A Guide to Ballin’ on a Budget in Singapore

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a conversation about Singapore without the word “expensive” being mentioned. It is, undoubtedly, one of the most expensive destinations in south east Asia, but that doesn’t mean you have to blow your budget visiting this spectacular city-state. There is an abundance of budget accommodation, cheap eats and free activities that can make for a very affordable trip to Lion City. Post-visit, I think it’s better to think of Singapore not as unrelentingly expensive, but rather as a destination suited to a range  of budgets. No, you can’t go absolutely crazy every night and barely spend a penny the way you can in Vietnam, for example, but you can certainly enjoy this glamorous metropolis without breaking the bank.

Be a devil and pin me…

Accommodation

There are plenty of budget hostels in Singapore, starting from around S$12.50 (£6.70/$8.80). Most of the highly rated hostels on Hostelworld average between S$18-27 (£10-15/$13-20). I stayed at the Happy Snail hostel and I honestly could not recommend it enough- it’s so welcoming that it feels as though you’re staying at a friend’s place. Plus, there’s unlimited free peanut butter and nutella toast. WIN.

Food

Food, glorious food. Singapore is similar to Malaysia in that its combined cultural heritage means there’s an abundance of Indian and Chinese food-  and it is goooooood. For the most affordable and authentic experience, fill your tum at one of the many street food hawker centres the city has to offer. The most popular ones are the Chinatown Complex Food Centre at 335 Smith St. and Maxwell Food Centre at 1 Kadayanallur Street, but you’ll pass plenty as you wander around the city. Meals start from as little as S$3 (£1.65/$2.20) and typically range between S$4-8 (£2.20-4.40/$3-6). I ate nothing but delicious street food (and Happy Snail toast, of course) for three days and have zero regrets about it. Here are a few examples of some of the delicious food I chowed down on:

S$4.50 (£2.50/$3.25) for tandoori chicken and rice from a downtown Indian street food restaurant

S$3.80 (£2.10/$2.80) for roasted duck and noodles in a street food hawker centre near Chinatown

Transport

Singapore’s underground train network, the MRT (which stands for Mass Rapid Transit, in case you’re wondering), is the cheapest way to get around. A one-way ticket usually costs between S$1.50-2 (£0.83-1.10/$1.10-1.50), or double that for a return. The MRT is a fast, convenient and clean way to get around Singapore- just make sure you don’t eat, drink or bring durian on the train, or you’ll be facing hefty fines!

I also found Grab cars and taxis to be reasonably priced; my 24km journey from Happy Snail to Changi airport set me back S$22 (£12.10/$16.10). Taking the MRT would have been cheaper, but I left my hostel after midnight and was laden with several heavy bags.

Airport Transfers

As mentioned, the MRT is a very budget-friendly transfer option, although bear in mind that it doesn’t run between midnight and 5.30am. Just follow the airport signs that say ‘train to the city’ and you won’t go far wrong.

If you’re after something even easier, or predict a struggle with your luggage, there’s a 24-hour airport shuttle service that will stop at most downtown hostels. It costs S$9 (£5/$6.60) and I really wish I’d known about it before I hauled 30kg of luggage across various MRT stations. Many hostels and hotels will also help you book the airport shuttle to pick you up again for your return to the airport for the same price.

Activities

Ogle at the Gardens by the Bay: Arguably Singapore’s most famous attraction (and rightly so, in my opinion) the stunning gardens by the bay don’t have to cost you a penny. Although visiting the flower dome and cloud forest will set you back S$28 (£15.40/$20.50), you can visit the supertree grove at ground level for free. If you fancy going to the top of the trees, you can purchase a ticket to the OCBC Skyway for S$8 (£4.40/$5.90), but this is optional. The best time to visit is at dusk, when you can watch the iconic trees light up as night falls. Once it’s fully dark, the Garden Rhapsody sound and light show begins. The show lasts for 15 minutes and takes place at 7.45pm and 8.45pm each day. Again, you can watch this completely free of charge, which I recommend doing; it’s seriously impressive.

Visit Sentosa’s beaches: Sentosa is Singapore’s self-declared ‘state of fun’ (this is made all the more creepy by the fact that the island once served as a Japanese prisoner of war camp). It’s an expensive tourist trap, but in addition to Universal Studios and Kidzania, Sentosa also boasts three pretty nice beaches. One of these is Palawan beach which, fun fact, is said to be the southernmost point of continental Asia. Previous to my visit, I had no idea that there were beaches in Singapore, so this was a pleasant surprise! Unfortunately, I didn’t have great weather during my stay, but if you’re luckier than I, spending a day on Sentosa’s beaches would not be a bad way to enjoy Singapore on the cheap.

Palawan Beach, Sentosa

Check out Marina Bay Sands: Although staying, eating, drinking or shopping at the Sands is expensive AF, a visit to Singapore would not be complete without at least a glimpse of the famous integrated resort (which, as far as I can tell, means a fancy hotel-slash-casino-slash-mall). It’s an iconic part of the Singapore skyline and is an example of some seriously impressive architecture. Visiting the Sands’ rooftop observation deck is a must for most tourists, but this will set you back S$23 (£12.65/$16.85), so it’s up to you to decide whether or not there’s room for this in your budget. You can, however, enjoy a completely free visit to the Sands, so long as you’re not tempted by Gucci, Tiffany or Sephora along the way (I fell prey to the latter, but I have no regrets. NONE.) The Shoppes (so fancy they had to add more letters) is fun to visit simply because it’s so extra: an artificial river runs the length of the mall and YOU CAN TAKE A BOAT RIDE THROUGH IT.

WHAT

See Spectacular Spectra: Spectra is a light and water show that takes place nightly at the Event Plaza just outside of the Marina Bay Sands. It’s incredible- and it’s completely free! Far from a gimmick-y light show, Spectra artfully tells a story with such beauty that you’ll remain enthralled for the full fifteen minutes. There are showings at 8 and 9pm each day, with an extra 10pm show on Friday and Saturday nights. If you time it right, you can watch the Garden Rhapsody at 7.45, then dash back through the Sands to catch the Spectra straight afterwards!

This photo does not do Spectra justice.

The Botanic Gardens: Singapore’s botanic gardens are completely free to visit and provide the city with a refreshing dose of greenery. However, whilst they are very nice, they were far from breathtaking, so don’t expect magic to rival the Gardens by the Bay. That being said, if you’re ballin’ on a budget, a free stroll around a UNESCO world heritage site isn’t exactly a bad way to spend your time. (Tip: visit during the day! I discovered- to my cost- that the gardens are not well-lit at night.)

Visit Little India and Chinatown: these ethnic neighbourhoods add charm, character and authenticity to ostentatious Singapore, enriching the city with the contrast they provide to its magnificent displays of wealth. You could easily pass a few hours eating amazing food and getting lost in these two ethnic enclaves whilst scarcely spending a penny. However, as I mentioned in an Instagram post, I felt as though Little India has been hyped up a little too much; I was expecting miles of colourful buildings and wonderful street art, when in reality there were only splashes here and there. Nonetheless, if you’re looking for a few good insta snaps and some incredible curry, it should definitely be on your list.

Here’s me being a hypocrite and taking a picture by the colourful walls

Some sound logic

Have a Backpacker Beer at Chijmes: Chijmes is a Catholic convent-turned-entertainment complex that should definitely be on your Singapore bucket list. It’s a beautiful enclave of buildings and a lovely place to relax after a long day of sightseeing. Most of the restaurants surrounding the courtyard aren’t cheap, but if you look carefully, there’s a small patch of (artificial) grass that doesn’t seem to belong to any business owners- meaning you’re free to sit on the grass with cheap beer purchased from a nearby 7/11. We chose the wrong place at first and got asked to move, but the waiter making us do so confirmed that there is indeed a small section of the Chijmes courtyard in which picnicking is a-ok.

The main entrance to Chijmes

A not-great picture of Chijmes courtyard. It’s lovely in real life- trust me!

Total Cost

I spent two nights and three days in Singapore and spent a total of S$213.80 (£117.59/$156.67), excluding my Sephora splurge (which I had planned for). That’s S$71.26 (£39.19/$52.22) per day, including all accommodation, transport and food. Not bad in a place named by the BBC as the world’s most expensive city, eh?

The truth is that while Singapore allows you to ball out in a big way if you so wish, it doesn’t have to be expensive. By avoiding going out and drinking (save for those backpacker beers), staying in budget accommodation and enjoying street food, I spent far less than I expected. No, Singapore is not dirt-cheap like so many of its south east Asian neighbours, but it isn’t necessarily bank-breaking, either.

Have you visited Singapore? How did you save money? Let me know in the comments below! 

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