Singapore is known for its glitzy tourist attractions and stunning sights, which is why it’s easy to forget that the Lion City is also home to unmarked doors and nondescript alleys that hide off-the-beaten-track attractions many wouldn’t think to put on their sightseeing list. The next time you want an adventure without having to use your passport, why not consider these secret spots in Singapore?
1. Bollywood Farms
Occupying a sizeable plot of land in the sprawling Kranji Countryside is this organic farm bearing pineapples, bananas, starfruit, eggplants and more. Tour Bollywood Farms and learn about local farming and the Kranji countryside before tucking into a healthy meal at the Poison Ivy Bistro. The bistro employs a farm-to-table approach, creating indulgent dishes at affordable prices. Don’t forget to take home its popular snacks too – think banana cakes, tapioca and sweet potato chips, as well as bottled sambal (chilli paste) and kaya.
2. Bincho @ Hua Bee
There are many secret spots in Singapore for a tipple, but there are none quite like this one. By day, bowls of bak chor mee (minced meat noodles) are tossed up in this 80-year-old kopitiam (coffee shop), which also happens to be where the local indie movie Mee Pok Man was shot. At night, Hua Bee’s modest little space in the hipster Tiong Bahru neighbourhood is transformed into an ultra-cool yakitori (grilled skewers) bar. Another surprise awaits in the back of the premises: a fashionably frowzy, dimly lit cocktail bar that resembles an underground bunker.
3. Raffles Lighthouse
Located on Pulau Satumu, the lighthouse is named after Sir Stamford Raffles and was first built in 1854. The 29m-high lighthouse is still in use today and is open for public tours. Maritime SG runs the tours, and you’ll sail past Singapore’s surrounding islands before disembarking at the lighthouse for a stroll around.
4. Pearl’s Hill City Park
Just behind the hustle and bustle of the Chinatown district lies this nine-hectare belt of greenery perched atop a 45m-tall knoll. Visitors must climb flights of stairs to get to the summit, where they’ll be treated to the tranquil oasis of Pearl’s Hill City Park. This fortress-like structure was built in 1898 to supply drinking water to Chinatown, which it still does today. Along the way, relax under the shade of mature tembusu trees and breathe in the sweet perfume from the pink and white blooms of frangipani trees. On your way back down toward Eu Tong Sen Street, a little exploring will uncover more relics from colonial times – like a cannon sitting alongside a five-storey blue building. This is one of a pair of Neo-Classical-style conservation buildings built in 1935 – the Upper and Lower Barracks that once housed the Straits Settlements Police’s Sikh contingent.
5. Thow Kwang Pottery
Home to the oldest brick-built kiln in Singapore, the dragon kiln at Thow Kwang is one of the highlights when you visit. This pottery haven is also perfect if you’re in the mood for vintage furniture and crafted tableware, vases, pots and more. This secret spot in Singapore also offers hands-on pottery workshops and even customised, handmade crafts. Want to see the dragon kiln in action? Check Thow Kwang’s Facebook page for updates on when the kiln will be fired up.
6. Wessex Estate
Once home to British officers, this elegant enclave of black-and-white colonial buildings is where a community of local artists now live, muse and create. You can tour their studios at the annual ArtWalk@Wessex or make appointments with individual artists to have a gander around their workspaces at other times.
7. Smith Marine Floating Kelong Restaurant
For a fresh seafood dinner out at sea, book your table (and a 15-minute return bumboat ride) at Smith Marine Floating Kelong Restaurant. It first began as a modern kelong (aquaculture farm) located off the northeastern coast of Singapore before transforming into the city-state’s very first floating seafood restaurant. As the sun goes down, enjoy the sea breeze as you tuck into freshly caught garlic lobster, sambal mussels, steamed squid and of course, Singapore’s signature chilli crab. There’s also a complimentary pool table, carrom board and other fun board games to keep the kiddos occupied if they’re restless.
A surprising sanctuary ensconced in the Kranji Countryside, Gardenasia comprises a farm, bistro and remodelled black-and-white colonial-style villas spread over two hectares of picture-perfect greenery. A relaxing farm stay at one of the English-, oriental- or contemporary-style villas lets you step back in time, with their classic carved wooden furniture and exposed timber roof beams. Rustic at first glance, the interiors are fitted with luxurious marble-tiled bathrooms and modern audio-visual systems. Wander amid herb gardens and fruit trees, before tucking into dishes created with freshly harvested ingredients at Bistro by Gardenasia. Enquire at the reception about workshops or head out for a stroll along the Kranji Heritage Trail.
9. Proper Slice BYGB
Just a short walk from Ann Siang Hill Park lies another one of the neighbourhood’s secret spots that offer a rarity in Singapore – the humble New York-style pizza. Venture into 110 Amoy Street just at the bend of Gemmill Lane and you’ll find an unmarked steel door beneath a maroon awning. Enter, and you’ll be greeted by the enticing smell of freshly baked pizzas. New York style-pizza is distinguished by large slices, simple ingredients and a delightfully thin and floppy crust. In addition to pizza, other Italian-American staples are available like garlic knots, stromboli (essentially a more portable pizza) and calzones.
10. Lloyd’s Inn
There’s a chic hidden oasis in a residential area just a stone’s throw from the bustling Orchard strip. With 34 minimalistic rooms attached to semi-outdoor bathrooms, Lloyd’s Inn, which also has a dipping pool and a garden patio, has a distinct resort-like atmosphere. Its exposed concrete body lends the whole place a raw, industrial vibe.
11. Ann Siang Hill Park
Even the heart of Singapore has secret spots that are easy to miss. The ever-hip Ann Siang area is known for its cool bars and eateries tucked inside heritage shophouses, but not many people have ambled through Ann Siang Hill Park. The lush trail begins at Telok Ayer Green and ends at Club Street, passing by historic landmarks such as Thian Hock Keng temple. Try to spot raintrees, nutmeg and cinnamon trees along the meandering path.
12. Kampong Lorong Buangkok
For a taste of life as it was in the 60s (before the advent of multi-storey car parks and air-conditioned malls), head to Singapore’s last surviving kampung (village). Located off Gerald Drive in Yio Chu Kang, some 20 families live in this sleepy hamlet of zinc-roofed houses connected by dirt paths. Here, chickens roam freely amid gardens lined with chilli, lime and hibiscus plants. You can hire a private guide to take you around the village, and while residents are happy to chat, visitors should refrain from photo-taking inside the houses.
– TEXT BY CARA YAP, MANDY LIM BEITLER & HAZEL JOANNE
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings. Updated in April 2023.