Tiny Singapore is packed with flats, malls, soaring skyscrapers…and a surprising amount of green belts and interesting offshore islands. Next time you’re visiting this city-state, why not trade a jaunt in a mall for a walk in the park? Just remember to bring a hat, water and sunscreen.
There are a couple of offshore islands in Singapore for those who fancy playing castaway. Pulau Ubin, off the eastern end of Singapore, is a sleepy kampung (village) with mangrove swamps, dusty tracks, mountain bike trails, and retro wooden houses topped with corrugated iron roofs. The island is vintage Singapore stuck in a 1960s loop. You can walk around or rent a bike. Don’t miss Chek Jawa, a biodiverse patch of mangrove encircled by a boardwalk.
Getting there: Take the MRT to Tanah Merah. Get out and take bus 2 to Changi Village. From there, walk to the Changi Point Ferry Terminal where you can catch a 15-minute bumboat ride to Pulau Ubin.
Fort Canning Park
A view of Singapore’s skyline as seen from Fort Canning Park. Image by Gavin Hellier / Robert Harding World Images / Getty Images.
Smack in the middle of downtown Singapore, Fort Canning Park, set on a hill, was once the site of British administration and the first Botanic Gardens (founded by Sir Stamford Raffles). Its past occupants included Malay sultans and the British military. Today, the park is perfect for quiet contemplation. Do a circuit through spice gardens, past colonial-era buildings and down the other side to the Singapore River. Free tours are run monthly. Check the website: www.nparks.gov.sg.
Getting there: Take the MRT to Dhoby Ghaut. Walk southeast towards the National Museum of Singapore. The park is connected to the back of museum.
Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
Bukit Timah’s claim to fame? It’s the highest point in Singapore at 163.63m. The surrounding 163-hectare nature reserve is also home to 40% of Singapore’s flora and fauna and has one of the largest swathes of primary rainforest left in the region. Come early for a leisurely walk to the summit: where tigers roamed the forests of the hill, monkeys now cheekily make a grab for any food you might pull out.
Getting there: Take the MRT to Orchard Rd station. Get out and get bus 75 or 171 towards Bukit Timah. Get off opposite Bukit Timah Shopping Centre and head north towards Hindhede Dr. The park begins at the end of the road.
Pasir Ris Park
Tiny Pasir Ris Park is a sliver of green set back from the beach. What it lacks in size it makes up for in sights. There’s a six-hectare boardwalk across dense mangrove and a three-storey birdwatching tower within the mangrove forest. Kids will love the pony rides at Gallop Stables (www.gallopstable.com). If walking isn’t your thing, rent a bicycle instead. Come evening time, there are a couple of breezy beachside bars to sink some icy-cold sundowners.
Getting there: Take the MRT to Pasir Ris. Walk out the MRT station and head north. Cross Pasir Ris Drive 3 and you’re there.
Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park
This 62-hectare suburban park in the northern part of Singapore is a beautifully landscaped tract of green, complete with gurgling streams, boardwalks and lush greenery. The walking trails are punctuated by a great range of cafe-bars. The standout, Grub (www.grub.com.sg), serves brunch and coffee. There’s even the Aramsa Spa (www.aramsaspas.com) if you fancy a post-walk rub down.
Getting there: Start on the East side of the park and head West. Take the MRT to Bishan. Walk next door to the Bishan Bus Interchange and get bus 53, 55 or 58. Ask the driver where to alight for Bishan Park.
This little island is set 5.6km south of mainland Singapore and offers idyllic blue lagoons (probably the best swimming spot in Singapore…shhh, don’t tell anyone), a Chinese temple and a Malay shrine at the top of a small hill. Come September/October, the island heaves under the weight of visitors coming for the annual ninth lunar month pilgrimage. For most of the rest of the time, it’s deserted. Bring your own picnic as there’s nowhere to get food or water.
Getting there: Take the MRT to Marina Bay and get bus 402 to the Marina Bay Cruise Centre. From there, there are two daily ferries to Kusu Island on weekdays, three on Saturdays and five on Sundays. Check www.islandcruise.com.sg for details.
The Southern Ridges
The Southern Ridges Trail (www.nparks.gov.sg) – spanning Mt Faber, Telok Blangah, Kent Ridge and Hort parks – is one of the best walking trails in Singapore. It takes visitors through 10km of lush forest, canopy walks and across the Henderson Waves, Singapore’s highest pedestrian bridge. Beyond the Henderson Waves is the inspiring walkway that zigzags through the forest canopy. If you’re up for a little bit of history, check out the WWII interpretive centre, Reflections at Bukit Chandu, in the middle of Kent Ridge Park. It reflects on the Battle of Pasir Panjang where 1400 Malay soldiers stood against 13,000 Japanese troops.
Getting there: Take the MRT to Harbourfront. Mt Faber park is across the road and your hike begins up a set of stairs.
Melbourne-based Shawn Low has authored guides on Singapore, China and Southeast Asia.