If you are taking a holiday in Singapore and you have children, the costs of entertaining everyone can quickly add up. Fortunately there are some fun, free things to do in Singapore with kids. Children in Singapore are surprisingly well catered for.
All of these should be workable with children of all ages. In particular we know how hard it can be to find things to do with a toddler. All of these are pretty toddler-friendly.
You will be able to get to all of these things using some combination of the MRT system (the subway), buses and your legs. The Singapore subway system can get you just about anywhere you want to go in air-conditioned comfort. It is however nice to sit on the bus and to get a sense of where things are relative to one another. Traveling by subway can be a bit disorienting.
If you are fond of walking you might consider picking up a kid's push scooter for older children. Singapore's sidewalks are generally excellent. It is also a very flat city so the addition of a kid's scooter can help little legs last longer before they get tired.
Haw Par Villa
Haw Par Villa is also known as Tiger Balm Gardens owing to it being originally constructed by the family that originally created Tiger Balm. It is a theme park or sorts that dates all the way back to 1937 and contains hundreds of statues and dioramas depicting Chinese folklore, illustrations of ideas from Confucianism and an assortment of other stuff. Although it used to charge an entry fee, it is now free for everyone.
Be warned that some areas contain depictions of the unpleasantness that potentially waits in the afterlife for people who do not behave themselves. These areas are pretty easy to spot and are grouped within "the Ten Courts of Hell". Just make sure that you are paying attention to what dioramas are coming up to avoid startling any sensitive kids.
Is Haw Par Villa haunted?
As you might expect for such an old place that contains some rather ghoulish statues rumors of ghosts abound. Unexplained noises in the night and similar tales. More unusual are rumors that the statues are actually corpses covered in wax or plaster, which sounds suspiciously like something an older sibling told their little brother or sister to frighten them.
The Haw Par Villa MRT station is conveniently located right outside the front gate. The MRT system is not free but if you are able to get on the subway Haw Par Villa is exceptionally easy to get to.
Gardens By The Bay
The Marina Bay Gardens are genuinely spectacular. There are lots of garden beds populated by a wide variety or plants from around the region if you are botanically inclined.
The so called "super trees" are immediately obvious even before you actually reach the garden itself. They are actually vertical gardens and are rather striking, both from a distance and up close.
If possible try to visit in the late afternoon so you can see the place after dark. Sunset and the early evening is a lovely time to stroll through this island of greenery.
There are walkways connecting some of the super trees. Accessing these does require paying a fee however. At the time of writing it is $3 for children and $5 for adults. Frankly, wandering the Gardens By The Bay is already a wonderful experience and you really do not gain much by seeing the garden from above.
There are two conservatories, which are worth a visit if you don't mind spending the money. You can find current conservatory admission prices here. At the time of writing an adult is $28 for both conservatories while a child is $15. Children under 3 are free.
Within the conservatories is a bunch of elevated walkways, a large waterfall and all sorts of dense vegetation that presumably is not suited to the climate outside.
Food at Gardens By The Bay is available from a strip of restaurants at the far end of the garden, furthest away from the Marina Bay Sands hotel. It is nothing super fantastic nor is it super cheap but you can get a coffee, a burger, some fried chicken and so on. I am curious to get an opinion on Texas Chicken from someone actually from Texas.
How to get to Gardens By The Bay
The MRT/subway system is most likely going to be the easiest way to get there. Get off at the Bayfront MRT station and follow the signs. It is just a short walk from there.
Gardens By The Bay parking is available in four different parking lots. The opening and closing times of each parking lot is different with the Satay by the Bay Open-air Car Park being the only 24 hour car park. The other three car parks all close at either midnight or 2am.
The fees are charged by the minute, which is rather unusual, by it is surprisingly affordable. If my math is correct it works out to $1.5 an hour or even less depending on the time of day. Parking between midday and 2pm is free.
Marina Bay Light Show
Just take a short walk from the Gardens By The Bay through the beautiful Marina Bay Hotel. On the far side is a waterfront area where you can watch the rather amazing Marina Bay light show, also known as the Marina Bay water show just to make things confusing.
The light and water show involves screens of water being sprayed into the air. Images are then projected onto them. There is also accompanying music. It is rather well done and worth checking out, especially if you have just wandered out of Gardens By The Bay.
It can get rather crowded, as is common with big tourist attractions. Depending on where you stand the music can also be a bit too loud so do not feel like you need to aggressively defend your spot right at the front. You and the kids might actually be better off a little further away.
Shows are at 8pm and 9.30pm, with an additional show at 11pm on weekends.
I have also heard mention of something called the Marina Bay laser show. There does appear to be some sort of laser set up mounted up on top of the Marina Bay Hotel. I am unsure whether this is used independently of the light and water show. If you are standing on the waterfront watching the Marina Bay light show turn around occasionally and see if anything is happening on top of the hotel behind you.
As an aside the Marina Bay Sands is a spectacular looking hotel. If you pass through there make sure to take a look around. There is an ice rink and a canal (including boats) in there. Click here to check current Marina Bay Sands prices.
Walk Around The Many Places To Explore in Singapore
I know walking does not sound terribly exciting but stay with me. This is actually great.
Walking around Singapore is a great way explore what this fabulous city has to offer. Almost all of the tourist spots in Singapore are extremely walker friendly with great sidewalks, spectacularly awesome public transport for longer distances and abundant street food for when you need to take a break and get something to eat or drink.
Just look at these paths! These things go for miles!
There are organizations that offer free Singapore walking tours. Please note that we have NOT taken any of these walking tours so we cannot vouch for them.
Singapore Footprints offers tours along the river area and Singapore chinatown.
Indie Singapore offers free walking tours around a few different areas. There is mention of tips on their site so be aware of that going in.
It is also very possible to take yourself on a self guided walking tour of whatever areas interest you. Singapore is incredibly easy to get around and very compact. Just pick an area and go. Chinatown, little India, the Singapore riverfront, little Arabia. Each area has a dramatically different atmosphere.
Alternatively map out some things you would like to visit like some of the free museums in Singapore (an easy way to create learning opportunities for the little ones), famous temples, big shopping districts etc and see how far apart they actually are. Being such a compact place you may actually find a few things you want to see are close enough that you can walk between them.
The overall quality of sidewalks is great so getting around with a pram/stroller is no problem at all. Elevators are also very common so it is rare to have to lug your pram up a set of stairs.
If you have a smart phone you can go and get yourself a 7-11 sim card. 7-11s are extremely common and they will happily sell you a sim card from one of a range of phone companies. We paid $15 SGD for a sim card that came with enough data for the duration of our stay.
In the little package containing the sim card will be instructions for how to activate the sim card and select a plan. It can be a little cryptic. Do not be shy about asking the 7-11 staff to help. Provided they are not busy they usually do not seem to mind.
Once you have a working phone with net access you can use google maps to find your way to anywhere you want to go. Google maps seems to have a fairly complete knowledge of Singapore public transport so it can tell you what trains and buses you should catch for anything to far away to walk to.
While you are walking around you are going to get hungry and thirsty. Some of the best places to eat in Singapore are found in hawker centres and you will pass plenty of these as you walk around. A timely snack or a refreshing cendol can be just what you need to rest some tired legs and to stave off any toddler temper tantrums.
Hawker centres are essentially open air food halls. There is usually at least half a dozen food vendors, often many more, with a large number of tables and chairs set out. The food is inexpensive and often rather good. Note that I said it is often rather good, not that it is always good. These things can be unpredictable.
Cheap restaurants in Singapore can be very hard to find. Seeking out high quality hawker centre food is often more time and cost effective. In particular, if you see a vendor has a queue you are likely onto a winner. If the locals think the food is worth queuing up for, it will be good.
The queue in this photo is at a Bishan hawker centre and it is for the best chicken rice in Singapore.
Chinese food in Singapore is particularly easy to find. Western food in Singapore is less common and frankly usually not to the taste of people raised in the west. When in Singapore stick to the local food and avoid the altered imitations of dishes from your home country.
Play On The Free Playgrounds
Free playgrounds can be found in most residential areas. Fancier apartment complexes will lock their playground away behind a gate requiring an access card but many apartment complexes do not and their playground(s) are accessible to everyone.
We have been told that many of the large apartment buildings are actually government run and their playground is free for any children to use. Regardless of whether that is entirely true many complexes have one or more playgrounds that are easily accessible to the general public and we have never had anything but positive reactions when playing on them with Zoe.
Every playground is made up of commercial play equipment and has rubber playground flooring. Most are very neat and tidy while a few are unfortunately positioned so that they collect leaves and rainwater so do a quick scout before unleashing your children.
Specialized toddler playgrounds do not seem to be common so constant adult supervision is very strongly recommended for very young children. The playgrounds are never fenced but they are usually quite some distance from passing traffic. Each playground is different so it is difficult to make blanket statements about their suitability for children at different ages.
We took a few exploratory strolls and quickly located a few favorite playgrounds near our accommodation. There are multiple great playgrounds with a ten minute walk for whenever Zoe needs to burn off some energy.
Singapore Botanic Gardens
In the packed metropolis that is Singapore feeling grass under your feet and sitting in the shade of a tree are simple pleasures that can be hard to come by. Fortunately the botanic gardens provides huge amounts of open green space for you and your kids to get away from the concrete jungle for a while. Entry to the botanic gardens is free.
The Singapore Botanic Gardens are easily accessible by either bus or MRT. There is an MRT station right at one of entrance gates named "Botanic Gardens" to make it easy to remember.
If you take the bus, depending on the direction you are arriving from, you may need to go over a pedestrian bridge to reach the botanic gardens. The pedestrian bridge near the Botanic Gardens subway station has an elevator for easy pram/stroller access. The elevator is a little tucked away but it is there.
The gardens are divided into many different little areas. My personal favorite is "foliage garden". It is shady and cool within its sheltered confines and its appearance reminded me of Jurassic Park.
The Singapore Botanic Gardens are actually quite large. You could spend all day exploring them if you really wanted to.
When you are flying out of Singapore you may want to head to the airport a few hours earlier than you normally would. Voluntarily spend more time in an airport? Are you crazy?
There are actually plenty of free things to do at Singapore airport, so it is not as crazy as it sounds.
There is one free movie theater in each of the three terminals although we have only ever found one of them. The movies run continuously 24 hours a day. You do not have any control over what movies are shown or when but there are comfortable seats to lounge on.
There are five different gardens scattered around the airport. Probably the most appealing for little ones is the Butterfly Garden. Regardless of which garden you stumble on they should all be a handy distraction for young children.
Apparently there are free massages chairs on offer although we have not noticed them. Something else we have somehow never tried is a four story slide that apparently exists somewhere in the airport. You are meant to get a token with any purchase over $10.
If it is not yet apparent, Singapore airport is huge and contains all manner of food, napping areas, and entertainment options. We have passed through the airport many times but have still missed a huge amount of what it has to offer.
Do not be scared to spend some time hanging out in Changi airport. We often joke about having a vacation to Singapore airport.
Although Singapore is not a particularly cheap destination, fun things to do in Singapore do not need to cost the earth. It is such a beautiful and accessible place that there is plenty to keep your little ones busy for days.
Below is an audio recording of us talking about free things to do in Singapore with kids which is accompanied by some of our photos. If you have read this post you will already know most of what we will say but you are welcome to listen to us chat about spending time in Singapore.