Head Outdoors to the City’s Islands, Reservoirs, Nature Reserves, Gardens and Parks! Believe it or not, there are as much greenery as concrete in the skyscrapers-filled Singapore. Here’s where to go to be surrounded by flora, fauna, water and wildlife.
It might always be sweltering out in Singapore, but don’t let that stop you from getting outside for a spot of sunshine and nature. This tiny red dot is known as a garden city for a reason; and there are numerous islands, nature reserves, and parks to explore. Here are our top picks:
The Triple Threat: St. John’s, Lazarus, and Kusu Islands
Fancy a day of island hopping, and want to avoid the crowds at Sentosa? Make your way to this triple treat of rustic islands a 30-minute ferry ride south of central Singapore. Whether you’re an adventure junkie wanting to spend the night in a former quarantine centre (St. John’s), a beach bum wanting to soak up the rays on the best white sand Singapore has to offer (Lazarus), or a history buff wanting to learn more about local myths (Kusu), there’s an island for you. The public ferry from Marina South Pier will get you to one or all three of the islands (there’s no direct ferry to Lazarus but it’s an easy walk from St. John’s), or you could opt to head there by private yacht.
The National Parks Board is establishing Singapore’s first Marine Park at the Sisters’ Islands with guided walks and education programs for all ages. More than 250 species of hard corals can be found in the Park, along with over 100 species of reef fish, 200 species of sponges, and a dozen or so seagrass species. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the rare Neptune’s Cup Sponge, which is unique to Singapore’s waters. Transportation to the island is included with the National Parks guided tour, or you could easily charter your own boat.
Believe it or not, it’s still possible to get a glimpse of Singapore in the olden days before it’s transition into the glossy urban metropolis we know today. On Pulau Ubin, 15 minutes away from Singapore by bumboat, there are the last remaining kampongs (Malay villages) where residents still draw from wells for water and use diesel generators for electricity. Whether you choose to walk around the island and visit Chek Jawa or rent a mountain bike and take on the rugged terrain, make sure you don’t leave without enjoying some tasty kampong cuisine and seafood from one of the restaurants near the Ubin Jetty.
Reservoirs & Reserves
Singapore is home to four reservoirs – Lower Peirce, Upper Peirce, Upper Seletar and Macritchie – but the latter is by far the most popular. There are well-marked hiking trails, clean waters for kayaking or canoeing (you can rent them on site from Paddle Lodge), and a lovely boardwalk for strolls around the water’s edge. For the keen photographers, don’t miss the HSBC Treetop Walk or the 7-story Jelutong Tower – both offer gorgeous photo ops and views of the surrounding forest.
Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserves
This is one is for the serious nature lovers. All the way up North, this wetland reserve is rich in biodiversity and has an extensive mangrove forest. Visitors can spot monitor lizards, otters, eagles and even alligators. Sungei Buloh is open to visitors all year, but is most popular during the migratory season from September to March as this is when shorebirds, waders, plovers and sandpipers visit. An extension opened in late 2014, and has more features for kids including an obstacle course and play area. Sound interesting but intimidating? Don’t worry, there are free guided talks every Saturday on the themes of sky, mud or water.
Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
What’s the highest point in Singapore, you ask? Bukit Timah Hill may be but 163.63 metres tall but it’s definitely a workout climbing the steep slope to the top. Currently, much of this nature reserve – home to over 900 plant species and a few Macaque monkeys – is undergoing restoration – as it’s popularity among hikers of all ages meant the slopes and trails were in need of some TLC. The summit trail is now open to the public on weekends, but the full restoration will only be completed near the end of 2016.
Labrador Nature Reserve
Singapore might be just be celebrating 50 years of independence, but there are some interesting historical sites around. Labrador Nature Reserve is home to a genuine WWII fort, and you can explore secret tunnels beneath the reserve (though these are currently closed for maintenance). Still open are fitness stations, and the jogging track around the reserve. Keep an eye out for over 70 different kinds of birds and a dozen species of butterflies.
Gardens & Parks
Singapore Botanic Gardens
The Botanic Gardens became Singapore’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015 – the first tropical botanic garden on list. There’s a reason why it is Singapore’s and pride and joy –it’s a beautiful spot for morning runs, sunset dates, exploring the botanical and horticultural attractions, and National Orchid Garden etc. Don’t forget to check out Food for Thought at the near the Tanglin Gate for a bite to eat. Keep an eye out for free events at the outdoor Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage, which hosts concerts by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.
Gardens by the Bay
Both a marvel of human engineering and environmental sustainability, Gardens By The Bay is the futuristic garden you’ll want to show your friends to entice them to visit Singapore. There is free admission to the Supertree Grove (it’s worth checking out the nightly light show and using the OCBC Skyway at least once), and the outdoor gardens have been host to numerous events such as outdoor movie screenings and concerts. If you’re passionate about flora and fauna, then make a point to check out the Cloud Forest and Flower Dome, which replicate conditions found in mountain regions and semi-arid tropical regions respectively.
Chinese and Japanese Gardens
Had enough of the hustle and bustle of the city and wanting some peace and quiet? Go west, and check out the Chinese and Japanese Gardens. A little bit of China and Japan in Singapore, there are beautiful pagodas, bridges, a bonsai garden, and more to explore. It’s especially great for an early morning or sunset walk or jog. If you have little ones, bring them to the Live Turtle and Tortoise Museum. There are more than 800 live turtles and tortoises from 50 different species here including the alligator turtle, golden temple turtle, and radiated tortoise.
One of Singapore’s most picturesque walks in the city, the 10-kilometer trail known as the Southern Ridges links Mount Faber Park, Telok Blangah Hill Park, Hort Park, Kent Ridge Park, and the Labrador Nature Reserve. Along the way, you’ll pass the architectural marvel that is the Henderson Waves Bridge and the Forest Walk – both will provide gorgeous views of the city. Grab your friends and/or family and head out here –there’s something for everyone from history buffs to bird lovers. You won’t want to forget your camera.
This 24 km stretch follows Singapore’s old railway line from the Woodlands to Tanjong Pagar (north or south). It’s wide and flat, which means its easily shared by walkers, runners, and cyclists. There are no official signs along the way but a local sustainability consultancy has put together 8 easily navigable walking maps – some are marked as being especially good for taking photos.
East Coast Park
Want to hit the reset button after a long week? Get yourself to East Coast Park! Whether you’re there at 8 am or 8 pm, you’ll see fit twentysomethings and sixty somethings jogging, uncles fishing, families cycling and more enjoying this 15 km stretch of beach. It’s also quite the foodie destination with the East Coast Lagoon Food Village and East Coast Seafood Centre (a popular spot for chili crab). Another option is to rent a barbecue pit you prefer to DIY.
Once refueled, consider taking the East Coast Park Area A extension and walk or cycle to Marina Barrage via the coastal park connector network. With stunning views of Marina Bay Sands, Gardens by the Bay and the city skyline, it’s the perfect place to catch sunset.
Fort Canning Park
Into fitness, history, concerts, or the arts? If yes, Fort Canning will definitely have something for you. There are lovely shady areas and steps if you’re training for a running race. There are also lots of historical artefacts to observe as it was the site where Malay royalty once ruled, and where the British surrendered to the Japanese during WWII. Today it is mostly home to concerts – Bloc Party, Fall Out Boy have recently played here – and events such as Ballet Under the Stars, Shakespeare in the Park, and Films at the Fort. No matter your chosen activity, it’s a wonderful spot to take a breather from the busyness of everyday life – whether on a run or taking in a show – and be thankful for the life you’re living.
This article first appeared on The Honeycombers, “an insider’s guide to Singapore. [They] profile the latest and the undiscovered in fashion, shopping, travel, nightlife, beauty, wellbeing, home and kids, along with weekly inspiration of things to do.” Click to read the article (and see more photos) here.