In this Covid environment, with no interstate travel and strict border control, it’s all about maximising local activity. Getting outdoors and be in nature is the best way to not only keep active but ‘safer’ than indoors spaces.
Singapore has sparked an interest in nature beyond my road and trail running. Interest in cycling, botanical, birdwatching, wildlife and World War II (WWII) history of Japanese occupation – to name a few. Despite of lacking in land spaces, there are still plenty of special pockets to explore in this jungle city, best thing is they are free!
Through the lens of an expat-turn-resident having lived on the island, the compilation below recommends free things to do and see for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. When tourists begin to flow in again, I hope this can be used as a bucket list – away from the mainstream manmade attractions (such as Marina Bay and Gardensby The Bay), which you can find further suggestions at Visit Singapore tourism website. Also see it as a bucket to-do-list to inspire your next outdoor and nature activity – before further deforestation, gentrification or modern urban planning as things get rapidly change on the island!
Tips and Getting Around
Singapore is hot (in low 30 °C) and humid (average 80%), but occasional drizzle or showers may occur. Heat issues might be mitigated when you are in nature, under well-sheltered tree canopies. Expect occasional drizzle, but heavy pour during rainy season with thunder and lightning. The temperature is cooler which is pleasant to be outdoor after rainfall. Prepare for breathable clothing, comfortable walking shoes, bring mosquito repellent, umbrella or rain cover, and a bottle of water – you are ready to explore the tiny island. Public transportation is reliable and handy too. Get an EZ-Link card, then you are sorted to get on trains and buses. When in nature, stay on the trail and don’t bother to feed those monkeys or wild boars!
Leisure ride along Park Connector Network but can get busy, so best to time wisely like very early morning or after dinner. The most popular is East Coast Park stretches 15 km of the entire East belt to Marina Bay. Alternatively, consider hitting the roads. Such popular roads are Tanah Merah Coast Road and Changi Coast Road for dedicated cycling lane. South Buona Vista Road is also popular for the most twist and turn of all road in Singapore (9 curves and 13 bends). For mountain biking, refer to section below (3,4,5, and 7).
Nature Trail, Park and Reserve
- MacRitchie Reservoir: A place for many activities like walking, hiking, trail-running, fishing and Kayaking. Popular for Treetop Walk (suspension bridge) and Jelutong Tower (observatory deck). A loop around the stunning reservoir is 11 km but can extend to 2, 3, 4, and 5 below. The ruins of a once-massive Japanese Shinto shrine (Syonan Jinja) built during WWII are hidden in the thick, off-trail jungle, though the remnant bridge can be seen just above the water (West of reservoir).
- Windsor Nature Park: Another park within jungle starts from Venus Drive at Upper Thomson Road – closest access for Treetop Walk. Includes Venus Loop, Squirrel Trail then Drongo Trail.
- Bukit Timah Nature Reserve: The highest natural point in Singapore at 163 metres, rich in ecological system though not much view. 3 routes to choose to get to the summit (combination of tarmac, stairs, and unpaved trails). You can also find Hindhede Quarry and caves. To connect McRitchie with Bukit Timah is Kampong Trail off Rifle Range Road.
- Dairy Farm Nature Park: Multiple trails for hiking and mountain biking. Known for the most challenging stair climb that leads to Bukit Timah summit (basically backdoor entrance with less crowd!). Two route options 1. Dairy Farm Loop 2. Via North View Path. Another favourite is Wallace Trail (named after Alfred Wallace, who developed Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection). Wallace Education Centre and a remnant of old village life also worth a look.
- Zhenghua Nature Park, Chestnut Nature Park and Mandai T15 Trail: This is my best pick because it is less crowded, long with a wide trail. Zhenghua Park connects Bukit Timah with Chestnut Nature Park via Belukar Track. Chestnut is Singapore’s largest nature park to date with Northern and Southern area (lead to Mandai near Singapore Zoo). Certain paths are dedicated for mountain biking only – also has Pump Track and Bike Park. The observatory tower is a must climb!
- Botanic Garden: The most manicured garden on the island is a UNESCO World Heritage site. My favourites are Fragrant Garden, Evolution Garden, Rainforest Walk, and the Palm Valley Loop. Spot the heritage trees such as Burmese Banyan and Tembusu (featured on the back of Singapore 5 dollars note). Also dotted around the garden are heritage black and white houses.
- Southern Ridges
- Mt Faber: My favourite spot for a perfect view of the city. This may be touristy – hello to the Merlion (one of 4 on this island), cable cars and Bell of Happiness (love bells). But there’s plenty of walking/hiking opportunity leading to Faber Peak like the popular Marang Trail, Mount Faber Loop, and less known stairs surrounding that connect with main roads (off Telok Blangah Rise, and Henderson Road). Landmarks not to be missed are Danish Seamen’s Church, Radin Mas Keramat (Javanese princess tomb) and the Faber Deck by Carpark B (excellent view of Sentosa Island away from the crowd!)
- Telok Blangah Hill Park: The Henderson Waves (wave-like bridge) connect Mt Faber with Telok Blangah Hill Park. Here, Alkaff Mansion stands still – built by a prominent Arab family as a holiday home when they migrated and resided in the old day of Singapore. Forest Walk near top of the hill is an elevated platform suits for birds watching that connect with Alexandra Arch nearby Hort Park.
- Hort Park: A special park used for nursery and gardening place. Less crowded, serene and tranquil. Gardens aside, my favourite is the stunning surrounding nearby area of black-and-white houses situated along Canterbury Road, Winchester Road and Russels Road.
- Kent Ridge Park: A zig-zagging path and stairs connect this quiet area with Hort Park via Canterbury Road. It was the site of WWII battle, war history can be relived (Battle at Pasir Panjang) at the ‘Reflections Bukit Chandu’ museum, located at one end of Canopy Walk. I enjoy the tree-lined path with lush ferns, the undulating road here (hello Vigilante Road) and the tranquillity of Kent Ridge Park Pond. The view from various lookout points are not bad. It also has a mountain biking area that can be accessed from South Buona Vista Road.
- Labrador Nature Reserve: The only rocky sea-cliff park, best for the sea breeze and ocean view (though most of the time view of cargo ships!). My favourite is to be at the end of the fishing jetty, Berlayar Creek Boardwalk along with mangrove trees, Bukit Chermin Boardwalk to the end of beautiful Keppel Bay, and to Keppel Island. Possible to extend the journey to Harbourfront and then continue to Sentosa Island on foot via Sentosa Boardwalk (who needs a cable car?). The lush hillside of Labrador is worth visiting for a WWII history lesson – expect old fort, artillery, and secret tunnels.
- Sentosa Island: There’s more to this island than beach, hotels, and entertainment parks. Free entrance through Sentosa Boardwalk by foot and cycling alike. Option of 3 beaches if you fancy beach fun activities. Coastal Trail aside, other hidden gems are Fort of Siloso, canopy walk, Sentosa Nature Discovery and Imbiah Trail in forest setting. Map for Sentosa’s Natural Heritage Walk here.
- Pearl’s Hill City Park: This is a little secret hill like an oasis nearby Chinatown and Outram – often overlooked by its busy residents. Worth checking out even for a quick stop.
- Fort Canning: City view aside, this hilltop is one of the most important sites steeped in multi-faceted history and artefacts. Quiet and serene with plenty to see. Landmarks not to be missed are Stamford Raffles house, Keramat Sultan Iskandar Syah (the site of the last Sultan that used to rule Singapore), fort gate, tunnel, lighthouse, flagstaff, gothic gate, cemetery wall and 14th-century fortification line. Out of 9 historical gardens, my favourites are 2 of Javanese gardens (Sang Nila Utama and Pancur Larangan) and Spice Garden.
- Rail Corridor (aka Green Corridor): This belt used to be a more than century-old railway line that connects Singapore to the Peninsular of Malaysia provides an area of lush jungle – but is currently under urban development project. The land and tracks were owned by Malaysian Railways called Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM), but since returned as Singapore land (after a land-swap deal). Highly recommended to explore this 24km path (or part of it). As a guideline, check on Google Maps (showed as a green dotted line called “The Greenway”), NPark site and local news on which stretch opened or closed. While most train tracks have been removed, you can still view the old Bukit Timah Station, and 2 truss bridges; at Upper Bukit Timah Road (near The Rail Mall) and another across Bukit Timah Road (near King Albert Park). I entered from the South via Jalan Kilang Barat and explored all the way to Bukit Timah Road. Lush bushes, wildflowers and secondary forest aside, you will appreciate neighbourhoods along a route that a car couldn’t follow. Detour is possible and my favourite is a gravel road off Green Corridor that leads to Holland Green Linear Park, Holland Plain, and Old Holland Road for the big open field.
- Bukit Batok Nature Park: A peaceful place to walk through trees, visit the quarry and Japanese memorial at the top of steps leading up to a transmission tower. View of Marina Bay Sand can be seen from afar.
- Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve: The location is a bit far from the city, but if you are looking to see Mr Crocodiles and migratory birds (September to March), this mudflat and mangrove eco-system won’t disappoint. Plus view of Malaysia across Straits of Johor.
- Cost-to-coast (C2C) Trail: A long 36 km route that connects 10 checkpoints from Jurong Lake Gardens (West) to Coney Island (East) – includes various nature parks and interesting places. Cycling is possible, and while I haven’t personally tackled this C2C, some sections been explored such as Punggol Waterway Park, and the new Lornie Nature Corridor (my favourite!) – the latter is nearby MacRitchie Reservoir.
My favourite path in the city is along a river that runs from Alexandria and flows into the Marina Reservoir. Often overlooked beyond Robertson Quay but there is plenty to see. From a leafy riverside community of condominiums to historical landmarks. Otters spotting, bridges that connect both banks, art tunnels and museums – never a dull moment! Explore further into Kallang River, Rochor River, Whampoa River, Pelton Canal and Geylang River.
Off-Marked Trail for A Little Adventure
- Bunker, Keppel Hill Reservoir and Japanese Tomb. I’ve provided pictures guide about this off-marked trail here. The sites are not far from each other in the forest of Mt Faber.
- Fisherman Trail for view of Upper Seletar Reservoir. Access from one of trail in Chestnut Nature Park. Recommend this blog post for more details.
- Earth Trail at Telok Blangah. Very short but nice addition when visiting the Forest Walk. Descent to Earth Walk via steps by carpark 3 on Telok Blangah Green or anywhere along the Forest Walk. The Earth Trail will end at Hort Park via Alexandra Arch. Recommend this blog post for more details.
Inner Suburbs/City for Urban Walk
- Dempsey Hill: Former army barrack and hospital turned into a tranquil lifestyle community surrounded with lush green and beautiful houses. My favourite is Ridley Park Road (including its jungle loop), and the back road neighbourhood near durian stall (Pierce Road, Ridout Road and Swettenham Road).
- Tanglin & Nassim: This suburb is nearby Botanic Garden. Not to miss are Nassim Road and Cluny Road for bungalows, estate, and heritage houses. If you recall that bungalow with gold ornate sculptural water in Crazy Rich Asia movie, it is located at number 4, Cluny Park.
- Joo Chiat/Katong: Charming suburb for traditional colourful shophouses with the laid back vibe of a seaside suburb. Not to miss are Koon Seng Road, Tanjong Katong Road and East Coast Road.
- Tiong Bahru: Interesting inner suburb for viewing the country’s oldest housing estates (unique architecture), and art mural.
- Telok Ayer, Chinatown, Little India, Kampong Glam and Orchard. Any of these for heritage walk and culture fix despite surrounding urban jungle. By the way, Duxton Hill, Bukit Pasoh Road, Ann Siang Hill offer lines of picturesque shophouses. For gorgeous terrace houses, stroll around Emerald Hill situated nearby Orchard Road.
Is that all? Well, if you are looking for something else and interesting, how about the suggestion below – some are recommended by ‘locals’ but I personally haven’t tried and tested them.
- Remnant of the Berlin Wall
- Sembawang Hot Spring
- Kampong Lorong Buangkok (last traditional villages on the island)
- Other small islands/‘pulau’ (Ubin, Lazarus, St John). Ferry cost involved.
- Other suburban off-trails such as Dover Forest and Clementi Forest
- Camping? Possible but need to pay for permit, only at selected parks and for residents only. Free camping at Pulau Ubin (no permit required) and Pulau Hantu (permits required) – the latter is not for tourist.
Any other must-see or do?
Live to thrive.