Unconventional things to do in Singapore
Ask any tourist for their itinerary in Singapore, and the answer will surely involve things like Katong Laksa, Marina Bay Sands or the Singapore Zoo. True enough, they’re classics, and one does not simply leave without trying our chicken rice. But for the adventurous traveler, classic barely scratches the surface.
Perhaps you’re a tourist looking for a route less traveled, or a local yearning to see home in a new light. Either way, we’ve put together a non-touristy guide to Singapore, away from the mainstream sites. Did you know that our Istana can be explored for a fee of $2, or that we have our very own Tsukiji Fish Market here? Well here are 30 super local experience you now can tell your friends about.
1. Kayak through a mangrove swamp with your BFF
Paddle through the mangroves of Khatib Bongsu in the North or in Pulau Ubin in the East, against the backdrop of lush greenery. This experience presents you with the opportunity to take your appreciation of nature to the next level. If you’re lucky, you may even spot dugongs in the wild at Pulau Ubin.
While it’s relatively easy to get the hang of kayaking, you’ll still want to come prepared for a challenge - your arms will be seriously toned by the end of the expedition! Also, speaking from experience, capsizing is actually pretty fun. Just saying.
When: check schedule
2. Explore Singapore’s own White House at the Istana Open House
You’ve probably walked past the Istana and its watchful guards sternly patrolling the entrance, as if to say “DO NOT ENTER. EVER.”
But you can actually enter the Istana - its grounds are open to the public 5 times a year. Boasting lush gardens and handsome architecture, you’ll want to explore Singapore’s own White House, the official residence and office of our president.
Entrance to the Istana grounds is free, while entry into the main building costs $2. Take a guided walk of the Istana gardens and main building (from $2), or download the Istana Garden Walk app on your phone (/) to scan QR codes around the Istana for a self-guided tour option.
Address: 91 Cavenagh Road, Singapore 229629
When: 5 times a year (in line with Chinese New Year, Labour Day, National Day, Hari Raya Puasa and Deepavali), 8.30am-6pm. (check for Open House dates)
3. Glimpse into Singapore’s very own Tsukiji Fish Market at 3am
If you fancy shopping for your groceries the real old school way, the Senoko Fishery Port is a fish market where buyers and seafood merchants come to stock up on the freshest seafood even before the crack of dawn. Straight from the supply line, prices are much lower too!
Or if you’re just a night owl looking for something to do at 3 in the morning, the flurry of activity will be an intriguing eye opener.
Unceasingly buzzing with activity, this place is a wet market at its best. Think sellers in yellow rubber boots and eager buyers buzzing around baskets of freshly caught seafood laid out across wet concrete floor. And, of course, the briny smell of the sea - that’s how you know it’s serious business.
Address: 31 Attap Valley Road, Singapore 759908
Opening hours: 2am-6am Tues-Sun, closed Mondays
4. Dine on a super cool boat while cruising down the Singapore River
You must’ve seen the tourist-filled sampan boats along the Singapore River, but Float @ The Bay is quite something else. It’s no rustic sampan - think a classy mini-cruise with an exquisite four-course dinner as you take in the sights and sounds of the riverside for an hour and a half.
Alternatively, indulge in some post-dinner drinks on the floating bar with the city skyline before you - whatever floats your boat!
Address: at River Explorer kiosks
When: dinner cruise boarding time at 7pm or 7.30pm at the Clifford Pier River Explorer kiosk; floating bar cruise runs from 7pm-12am daily
5. Or fish for your dinner on a kelong off mainland Singapore
As a nation that LOVES food, we wouldn’t hesitate to travel to the far ends of the island in search of the best cafes and restaurants. What about off the island?
Catch a bumboat to Smith Marine - a 5,000 sq ft structure, located just off Pulau Ubin. It’s a first-of-its-kind floating restaurant started with the idea of promoting fresh seafood. The real fun is how they’ll provide you with a rod and bait and you can actually fish in their “sure-catch pond”. You can have the restaurant cook your catch for dinner ($35), or take it home ($15).
Expect zi-char fare with the freshest seafood here.
Address: 01'23'52"N 103'57'42"E (contact Jessie Toh at 9792 7609 to charter a bumboat)
Opening hours: 10am-7pm (pick-up at Changi Village Ferry Terminal, by reservation only)
6. Grab a cocktail at a secret, password-only bar
Update, 2017: Library is no longer in operation
After dinner, hit up some unconventional bars that, ahem, raise the bar.
From bars hidden in plain sight to eateries that transform into bars only when night falls, try these speakeasy and concept bars that you never knew about. I reckon The Library takes the prize - hidden behind wall of books, mention the password to gain entry to the bar via a secret door in the bookshelf.
I don’t want to give too much away, but get the password on the bar manager’s Twitter account, or ask the staff at Keong Saik Snacks next door.
Address: 47 Keong Saik Road, Singapore 089153
Opening hours: 6.30pm-1.30am Mon-Fri, closed weekends
7. Attend a secret dinner party in a stranger’s dining room
There’s just something thrilling about being let in on a secret. So here’s one: dine at a secret dinner party!
For an inside scoop into the underground dining scene, Khana Commune hosts supper clubs in their own dining room, bringing you Bengali cuisine with both the quality of a restaurant and the homeliness of a mother’s cooking. Table bookings can be made for 1-18 people at a time, and dinners are held at 8pm twice a month. There’s a different set menu for every party thrown!
When: Check their calendar of events on their Facebook page
8. Defy gravity with a water jetpack at Sentosa
Most people respond with a look of disdain at the mention of Sentosa.
But hear me out, my friends: stand-up paddle boarding! Banana Boats! Wakeboarding! And - wait for it - water jetpacking! GASP.
All are welcome, especially those who’re curious about what it’s like to be Ironman. Certified instructors will help you to master a trick or two, so just turn up with lots of energy and be ready to get soaked!
Address: SeaBreeze Water-Sports @ Wavehouse , Siloso Beach, Sentosa, Singapore
Opening hours: 10.30am-7pm, daily (last activity booking at 6.30pm)
9. Head outdoors for real rock-climbing at Dairy Farm
Step aside, indoor climbing walls. Heady adventure-seekers can head to Dairy Farm for some quarry rock climbing - we’re talking the real deal!
A quarry-turned-nature reserve, it’s the only regularly maintained outdoor climbing area that offers bolted climbing facilities. There are clear climbing routes mapped out, but if you’re a beginner, you might want to go with the veteran climbers in the , who can guide you along and also provide the climbing equipment.
10. Hold your own Hunger Games in a round of archery tag
Why archery tag over laser tag, you ask? For the unapologetically sadistic pleasure upon actually seeing your opponent get physically hit by your arrow ammunitions, obviously.
Not to worry though, they’re only soft foam-tipped arrows. But still.
Combining dodgeball and paintball with the skill set of archery, annihilate your opponents this battle of arrows - or be annihilated!
Address: Free locations at Katong Park, Serangoon Community Park and Tiong Bahru Park
Opening hours: 9am-11pm daily
Tag Team (Indoors)
Address: 920 East Coast Parkway, #01-03 Parkland Green, Singapore 449875
Opening hours: 3pm-9pm Wed-Thurs, 3pm-10.30pm Fri, 11am-10.30pm Sat, 11am-9pm Sun & Public Holidays
11. Gun your target down at clay shooting
Some say it’s impossible to hold a real a gun in Singapore. They were wrong.
If you fancy the opportunity to shoot with a real gun, try your hand at clay shooting at the Singapore Gun Club. Shoot down clay pigeons, special flying targets, if you can; but even if you don’t, at least you can now say you once shot a gun with your bare hands.
Address: 990 Old Choa Chu Kang Road, Singapore 689810
Opening hours: 10am-5.30pm Tues-Sun, closed Mon
12. Have a go at underwater hockey for the first time ever
Adding on to the list of sports you’ve never heard of before but absolutely need to try is underwater hockey. Players, equipped in their battle gear in the form of snorkels, play with sticks and a puck at the bottom of a swimming pool. Pucking cool or what?
Sessions are held twice a week, and everyone’s invited! Even if you’re a rookie, fret not - experienced players will be on hand to teach the basics to new players of the sport.
Address: Queenstown Swimming Complex, 473 Stirling Road, Singapore 148948
When: Tuesdays and Fridays, 7pm-9pm
13. Feel like a legit F1 driver for a day
F1 doesn’t only happen once a year in Singapore - be your own F1 driver anytime at Kartright Speedway or The Karting Arena.
You don’t even need a driving license if you’re using the karts that go up to 30 km/hour! It’s electrical powered so we didn’t have to worry the kart would slow down at curves. In fact if you jam the accelerator pedal while turning, you’ll drift. You’ll be able to get your best lap timings at the end of your race on their computer.
For those looking for something casual, Kartright speedway also has 2 seater karts that cater to couples and parents. We spotted a dad patiently guiding his young son as they drove around the track. And for couples, it’ll make for a perfect dating activity because both wheels actually control the cart. You can take turns driving each other around without having to change seats.
The Karting Arena
This is no ordinary go-karting we’re talking about - The Karting Arena is Singapore’s first electrical karting track, boasting a modern fleet of karts with superior acceleration as well as a challenging race circuit that will leave you with the ultimate race experience.
On Tuesday nights, the circuit becomes a race track - take your place and compete to be crowned champion as you progress through the race, consisting of a practice session, qualifying session, a pre-final race, and the finals. They claim it’s all in the spirit of “casual racing” and is “nothing too serious”, but we all know that the race is on for real.
Address: 511 Upper Jurong Road, #01-05, Singapore 638366
Opening hours: 11am-10pm weekdays, 9am-10pm Sat, 9am-7pm Sun
The Karting Arena
Address: 200 Turf Club Road #01-01B, The Grandstand, Singapore 287994
Opening hours: 10am-10pm Tues-Sun, closed Mondays
14. Explore Singapore’s oldest neighborhoods before they’re gone
Come 2016, we’ll be bidding a teary-eyed goodbye to some of Singapore’s oldest and most iconic public housing estates, namely the cosy Dakota Crescent and the vibrantly coloured Rochor Centre. So pay these places a visit and bask in the air of nostalgia before they’re torn down to make way for newer developments.
Dakota crescent is a small estate of 17 blocks, built in 1958 by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT). The SIT was a government organisation set up by the British colonial government and predecessor to today’s HDB.
Rochor Centre is home to some of the most iconic HDB flats in Singapore, worlds apart from the hectic Bugis district it resides in. The coloured flats will bring an edgy vibrancy to your instagram-feed so capture that moment before it gets torn down in 2016.
Take the lift up to the 4th level for a view with the bright coloured buildings right in your background.
- Dakota Crescent, Singapore
- Rochor Centre, 1 Rochor Road, Singapore 180001
15. Pick up a new skill at an artsy workshop
With a wide array of workshops running on a regular basis, from paper marbling to jewelry making to creative bento-making, you’re bound to find one that pique your interest.
Check out Public Garden and Naiise for their workshop schedules, and get ready to get down to work!
- most workshops coordinated by Public Garden are hosted at 195 Pearl's Hill Terrace, Level 3, Singapore 168976
- workshops coordinated by Naiise are hosted at Naiise @ The Central, #02-23, Singapore 059817 or Naiise @ Orchard Gateway, #02-24, Singapore 238851
16. Enter a pet-lover’s heaven at Ericsson Pet Farm
Located at an ulu part of Pasir Ris, you’ll be delighted to know a place dedicated to these furry friends exists in Singapore. Whether you’re more of a dog or a cat person (who came up with such an evil question?), you’ll find a little one to fall in love with, be it a French Bulldog or a Persian cat.
Ericsson Pet Farm also sells small animals like rabbits and offers grooming, boarding, re-homing and various other services. Around the area, you’ll find a pet hotel, pet supermart and a pet training studio, where pet owners can have all their needs taken care of.
Address: 16 Pasir Ris Farmway 2, Singapore 519316
Opening hours: 10.30am-7pm, daily
17. Glimpse into your future with a tarot card reading
Take a walk down Waterloo street or Little India and you’d find many touting their fortune-telling services - from palm reading to parrot astrology. How about tarot readings for a change? Some swear by their accuracy, while others are apprehensive, but there’s only one way to find out, right?
Popular tarot card readers can be found in pockets of Chinatown, such as within Pearl’s Centre, and downtown in the Rochor district, particularly in Peace Centre and Fortune Centre. Some of the most reputable readers even operate in their own homes.
Do your research beforehand to find a reputable reader; take their words with a pinch of salt if you must, but it nonetheless makes for an interesting experience!
18. Whizz around in a hoverboard
If you’re a 90s kid, chances are, you would’ve heard of Heelys - a brand of roller shoes with wheels embedded in each sole. Now that you’ve blossomed into a mature adult, it’s time for an upgrade - hoverboards and uniwheels.
If you’ve always wanted to give this a shot, but are not willing to drop a good $700, you’ll be glad to know that you can actually rent one for only $50 a day.
Commuting just got a whole lot more fun, or simply sashay around for the sake of it as you effortlessly zip past pedestrians like a boss. Casual.
Address: 1 Irving Place #02-25 (S369546)
Opening hours: Noon to 6pm daily
19. Sign up for a walking tour of Bukit Brown Cemetery
The Bukit Brown Cemetery is equal parts spine-chilling and enthralling, housing about 100,000 tombs of Singapore’s pioneers with graves dating back to as early as 1831. It’s recently been put in the spotlight, after news of its possible exhumation have been released.
The long-abandoned cemetery has had a good run. Replete with history, it has been a symbol of the stories of our ancestors, like Gan Eng Seng and Chew Joo Chiat. Join a guided tour to learn more about a lesser known aspect of our heritage.
Address: Lorong Halwa, Singapore (from bus stop #41149, walk towards Sime Road, walk along Kheam Hock Road to hit Lorong Halwa)
When: first Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon of every month, and on an ad hoc basis (register )
20. Go second-hand book hunting at Bras Basah Complex
Revel in book heaven at Bras Basah Complex, housing plenty of what I like to call the mama shops of bookstores. If there’s anywhere you’d find an old issue of Archie’s Comics or the Bookworm Gang’s adventures, this is your best shot.
Find reads, both old and new, of every genre and type - novels, music scores, manga, cookbooks - they’ve got it all. Bookworms, especially, would most definitely spend hours at a stretch sieving out the best books.
Address: Bras Basah Complex, 231 Bain Street, Singapore 180231
21. Or thrift furniture shopping
They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and second-hand furniture shops must know this all too well.
Featuring old gramophones to vintage trinkets to upcycled furniture, we’ve compiled a list of second-hand and antique furniture shops that will transport you back a good few decades.
Oh, they’ve got a floor-to-ceiling statue of Sir Stamford Raffles too, naturally.
22. Share a kiss on a trishaw along Singapore’s heritage streets
Even if you’re a local, it doesn’t hurt to be a tourist in your own city once in a while. And if that means riding on a trishaw while immersing yourself in the sights and sounds of Singapore’s busy streets with your date, then go for it!
For a complete, dynamic experience, hit up Trishaw Uncle, a trishaw tour operator which organises heritage and food trishaw tours. You can even customize your own tour if you like.
Address: Trishaw Uncle tours can be found all over Chinatown, but they begin at Albert Mall Trishaw Park, 1 North Bridge Road, 15-06, High Street Centre, Singapore 179094
Opening hours: 11am-9.15pm (last tour), daily; independent trishaw drivers operate till late
23. Get competitive in a game of cosmic bowling
When night falls, there’re more things to do than either eating or drinking yourself silly - go cosmic bowling! Think glow-in-the-dark bowling pins and balls as well as energetic party music to get your heart pumping.
- 48 Boon Lay Way, The Chevrons #11-01, Singapore 609961
- 1A Tampines Street 92, SAFRA Tampines #03-01, Singapore 528882
- 60 Yishun Avenue 4, SAFRA Yishun Country Club #02-V2, Singapore 769027
- Orchid Bowl @ The Chevrons - Tues, Wed, 8pm-1am
- SAFRA Tampines - Fri, Sat, 8pm-3am
- SAFRA Yishun - Sat, 8pm-3am
24. Discover a new and nearby diving spot at Pulau Hantu
We all know Tioman or Batam as great diving destinations, but equally deserving of attention is Singapore’s very own Pulau Hantu. A short 40 minute bumboat ride away from mainland Singapore, dive trips last for as short as half a day, making it perfect for a quick, sporty getaway from the city hustle. And you won’t need to take your passport with you.
Corals are abundant and the natural marine biodiversity is richer than you’d imagine. Granted, the waters aren’t completely clear and visibility may be poorer on some days, but it’s no biggie as long as you keep your eyes peeled!
When: dive companies such as , and offer diving day trips every weekend
25. Race on water in a human hamster ball
Make waves at your pool party with these water ZOVB balls. You’ve probably seen ZOVB balls on land, so obviously the next move would be to take to the pool.
All you need is your condominium or club pool, or even simply an inflatable pool; rent these water ZOVB balls for the day and you’re good to go!
It’s probably also the closest you’ll get to walking on water. If you can maintain your balance, that is.
Opening hours: Make a booking
26. Spice up your date night with a theatrical dinner
Inject an element of mystery and art into your dinners - at AndSoForth’s theatrical dinners, guests are informed of the dinner venue only on the day itself. You’ll be provided clues on how to get there, where an interactive performance cum gastronomical experience awaits.
They only ask one thing of you: to keep the experience a secret between you and them!
When: Check their calendar of events
27. Dine amongst creatures of the night on a Night Safari tram
Enjoy a 5-course feast on a tram ride around the Night Safari and its myriad nocturnal wildlife animals with the Gourmet Safari Express. Also, enjoy free-flow beverages, including wine and beer. I repeat: free-flow beverages.
Finish off with a Creatures of the Night show, with performances from the Night Safari’s 7 animal kingdoms.
Address: Singapore Zoo, 80 Mandai Lake Road, Singapore 729826
When: 7pm-10pm, daily
28. Make your own ice cream at Udders
Known equally for their local delights as they are for their classics, from Mao Shan Wang Durian to Rum Rum Raisin, Udders is no stranger to the typical Singaporean. But the secret to their creamy, decadently rich ice cream? That’s what you need to find out at Udders’ ice cream making workshop. Sign up. Now.
You don’t need an ice cream maker to make ice cream. Learn to make ice cream using easily available home appliances - so you know the skills you acquire will definitely come in handy!
And if you need any more reason to give this a go, let the post-workshop ice cream buffet be it. You’re welcome.
- 155 Thomson Road, Singapore 307608 17 Lorong Kilat, #01-08 Kilat Court, Singapore 598139
- 81 Upper East Coast Road, Singapore 455220
- 246D Upper Thomson Road, Singapore 574370
Opening hours: workshops run 10am-6pm Mon-Fri, 10am-1pm Sat
29. Eat, paint, love in an art jamming session
One’s creative juices flow best when the tummy is satiated. That’s why art jam cafes such as Arteastiq and Cups N Canvas let you munch on some brunch while you paint anything you want on your canvas - which you get to take home after!
Address: Mandarin Gallery, #11-14/15, 333A Orchard Road, Singapore 238867
Opening hours: 11am-10.30pm weekdays, 10am-10.30pm weekends
Cups N Canvas
Address: 139 Selegie Road, Singapore 188309
Opening hours: 11am-10pm Mon-Thurs, 11am-11pm Fri, 9am-11pm Sat, 9am-10pm Sun
30. Eat durians at a roadside stall in Geylang
Because we guarantee you there are no better durians than “Guratee Good” durians!
Nothing screams local more than sitting by the most local of streets, eating the most local of foods. After a hearty dinner of frog leg porridge, maybe?
Fruits Top 1 Department Store is a good bet for top-grade, creamy durians such as Mao Shan Wang and D24. Alternatively, walk down any other Lorong and you’ll almost certainly spot a Durian stall within sight. Sibei shiok.
Fruits Top 1 Department Store
Address: 608 Geylang Lorong 36, Singapore 389547
Opening hours: 24 hours
Go forth and explore!
Note: The contest below is now over.
It’s safe to say that we’ve debunked the myth that Singapore isn’t all work and no play. There’s tons to do, rain or shine, for the young and the young at heart.
So don’t keep this experience to yourself! If you’re constantly waxing lyrical about your favourite local dishes or lepak spots to your loved ones overseas, and wishing they were here to experience it with you, why not make it a reality? And better yet, for free?!
The Singapore Invites contest ends 6 December 2015, so and fly your loved one over to Singapore now!
Invite a friend to Singapore with these guides!
This article was brought to you by Singapore Tourism Board.