If you’ve ever thought about visiting Singapore there’s a good chance you’ve heard someone tell you how expensive it is. You’ll find most of the tourist spots live up to this expectation, where the cheapest bottle of wine on a menu sits at $100AU and dinner at a nice restaurant can easily set you back $400AU for 2-3 people. It turns out, this isn’t the way the locals live. Savvy Singaporeans know where and how to find the very best things to see and do in Singapore, without breaking the bank. Here are some tips on how to explore Singapore on a budget by living la vida local!
Finding the best food
Steer clear of restaurants and bars in the heart of Singapore, instead opt for a trip to well-known food courts and hawker centres for the very best food on offer. For a real locals experience and to save money, get out of the main tourist areas pronto. You want to be heading to places like Bedok, Siglap and the East Coast Parkway, which is the side of town I lived in.
Hong Lim Food Court in Chinatown is famous for producing delicious food and most dishes will cost around $3 – $4AU. Be sure to try Hainanese chicken rice, curry chicken bee hoon mee, wanton noodles and laksa. You’ll also find the East Coast Lagoon Food Centre a fantastic place to eat, it’s one of my favourites. It’s by the water, packed with locals and the food here is divine and affordable. The seafood here is top-notch!
You’ll find the very best Indian food on offer at Komala Villas, my favourite place to eat in Singapore. Masala Dosai here will set you back a whopping $3AU. So delicious and so filling, a really great experience away from all the over-touristy restaurants and very affordable. Read my guide on the best must-try foods in Singapore here.
The high-end stores of Orchard Road are great, but not really affordable for most people. Instead, head to the Bugis Street Market, day or night. You’ll find three floors of markets crammed into a pretty small building, selling everything from clothes and costume jewellery to hats, make-up and everything in-between. It’s a great place to pick up bargains and souvenirs on a shoe-string and, yep, you’ll find locals here too. Be warned though, it’s one of the places where you just may not find anything you like on the day, but visit a week later and you may find loads of stuff you love.
Other shopping spots you might like to check out are the Mustafa Centre in Little India, which is jam-packed with all kinds of stuff! Just don’t go in there wanting anything specific, the best approach is to go in with an open mind and grab what you like. You should also visit Lucky Plaza, Far East Plaza and the Anchorpoint Shopping Centre, which is home to many great factory outlets. So many budget buys to be had! Read my guide on what to pack for a trip to Singapore here.
It can be really tempting to catch taxis everywhere because they’re much cheaper than in Australia. All those cab rides add up and you won’t find many locals catching cab after cab. Instead, by an EZ-Link card from the MRT (train) station. It’ll cost you $12AU, which includes $7AU travel credit and $5AU fee for the card.
The train system in Singapore is incredibly easy to work out and it’s really cost effective to catch both trains and buses around the island. If you need help, an app called Next Ride is a great way to figure out how to get where you want to go, but seriously, the island is so small that even if you catch the wrong train or bus, it won’t be the end of the world to fix the mistake. Read my guide on how to find your way around Singapore here.
Coffee, tea and drinks
You won’t find the best coffee at a Starbucks or hipster cafe in Singapore, instead you’ll find it at your local food court or Hawker Centre. Even if you’re staying in the heart of Singapore, you’ll still find a food court hiding in the top or bottom of a shopping mall.
Order yourself an Ice Kopi or Ice Teh-O, it’s strong, flavourful and delicious and shouldn’t cost more than $1.30AU. You should also try some of the other yummy drinks they have, my favourite is Lychee Ice Tea, but the sugar cane juice and lime juice are also very tasty. When it comes to alcohol, there’s no getting around the cost due to taxes, but drinking a tallie of Tiger at a food court should cost around $7AU, which is far better than the $18AU pints you’ll find at Clarke Quay.
Some of the best things in Singapore are free! Catch the MRT to the Gardens by the Bay and marvel at the Sky Trees. Visit Collyer Quay in the evening and watch the light show from Marina Bay Sands. Take a trip to Chinatown and watch old men play checkers, then stroll through the incredible Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. Visit the East Coast Parkway and sit on the beach, watching the lights from hundreds of cargo ships twinkle on the horizon. Explore the incredible Fuk Tak Chi Temple near Telok Ayer, the oldest temple in Singapore!
Watch our ‘Singapore for first-timers’ video
Phoebe Lee is a travel writer and award-winning blogger with a love for storytelling. Phoebe creates practical, fun and engaging written content designed to inspire and energise travel-lovers and dreamers. Follow her and Matt’s adventures at home and around the world, right here on Little Grey Box and through Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.