17 April 2024

How to have a brilliant budget break in Singapore

17 April 2024

Can you really do Singapore on the cheap? If you’re considering exploring this expensive island state for a few days en route to destinations including Australia and New Zealand, but don’t want to break the bank, there are ways of visiting with a budget in mind.

Hotels, transport, budget eats and cheap or free attractions will help your cash go further if you know where to go and what you feel is really worth splashing out on.

When to travel for the best deals

There isn’t really a low season in Singapore, given that the climate – hot and humid – doesn’t change much throughout the year. But for a better deal, avoid school holidays (and that includes Asian school holidays), as well as events like the Formula 1 Grand Prix in September, when hotel prices tend to be higher.

Where to stay and save pennies

If you stay at the glitzy Marina Bay Sands Hotel, with its Instagrammable rooftop infinity pool atop three towers (there’s a fourth tower on the cards), or immerse yourself in the historical colonial splendour of Raffles Hotel or the timeless elegance of The Fullerton Bay Hotel, you could easily be paying upwards of £600 a night, depending on the size of room.

More keenly priced options include Yotel, brainchild of former Dragons Den star and Yo! Founder Simon Woodroffe, who brought us Yo! Sushi. Stay in the city’s best known shopping street at Yotel’s Orchard Road property (from £116 for a room), five minutes from the MRT station and the dazzling ION shopping mall (although the designer stores may not suit the budget-conscious).

The rooms are compact and contemporary, just enough room for a comfortable double bed and a good shower, but they’ve managed to squeeze in a safe, a little hanging space, salon-style hairdryer, iron and ironing board, while resident robots Yoshi and Yolanda provide room service of fresh towels and bottles of water.

Getting around without spending a fortune

Cabs are much cheaper than they are in London and other UK cities. Grab  – Singapore’s equivalent of Uber – is your best bet if you want to travel by taxi. We paid around £12 for a 20-minute ride across town.

But for the budget conscious, the best mode is the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) Singapore’s underground train system which is fast, clean, air-conditioned, efficient and easy to navigate.

A three-day tourist pass for unlimited rides on public bus and train will set you back around £14 (you’ll pay a 10SGD/£6 deposit for the travel card which you get back when you hand it in when it expires). Single journeys cost between 1-3SGD and a one-day pass is 22SGD/£13 including 10SGD/£6 refundable deposit.

Or you can brave the heat and humidity and walk – many of the tourist areas are pedestrianised and you can take in the views along Marina Bay with the best view of the eponymous hotel, admire the architecture along the waterfront and join the tourists taking pictures of Merlion, Singapore’s national icon – half fish, half lion – as it spurts out a torrent of water into the bay at Merlion Park.

Alternatively, get the MRT to other areas like Chinatown and Little India, to explore their colourful architecture and temples, pick up some authentic street food or bag a bargain and a Henna tattoo at their bustling markets.

Be warned, though, you’ll be looking for air conditioning after about 30 minutes, so save up some money for a cool beer.

Dining out on a shoestring

Fine dining is no stranger to Singapore, with 55 Michelin-starred restaurants. But there are also 53 value-for-money hawker centre stalls which are Michelin rated in the city, while Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle hawker stall has one coveted star.

Hawker centres used to be largely unauthorised outdoor street stalls until the government moved them all undercover into municipal buildings where stallholders have created a melting pot of south east Asian fast food.

Pick up a meal of traditional favourites, from chicken and rice to nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice), braised pork belly, wanton noodles, signature chilli crab (priced by weight), salted egg dishes and ipoh hor fun (shredded chicken rice noodles cooked in a broth) for £3 or £4.

Visit one of the bigger hawker centres such as Lau Pa Sat, where attendants fan smoky barbecues in Satay Street, as chicken skewers and prawns are cooked and served with dipping bowls of satay sauce.

Reckon on spending around £10 each for a feast of chicken sticks, big prawns, squids and mutton or beef, with plenty of the brown-coloured peanutty sauce.

Bars that won’t leave you broke

Wine drinkers will have to dig deep into their pockets for their favourite tipple. Australian wines tend to be a little cheaper than Italian or French, but don’t expect much change out of £50 for a bottle or more if you’re going up-market for your food.

Instead, take in the atmosphere at one of the many hawker centres in town, where you’ll get an ice cold Tiger beer for around a fiver.

Cocktails are everywhere and, of course, the Long Bar at Raffles is the birthplace of the legendary Singapore sling, which will cost you an eye-watering 39SGD plus taxes and service (46SGD/£27).

More affordable options are readily available. The seriously good mixologist at the Orchard Road Yotel’s impressive Komyuniti bar and restaurant will shake you up a mean margarita for around £13 once you’ve remembered to add the 10% service charge and 9% tax.

Look out also for happy hours – many bars operate them in the afternoon before the sundowner crowds arrive.

What to see that’s free…

Singapore Botanic Gardens

The island’s first World Heritage Unesco site provides a peaceful green oasis in the heart of the city. Wander around the 82 hectares (202 acres) of tropical flora and fauna at your leisure – and you’re allowed to take in a picnic.

While you’re there, it’s worth splashing out on the National Orchid Garden, a multi-coloured cornucopia of orchids from around the world, including rare species, spread over 7.5 acres of landscape terraces. Highlights include the Celebrity Orchid Garden section where orchids are named after famous people including Joe and Jill Biden and Princess Diana. Entrance 15SD/£9, visit nparks.gov.sg/sbg.

Garden Rhapsody: Gardens By The Bay light shows

You’ll no doubt capture a glimpse of the Supertrees if you head for the gardens by day (by MRT), as they rise up to 50m above ground, but at night (7.45-8.45pm) Supertree Grove comes into its own as the tree-like edifices are lit up in an array of colours accompanied by dramatic opera music.

During the day, it’s worth paying to see the nearby huge air conditioned glass domes, Flower Dome and Cloud Forest, which house not only a wealth of flora and fauna but also one of the world’s tallest indoor waterfalls. A joint ticket to both costs 32SGD/£19 on the official site, but shop around and you may get it cheaper. Visit gardensbythebay.com.sg.

And what’s worth paying for…

Historical Singapore Bike Tour

Biking through the city is not as hot as walking it, but do this guided tour on the first day, because it will help you get your bearings.

Our guide took us to the Muslim quarter of Kampong Gelam, home of the golden dome of Sultan Mosque, through its narrow streets of hipster bars, restaurants and colourful walls of art, along the Singapore River, to Speaker’s Corner, and along Marina Bay, as well as the famous F1 track. You’ll only have to cross the roads on your bikes, not go on them, but don’t be afraid of using your bell so pedestrians give you plenty of passing room. Let’s Go Tours, 80SD/£47.

ArtScience Museum

Fringing Marina Bay, this family-friendly museum shaped like a lotus flower features state-of-the-art interactive art installations with a picture wall of moving waterfalls you can touch to change the flow, animatic sea life where your own fishy drawing will appear via a sketch aquarium scanner and a corridor of changing shimmering lights, among other mesmerising sights. Entrance 30SD/£17.60, visit marinabaysands.com/museum.html.

National Museum of Singapore

You can easily spend a morning exploring Singapore’s past, with its melting pot of cultures, from its beginnings as a thriving port where Chinese porcelain and stoneware were traded, to the arrival of Sir Stanford Raffles, ‘founder’ of modern Singapore, in 1819 and colonial history, to its independence in 1965 and the global business interests it attracts today. Entrance 15SGD/£9, visit nhb.gov.sg/nationalmuseum.

How to plan your trip

Rooms at YOTEL Singapore start from 199 SGD/£116 room only. Join The YOTEL Club for free to get an extra 15% off.

For more information, go to visitsingapore.com.

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