

Free Things to Do

Luckily, my list of free attractions outnumbers the expensive ones! Most of these hotspots don't take up much time, so you can easily fit as many as you want in your schedule. Sarongs are provided at the following temples, but donations are appreciated. Don't forget your camera and snap away!

Merlion Park

One of the best places to see the modern architecture of Singapore is at Merlion Park. Its signature fountain is a Merlion, a mythical creature with a lion head (representing Singapore's original name) and fish body (symbolizing Singapore's origin as a fishing village). The statue is not just a landmark, but an emblem of the city. Playful sea otters munch on fish as glistening skyscrapers reach towards the sky, including the iconic Marina Bay Sands.


Synthetic silk robes, magnets, juicy tropical fruit, keychains, and fragile lanterns create a splash of color in Chinatown! Stroll along the main thoroughfares of Pagoda Street, Smith Street, and Trengganu Street to find cheap souvenirs and tasty snacks. The area is just as much fun at night!

Gorgeous murals can be found all over the city, but Chinatown has an excellent concentration of interactive scenes. Sit down for a hearty feast, sip a cup of tea with the guys, or help the kitchen staff by washing a few dishes. Our quads were feeling the burn while taking these pictures!

Sri Mariamman Temple

The oldest Hindu temple in Singapore is dedicated to the ancient goddess of weather, disease, and fertility. Mariamman is usually depicted with four arms and protruding fangs. One arm grasps her sword while another holds a damaru (an hourglass-shaped drum with a cobra wrapped around it serving as a handle).

Sri Mariamman Temple has a tapering six-tier gopura (entrance tower) covered in themes from Hindu mythology. Plaster sculptures painted in a spectrum of vibrant colors adorn the roofs of the shrines. The god Ganesha, represented as an elephant with four arms, brings good luck and removes obstacles.

Singapore Botanic Gardens

Take a relaxing break from the concrete jungle by reconnecting with Mother Nature at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Manicured paths with dense trees, lily ponds, and exquisite flowers create the perfect hideouts for critters. Keep an eye out for monitor lizards, butterflies, toads, birds, and koi. Try to visit in the early morning to beat the humidity and heat. The gardens span 82 hectares (203 acres)!

Haji Lane

A psychedelic avenue with captivating murals, eclectic boutiques, chill bars, and al fresco restaurants, Haji Lane delivers if you're looking for something a bit weird! Munch on some imported Turkish baklava while you try to dodge the creepy stares of the overhead mannequins. The atmosphere is anything but ordinary!

Garden Rhapsody at Gardens by the Bay

Behold the Supertrees in the most amazing way possible! These 12 towering giants glow at night with bright neon hues. Head to the Gardens by the Bay for a mesmerizing light show with coordinating music. Themes often change depending on the season or holiday.

TIP: Free shows run every day at 7:45 PM and 8:45 PM. Come early to get a prime seat for this must-do activity!

Little India

The cultural enclave of Little India offers a sensory overload with aromatic spices, eye-catching store fronts, and rows of flower garlands. Explore the market stalls containing trinkets, Hindu statues, and finely woven saris. Don't miss Tan Teng Niah, a unique Chinese villa built in 1900. The restored façade has every color of the rainbow!

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple was designed with architectural elements of the Tang Dynasty (the golden age for Chinese arts) and built to safeguard the tooth relic of Buddha. On the lower level in the Universal Wisdom Hall is a statue of Cintamanicakra sitting on a lotus flanked by a pair of dharmapalas (wrathful deities) with flaming dragons.

During our fortuitous visit, the temple was spectacularly decorated with hundreds of pink lanterns for the Hungry Ghost Festival (celebrated during the 7th month of the lunar calendar). Bountiful tables full of food and beverages were set up to appease spirits during their temporary release from Heaven and Hell.

Buddhists and Taoists believe some ghosts wander the Earth to seek revenge and give bad luck (prevented by the offerings). Most participants celebrate the festival to remember and pay tribute to deceased loved ones.

Peranakan Houses

And the award for the prettiest street in Singapore goes to Koon Seng Road with its jaw-dropping Peranakan Houses! Built in 1927, residents believed covering the tall and narrow façades in ceramic tiles with floral motifs and geometric designs would bring prosperity to their families. Some of the pintu pagar (swinging fence doors) feature snarling lions and jolly elephants. You'll be sure to fall in love!

Arab Street

I didn't think we would be going back to Turkey so soon! Running parallel to Haji Lane, Arab Street dazzles with fun murals, mosaic lanterns, woven carpets, and nazars (blue eye protection amulets). Enjoy a çay (tea) or Turkish coffee at one of the restaurants lining the pedestrian zone.

The Sultan Mosque is the main attraction and features a beautiful golden dome, which looks straight out of Disney's Aladdin! Non-muslims are permitted to go inside, but must adhere to a strict dress code otherwise entry will be denied. Women have to conceal their hair with a headscarf. Both men and women need to cover their shoulders and legs.

Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple

Within Little India is the ethereal Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple dedicated to the Hindu goddess Kali. Before crossing the threshold leading to the main shrines, it's customary to ring the little bells on the carved doors. Brad and I were fortunate to witness a puja (worship ritual) during our visit. Musicians played while a pandit (Hindu priest) placed offerings including milk, rice, ghee, and dried foliage into a flaming pit.

Kali (Mother of the Universe) is a major Hindu deity associated with time, change, language, creation, power, destruction, and death. She is often portrayed with blue skin, ten arms, fangs, and a garland of human heads. Kali’s fearsome beauty reinforces her representation of Mother Nature; born from the darkness with a conscious feminine energy able to create and destroy.

Rain Vortex at Jewel Changi Airport

Whether you see the world's biggest indoor waterfall at the beginning or end of your Singapore trip is entirely up to you! This must-see engineering marvel is 40 m (131 ft) tall and recirculates up to 37,850 L (9,999 gal) of rain water per minute to create its impressive free fall. The acrylic funnel below dampens noise and prevents splashing. Take a ride on the tram for a unique perspective.

Joo Chiat Road

Walk along Joo Chiat Road to see fantastic examples of Peranakan architecture. Intricate motifs, wooden shutters, and ornate façades will leave you awestruck! The neighborhood was named after Chew Joo Chiat, a wealthy Chinese landowner who lived during the early 20th Century. The two-story buildings now function as cafés, small businesses, Michelin restaurants, and boutiques.

Hawker Centers

All of the incredible sightseeing will undoubtably make you hungry! For a wide selection of affordable dishes, seek out any of Singapore's hawker centers scattered throughout the city. These massive food courts have rows of stalls serving meals, snacks, and drinks. Our favorites were Maxwell Food Center, Lau Pa Sat, and Albert Center.

Indian, Malay, and Chinese cuisines are the most common and delicious. Be sure to try Singapore's national dish, Hainanese chicken rice. Dim sum, laksa, and stir-fried noodles are hearty options. If you're ever overwhelmed by the choices, join the longest line and order whatever is popular!

TIP: Sit down at any open seat once your food is ready and always clean your table when finished to avoid a fine. Bring plenty of cash and napkins. Bathrooms are usually adjacent to the hawker centers and free of charge.

Expensive (Worth It) Things to Do

The moment has come to open your wallet! Singapore has a variety of activities worth the money depending on your interests. I would gladly pay for the following three experiences again. No regrets!

Skywalk at Gardens by the Bay

Creativity, sustainability, and ingenuity joined forces to construct the Supertree Grove at Gardens by the Bay. Ride the elevator up to access the best outdoor view possible via the 128 m (420 ft) long Skywalk. Vertical gardens with over 200 species of plants including orchids, bromeliads, and ferns cover the futuristic Supertrees.

TIP: The Skywalk is open every day, 9:00 AM-9:00 PM, but closes during inclement weather. Tickets cost $14 SGD ($10 USD) per person.

National Orchid Garden

Admiring thousands of orchids on display at the National Orchid Garden brought happy tears to my eyes! I was blown away by the delicate blooms in various sizes, attractive patterns, and radiant colors. The splendorous garden has indoor/outdoor sections with over 1,000 species and 2,000 hybrids. It's a treasure trove of Mother Nature's most diverse zygomorphic (bilaterally symmetrical) flower!

TIP: The National Orchid Garden (inside of the Singapore Botanic Gardens) is open every day, 8:30 AM-7:00 PM. Tickets cost $15 SGD ($11 USD) per person.

Singapore Sling at Raffles Hotel Long Bar

Pull up a chair at Long Bar to drink the original Singapore Sling cocktail recipe crafted by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon in 1915! The gin-based concoction was made to resemble fruit punch so ladies could openly consume alcohol in public, which at the time was frowned upon due to etiquette rules. Flavors of cherry, pineapple, and lime fuze together to make a refreshing glass of booze!

TIP: Long Bar is open every day, 12:00-10:30 PM. Casual dress is permitted and reservations are not accepted. A Singapore Sling costs $39 SGD ($29 USD) excluding tax and service fees.

Expensive (Kinda Worth It) Things to Do

Unfortunately, I can't 100% recommend the following three attractions due to the hefty costs and large crowds. Brad and I thought each one was a bit overhyped albeit interesting. Weigh the pros and cons before heading to the ticket booth!

Cloud Forest at Gardens by the Bay

Immerse yourself in a lush indoor rainforest complete with a 35 m (115 ft) tall waterfall! Misty clouds, thick ferns, and exotic flowers surround the winding paths leading up to the man-made mountain. The high humidity and cool temperatures help to regulate the Cloud Forest ecosystem within the glass/steel dome. Keep in mind special exhibitions, such as Avatar: The Experience, increase admission prices.

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay

The Flower Dome, next to the Cloud Forest, holds the Guinness World Record for the largest glass greenhouse! Elaborate wooden animal sculptures are intermingled within eight sections showcasing flowers and plants from five continents. Highlights include the African Baobabs, Mediterranean Olive Grove, and Succulent Garden. The main flower display featured orchids during our visit, but changes often to entice customers.

TIP: Admission to the Cloud Forest and Flower Dome is not sold separately. Combined tickets cost $32 SGD ($24 USD) per person. Both areas are open every day, 9:00 AM-9:00 PM. Save these spots for a rainy day or consider going if you don't intend to visit the Singapore Botanic Gardens/National Orchid Garden.

ArtScience Museum

The permanent Future World: Where Art Meets Science exhibition at the ArtScience Museum is a neat digital gallery with interactive installations. Design, technology, color, and sound combine to create hypnotizing three-dimensional spaces. Touch the walls to bring the art to life!

TIP: The ArtScience Museum is open every day, 10:00 AM-7:00 PM. Timed entry tickets cost $30 SGD ($22 USD) per person and often sell out. Arrive early to avoid rambunctious groups of school kids.

The Rundown

So is Singapore worth a trip despite the expensive price tag? Absolutely!

Travelers of all types can customize a visit depending on their budgets and interests. Accommodations are typically the biggest expense. Brad and I found a private room with ensuite bathroom for $114 USD per night at Hotel Clover the Arts. The boutique hotel was comfortable and centrally located in a quiet neighborhood.

Singapore is a safe city to explore as long as you adhere to the strange rules. Don't chew gum, feed the pigeons, jaywalk, litter, or eat/drink on public transit. If you want to squeeze as many sights in as possible, consider using the convenient Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) subway system.

Brad and I enjoyed our trip, but wouldn't need to go back since we completed everything on our bucket list. Journey to one of Southeast Asia's top destinations to experience multiculturalism, tons of good food, historical/modern architecture, and breathtaking green spaces!