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Alternative Singapore: 11+ Unique Things to Do for the Seasoned Visitor

Alternative Singapore: 11+ Unique Things to Do for the Seasoned Visitor

If you’ve already been to Singapore and checked off the tourist must-dos, congratulations: it’s time to scrape off the polish and experience some more…unusual things to do in Singapore.

Whether you like arts, history, nature, or nightlife, there’s something on this mega-list for everyone. You may want to plan a longer trip in Singapore next time!

Places to go in Singapore: unusual attractions

Visit Universal Studios Singapore Haw Par Villa

Singapore’s infamous alternative theme park, Haw Par Villa, was once a popular leisure park modeled after all manner of Chinese folklore. However, it fell into a state of disrepair after the late 90s, when visitor numbers were too low to keep Haw Par Villa running in the black.

[photo-HPV-childhood]

Rumors of hauntings gradually gave this place its air of mystery, and foreign visitors who have ventured here in recent years (likely for Ingress or Pokemon Go) have been creeped out, in equal parts by the garish statues and dioramas and the shockingly oppressive Confucian values they’re supposed to impart.

Directions

Get a bird’s-eye view of the city from Marina Bay Sands The Pinnacle@Duxton

Marina Bay might be one of the most popular places to visit in Singapore, but I’m not forking out $350 just to get an “Insta-worthy” photo of myself in the infinity pool. The Pinnacle@Duxton costs only 1% of the price of a room at MBS: $3.50! (SGD 5)

Things to do in Singapore: Catch the sunset at The Pinnacle@Duxton, Singapore

The Pinnacle @Duxton is an iconic public housing development in Singapore comprising seven 50-storey apartment blocks connected by two sky gardens. The upper garden on the 50th level is open to the public for just SGD 5; all you need to do is register at the security office with an EZ-Link card, and you’ll be able to enjoy views of Chinatown, Keppel Bay, and parts of the city for as long as you want!

Directions

If you still want a view overlooking Marina Bay, but at a more affordable price, I recommend an evening tipple at 1-Altitude or LeVel 33.

Want to get around Singapore fast + cheap? Use this Singapore public transport guide.

Stroll around the retro-hip neighborhood of Tiong Bahru

Unlike most of the residential areas in Singapore, Tiong Bahru is where clusters of old, low-rise apartments line meandering streets – and where the back alleys are backdrops for Instagram shoots.

Alternative Singapore: Tiong Bahru estate

Bookstores are one of my favorite alternative attractions wherever I travel. Local independent bookstores are filled with character, and BooksActually is no exception. Stashed away in a quiet corner of the estate, you’ll find BooksActually (and its three purr-pietors). The bookstore sells works by local writers and artists; I highly recommend you get a collection of poems by Cyril Wong.

Things to do in Singapore: unique activities and tours

Walk the Southern Ridges trail, above roads and amid forests

The Southern Ridges is my favorite nature trail in Singapore because it’s more than just a nature trail – there’s plenty of history, art, and good food along the way! The 10km long trail spans several parks along Singapore’s southwestern edge, all the way from Kent Ridge Park (near Haw Par Villa) to Mount Faber (near Sentosa Island).

Things to do in Singapore: Walk the Southern Ridges trail. Photo © James Tan

You can download this official PDF guide filled with useful info on the Southern Ridges. Insider tips:

  • If you like art, make a detour to Gillman Barracks (opposite HortPark) to check out the art galleries and cool down at Creamier – one of my favorite ice cream shops!
  • Walk in the opposite direction towards Harbourfront instead. This way, you can take a cable car to Sentosa, grab some hawker grub at Seah Im Food Centre (right above Harbourfront MRT station), or cross over to Vivocity mall to enjoy the air-conditioning and boardwalk.

Directions

Go cycling and mangrove kayaking at Pulau Ubin

Once a granite quarrying site, Pulau Ubin (“Granite Island” in Malay) is now one of the last rural and natural retreats to be found in Singapore. Thankfully, the island’s heritage and ecology are still being preserved.

Things to do in Singapore: Pulau Ubin quarry lake
A quarry lake in Pulau Ubin

You can find check out things to do in Pulau Ubin and how to get there on these websites: National Parks and Wild Singapore. I recommend this guided kayaking tour around lush mangrove habitats – it’ll definitely change your impression of Singapore.

Learn about Peranakan heritage and culture

Known as Babas (men) and Nonyas (women), the Peranakan people are descendants of 15th-16th century Chinese immigrants to the Indonesian archipelago and Straits of Malacca. On this 3.5-hour guided Peranakan trail with food tasting, you’ll visit the Peranakan Museum to admire traditional Peranakan costumes and crafts, marvel at baroque Peranakan architecture along the shophouses of Katong and Joo Chiat, and taste richly spiced, flavorful Peranakan dishes.

Looking for more unique walking tours in Singapore? Try The Original Singapore Walks.

Make your own pottery using a traditional Chinese dragon kiln

A dragon kiln (龍窯/龙窑) is a long, thin, sloped kiln which originated in China, designed to reach extremely high temperatures for firing stoneware and porcelain. Here in Singapore, Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle is the last pottery studio in Singapore possessing a dragon kiln.

[photo-thowkwang]

Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle is not easily accessible by public transport in Singapore, but joining a pottery workshop here is truly one of the more unique things to do in Singapore as you surround yourself with creative Singaporeans – still considered deviants in a city of meticulously groomed places and people.

Discover Singapore’s haunted horrors…

Talk to Singaporeans about ghosts, and you might find yourself spellbound for hours by the tales of pontianaks (female vampires), Japanese soldiers, and demonic possessions. After all, our multicultural, multi-religious society is fodder for great spine-tingling tales and superstitions.

An old cemetery in Singapore which no longer exists
An old cemetery in Singapore which no longer exists.

There are currently no official ghost tours in Singapore, but you can check in with Ghost Files Singapore or Singapore Paranormal Investigators to join their expeditions. This is as unsafe as it gets at night in Singapore!

…and abandoned places

Combine this with the fact that behind all the shiny buildings, there are lots of hidden and abandoned sites with forgotten histories. If you’re looking to do some urbex in Singapore, get in touch with the Urban Explorers of Singapore – they’ve got incredible knowledge of all the secret spots, many of which come and go with the rapid pace of demolition and redevelopment in Singapore.

Find more unique tours in Singapore

Still looking for more unusual things to do in Singapore? Try these:

Shopping: Singapore’s indie brands and boutiques

Cop style finds and creative cocktails at Haji Lane

In contrast to the mega-malls lining Orchard Road and the downtown district, Haji lane’s shophouse boutiques and cafés invite you to explore the works of local designers and creators at your own pace. You may even find limited edition vintage and contemporary fashion, accessories, jewelry, and even furniture.

In the evening, head up to Bar Stories, where your tastes, personality, and conversations are crafted into bespoke cocktails that perfectly match your mood.

Shopping in Singapore: Haji Lane. Photo: Danny Santos / Singapore Tourism Board

Get cool, unique Singapore souvenirs at design stores

Singapore’s multicultural society and status as a key trading port makes it uniquely creative, and you can find lots of cool items to take home as souvenirs. My favorites are Supermama, Naiise, and The Farm Store; all have boutiques in Singapore’s downtown region.

Accommodation: unique hotels and hostels in Singapore

The Warehouse Hotel ($$$)

This beautifully restored boutique hotel somehow manages to convey the history of its Robertson Quay location (a bustling and, at some point, seedy neighborhood) even as it possesses that quiet, upmarket elegance reflecting the riverside area’s modern-day vibe. Learn more/book here or here.

Lloyd’s Inn ($$)

Lloyd’s Inn is my kind of introvert’s haven. The zen atmosphere of its rooms and shared areas, with foliage pretty much the only daub of color, is a welcome respite from the sensory overload of nearby Orchard Road.

MET A Space Pod ($)

This utterly cool space-themed capsule hostel doesn’t just look futuristic – each pod boasts a personal safe, controllable lights and air-conditioning, TV with a selection of movies, and folding lap desk. MET A Space Pod has branches in Boat Quay, Chinatown, and Little India.


I hope this alternative guide to Singapore will inspire you to explore it even deeper and help you to get to know us locals too! Have you tried any other unique things to do in Singapore? Have these alternative activities changed your impression of Singapore?

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