With a population of over five million, Singapore is second only to Monaco as the world’s most densely populated country. Undoubtedly one of the safest Asian cities and arguably the cleanest of them all, Singapore is a unique destination for travellers. It oozes the sophistication and modernity of a European city, whilst retaining the buzz and charm of an Asian metropolis.
The only downside to Singapore is the expense. How can backpackers expect to compete with world bankers and business folks in one of the most expensive cities in Asia? In our backpacking Singapore guide, we tell you the best areas to stay, the top backpacker hostels and an amazing list of things to do on a budget in Singapore, even when you’re on a budget.
Singapore might be the most expensive stopover in Southeast Asia but that doesn’t mean that you need to avoid it.
Singapore Map & Resources
Best Time to Visit Singapore
Singapore is known as a year-round destination. It experiences tropical weather meaning that it is hot and humid across the calendar. If you are looking for mostly dry days, you are advised to visit Singapore in the months of February, March and April. These months typically present the sunniest days with the least rainfall.
Where to Stay in Singapore
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Culture vultures on a tight budget will be intrigued by the quaint oriental charm of Chinatown, an area where the Chinese settled and traded and kept alive the real China. As one of the world’s oldest and largest Chinatowns, there is plenty to see here, including numerous temples and traditional roadside stalls selling Chinese wares.
Explore the many mysterious old medicine shops and sample some delicious food from the hawkers. You get plenty of cheap hostels here as well as luxury and mid-range business hotels. Visit the Buddha Tooth Relic to learn more about the local culture or visit the sprawling night market to enjoy some cheap eats.
Aim to be here for Chinese New Year (usually January or February) for a spectacular treat, celebrations last a whopping 42 days! Head here for reasonable budget accommodation and a short walk to Smith Street for a bowl of ah balling peanut soup, at a tiny (especially for Singapore!) 50 cents.
Little India, Singapore
Singapore’s most bustling district is also arguably its most colourful. At only 25 minutes’ taxi from Changi Airport, Serangoon Road is the main drag, with most of the city’s budget accommodation being found here. Be warned, while cheap accommodation is great for the wallet, you should be prepared to compromise on cleanliness and comfort for the lowest prices!
If you don’t mind crowded streets and find solace in bustling bazaars and curry houses then you will connect with the vibrancy of Little India instantly. You will find cheap food, fashion, electronics, and quirky nightlife. This area is so compact that you can explore it all on foot.
Stick to the Indian grub and you’ll find it’s spicy and cheap, perhaps because Indian eating etiquette is followed and cutlery is not provided (but be sure to eat only with your right hand!). There is one exception for which a spoon is provided… after all, who could resist a bowl of Little India’s speciality dish, fish head soup?
Bugis (Arab Street)
Connected to the airport via the east-west MRT line, Bugis is an easy commute on the day of your arrival and departure. The area is around 25 min away from the city centre and is home to the Muslim population of Singapore.
Known as Singapore’s arts and heritage hub you can explore many museums and monuments here (especially the brilliant Sultan Mosque) during the day and unwind in the evening at many of its boutique cafes and bars or check out the Bugis Street Market. This is one of the most pocket-friendly areas in the city.
There are some decent backpacker hostels cropping up in this area where you can find clean, comfortable backpacker dorms at good prices. Most hostels come with free WiFi and you may even get breakfast thrown in too!
In Bugis (and the area of Arab Street) you’ll find some great value eateries, shisha smoking venues and a lively atmosphere. It is fast becoming one of the most popular places for backpackers to stay in Singapore.
Next to Bugis, you’ll find Lavender. If Universal Studios is high on your Singapore wishlist, consider staying on Lavender Street. Shining a light to the former Arabic and Muslim settlers, Kampong Glam was the area where these people settled after arriving in the city.
Located quite close to Little India, this place is pretty sorted connectivity-wise and like the other outer neighbourhood areas of Singapore, it oozes culture and quaint character. Explore many of its hipster coffee houses and cafes and eat some delicious Arabic cuisine.
Chilled by day and a fierce party pit by night, Clarke Quay sits at the river’s mouth offering a very cosmopolitan atmosphere. All the famous nightclubs of Singapore can be found in this centrally located area.
Marina Bay is also just a few steps away! Not only does this place have good places to stay on a budget but with its day-long happy hours on food and drink, it becomes a lucrative spot for any backpacker and hostel-hopper.
Orchard Road Singapore
If you want to be right in the thick of it, Orchard Road is Singapore’s shopping mecca with numerous nightclubs for the night owls amongst us. Exceedingly upmarket and therefore extremely pricey, Orchard, as the area is often referred to, is not great for a backpacker budget.
Stay here only if Mum and Dad come to visit and fancy treating their wayward backpacking child to a luxurious 5-star hotel. 😉 The area underwent a whopping $40 million revamp in 2009, so expect a perfect vision of modernity.
Best Places to Stay in Singapore – Top Accommodation Options!
With accommodation at the highest price you will find pretty much anywhere in Southeast Asia, many travellers tend to spend only a few days in Singapore before catching a cheap flight to Thailand or Oz. It doesn’t have to be this way though! There are plenty of backpacker hostels in Singapore, most of which offer high levels of cleanliness and that all-important travel buzz!
The cosy décor and comfortable setting at Atelier will make you feel right at home. With comfortable beds and plenty of soft seating in both the dorm rooms and common areas, it might be hard to drag yourself away from the hostel to explore the city! The staff are friendly and breakfast is included in the price.
Quirkily decorated, The Bohemian, offers basic bunk dorm rooms or, for just a few dollars extra, dorms with capsule beds which each have an individual TV, complete with Netflix! The games room and shared lounge creates a social atmosphere and the friendly staff are highly rated by the guests. The price includes free breakfast and toiletries.
The space-themed Galaxy Pods @ Chinatown offer great privacy and a fun environment to sleep in. Each pod has individual air conditioning controlled by a wall panel as well as a TV. The double capsules offer good value for money for those sharing, or for a little extra, you can get a private room.
Wink at McCallum Street has single-sex dorms as well as mixed dorms featuring double pods – perfect for couples or travel buddies. Stylishly decorated, with large capsules and slippers included, it makes a comfortable place to stay. Continental breakfast is included in the price. They also have sister hostels at Mosque Street and Upper Cross Street.
Rucksack Inn @ Temple St is cheap and cheerful. The bunk beds here have no privacy curtains, but you can choose between an upper and a lower bunk when booking. Dorm sizes range between 4 and 10 bed and there are female-only options too.
7 Wonders Hostel at Upper Dickson is great for those on a shoestring budget. The mixed dorms are basic but clean and the shared kitchen and washing machine are great facilities for saving a few extra dollars.
For those on the tightest of budgets, Campbell Inn has 12-bed mixed dorm rooms. The facilities are very basic but you can’t argue with the price.
Snooze Inn @ Dunlop Street offers cheap beds in a good location but is perhaps not the cleanest or most comfortable hostel you will ever stay in. It has small dorms, 4 or 6-bed, as well as a social area plus a shared computer available to use.
Bugis (Arab Street)
Cheap and cheerful, Backpacker Cozy Corner Guesthouse, offers twin rooms with bunk beds and shared bathrooms. The guesthouse offers good value for money and the great location means that many major sites are within walking distance, plus Bugis MRT station is just a few minutes’ walk away.
The Pod at Beach Road Boutique Capsule Hotel has both mixed and single-sex dorms, including an entire floor dedicated to female-only rooms. The hostel is stylish and the pods are spacious and fitted with blinds providing privacy. There is a good common area and privacy booths for using laptops – great for digital nomads.
MET A Space Pod at Arab Street is another of the space-themed capsule hostels that are seemingly so popular in Singapore. Single and double pods are available and the size and comfort are highly rated, as is the excellent location.
For those searching for a little more luxury, CUBE Boutique Capsule Hotel at Kampong Glam is a good choice set in a great location. There are options of mixed or singe sex dorms as well as single or double capsules. Breakfast is included in the price and there are laundry facilities onsite.
Rucksack Inn at Tyrwhitt is basic but comfortable and features 4, 6 or 10-bed dorms with bunks as well as female-only rooms. The shared lounge is a good space to socialise and there is a kitchenette for preparing your own food, it is also close to hawker centres for cheap and tasty meals.
Highly rated Dream Lodge has capsule beds with privacy curtains with the option of mixed dorms or female-only. There are also double capsules with two single beds. Fruit and cereal are provided for breakfast and the location is excellent, situated close to two MRT stations and hawker centres.
Spacepod@hive offers excellent value for money for those on a tight budget, especially the double pods that fit two people. The space-age style pods are cosy, clean and comfortable. There are also kitchen facilities and complimentary tea and coffee and free laundry facilities.
Bluewaters Pods 38 Hongkong St has single or double beds and mixed and female-only dorms and although the rooms aren’t very spacious, the beds are clean and comfortable. The price is good for shoestring travellers and set just a few minutes’ walk from Clarke Quay MRT and within walking distance of some key sights, the location is excellent.
There is also a 7 Wonders @ Boat Quay, situated close to some key attractions including Singapore National Gallery. Like its sister hostel in Little India, you can find dorm beds in mixed rooms, with both single and double options, and breakfast is complimentary. Kitchen and laundry facilities are available.
Galaxy Pods Capsule Hotel Boat Quay is a sister hostel to the Galaxy Pods in Chinatown, with one of the best ratings for location. It’s close to many major sights, the river bank and MRT stations. The futuristic pods are comfortable and very private.
RadZone provides that little extra for those seeking budget accommodation without compromising on comfort. The dorm beds are each set in their own little cubicle offering plenty of space and privacy and the social spaces are cool and comfortable. It’s located close to two MRT stations and within walking distance of some of the city’s top attractions including Merlion Park and Marina Bay Sands.
KINN Capsule Hotel has capsule-style dorms, where the pods have privacy blinds, a laptop table and a mirror. Slippers are included for use around the hostel. There are also laundry facilities and a small kitchen area with complimentary tea and coffee. The rooms and bathrooms are all exceptionally clean and comfortable.
Orchard Road Singapore
In this expensive and upmarket area, Hotel Grand Central is one of the more affordable options, although not the best-rated accommodation. At more than $100USD per night, even the most basic rooms aren’t cheap but this price is for a twin or double room so if you’re travelling in a pair it is much more reasonable.
JEN Singapore Tanglin by Shangri-La and Vibe Hotel Singapore Orchard are two of the better-rated options at the lower end of the price scale for the area. With both options starting at around $200USD, these luxury offerings really are only for those who want to splurge during their time in Singapore.
Top Things to Do in Singapore
1. Cycle Through Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
A welcome escape from the city, the nature reserve is one of the world’s only two primary rainforests located close to a city. For the speed junkies, hire a bike and ride the 6km route to spot some of the forest’s 3,000 macaques.)
2. Watch the Garden Rhapsody at Gardens by the Bay – FREE
It’s free and marvellous… The Garden Rhapsody is very popular with tourists but unarguably one of the best experiences in Singapore! Gardens by the Bay also has an indoor waterfall and some other fascinating things but those will cost you.
3. Sip a Singapore Sling
Despite no longer being a hit with the locals, no trip to Singapore would be complete without a taste of its namesake cocktail at its place of birth: the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel. The famous Southeast Asian drink was first served here in 1915. It contains gin, cherry brandy, Cointreau, Dom Benedictine, pineapple juice, grenadine, lime juice and a dash of Angostura bitters. Make sure you savour every mouthful, as the cost of the beverage is about a week’s worth of accommodation in other parts of Southeast Asia!
4. Window Shop Overlooking the World’s Largest Fountain – FREE
At Suntec City stands the world’s largest fountain, made of cast bronze and costing $6USD million! But that’s not all… Designed to be a ‘city within a city’, Suntec City hosts over 888,000 ft of shops! Perfect to satisfy those window shopping cravings.
5. Walk the Southern Ridges
Spanning 9km, these trails connect the parks of Southern Singapore. Featuring a number of architecturally impressive bridges, the trail provides tree-top routes through the forest and panoramic views.
6. Play Mahjong With the Locals – FREE
Wander down the side streets and you’re bound to find a couple of locals playing the Singaporean version of mahjong (solitaire). With extra tiles and a few more rules, it’s hard to get your head around but an unforgettable experience…
7. Step Inside a Giant Durian
No, not the spiky, smelly fruit found across Asia, but the Esplanade Theatre, which is often said to resemble one. Catch a show here to experience first-hand its state-of-the-art performance space.
8. Visit the Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery – FREE
Found in the Bishan district, this is Singapore’s largest Buddhist temple. Visit one of its many halls, including the Hall of Great Strength and the Hall of Universal Brightness.
9. Visit Merlion Park – FREE
The mascot of Singapore is the ‘Merlion’, an invented creature with the head of a lion and the body of a fish. The fish signifies Singapore’s ancient name back when it was a fishing village(‘Temasek’ meaning “sea town” in Javanese) and the lion comes from Singapore’s origin as ‘Lion City’ – today a symbol of courage and strength. A famous statue of the Merlion stands in the Merlion Park at the mouth of the Singapore River.
10. Visit Muslim Mosques, Hindu Temples, Chinese Temples, Buddhist Temples – FREE
Singapore is a multicultural city where all religions and cultures blend. From cuisine to temples to shopping and street life, you will get a taste of many different parts of Asia in this city!
12. Visit the World’s First Night Zoo
A little pricey for the budget backpacker, this wildlife park can be explored by foot or by tram and is open until midnight. Makes for a truly great trip out!
13. Have a Drink on Level 33
If you want to soak in the skyline view and grab a drink, visit Level 33, the world’s highest microbrewery. It has some of the best skyline views in the whole of Singapore. And, although drinks in Singapore are always pricey, this being a rooftop brewery is still reasonably priced… well reasonably priced by Singapore standards at least!
14. Gorge Yourself on a Singapore Food Tour
It is a bit of a splurge but no trip to Singapore is complete without sampling their diverse cuisine. Although you can do this independently, the amount of choice can be overwhelming for a traveller who has no idea where to start! Instead, get a local’s perspective on a food tour with Hello Singapore. This is a great way to explore the city and fill your stomach at the same time! Book your tour here.
15. Venture to Singapore’s Red Light District
Singapore’s largest red-light district is known as Geylang and it’s legal. It’s particularly interesting because the area has odd-numbered streets and even-numbered streets. One set of streets is home to the red light district and the other set of streets has a lot of great (and cheap) local food! In fact, Geylang is a food paradise – you can find great food late into the night. It’s also one of the older areas of Singapore so there’s a lot of history and heritage.
16. Buddha Relic Tooth Temple – FREE
Pay a visit to the Buddha tooth relic temple in Chinatown. It’s free to visit and really beautiful, especially the ground floor and the top floor. If you are lucky, you can actually catch Buddhists praying and chanting.
17. Visit the Island of Pulau Ubin
If you’re looking for a day trip out of Singapore, you can visit Pulau Ubin, a 30-minute ferry ride from the city. The old fisherman village is considered the last ‘kampung’ of Singapore and is reminiscent of how this super modern city-state of Singapore used to be many years ago.
18. Visit the Asian Civilizations Museum
Sst within eight galleries, the sphere of historical artefacts in this museum pertains to all things relating to Asian heritage. The Singapore River Gallery digresses from the descent of Asian people and focuses on 700 years of history of the river itself.
19. Wander the Chinese and Japanese Gardens
Renew the spirit with a visit to the tranquil gardens situated on two artificial islands in Jurong Lake. The Chinese Garden offers pagodas, arched bridges and stones attributed to the style of the Imperial Sung dynasty (969 AD-1126 AD). The Japanese Garden is accessible via a bridge and features lanterns, sand and water.
20. Check Out Little India
With the aromatic scents of a myriad of spices filling the air, Little India is everything Indian this side of New Delhi. The Sri Veerama Kaliamman Temple and the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple will ensure an authentic visit with their statues of Hindu deities.
21. Gorge Yourself in Maxwell Road Hawker Centre
Singapore is a nation of delicious gastronomic delights. Visitors can experience authentic Singaporean cuisine for an extremely reasonable price by heading to the city’s most famous hawker centre. With over 100 food stalls, choose from a multi-variety of items.
22. See the Sultan Mosque – FREE
The original mosque presented to Sultan Hussein in 1826 was restored in 1928 with new additions. Considered to be one of the most important mosques in Singapore, its façade and interior present impressive scroll designs. The mosque is instantly recognizable by a bright orange dome topped with crescent moons and stars.
23. Visit Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve
Explore the ecological delight of the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. This nature reserve features freshwater flora and fauna. It is home to the extremely rare otter and long-tailed macaques, as well as numerous rainforest birds.
24. Marvel at Spectra Light and Water Show – FREE
Take your place at the waterfront at Marina Bay Sands and enjoy a mesmerising 15-minute spectacle over the water. In a feast for the senses, the show includes colourful fountains, projections, lasers and mist effects in a dazzling performance set to dramatic music. The show is free and takes place every evening at 8 pm and 9 pm, plus a third performance at 10 pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
25. Enjoy the Public Art on Display All Over Downtown Singapore – FREE
From conceptional mirrored spheres to bronze figurative sculptures to works by famous artists such as Salvador Dali and Henry Moore, there is plenty of amazing art to discover for free on Singapore’s streets. Spend a few hours wandering to see what you can discover or follow one of the National Arts Council’s self-guided Art Trails.
26. Take a Hike Around The MacRitchie Reservoir – FREE
There are a number of trails here of varying lengths and difficulty. Try the 10km hike that will take you along the reservoir leading to the TreeTop Walk, a 250m-long freestanding suspension bridge between the two highest points in the reserve, from which you will have a bird’s eye view of the forest canopy and a great vantage point to spot some of the area’s 1,000 species of flowering plants and over 500 species of animal.
Also read: Best hikes in Southeast Asia.
5 Budget-Saving Tips For a Cheap Singapore Trip
While Singapore is often known for its ritzy hotels and designer shopping malls, thankfully there are also plenty of cheap and cheerful attractions around the thriving metropolis that are well worth checking out.
From green escapes and hawker food centres to museums or even just spending time in the amazing international airport itself, you’ll find plenty of fun yet affordable things to do in bustling Singapore. Here are our top five tips for enjoying Singapore on a budget
- Don’t Leave the Airport! (Changi International Airport)
Before you even leave the international airport in Singapore you can spend many enjoyable hours exploring what the city’s busy facility has to offer. An award-winning airport (it has received over 400 gongs over the years), Changi has regularly been voted as Asia’s best airport, as well as the world’s top.
When you arrive, make sure you allocate enough time to check out the venue’s many leisure amenities. These include a synthetic ice rink; a rooftop swimming pool with a Balinese theme and the tallest slide in the city; free cinemas; wellness centres; and at least 300 different retail outlets.
One of the top attractions at the airport though has to be the recent addition of a live butterfly garden. This popular spot is home to over 1,000 butterflies, as well as numerous native plant species and even its very own waterfall.
- Nature is Free! – Singapore Botanic Gardens
Another top attraction for those who like to enjoy green space is the Singapore Botanic Gardens — the city’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site nomination. Established back in 1859, the 74-hectare park is the perfect spot for an afternoon stroll or a picnic lunch.
The gardens feature at least 300 plant species, a swan lake, themed gardens, many paths, and boardwalks to explore, a symphony stage, and even a rare swath of primeval rainforest, all within the busy confines of the city.
The main sections of the park (including the Ginger Garden, Healing Garden, and a specific children’s garden) are free to explore, while the National Orchid Garden costs just $5 per entry for adults. The park is open from 5 a.m. until midnight every day.
- Eat at The Food Centres! – Don’t Miss Maxwell Food Centre
If food is more your passion and you love to try as many different tastes as possible anytime you travel to a new destination, head to the Maxwell Food Centre in Chinatown. Although there are over one hundred different hawker venues in the city serving up affordable dishes, this one is generally considered to be the best or, at the very least, at the top of the list.
Located in the former Kim Hua Market building, the foodie haunt serves authentic Singaporean street food to both locals and tourists. Operating since 1986, the centre boasts around one hundred food stalls, meaning diners can sample every type of local cuisine imaginable, such as fried sweet potato dumplings, oyster cakes, and the world-famous Singaporean dish Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice. This meal has been praised by celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain in the past, as well as food critics from the New York Times.
- Swallow Some Culture! – Asian Civilizations Museum
Art and culture lovers shouldn’t miss a visit to the low-priced, yet culturally-rich Asian Civilizations Museum. Housed within a stunning 1860s building you’ll find 11 thematic galleries to explore at leisure, all of which showcase the traditional side of pan-Asian culture, religion, and civilization (the first in the entire region to do so).
The collections within the Museum revolve around artifacts from the different groups and cultures who have settled in Singapore over the last two centuries. Exhibited works include those from Southeast Asia, China, India, Turkey, and Sri Lanka, to name a few.
- Get Arty! – Singapore Art Museum
Another top attraction in the city is the Singapore Art Museum (SAM). The facility has amassed one of the largest public collections of modern and contemporary Southeast Asian artworks in the world since it opened in 1996 and has also started to expand into works of international contemporary art.
The museum is set within a restored 19th-century mission school, and in addition to its many artworks also features a variety of dining facilities and an on-site gallery store. Visitors are also encouraged to take advantage of a guided tour of the galleries to learn more about the works housed within. Tours last around 45 minutes but are limited to 20 people per set departure time, so it’s best to arrive a little early to secure a place.
Entry to the Singapore Art Museum generally costs $10, however, foreign visitors receive entry free of charge every Friday night, between 6 pm and 9 pm, as well as on SAM Open House days. Try to time your visit with one of these times and you’ll save yourself a welcome few dollars.
Getting to Singapore
For many backpackers, Singapore is simply a stopping point on their way elsewhere. Changi Airport itself is a feat of beauty, and despite claiming the title of Asia’s fifth busiest airport it has more than enough services to keep these passengers busy, including rooftop gardens and countless plasma screen televisions. However, this is not an excuse to stay put! Grab a budget flight from any Asian airport, or travel by road from Peninsular Malaysia.
Where to Go Next:
Bintan Island: If you’re craving some beach after the city, catch a 90-minute ferry to the island of Bintan for a taste of Indonesia. Bintan is the largest of the ‘Riau islands’ and a return ticket from Singapore will cost you around $60SGD.
Tioman Island: One of Malaysia’s highly acclaimed ‘paradise islands’, it was once voted one of the top ten most beautiful islands in the world by Time Magazine. Tioman provides a sparsely populated getaway, a haven for scuba diving enthusiasts or those who’d like to spot a monitor lizard or two. Get here by daily bus from Singapore (4 hours), followed by a two-hour ferry ride. Those short on time can catch a one-hour flight to the island’s airport.
Kuala Lumpur: Hop on an extremely short plane ride, or take a 4-5 hour bus journey to reach the next stop north on many a backpacker’s Southeast Asia trip. Malaysia’s vibrant and atmospheric capital hosts great food, cheap shopping (especially compared to Singapore!), an incredible multi-cultural flavour and some great nightlife!
Bali: Undoubtedly Indonesia’s biggest tourist attraction, backpackers head to Bali for white sands, clear seas and a young and lively atmosphere. Take a two and a half hour flight from Singapore with low-cost airlines such as Jetstar and Air Asia.
Thanks to Lisa Barham for the updates!