Sometimes, it’s almost difficult to call Singapore a “hometown.” The city’s transformation is so rapid that areas I’ve known for years are quickly rendered unrecognizable.
Every time I return, I get to play tourist for a few days, checking out whatever mind-blowing new constructions the city has decided to create. For example, on this trip I got to see these two incredible new tourist attractions that weren’t around 15 months ago:
Gardens by the Bay, complete with massive “Supertrees” and a mountain inside of a glass dome that generates its own “cloud.”
S.E.A. Aquarium, the world’s largest aquarium with views so wide you feel like you’re standing under the ocean.
These places are crazy, right?! And while I love these bombastic attractions, I’ve had some really great moments exploring places in Singapore that weren’t listed in the guidebooks. These places were cheap (or free), not crowded, and absolutely wonderful. They’re such gems that I felt like I had to share them with my friends. So, the next time you’re in Singapore, and you need a break from spending money at all the expensive tourist attractions, check some of these places out.
1. Singapore City Gallery
This was, hands down, my favorite “attraction” in Singapore. It features one of the largest architectural models in the world – a complete rendering of central Singapore, with each skyscraper painstakingly replicated. What I loved most about this gallery were exhibits, which explained the thought process behind the urban development Singapore. The government has a “master plan” that they are executing over the next 40 years, and the galleries explain in detail the thought process behind encouraging healthy lifestyles, recycling water, minimizing energy usage, reclaiming land, mandating the “greening” of skyscrapers – basically, how a tiny country the size of 275 square miles can support a booming economy and a growing population (estimated at 6 million in the next few years). We spent about 2-3 hours here, and I would definitely go back again.
Singapore City Gallery, 45 Maxwell Road. Free admission.
2. Southern Ridges Trail
Speaking of the government’s “master plan,” they completed a beautiful Southern Ridges trail a few years ago, which is a 6-mile long trail that connects three parks in Singapore. As with all things the government does, it’s architecturally interesting, with stunning bridges and treetop walks along the way, as well as an educational “HortPark.” In some ways, it reminds me of the New York City high line.
My dad and I took a short walk along the trail this morning starting at Mount Faber Park, and it was simply beautiful. I can’t wait to go back and walk the whole thing!
Southern Ridges trail, free admission. Full trail map.
3. Not-The-Sands Infinity Pool
Singapore has always been obsessed with infinity pools – I was seeing them even when I lived here 10 years ago. But, the Marina Bay Sands infinity pool, with its epic view of the city, has made the infinity pool an obsession for any luxury traveler in Singapore. However, there are plenty of less-crowded pools to visit besides the Marina Bay Sands.
The Quincy Hotel (left) – There’s no visual trickery here, with this pool you are literally swimming off the side of a building. You can check out the view from the glass panels under water. Photo courtesy of The Quincy Hotel.
Naumi Hotel Singapore (right) – Lots of places describe this as a “hidden gem,” and these photos will win you over. It’s a beautiful little boutique hotel featuring an infinity pool with a stellar view of Singapore’s skyline. Photo courtesy of DestinAsia.
The Westin Singapore (that’s me, above!)– For New Year’s, Jared and I checked into this brand new hotel, which just opened roughly 3 months ago. The rooms were beautiful and enormous, and the bathroom felt just like a spa. The infinity pool was so private – there was hardly anyone there while we enjoyed the view.
4. Ghim Moh Food Centre
Singapore is often touted as Asia’s “Food Capital,” and I feel an enormous sense of pride whenever I see its culinary traditions make its way over to the U.S., like when Top Chef’s finale was held in Singapore, when CNN wrote about “40 Singapore Foods We Can’t Live Without,” or when my former classmate wrote about “27 Reasons Singapore Is The Most Delicious Place On Earth” on Buzzfeed (it took over my Facebook wall for about a week).
So, it’s absolutely amazing when my boyfriend Jared visits Singapore, picks up a Makansutra guide, and whisks me away to all sorts of top rated food stalls, restaurants in Little India, and delicious Thai places around the city. But what stunned me the most was when he took me to a massive hawker center that I didn’t know about – one that was literally a 15 minute walk from my parents’ house: the Ghim Moh Hawker Centre.
Maybe this spot isn’t marked on the tourist books because the “Hawker Centre” section is already crowded with the Maxwell Road, Newton Circus, and Lau Pa Sat. But in my opinion, this one is just as good, if not better. And it’s right by home!
We stopped by Ghim Moh on a Sunday morning for roti prata and egg prata breakfast, but we stayed to walk around. We were stunned to see such a huge range of hawker stalls – you could get any kind of local food you wanted. Pair that with a bustling wet market and shops nearby, and we spent a good hour wandering the area. If you do visit this area, here’s Makansutra’s list of the 5 best stalls.
Ghim Moh Food Centre, 20 Ghim Moh Rd.
5. Singapore Science Centre Laser Maze
Remember when Catherine Zeta-Jones navigates through the lasers in Entrapment? You can try your hand at this at the Singapore Science Centre – and you don’t even need admission tickets to try it (the kiosk is outside). To play, you choose from 3 levels (beginner, medium, hard), and then you enter a black room. The green laser beams turn on, and you have to navigate through the room without touching a beam. At the end, your score is tallied by how many beams you broke, and how quickly you were able to complete the maze. This was so challenging, unique, and so much fun – we ended up doing the maze 4 times. There were no lines, and it felt like we were in some diamond heist movie. :)
Singapore Science Centre, 15 Science Centre Road. $5 per person for 2 runs, admission tickets not required.