Singapore combines both art and nature into a cultural amalgam that has made it my new favorite city. If that sounds good to you, read on for a three-day Singapore itinerary that will fulfill your need for art and nature, including nine suggestions for beautiful places to visit.
Gardens by the Bay at dusk
Why Visit These Beautiful Places in Singapore?
Singapore has been conscientious about cultivating both art and nature. Its recovery from WWII and the separation from Malaysia in the mid ’60’s set Singapore on a path toward managing its own destiny. That independence combined with its multicultural society created fertile ground for an emerging art scene in the 1970’s. Today, Singapore has many art galleries, museums and public art installations, and it’s also a leading center of contemporary art for all of southeast Asia.
Singapore’s population of 4.4 million people makes it one of the most densely populated cities in the world. And yet, they have managed to keep 45% of their land in green space. According to the World Cities Culture Forum, they beat out London (33%), New York (27%) and Hong Kong (40%). Because Singapore is so compact, the national parks and gardens are very accessible and easily reached by public transportation.
London, New York and Hong Kong also have art scenes. But the most beautiful places in Singapore have aspects that combine both nature and art. It’s this fusion that makes this Singapore itinerary so rewarding.
MacRitchie Nature Trail
Your Three Day Singapore Itinerary
What follows is a suggested offering of the art and nature-lover’s best places to visit in Singapore in three days. It covers twelve things to do in Singapore which will maximize your visit without exhausting you too much.
Day One: MacRitchie Nature Trail, National Gallery, Haji Lane
Morning: MacRitchie Nature Trail
Singapore’s National Park Service offers over 40 DIY walks in the various parks around the city. But the MacRitchie nature trail is special because it accesses one of the largest parks in the city. The trail has a lot of variations, but don’t miss the treetop walk and MacRitchie trail along the reservoir. Enter at the top of the park from Venus drive. The treetop walk is a 3.5 mile (6/k) loop that winds through the dense tropical forest and it includes a swing bridge that offers a tree top view of the forest and city beyond.
There is art to be found on this trail in the form of interesting bridge architecture as well as sky high access to the expansive city views. There is a resident monkey on the bridge who thinks he’s a bridge troll and he “extracts” tolls by begging for food. Once you have paid him your toll and completed the loop, proceed down the MacRitchie nature trail (roughly another 3 miles or 5/k) to the south end of the reservoir.
Pro Tip: They are unspecific about park hours but daylight is best for the tree top hike. There is a ranger station with bathrooms and water but be sure to bring an extra bottle of water.
National Gallery of Singapore
Afternoon: National Gallery
The National Gallery of Singapore oversees the largest collection of modern art in southeast Asia. They have combined the old City Hall and Supreme Court buildings into an art space joined together by a light filled atrium. The architecture also brings the outside nature into the museum with a rooftop sculpture garden and a restaurant deck that is perfect for viewing Singapore’s skyline.
The art itself is interesting because it turns traditional Asian art inside out. Many pieces use traditional materials (such as woodcuts or silk painting) but they are executed with a very modern style and subject matter. This is not simply Asia’s version of Impressionism or other European constructs, but rather the art explores modern subjects in a very Asian way. The museum also has a huge tabletop display with a touchscreen that allows visitors to choose a piece of art and learn more about the artist and history of the piece.
Pro Tip: Standard admission for a non-Singaporean is SD$20 ($14USD). Open Sun-Thu 10a-7p, Fri-Sat 10a-10p.
Evening: Haji Lane & Arab Street
Get dinner, a drink and a dose of street art on Haji lane and Arab street. The neighborhood is a seemingly incongruous mix of Muslim Mosque, Middle-Eastern restaurants and cool bar vibe. There is interesting street art sprinkled throughout the small neighborhood and it’s a nice place to chill after a hard day of hoofing it around the MacRitchie nature trail and National Gallery.
ION Orchard sculptures
Day Two: Orchard Road Sculptures, Gillman Barracks, Southern Ridges Trail
Morning: Orchard Road
Orchard Road is more commonly visited for its mega-mall shopping district. But if you look past the Prada, you will also find a great deal of interesting public art. Right in front of the ION mall is a whimsical piece of sculpture featuring Gumby-like shoppers. Also in the mall is the ION Art gallery. At the time of my visit, they were hosting an exhibition on wildlife photography. Are you catching onto the art/nature theme? There are also pieces in front of the Regent Singapore, St Regis hotel, Orchard Parade hotel, Hilton hotel, the Four Seasons, and Paragon.
Afternoon: Gillman Barracks
In 1936, they housed the British infantry but today the Gillman Barracks houses a cluster of twelve contemporary art galleries and six restaurants. You can have lunch and then spend a few hours wandering around the grounds.
Pro Tip: There is bus and metro service near the Barracks but it is awkward getting there from Orchard road. Just take a cab/Uber and have them drop you in front of the ice cream shop.
Evening: Southern Ridges
This jewel in the park system is 6 miles (10/k) of trail connecting the Mount Faber, Talok Blangah Hill and Hort parks. Like MacRitchie, it is on a hilly area of the city and some of the trails offer views of the southern part of the city and the bay. There is also art to be found on this trail in the form of the Henderson Waves bridge. It’s cool curvy structure has amphitheater-like shaded seating.
The bridge sits 118 feet (36/m) above Henderson street and it is well situated for city views to both the north and south. So take as long a walk as you wish, but be sure to get to the bridge at sunset for a free, natural light show.
In addition to art and nature, Singapore has a lot of quirky and unusual spots. Check out this alternative guide on interesting places to eat, see, play stay.
Day Three: Botanical Garden, Subway Art, Gardens by the Bay
Morning: Botanical Garden
The 150 year old garden was originally established as an “economic garden.” Sir Stamford Raffles started it as a way to test crops (like rubber) for large scale agriculture. Over time, the garden expanded to include roads, terraces, a performance space and children’s garden. In 2012 it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The garden is sub-divided into zones and it would take you all day to see everything. So check out the map and choose a few areas that are of most interest to you, but don’t miss the orchid garden. You do need to pay a small fee to enter the orchid garden but it’s worth it. Orchids are nature’s tropical art, and the variety and beauty in the botanical garden are museum-quality.
Pro tip: You can easily get to the southern end of the Botanical garden from the metro Circle Line.
Circle Line subway art
Afternoon: Subway Art
Get back onto the Circle line and ride it for as many stops as you can. All of the Circle line stations have some sort of public art and most of it doesn’t require you to leave the fee zone. The pieces aren’t always in an obvious spot, so think of it as a public transportation treasure hunt.
Evening: Gardens by the Bay
Gardens by the Bay is one of the most beautiful places in Singapore. It is the perfect marriage of art and nature. They offer (free) gardens along the south and eastern edges of the bay. The park includes a lake and heritage gardens representing Singapore’s Chinese, Malay, Indian and Colonial history.
The paid attractions include the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest conservatories and the Skyway Supertree grove. The gardens and conservatories have been very gracefully designed. They are people-friendly and can accommodate a lot of visitors without feeling too crushed. There is a lot to see in the conservatories so take your time.
The Supertrees are the iconic Instagram shot of Singapore with their huge canopy of colored lights. However, they aren’t all structure, because each Supertree column has a thicket of plants growing within it. A combined ticket for the conservatory is SD$26 ($19USD) and the Skyway costs an additional SD$8 ($5.75USD).
Pro Tip: You can do the conservatories and gardens any time of day. But be sure get there before dusk. Do the Skywalk right at dusk and the city will be treat you to a skyline sunset display. And once it’s fully dark, take a seat on the plaza below the trees for a light and music show.
Other Things to Do in Singapore
You can do all of the above as a DIY itinerary for Singapore. But if you like the idea of some guided nature activities, checkout the following:
And if you have time for more art, consider visiting the Art Science at the Marina Bay Hotel and the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) and if you have a shorter visit, check out this overnight layover guide to Singapore.
Consider stopping off in Singapore on your way to Sri Lanka. Check out this guide to Sri Lanka to learn more about its wildlife and cultural treasures.
Planning Your Trip
Since the Singapore airport is a gateway to Asia from the US and Canada, it makes a great place to do a long stopover on your way to the rest of southeast Asia. Anywhere in Singapore is an easy 20-30 minute metro ride from the airport.
Before you leave the airport, stop at the mobile booth and pick up a SIM card. For under $20US you can get a card with more than enough data for three days. And having the SIM will allow you to use Uber, check attraction times and use mapping to help you find your way to all of these things to do in Singapore.
Then get a 3-day SD$20 EZ pass which will give you unlimited bus and metro rides. The metro is clean and convenient and the buses are reliable and plentiful. Download a Singapore transit app to get easy instructions for public transportation. Regular taxis and Ubers both operate in Singapore and they aren’t expensive.
Coping with the heat
Singapore sits near the equator and, holy smokes, it’s hot and muggy there. Don’t do anything on this Singapore itinerary without a bottle of water at hand. Tap water is potable and don’t forget the occasional cold beer to supplement your hydration.
Where to Stay
I was lucky enough to be hosted by Hotel 1929 during my stay in Singapore. It’s situated on a historical street in Chinatown. The hotel’s sordid past as a bordello added to the charm… and to my ongoing quest to find great independent hotels that break the mold but still provide soft bedding and great breakfast. In addition, the hotel is modestly priced, has a hip vibe and the room’s plantation windows overlook the street.
Use Skyscanner to find the best fares to Singapore
Armed with this itinerary, you can spend three artful days seeing the beautiful side of Singapore. Happy trails!
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