Singapore is full of fantastic family-friendly attractions, but as the city becomes ever more popular as a tourist destination, the likes of the Singapore Zoo, The Night Safari and Universal Studios can get pretty crowded at peak times.
And while there’s nothing wrong with visiting the more popular Singapore tourist spots, sometimes you just want to escape the crowds and head off the beaten track in Singapore.
If this sounds like you, then check out these Singapore off the beaten track ideas.
Singapore is blessed with amazing parks and rainforest areas where you can lose yourself amongst nature. It also has some fantastic museums that very few people seem to visit but are well worth the extra effort to get to.
While some of our off the beaten path Singapore suggestions are popular with local residents, if you visit during the week day you will find you will almost have the place to yourself.
Chek Jawa Wetlands, Pulau Ubin
Pulau Ubin is just a 10 minute boat ride from Changi and gives you a glimpse into what Singapore was like fifty years ago, before the construction companies moved in.
This 1,020 hectare island is the second largest of Singapore’s offshore islands. It began its days as a settlement in the 1800s, when several Malay and Chinese families were attracted by its good fishing and farming prospects. It later became a site for quarrying granite and even has its own World War II history, with it being the first landing point of the Japanese in 1942.
But people head here nowadays to enjoy a slice of sleepy countryside, with the island home ot just around 100 villagers who continue to live off the land.
With no traffic it is easy to explore Pulau Ubin. You can hire bikes on arrival at the jetty (children’s bikes and baby seats are available) and simply meander around. The roads are well signposted, there are shelters along the roads for a shady rest and maps are provided here too.
Most people head to the Chek Jawa Wetlands – one of Singapore’s richest ecosystems. Here you can explore the mangroves and coast via boardwalks, and climb the lookout tower.
To get to Pulau Ubin, head to the Changi Point jetty in Changi Village and jump on a bumboat. The boats run from sunrise to sunset and leave once they have 12 passengers on board.
It’s easy to explore Pulau Ubin by yourself, however if you prefer to go with a guide, you can book a tour to Pulau Ubin here.
Click here to read more about visiting Pulau Ubin.
Most visitors to Singapore head to the hugely popular Botanic Gardens and Gardens by the Bay for a stroll in the park. If you head a bit further out of town however and you will be rewarded with the beautifully presented Chinese Garden, which forms part of the Jurong Lake Gardens. The park is easily reached by MRT with a train stop right outside.
Modelled on the northern Chinese imperial style of architecture and landscaping, the garden incorporates sprawling lawns, rainbow bridges, arch buildings, pagodas and koi ponds.
Don’t miss the fabulous Bonsai garden with its collection of over 1,000 bonsai trees, mostly imported from China. These are beautifully presented in pristine gardens along winding pathways, in amongst water features, traditional bridges and Chinese architecture.
Bring a picnic and enjoy!
Note that the Chinese Garden will be closed from 1st June 2019 – some time in 2021. The neighbouring Lakeside Garden remains open.
Thian Hock Teng Temple, Chinatown
Most people who head to Chinatown will stop off to visit the imposing Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. And while it is true that it is impressive and houses the excellent Buddha museum, there is another equally impressive temple in Chinatown you should add to your Singapore bucket list.
Also known as the Temple of Heavenly Bliss, Thian Hock Keng Temple is Singapore’s oldest and (in my opinion) most beautiful temple.
Erected in 1821 by Chinese immigrants, nearly all of the materials used to construct the temple came from China, and some even from the boats the immigrants arrived on. Incredibly, the entire temple was constructed without the use of any nails.
The temple is dedicated to Ma-Zu-Po, the Goddess of the Sea, and once faced the sea – the spot where it stands originally bordered the shoreline, before the island was extended through reclaimed land. It was therefore often the first stop for new Chinese immigrants arriving in Singapore who came to pay their respects to Ma-Zu-Po, and give thanks for a safe passage.
Take your time to wander through the courtyards and admire the rooftop dragons, ceiling mosaics, gold-leafed details and the intricately painted doors.
Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve
There are plenty of national parks to explore in Singapore, but even they can become overrun with joggers, hikers and cyclists at weekends.
The Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve in the far north of the island is a much quieter option and its network of boardwalks provide excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. The reserve is particularly popular with bird enthusiasts during the migratory season from September to March, when huge flocks of shorebirds such as egrets, sandpipers and plovers visit the reserve.
There are three walking routes around the reserve, varying in lengths from 3-7 kilometres. Keep your eyes out for herons, kingfishers, mudskippers and crabs as you explore the boardwalks. You are pretty much guaranteed to see large monitor lizards along the way too.
There is a visitor centre with a 10-minute audio visual introduction to the reserve that you can call in at for some extra information before you set off.
Free guided tours are available on Saturdays at 9.30am (except on public holidays and eve of public holidays). Each tour is limited to a maximum of 20 people per guide and is on a first come first served basis.
Haw Par Villa
Haw Par Villa is not exactly a hidden place in Singapore but you will still likely be alone when you visit. This strange and surreal statue garden is definitely one of the most unique things to do in Singapore.
Located in the West of Singapore, the garden is filled with hundreds of multi-coloured statues and tableaux depicting Chinese myths and legends. The vision of its creator, Aw Boon Haw of Tiger Balm fame, was to “build a garden to teach Chinese culture to you”.
Unless you are up on your Chinese mythology, the educational element might be somewhat lost, but the moralistic element needs little explanation, with obvious warnings against vices such as gambling, getting into debt and being cruel to animals.
Photo opportunities abound for snap-happy mums and dads. The highlight is undoubtedly the 10 Courts of Hell, depicting scenes of bloodthirsty torture, such as drug traffickers being grilled on red hot copper pillars and people who have disrespected their elders having their hearts cut out!
This section may of course may not be suitable for younger children…
Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery
Kong Meng San Phor Kark See is the largest monastery in Singapore and is worth the trip out of town to admire its intricate architectural designs, elaborate Chinese decorations and statues of Buddha that are set among the tranquil gardens.
This sprawling complex is made up of eleven temples and meditation halls, including the Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas, with its thousands of statues concealed in the main stupa, and the Hall of No Form with its very impressive towering Bronze Buddha.
The Monastery was founded in 1921 by Venerable Sik Zhuan Daois. It was originally a humble temple consisting of just a few buildings but has grown considerably over the years, in part thanks to donations from Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, the brothers behind the Tiger Balm empire (and Haw Par Villa).
The monastery is also home to the Buddhist College of Singapore, which offers a 4-year Bachelor degree in Buddhism, among other programmes.
Southern Ridges Walk
The Southern Ridges Walk is an urban walk in the rainforest, where the natural jungle and the concrete jungle merge. This walk combines several walking trails through a variety of national parks, although you are never far from urban development.
The trail starts at Mount Faber Park and ends at Kent Ridge Park. Each walking trail is linked to the next by footpaths and connection bridges, with carparks and drop off points along the way, so you can start and end at any point along the route.
The most popular part of the walk is Henderson Waves, the highest pedestrian bridge in Singapore. This undulating pedestrian bridge sits 36m above Henderson Road and connects Mount Faber Park to Tell Blangah Hill Park.
The 278m bridge is made of seven curved steel ‘ribs’ that alternately rise over and under its deck. Look out for carvings on the slats along the bridge, which mark the height at various points.
The Henderson Waves trail leads to another popular section – the Forest Walk, a meandering 1.6km elevated steel walkway that traverses through the canopy of the trees.
Labrador Nature Reserve
Labrador Nature Reserve is one of the least visited national parks of Singapore and yet hides a wealth of hidden treasures, including World War II bunkers and machine gun posts.
Originally the site of Pasir Panjang Fort (built in 1878), the British redeveloped the fort during WWII, believing it to be a weak point in the defence of Singapore. They built machine gun posts and barbed wire entanglements to help make the coastline impenetrable to enemy ships and troops.
Unfortunately for them however, the Japanese advanced from the North, instead of the South as they had predicted, and on 13th February 1942, the British were forced to retreat under Japanese fire.
The casemate and tunnels were abandoned and forgotten, hidden by vegetation until they were re-discovered in 2001. You can wander the park to discover these war-damaged relics with their cracked walls and piles of rubble.
The tunnels are currently closed for refurbishment, so tours of these are suspended. However, you can still follow the History Trail, a series of storyboards that wind past remnants of the former fort, including the imposing 6-inch guns, and enjoy sweeping clifftop views out to sea.
There’s also a great sandy playground in Labrador Park, complete with maze for the kids to run off their energy in. End your visit by wandering the coastal boardwalk to Keppel Bay Marina – a fabulous spot for an alfresco lunch.
MacRitchie Reservoir is very popular with local Singapore residents during the weekend, but you will find it much quieter if you head here during the week.
The reserve is home to more than 840 flowering plant species and 500 animal species that you can look out for as you explore the well signposted trails here. There are 5 rainforest walking trails to choose from, which range from around 1.5 hours to 5 hours in length.
The highlight is the Treetop Walk, a free-standing 250m long suspension bridge that gives you a birds eye view of the rainforest canopy from its 25m high position. To get to the Tree Top Walk, follow the Blue trail from MacRitchie Park. The walk is around a 10km round trip. You can download the map here.
Remember it will be hot and the weather is unpredictable in the rainforest. Bring sunscreen, insect repellent some kind of waterproof protection for your phone etc in case of rain, and plenty of drinking water.
Although the Changi Museum is well known as one of Singapore’s best museums, particularly if you are interested in the war history, due to its location it still doesn’t attract a huge number of visitors.
The museum is dedicated to the memory of the civilians and prisoners of war, who were incarcerated during the Japanese occupation of WWII. The exhibition is put together based on interviews with former inmates, who share their experiences of this dark time, making for an extremely moving exhibition.
Personal accounts of torture and humiliation at the hands of the Kempeitei (Japanese military police) are interspersed with stories of the hardship of rationing and high inflation – and the struggle for survival.
The museum is free to enter, but I definitely recommend paying for the personal audio tour, which really helps bring the exhibition to life with its recorded interviews and additional stories.
Note that the Changi Museum is currently closed for refurbishment and will re-open at some point in late 2020.
Ford Motor Factory
Even further off the beaten track than the Changi Museum is the Ford Motor Factory, another fantastic war museum in Singapore.
The Ford Motor Factory first opened its doors in October 1941 as the first Ford vehicle assembly plant in Southeast Asia. However, it was was soon used by the Royal Air Force to assemble fighter planes for use in World War II.
Today it is more famously known as the site of the British surrender to the Japanese on 15th February 1942. This surrender marked the beginning of the Japanese Occupation, the darkest period in Singapore’s modern history, and also the decline of the British Empire in Asia as whole.
Like with the Changi Museum, the exhibition here is really focussed on memories of the Singaporean population during these difficult times. It not only captures the hardships, but also celebrates the adaptability, bravery and entrepreneurship displayed by the survivors. It makes for a very poignant exhibition and is well worth traveling out of town for.
Looking for more ideas of things to do in Singapore with kids? Check out our article 50 Things to Do in Singapore with Kids.
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