The last few times I visited Singapore, I was bored out of my mind.
I’ve spent school holidays visiting family here, so it was no surprise I ran out of fun/touristy things to do!
I’ve just left Singapore after spending a month living here, and came to realize there was so much to do in Singapore beyond the regular tourist activities! There is so much more to Singapore beyond Marina Bay Sands, Gardens by the Bay and Chinatown.
To share some of my favorite “less touristy” activities, I’ve created a guide to exploring Singapore off the beaten path:
1. Visit the Peranakan Museum
“Peranakan” means “child of” or “born of” in Malay, and is used for those of mixed ethnic origins. Most Peranakan are of Chinese and Malay origins, but there are also Peranakan communities of other ethnicities, including Indian and European heritage.
The Peranakan museum celebrates the unique culture of the Peranakan communities and is worth a visit especially if you aren’t familiar with this part of Singaporean culture. Here you’ll find personal artifacts and cultural display. My favorite (and also the most eye-catching in the museum!) is the selection of wedding jewelry, wear, and rituals.
Entry is $10 for adults, and the museum is open daily from 10 am to 7 pm (Fridays open to 9 pm)
A tea set at the Peranakan Museum
2. Learn about Singapore’s Chinese Migrant history at the Chinatown Heritage Centre
For most tourists, Chinatown is an obligatory stop where you take photos with some of the lanterns and eat a meal at one of the many restaurants. I’m here to tell you – if you do just this, Chinatown is almost underwhelming. BUT if you include a visit to the Chinese Migrant history, you may come to appreciate Singapore’s hardworking and humble beginnings.
The Chinatown Heritage Centre isn’t a regular run-of-the-mill museum. Grab an audio guide and explore life-size replicas of a shophouse, filled with families living in tiny spaces. This was one of my favorite experiences in Singapore. As someone of migrant parents, I find that the migrant experience isn’t celebrated in the form of museums often enough.
3. Cafe hop at Tiong Bahru, check out boutique shops or take in the art deco-inspired architecture
Tiong Bahru feels like hipster heaven. Filled with cute cafes (including some of the best European style coffee in Singapore!) and independently owned boutiques, this suburb is a great place to spend a lazy Saturday morning. The area also has beautifully styled Art Deco buildings (if you love architecture this is a great place to visit!)
Some of the beautiful art deco style architecture in Tiong Bahru
4. Go shopping at the MAAD (Market of Artists and Designers)
MAAD is a market filled with goods from creative entrepreneurs. It’s held on Fridays once a month at the Red Dot Design Museum and is a must-visit if you want a unique souvenir to bring home with you.
5. Walk amongst the trees at the MacRitchie Treetop Walk
Singaporeans love to experience the outdoors (must be all that city living!) I’m always hearing from my Singaporean cousins about how much they love hiking and camping.
It’s no surprise how popular this treetop walk is. Located at MacRitchie Reservoir, this treetop walk is over 250 m long. If you’re afraid of heights, I’d give this a miss (the suspension bridge is 25 m/ 82 feet above the forest floor).
If you’re not afraid of heights, however, this is a great way to escape the hustle of city living. The Treetop Walk is open Tuesday-Sunday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and is closed on Mondays.
View from the treetop walk
6. Learn more about Peranakan history at the Baba House
Near Chinatown, the Baba House is a completely restored (thanks to the National University of Singapore) Peranakan House from the 1920s.
7. Visit a local Hawker center (my favorite is the Old Airport Road Hawker Centre!)
Nothing gives you better insight into true Singaporean life than a visit to a local hawker center. Hawker centers are the heart of local Singaporean food. Filled with small family owned food stores, these are great places to enjoy a cheap local meal.
Most tourists visit Maxwell Food Center as it’s home to Tian Tian Chicken Rice (one of the best places in Singapore to have chicken rice!) This hawker center is catered towards tourists, and you see very few Singaporeans eat here.
If you want a true hawker center experience, I’d recommend you visit a local non-touristy one. The experience is different, and you feel more like you’re in the hustle and bustle of things! My favorite is the Old Airport Road Hawker center, which is arguably (according to my relatives) one of the best hawker centers in Singapore.
8. Visit the colorful Peranakan houses
Located on Koon Seng Rd (the section between Joo Chiat Rd and Tembeling Rd), this was one of my favorite experiences when here. As a self-proclaimed lover of colorful walls and buildings, I can’t help but fall in love with these houses.
The Peranakan houses are beautifully maintained and restored houses from Peranakan families. That is, families of mixed origins (mainly Malay and Chinese) in Singapore. The road can get pretty busy, so watch out for cars when photographing. When you’re done, you should stroll down to East Coast Road for some delicious food (more on that below!)
Colorful Peranakan houses on Koon Seng Rd
9. Explore East Coast Road – filled with delicious food and colorful shop fronts
We spent our last weekend in Singapore here on East Coast Road. The recommendation came from one of our Singaporean friends, and we loved it! The area is filled with lots of delicious food and the shop fronts along this road are colorful and fun to look at.
Kaya toast and tea with an iced milo – the perfect Singaporean breakfast!
Some food recommendations:
Chin Mee Chin (204 E Coast Rd, Singapore 428903)
If you haven’t had kaya toast + eggs in Singapore, this is the place to do it! The shop front is very “homely” and has a traditional feel. Grab a seat and order your breakfast (or snack!) from one of the aunties who work here.
Brownice Italian Vegan Ice Cream & Kitchen (53 E Coast Rd, Singapore 428771)
For my vegan friends, you need to hit this shop up! They serve Italian vegan meals, but the best part is that they have vegan ICE CREAM (!!) yes my vegan and lactose intolerant friends. Their ice cream is made from brown rice so you can feel healthy at the same time.
So there you have it, my local recommendations for off-the-beaten-path activities in Singapore!
After spending a month in Singapore and getting bucket loads of suggestions from my Singaporean friends and cousins, there is so much to do here beyond Gardens by the Bay and Marina Bay Sands.
I’d love to hear from you- have you ever been to Singapore?
Would you ever plan a trip?
Why or why not?
Leave me a comment below!