Mention Singapore to anyone and the Singapore skyline immediately comes to mind. Marina Bay Sands, the Merlion and the Singapore Flyer are well-known landmarks to anyone who’s been to Singapore countless times.
But there’s more to Singapore than meets the eye. Beneath the bustling city there are hidden spots for the avid explorers to discover Singapore like never before and experience the undying spirit and zest of Singaporeans. Lucky for you, we’ve rounded up those spots so you can explore them on your trip. No matter what your interests are, there’s something for everyone ?
Get around Singapore easily by getting a Singapore Tourist Pass
and travel on its public transport networks hassle-free!
Day 1: Get off the beaten track in Punggol
Your hidden gems exploration starts all the way in the northeast suburb of Singapore in Punggol. Once a fishing village with poultry and pig farms, Punggol has since been reinvented into a modern neighbourhood with avant-garde public housing and lush landscapes. Did you know that Punggol was believed to have existed more than 200 years ago, even before the landing of Raffles in Singapore in 1819? While the neighbourhood has transformed drastically, elements of the yesteryears still remain and nature explorers will definitely love uncovering this treasure trove!
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Have lunch at Ah Dong Teh HouseAh Dong Teh House
is a halal char chan teng
(HK-style café) tucked away in a corner of Punggol. Ah Dong truly reflects Singapore’s character as a global melting pot of cultures. The café was born out of a desire to combine a HK-style café with a local twist. The owners’ wanted to fuse a concept of a HK café with a 1970s Singapore-style kopitiam
. The café’s mission is to have “something for everyone” and that’s how the concept of a halal HK café started out. It’s the perfect place to have a good and hearty meal ☺️
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Foodies, you’re in for a treat as Ah Dong has a fusion of HK and Western dishes. Make sure you try the XO carrot cake which has delicious bits of halal luncheon meat. Another dish that you should not miss is the Chicken and Waffles. This mouth-watering favourite is the perfect mix of sweet and savoury ?
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Getting to Ah Dong Teh House from the city is not a hassle with Singapore’s public transport network. Take the MRT to Punggol station on the North East Line (NEL) and transfer to the Punggol LRT East Loop where you can alight at Riviera. From the LRT station, it’s just a 5 minute walk to Ah Dong!
Cycle along Punggol Waterway
Now that your tummy’s full, it’s time to explore Punggol Waterway. This award-winning man-made waterway was built in line with Punggol’s vision as a waterfront estate and is a perfect escape from city life.
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Along the waterway, you’ll notice heritage panels to learn about the history of Punggol. There are also common playing facilities for residents to interact and foster the kampong
(village) spirit. Try it out for yourself to experience the ‘kampong’ spirit from the past and better understand the identity of the neighbourhood ?
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Get your Instagram game on at the park’s picturesque bridges such as Jewel Bridge, Adventure Bridge, Sunrise Bridge and Kelong Bridge. Or head to Lorong Halus Wetland, a beautiful eco-park which was once a garbage dump. Take a moment to breathe in the sights and sounds of nature while you’re here.
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For the adventurous ones, a quicker way to explore Punggol is by bicycle on one of Singapore’s bike-sharing networks such as OFO, Mobike or Obike. Simply download the app into your phone, unlock the bike using the app and off you go!
Discover the untouched beauty of Coney Island
Home to a variety of flora and fauna, Coney Island is a must-go for nature lovers and explorers. The abundance of foliage and decades-old trees keep the island rustic and make the perfect backdrop for your photos!
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Opened to the public in 2015, Coney Island has withstood the test of time. Its history can be traced back to the 1930s when a private beach villa was built by the Haw Par brothers. Later on in the 1950s, it was sold to a private businessman and developed into a recreational spot but that unfortunately, did not work out. Today, the island is once again on its feet and manages to retain its rustic charm ?
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The Haw Par beach villa is also still intact and located deep in the woods. This villa has been untouched for years and is truly a hidden gem.
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Explore your way through the villa and have a fun-filled adventure as you’d first have to seek the path which leads you to the villa. Once there, you’d have to walk on a rickety bridge nestled among mangroves before getting to your destination. You might need to ask some locals for directions. Good luck with finding it!
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While at Coney Island, you might find yourself in the midst of bird-watchers, professional photographers and fishermen (yes, they still exist in Singapore!). It’s fascinating how they can still find time and space to still be passionate about their craft even though Singapore is constantly evolving. Why not strike a conversation with them to find out what keeps their passion alive? You might just be surprised!
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If you’re lucky enough to be in Singapore in June, November or December, we recommend you to sign up for guided walks at Coney Island
. These walks are run by passionate volunteers and here’s your perfect chance to find out more about how the idea for the park as a nature reserve came about. You’ll not only learn about its interesting history but also its diverse biodiversity.
Do pack some insect repellent when heading to Coney Island as there might be a lot of mosquitoes and sand flies.
Chill out at Punggol End
After you’re done exploring Coney Island, cycle all the way to Punggol End which would only take you 5-10 minutes. The beach here is a great place to chill out after an afternoon of cycling and there aren’t too many people except for some locals.
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While you’re enjoying the sea breeze, look out for uncles selling ice-cream on a cart. This “ice-cream uncle” as locals like to call them, are a part of every Singaporean’s childhood. Choose the ice-cream flavour you like and have it with bread, biscuit or in a cup ?
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Have dinner at Kampong Chai Chee
For your dinner, have a seafood feast at Kampong Chai Chee restaurant. Located on the second floor of the Punggol Settlement, dining at Kampong Chai Chee doesn’t just give you a lovely view of the sea but it also reflects Punggol’s past as a fishing village.
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Even if you’re aren’t a foodie, you would definitely enjoy having your seafood prepared whichever way you want. The shell out option would be perfect if you want a wholesome sharing meal with your travel buddies. Alternatively, you can also savour authentic local dishes such as Cereal Prawns and Chilli Crab ?
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If you need to do your prayers, head over to Masjid Al-Islah in Punggol. This beautiful mosque is an architectural gem and it looks like no mosque you’ve ever seen before! The blend of contemporary and Islamic architecture will awe you.
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Wander around Kampong Glam
It’s time to make your way back to the city and wander the alleys of Kampong Glam. Once designated as the Malay quarter by the British, this area has evolved to be a melting pot of different ethnicities from the Malay Archipelago, Middle East and even the Chinese. While this area is now a hipster enclave with independent entrepreneurs and craft makers, there are many shops here that have been handed down the generations and it’s worth checking them out!
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One such shop is the famous Bhai Sarbat stall at Baghdad Street. This unassuming little shop is an iconic hangout spot for many Singaporeans and it is one of the oldest surviving sarbat
stalls (Indian tea stall) in the city.
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Opened in 1956 by northern Indian migrants, the shop was manned by Zamir Ahmad for 40 years. Although he has just retired, the passion for tea-making is still alive. The business has been passed down to Zamir’s nephew, and he’s the ONLY person who knows the top-secret formula. Before it’s served to customers, the tea is pulled to give it its frothiness ?
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Well, if you want a taste of this fresh and authentic tea, you should definitely not miss out on their signature teh halia
(ginger tea) and teh tarik
(milk tea). It’s amazing how this trade of pulling tea has survived amidst the growing number of hipster cafes in Singapore, and is an absolute must-visit!
P.S. Need more tips and information when going around Singapore? Head over to any of the 3 Singapore Visitor Centres
in the city.
Day 2: Discover gems only locals would know at Bukit Timah, Newton & Tiong Bahru
After an adventure-filled day 1, it’s time to go deep into Singapore’s heartlands, explore hidden trails and mix with the locals.
Walk the Green Corridor Trail
Once a part of the historic Singapore-Malaysia railway, the Green Corridor is now a trail for nature-lovers and explorers. You could spend your morning basking in greenery and in case you’re wondering, yes, parts of the old train track still exists.
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Yay, perfect for a photo opportunity! Head down to the Old Bukit Timah Railway Station for your mini photoshoot. Strike a pose, sit down or even lie down on the train track, it’s ALL yours!
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Can you believe that trains were actually operating here from the 1930s all the way to 2011 when it was closed for development?
To get from the city to Old Bukit Timah Railway Station, take the MRT to King Albert Park Station on the Downtown Line. From there, it’s less than a 10 minute walk to the railway station.
Savour Chilli Crab at Newton Food Centre
After all that walking and photo-taking, there’s no better way to reward yourself than by having lunch the Singaporean way – at a hawker centre. Take the Downtown Line from King Albert Park to Newton station to reach your destination. One thing you need to savour at Newton Food Centre is Singapore’s signature dish – Chilli Crab!
Credit: Jian Fa Seafood BBQ on Facebook
This is one dish you CANNOT miss. This mouth-watering local delicacy is so good it’ll leave you wanting more. If you love your food, don’t forget to try other crowd favourites like sambal stingray, satay and bbq chicken wings ?
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We recommend heading to Jian Fa Seafood BBQ (Stall No. 43), Pirate’s Seafood (Stall No. 56) or Takara Grilled Seafood (Stall No. 74)! These three stalls are all halal-certified.
P.S. If you need to do your prayers, stop over at Masjid Ba’alwi near Stevens MRT station. Built in the 1950s, this mosque has served the Bukit Timah area for generations.
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Explore hipster Tiong Bahru Estate
Wander around Tiong Bahru, one of Singapore’s trendiest neighbourhoods. With the houses here built since the 1920s, the estate exudes an old-school charm and immediately transports you back in time.
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Tiong Bahru was the site of Singapore’s first public housing programme and the estate still stands strong, having withstood World War 2 and numerous fires. Take a walk along Tiong Bahru’s corridors and get a taste of nostalgia while watching locals go about their daily lives.
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To get from Newton to Tiong Bahru, simply take the North South Line and change trains at City Hall MRT station.
Tiong Bahru is also where you’ll be introduced to the works of Singapore’s cultural shapers – artists, craftsmen or even writers who have contributed to the vibrant arts scene in Singapore. Be sure to get your camera ready as you go mural-hunting around the estate which are painted by local artist Yip Yew Chong.
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Yip started drawing as a kid into his late teenage days but as he got older, life got in the way and he couldn’t focus on his interest that much. But lucky for him (and us!) he finally got down to developing his passion in 2015 and he really wanted to paint in Tiong Bahru as this was where he had fond memories growing up.
Credit: Yip Yew Chong on Facebook
Yip’s murals reflect Singapore’s heritage as he hopes to create a sense of nostalgia for old Singapore and its childhood years. Other than art, the artist feels passionately about preserving Singapore’s cultural heritage. His aim is to create life-sized and realistic murals so that passers-by can interact with them. So, make sure you take a photo with the characters in the wall!
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Bookworms will love Books Actually
, an independent bookstore which has some of the largest collections of English literature. Even if you’re not into books, the shelves of books will make a pretty good backdrop for your photos ?
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Established by its founder Kenny Leck, the bookstore has amassed quite a following but its success was not without challenges. Leck had to shift his store 3 times due to money issues before settling down in Tiong Bahru. Although he had to take big risks in the dying print book industry, Leck’s passion for books has managed to pull him through!
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BooksActually also has a strong mission to set itself apart from other bookstores by carrying Singaporean literature. Check out Singapore’s booming literary scene with some unique and obscure titles by local writers you can ONLY find here.
If you’re a collector of trinkets and souvenirs, try a unique way of buying books - from the book vending machine at Books Actually!
Bring out the artsy side in you at Grey Projects Art Gallery
and admire some of the interesting artworks at the gallery. Grey Projects is a non-profit artists’ space which focuses on emerging art practices. While a non-profit art space isn’t easy to sustain, its founder Jason Wee hopes to provide a space for international, local artists and aspiring curators to have a space for art that’s not available elsewhere.
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For a deeper understanding of artworks and a chance to meet independent artists, you can also sign up for artists’ talks which will give you an immersive experience of what goes on behind the scenes of their artworks.
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Enjoy a panoramic view of Singapore at Skyville at Dawson
There’s no doubt that Singapore’s skyline is awesome and one spot in the city lets you witness ALL that beauty. Skyville at Dawson might just another public housing but its roof terrace offers gorgeous views of Singapore ?
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Best part is, there is no entrance fee so stay as long as you like and capture as many photos!
Note: To get from Tiong Bahru to Skyville at Dawson, take bus 122.
Have dinner at Spize River Valley
Head over to Spize River Valley, a popular local restaurant which offers a wide array of Western and Asian cuisine. It is sure to satisfy ANY kind of craving and is ideal for your foodie adventures. With a cosy ambience and appetising food, Spize is the perfect place to hang out after a whole day of travelling.
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To get from Skyville at Dawson to Spize, you can take bus 32.
Day 3: Go on a cultural immersion in Katong & Bugis
It’s your final day in Singapore and it’s time for a heritage and cultural immersion in the city’s iconic conservation areas. This will be the perfect day out for all cultural junkies!
Fuel up at Geylang Serai
But first up, head over to Geylang Serai for breakfast. The hub of the Malay community in Singapore, Geylang Serai is mostly known for its Ramadan Bazaar and the Hari Raya light up. But this neighbourhood is still worth exploring even during a non-festive season. The Geylang Serai Market is brimming with activity – witness stall owners and shoppers engaged in conversations!
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Your trip to Geylang Serai won’t be complete without trying the famous traditional Haig Road Putu Piring
. Putu piring
is steamed rice cake with gula melaka
. At just $2.50, you’ll get 5 of them and each bite will delight your tastebuds. We can just imagine all foodies salivating at the sight of this tantalising treat!
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It’s hard to miss the stall owners who are dressed in white and preparing the putu piring
. The stall has been around for more than 20 years! This yummy delicacy is made using a family recipe which the owner, Mohamad Hashim, first learnt from his grandmother. Putu piring
has been the family’s trademark for four generations ?
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The stall was once on the verge of closing but it has since expanded to four branches. The fourth-generation owners are determined to preserve their putu piring
business even though it’s not an easy job.
Another stall you need to try is Kacang Pool Mustafa. This mixed stew of beans, which is middle eastern-inspired, is a delectable treat. Topped with a sunny side-up and eaten with toasted French loaf, this dish will not disappoint!
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To get to Geylang Serai, take the East West Line and alight at Paya Lebar MRT station. From there, it is only a 10-minute walk.
Learn about Peranakan culture in Katong
Just a walking distance from Geylang Serai, you’d find Katong – the heart of the Peranakan (Straits Chinese) community in Singapore. It was the enclave for the Peranakans back in the early 20th
century. Embark on a cultural traipse along the shophouses at Koon Seng Road and be mesmerised by the colourful architecture. This area can be identified by its unique pre-war architecture which has been preserved for decades.
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As Singapore evolves, Peranakan culture has also diluted over the years but cultural shapers of the area have fought hard to preserve Peranakan identity. Learn more about Peranakan culture and heritage at The Intan
, an award-winning museum of all things Peranakan. Peek into the lifestyle and traditions of the Peranakans and admire the unique trinkets in the museum ?
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The owner Alvin Yapp has a deep attraction for collecting items representing Peranakan culture. The items come from Malacca, Penang and even as far as China and England. This place is truly a collector’s dream come true! The Intan joins several other heritage spaces in their efforts to preserve the unique identity of the Peranakans.
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A visit to the museum is strictly by appointment so book your tour here
Have lunch at Singapore’s famous Indian Muslim stalls
You’re not a true foodie until you’ve tried two of Singapore’s most famous Indian Muslim stalls! Head over to Haji Kadir Sup Tulang stall at Golden Mile Food Centre and indulge in their famous sup tulang
(mutton bones in red gravy). The tender meat around the bone and the red gravy makes it an extremely tasty and addictive dish ?
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Alternatively, you can also head over to Zam Zam to try Singapore’s most loved murtabak
. In case you’re not familiar with murtabak
, it’s fried dough stuffed with chicken, mutton or beef with onions, egg and served with a bowl of rich Indian curry.
Sink your teeth in Zam Zam’s mouth-watering mutton and chicken murtabak
for a delightful experience you won’t forget! Can you believe this appetising gem has been around since 1908?! Even though Singapore has a booming food culture which is always evolving, Zam Zam has managed to find its way in becoming a Singaporean favourite.
Visit Sultan Mosque
Built in 1824, Sultan Mosque was one of the first mosques in Singapore. It’s hard to miss this stunning mosque when you’re in the Kampong Glam area. The mosque has withstood the test of time even though Singapore has transformed a lot through the years. Even though the façade of the mosque has constantly evolved, the mosque has never ceased to be an important symbol for Muslims in Singapore.
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Not only is Sultan Mosque a historic icon, it’s also very photogenic, so don’t miss a photo opportunity over here!
To make your experience even more immersive, learn more about the history of the mosque and the area around it from a mosque docent. Find out more here
Do some last-minute shopping in the city
Before you leave Singapore, shop for souvenirs at Bugis Street. This is the perfect place for affordable items to get for friends and family back home. You can even snag some good deals on clothes here!
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If you’re looking for more upscale and eclectic souvenirs, Haji Lane would be ideal for you. Here’s where you can get items from independent designers and see how they have managed to fuse fashion with local culture. Head over to Mondays Off
for their selection of Singapore-themed souvenirs. The items here are more unique and subtle as compared to Bugis Street.
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An even more unassuming place to get your souvenirs would be Bras Basah Complex. This 1980s-styled mall is a charming time capsule in the heart of the city. It’s the go-to place for old bookstores, art supplies and even vinyl records. This is the place to be if you’re a collector of all things vintage. With Singapore’s ever-changing landscape, Bras Basah is definitely a gem worth exploring!
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BONUS: Unwind at Atap Bar If your flight departs at night, squeeze in some time to check out Atap Bar. Don’t worry, no alcohol is served here! This newly opened rooftop hang out place sells bespoke mocktails named after nostalgic Malay folktales, songs and musical instruments. This is where you should go if you want to be with the in crowd and socialise with the locals ? Credit: Atap Bar on Facebook And while you’re sipping your mocktail, take in the breathtaking views of the city! What a wonderful way to end your trip. Credit: Atap Bar on FacebookNote: Unfortunately, Atap Bar is temporarily closed :(
Head to the airport
It’s been a wonderful and memorable 3 days in Singapore but it’s time for you to say goodbye ? From the city, you can easily make your way to Changi Airport by travelling on the East West Line and changing trains at Tanah Merah station. From there, it’s just two stops to the airport.
We hope that this hidden gems itinerary has introduced you to some of the best-kept secrets of Singapore and shown you that the city-state has something for everyone. Whether you’re an explorer, foodie, culture shaper or a collector, Singapore’s got you covered! So, the next time you visit the Lion City, you’ll know that it isn’t just a concrete jungle but a city with many beautiful spaces waiting to be discovered ?
This article is brought to you by Singapore Tourism Board.