Look beyond the concrete jungle of downtown Singapore and you’ll find the city has a natural side visitor’s often overlook.
Despite the countries small size, nature is important to Singaporeans and you’ll often hear it referred to as a “City in a Garden”. You’ll see balconies of apartments filled with pot plants or highways lined with trees and gardens. But where can you find the more natural escapes that locals will visit on the weekend? Here are my favourite places to get in touch with nature in Singapore.
Where to find nature in Singapore
Singapore Botanic Gardens
When locals want to escape the noise or concrete they often head to the Singapore Botanic Gardens. With 74 hectares of space, there’s plenty of room for all. Dine in one of the cafes, walk through the tropical rainforest or if you have a family take the kids to the Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden to learn about botany and play in the water parks and mini-maze.
If you’re visiting the gardens and have some time buy a ticket (S$5 for adults) and head into Singapore’s prized National Orchid Garden. Thousands of species of orchids, including hybrid species bred as gifts for foreign dignitaries and celebrities, are on display and it makes for a colourful day out!
Best of all the gardens are open from 5am to midnight every single day of the year and are free! (There is a charge if you want to explore the National Orchid Garden.)
Getting there: The nearest MRT is Orchard (North-South Line) or Botanic Gardens (Circle Line).
For more directions check the Gardens website.
MacRitchie Reservoir TreeTop Walk
A popular place for locals to exercise, the MacRitchie Reservoir has trails through the surviving forest that once covered most of Singapore.
The real highlight for visitors is the TreeTop Walk, a 250 metre free-standing bridge that crosses the two highest points in MacRitchie and offers you a panoramic view of the rainforest and Upper Reservoir. If you do want to take the TreeTop Walk come early to avoid queues.
For those wanting to explore the forest, a trail leads around the park to Jelutong Tower that offers views across the Singapore Island Country Club golf course and MacRitchie Reservoir. You’ll often see locals birdwatching, taking nature photography, fishing and exercising in the area as well as wild monkeys!
Getting there: To get to the TreeTopWalk you will need to take a 2.5km (45 minute to 1 hour walk) trail from the car park at Venus Drive or a 4.5km (1.5-2 hour) trail from the MacRitchie Reservoir Park. This is one-way, so remember to double it for returning.
Note: You MUST bring water. The trail and waiting time at the TreeTop Bridge can be quite a while and coupled with Singapore’s humidity the weather will leave you dehydrated pretty quickly. Leave your food in your backpack around the TreeTop Walk as monkeys call the forest home and will pester you (if you do have food DON’T feed them!) Also, wear sturdy shoes/hiking boots/sneakers as the paths are rocky and littered with stones of varying shapes and sizes in places!
Butterfly Garden at Changi Airport
There is a reason that people love to fly through Singapore’s Changi Airport – and why it’s consistently voted the world’s best airport – but Changi is so much more than just an airport; it’s a destination in its own right.
Alongside an abundance of duty-free stores, fish spas, and an outdoor pool you can enjoy the tranquility of the airports own butterfly garden. From cocoon to flight, discover the life cycle of a butterfly and witness hundreds of butterflies flying throughout the conservatory, or resting on flowers or pineapple slices.
Getting there: To visit Changi Airport’s Butterfly Garden you need to be a passenger flying into/out of Terminal 3.
If you’re not in Terminal 3 there’s an outdoor Cactus Garden in Terminal 1 and a choice between the Enchanted Garden, outdoor Sunflower Garden or Orchid Garden & Koi Pond in Terminal 2.
Gardens by the Bay
There is so much to see at the Gardens by the Bay and I had so little time! I spent most of my time in the SuperTree Grove (pictured above) where you can wander the gardens, take the Skyway – a walk between two of the trees that offers a panoramic view of the gardens, dine in a SuperTree or even enjoy a cocktail at the top of one while overlooking the Marina Bay area.
There’s plenty more to do in the Gardens though; from catching the nightly light show in the SuperTree Grove to wandering Conservatories that house the Cloud Forest and Flower Dome, you could spend hours taking in the sights and colours of the Gardens by the Bay.
Getting there: The closest MRT Station is the Circle or Downtown Line. Get off at Bayfront MRT Station and take Exit B from the station. Follow the underground connection to the Dragonfly Bridge or Meadow Bridge that cross into Gardens by the Bay. For other transportation options check their website.
Note: While the outdoor gardens are free, the conservatories cost between S$8 – $28 and are open between 9am and 9pm. Find more information on their site.
Fort Canning Park
Just a short walk from Downtown Singapore, the small hill known as Fort Canning is the cities most central place to relax amongst nature.
When the English settled in the area, Sir Stamford Raffles built his first residence on the hill in 1822 and established the cities first botanical garden on the hill. Soon after the residence was demolished and the fort was built, serving as the base for the British Army til World War II.
Today, the park overlooks bustling Orchard Road, is home to many public concerts, a replica of Raffle’s spice garden and home, and an archaeological excavation site. You’ll often find locals exercising and practicing tai chi throughout the day. A pair of 9-pound cannons also fire three times a day (5am, 1pm and 9pm) within the park… we are in Singapore, it can’t be to peaceful!
Getting there: Walk! The park is located in the heart of the city.
If you are travelling by MRT, get off at Clarke Quay or Dhoby Ghaut. The park is about a 10 minute walk away.
Kebun Baru Bird Singing Club
If you are a bird enthusiast this might be the perfect place to spend some time. Bird singing corners are an old tradition where bird lovers bring their birds to local parks. The birds, often prized pets and living in ornately decorated cages, are prized for their singing ability.
Set in the western corner of the Ang Mo Kio Town Garden, the Kebun Baru Bird Singing Club is the largest of its kind in Singapore with the ability to accommodate more than 1000 cages hoisted high for the birds to enjoy the sunshine. All day, though from 6am until midday before the Singaporean heat sets in, owners will come to the park to relax and chat while the birds enjoy the sunshine.
Getting there: Take the North-South MRT line towards Jurong East. Alight at either Ang Mo Kio or Yio Chu Kang. From here it’s about a 13-15 minute walk to the park. The park also has a large car park where taxis can drop you off or you can park your vehicle.
A map is available on the Bird Clubs website.
Just a 10 minute ferry ride from the mainland, the tranquil setting of Pulau Ubin is the perfect place for a tranquil getaway to explore nature and see what is often considered the last ‘kampung’ (village) in Singapore.
Rent a bike for just a few dollars and take one of the bike paths to explore the island. Visit Chek Jawa – an intertidal flat that home to local birds and animals, including corals and sea creatures or climb the Jejawi Tower to see the island from above. Ride through the town to see the traditional kampong houses, temple and remaining – but disused – town theatre.
My favourite thing was basking in the sun at one of the village restaurants and enjoying a seafood lunch and cold lime juice with the waterfront before the table. Magic!
Getting there: From Changi Point jetty you can take a S$2 (one-way) bumboat ride to Pulau Ubin. Be prepared to wait a while as boats will only leave when there are eight passengers.
To get to Changi Point hetty you can take the MRT to Tanah Merah MRT Station then board the number 2 Bus to Changi Village bus interchange. The jetty is a short walk away from the bus interchange.
Now it’s over to you
Do you have any places to add?
Where in Singapore would you like to go to get in touch with nature?
I visited Singapore as a guest of the Singapore Tourism Board.
All thoughts and opinions are, as always, my own.
Image credit: Fort Canning Park.