10 Cool, Non-Touristy Things You Can Do In Singapore
Most of us are fortunate enough to have visited our awesome neighbour down south. But how many of us have actually explored Singapore beyond the surface?
While Singapore is known for its pristine cleanliness and safety, if you dig a little deeper, you'll discover so much more beauty that lies within. It's constantly evolving and reinventing itself, and you should totally be a part of it ;)
Go on an adventure in the Lion City to ignite your passion for discovery! Here are 10 cool, non-touristy ways to explore Singapore:
1. Go café-hopping at Tiong Bahru to find the best coffee and pastries
Tiong Bahru is known as a 'hipster' neighbourhood. But if you dig a little deeper, you'll find that this quaint estate is the oldest housing area in the country. The mix of past and present is quite evident, and it's so cool to check out all the new possibilities in this old neighbourhood! Just take a walk around Yong Siak Street or Eng Hoon Street, and you'll be able to find a cute café at almost every corner.
Here are some of our recommendations:
Tiong Bahru Bakery
This quaint neighbourhood bakery was started by French pastry chef, Gontran Cherrier, whose expertise lies in combining traditional French baking techniques with international flavours. To him, a bakery is more than just a trading place, but a place where old memories live and new ones created through conversations and taste.
Spoil yourself with their simple and delicious apple crumble, and try something new by sampling their famous Breton pastry - the kouign amann.
#01-70, 56 Eng Hoon Street
It's not an exaggeration to credit this little café as the birth place of Singapore's coffee culture. It was one of the first places to bring the passion of third wave coffee to the country, championing sustainability, and coffee knowledge. Harry Grover, its founder, said that it all started with a simple dream of wanting to run a coffee shop that sells good specialty coffee. It was from Forty Hands that we learned "it takes 40 hands to produce a single cup of coffee from bean to cup."
Block 78, Yong Siak Street
Cream & Custard
More than just a creator of Instagrammable cakes, resident baker Melissa is an adventurous spirit who loves to tell stories with her edible creations. She started baking as a hobby at nine years old, and eventually pursued her passion full-time by training at the prestigious Cordon Bleu.
Pamper yourself with a light and zesty lemon meringue tart, then get ready to be mindblown by the flavours in Cream & Custard's famous Galaxy Cake.
#01-894, 46 Bukit Ho Swee
2. Hunt for rare books to enrich your minds at these pretty indie bookstores
Even if you're not a bookworm, you'll fall in love with the many indie bookstores that Singapore has. You can find some really interesting books in these places, everything from popular fiction to lesser known classics, and even books on philosophy!
Our favourites are:
The indie bookstore started its early days as a two-table stall in the National University of Singapore. Its owner, Kenny Leck, grew up with books - he was a frequent visitor of the neighbourhood library and has worked in various bookstores in the country. In an age where many people are listening to audio books or reading from their Kindles, Kenny is determined to make printed books work. BooksActually even created the first Singaporean book vending machine, which you can find at the National Museum of Singapore and Singapore Visitor Centre.
Visit this place to find some of the rarest Haruki Murakami novels, and expand your literary horizon with some Singaporean literature - a specialty of BooksActually.
9, Yong Siak Street
Littered With Books
Every bookworm should pay this two-storey bookstore a visit. Littered With Books is designed like a personal library, where you can get lost browsing the available titles because there are just so many of them. Do bring your kids here too as this bookstore is known for their great children's books collection.
Rediscover the joy of storytelling through their weekly children's reading session, and broaden your love for books with the friendly staff's recommendations.
20, Duxton Road
Woods in the Books
If you think picture books are just for children, then this bookstore will prove you wrong. The owners are picture book lovers, and they only pick the best to be featured and sold in the store. You can find all sorts of titles: from a beautifully illustrated version of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's 'The Little Prince', to a retelling of the English classic 'The Canterbury Tales'.
3, Yong Siak Street
3. Challenge yourself to stay fit on one of the many nature walks
Don't be fooled by all the skyscrapers - Singapore actually has its greener side too. There are hundreds of parks and nature reserves that allow free entries, and they are all easily accessible via public transport. Give yourself a different perspective to ignite the passion of exploration by getting out of the city... without leaving it!
Some nature walk trails that you might like:
MacRitchie Reservoir Park
This park has some of the most pristine green forests on the island. It's also a great place for kayaking and canoeing. For those who want to push themselves further, take the three-hour hike to the famous TreeTop Walk in the park for the best panoramic view of the rainforest.
The Southern Ridges
The most instagrammable nature shots can be taken at the Southern Ridges, which is an open space that connects five different parks: Mount Faber Park, Telok Blangah Hill Park, HortPark, Kent Ridge Park, and Labrador Nature Reserves.
Discover different flora and fauna in the HortPark, reconnect with nature at the Canopy Walk in Telok Blangah Hill, and learn about Singapore's history at Kent Ridge Park.
Henderson Road, Mount Faber Park
4. Relive Lieutenant Adnan Saidi's final moments on a historical trail
Both Malaysia and Singapore share common history, the most devastating one being World War II. The Battle of Singapore, which ended on 15 February 1942, marked the start of the Japanese Occupation of what was then called British Malaya. Some of the major sites were defended by the Royal Malay Regiment, which have been preserved and made into interactive museums that you can visit on a guided historical trail.
Here are historical landmarks you can visit on the historical trail:
Kent Ridge Park
Before it was turned into a park, this place used to be a fortress defended by the Royal Malay Regiment during World War II. A hill in the park was one of the last sites where the regiment defended Singapore against the Japanese.
Bukit Chandu War Memorial
This was where Lieutenant Adnan and his men made the last stand against the Imperial Japanese Army. While most of us may be familiar with the facts from our school history books, you'll actually get to experience the final moments of the brave soldiers through the interactive exhibitions right here. You could even discover things you never knew of in the war museum.
And who knows, you may become an expert in this area of history yourself.
31-K Pepys Road
Labrador Nature Reserve
You'll end your World War II heritage walk at this nature reserve. While you admire the greens and great view of the sea, don't be surprised to stumble upon entrances to hidden tunnels. The park is also known for its extensive tunnels which were used during wartimes.
Labrador Villa Road
5. Check out the street art in Kampong Glam for some creative inspiration
Think of it as the Armenian Street of Penang. Each street in Kampong Glam is filled with colourful murals painted by both local and international street artists. It's an amazing juxtaposition between old and new as you enjoy these gorgeous art murals in the traditional cultural precinct. Photographers and Instagram addicts will have a great time getting artistic shots here.
These are some of the popular spots:
You'll know this street when you see it from its quirky murals in bold colours. Most of these were commissioned by the property owners, some of them engaging big names in the art scene like Didier Jaba Mathieu.
There's a mix of local lifestyle-inspired murals and underground graffiti here. Pose with the famous Coffee Story mural by local artist, YC; and check out the graffiti tags by Singaporean street art group, Zinc Nite Crew here.
6. Chill at some of the world's best bars to taste unique cocktails
It's worth checking out the nightlife scene in Singapore as the country has some of the world's best bars. At least six Singaporean bars have made it into the annual World's 50 Best Bars list. These places don't just serve great cocktails, but have amazing ambience and service as well.
You should really check out these bars:
The interior of this grand bar and lobby is inspired by American and European restaurants in the 1920s. You'll be wow-ed by the drinks and dining experience here as each dish is a fusion of art and taste. Yet there's so much more than just enjoying a drink here, you'll also be able to discover the depth of taste, as well as the stories behind one of the most extensive collections of gin and champagne in the world.
Parkview Square, 600 North Bridge Road
Asia's best bar is known for their super atas and yummy Adults-Only Sunday Cocktail Brunch. Try something new during your next visit to Singapore at this 19th century-inspired bar, where you get to sample braised beef short ribs with a glass of custom-made Bloody Mary cocktail.
Level 2, Regent, 1 Cuscaden Road
If you're into speakeasies and hidden bars, this is the place for you. It's said that the entrance is so obscure that most people often mistake the unmarked entrance for an empty shop lot.
So pretend to be a secret agent on a mission, and be ready to be blown away by Operation Dagger's experimental cocktails. We recommend Egg, a cocktail that features a mix of local flavours like salted egg yolk liqeur and star anise, with the usual vanilla and hay.
#B1-01, 7 Ann Siang Hill
7. Speak to the last traditional craftsmen of Singapore and learn more about their trades
Traditional bakeries and handmade craftwork are slowly disappearing in many modern countries, including Singapore. There are only a handful of craftsmen and bakers left in the country, while everything else is made by high-tech machines. Thankfully, you can still speak to some of these master craftsmen through the Disappearing Trades Tour, a guided tour that allows you to listen to their stories and see them at work.
You might be interested to visit these traditional stores:
Sing Hon Loong Bakery
This bakery has been producing their signature white bread for more than 50 years. And guess what, it's still baked in the same traditional way. Drop by for a visit and have a look at how these fluffy goodness are made. Even if baking is not your thing, you'll still get to learn something new.
4 Whampoa Drive
Ho Tit Coffee Powder Factory
This local traditional coffee powder factory has been around for more than 60 years, and the owner is determined to keep it going. Here, you can find the good ole' black kopi being roasted with sugar, corn, and butter to create that familiar kopitiam scent. Dominic Chua, the owner, has been running the family business - even personally roasting the coffee beans - since he finished his National Service. He also hopes that his children will continue this traditional trade for many more years.
402 Upper Paya Lebar Road
Yew Chye Religious Goods Trading
This is one of the few shops that still sell handmade paper dolls and houses for the dead. And it's all done by one man, Mr. Li, who has been doing this for the past 30 years. You'll be able to visit the last few paper offering craftsmen, as well as watch them at work through the Disappearing Trades tour.
#01-330, Block 5 Jalan Minyak
8. Explore Singapore's last kampung on Pulau Ubin for a short escape from the busy city life
Near Singapore's Changi International Airport is the country's last 'real' kampung, located on a little island called Pulau Ubin. You can rent a bicycle from one of the shops and explore the island, also known as one of the best places for birdwatching in Singapore. As you cycle past quaint kampung houses, you might even spot one or two old quarries.
To get to Pulau Ubin, just purchase a ticket at Changi Point Ferry Terminal for a bumboat to the island.
Changi Point Ferry Terminal
51 Lorong Bekukong
9. Visit some quirky museums to expand your knowledge
If you think museums are just places that store old things, then you're wrong. There are some really interesting museums in Singapore, which showcase everything from tin toys to vintage cameras! The souvenirs sold in these museums are not too boring too :)
Some cool museums to check out:
Mint Museum of Toys
This place doesn't just house a gallery of vintage tin toys, but each of their individual stories as well. Some of these toys are even more than 100 years old! Relive your childhood through the exhibition of vintage Batman toys, discover the toys that children play with from countries as far as Bulgaria, and bring a piece of these memories home with you.
26, Seah Street
Singapore Philatelic Museum
Want to see the world's first stamp? You can check it out here at the Philatelic Museum. It has all sorts of stamps, even ones with anime. Learn about the story behind each of these stamps: its conception, the meaning in its design, and the routes it has travelled. Then exercise your creativity by designing your own stamp in the museum!
23-B, Coleman Street
Vintage Cameras Museum
Camera lovers and photography enthusiasts will love this place as visitors are allowed to handle some of the vintage cameras on display here. You can find all sorts of cameras here: from the old folding camera to the James Bond-ish walking stick camera.
8C, 8D Jalan Kledek
10. Pose with the Umbrella Trees in Little India for great #travelenvy shots
In case you didn't know, umbrellas grow on trees - but only in Singapore's Little India. The colourful 'leaves' on these trees make them look like a scene from a children's book. These are the creations of Singaporean artist, Marthalia Budiman, who was inspired by the trees around the area. This functional art piece was then brought to life by Project Oasis Little India and Artwalk Little India: where it acts as a pretty photo piece, as well as a shade for tourist and shoppers.
So have your phones fully charged before you head there, because it's gonna be a long day of endless photoshoots.
The art displays are always changing in Little India, so you'll get a pleasant surprise with every visit!
#5 Hindoo Road, Rochor
There's something for everyone in Singapore, whether you're into art, history, or just the nightlife
Even if you're travelling solo, as a couple, or with kids, you can never run out of things to do in the Garden City. And of course the best part is that it's so close to Malaysia!
And if you ever need suggestions for what to do, just check out the VisitSingapore page for a list of activities and exclusive deals that suit your travel appetite.
Find out more about what you can do in Singapore here