Believe it or not, there's as much greenery as concrete in this skyscraper-filled city. Here's a guide to Singapore's best parks and islands for flora, fauna, water and wildlife
It might always be sweltering here in Singapore, but don’t let the heat stop you from getting outside to soak up the sun or bask in nature. This tiny red dot is, after all, known as a garden city for a reason: there are numerous islands, sprawling nature reserves, and parks to explore. We dish out our top picks below.
The Triple Threat: St. John’s, Lazarus, and Kusu Islands
Fancy a day of island lounging sans the usual Sentosa crowds? Make your way to this triple treat of rustic islands accessible via a 30-minute ferry ride. Whether you’re an adventure junkie with a mission to spend the night in a former quarantine centre (St. John’s), a beach bum who’s looking for the best sandy white beach Singapore has to offer (Lazarus), or a history buff keen on 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. On Pulau Ubin, 15 minutes away from Singapore by bumboat, there exists the last remaining kampongs (Malay villages) where residents still draw from wells for water and use diesel generators for electricity. We recommend walking around the island and visiting Chek Jawa or renting a mountain bike and taking on the rugged terrain. Tip: Make sure you don’t leave without enjoying rustic 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 avid photographers, don’t miss the HSBC Treetop Walk or the 7-story Jelutong Tower – both offer gorgeous Insta ops and views of forest surrounds.
Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserves
This is one 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 – that’s when shorebirds, waders, plovers and sandpipers visit. Sounds a little intimidating? Don’t worry, there are free guided walks every Saturday to learn about the reserves.
Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
What’s the highest point in Singapore, you ask? Bukit Timah Hill may only be 163.63 metres tall but trust us; it’s definitely a workout climbing the steep slope to the top. Currently, much of this nature reserve – home to one of the richest ecological systems in the world – is undergoing restoration – as its popularity among hikers meant the slopes and trails were in need of some major TLC. The main road leading to the summit 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 51 years of independence, but there are some interesting historical sites around. This includes Labrador Nature Reserve, home to a genuine WWII fort, and 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 the wide variety of birds and butterflies here.
Gardens & Parks
Singapore Botanic Gardens
The Botanic Gardens became Singapore’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015 and the first tropical botanic garden on the list. A quick trip will help you understand why it’s the city’s pride and joy; it’s a beautiful spot for morning runs, sunset dates, exploring the botanical and horticultural attractions, and the National Orchid Garden. 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 entice friends abroad with. Plus, you can’t beat the free admission to the Supertree Grove (it’s worth checking out the nightly light show and using the OCBC Skyway at least once). If you’re passionate about flora and fauna, make a point to check out the Cloud Forest and Flower Dome, which replicate the climates found in mountain regions and semi-arid tropical regions.
Jurong Lake Gardens (Chinese and Japanese Gardens)
Had enough of city chaos and craving peace and quiet? Go west, and check out the Chinese and Japanese Gardens. There, you’ll find beautiful pagodas, grand bridges and even a bonsai garden. It’s especially great for an early morning or sunset walk or jog. If you’ve got little ones in tow, bring them to the Live Turtle and Tortoise Museum, which is home to more than 800 live turtles and tortoises from 50 different species.
Known to be one of Singapore’s most picturesque city walls, this 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 or family and head out here. 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 it’s 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 all types here: fit twenty somethings and sixty somethings jogging, old men languorously fishing, families cycling and more relaxing by the 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 chilli crab). Another option is to rent a barbecue pit if you prefer to DIY.
Once refuelled, consider taking the East Coast Park Area A extension and walk or cycle to Marina Barrage via the coastal park connector network.
Fort Canning Park
Whether you’re into fitness, history, concerts, or the arts, Fort Canning will have something for you. Training for a marathon? There’re plenty of shaded areas for you to seek respite at. For history buffs, there’s so much history to soak up – the park was once 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 and even Hardwell have 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 escape from everyday life.