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Alexandra Woodland
Photograph: Delfina Utomo

25 hidden gems you never knew existed in Singapore

Explore the city's secret parks, hidden museums, abandoned buildings, and other clandestine shenanigans

Cam Khalid
Delfina Utomo
Written by
Cam Khalid
&
Delfina Utomo
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Singapore is a bustling metropolis filled with modern skyscrapers and futuristic architecture à la those in sci-fi films. But beyond its stunning art galleries, world-class restaurants and over-the-top tourist traps, the city is also home to under-the-radar gems and off-the-beaten-track treasures. Take a break from the hustle and bustle and check out Singapore's best-kept secrets, from hidden parks and bars to forgotten spots – some of them hiding in plain sight, right under your nose.

RECOMMENDED: 101 things to do in Singapore and where to see the most Instagram-worthy shophouses in Singapore

  • Things to do
  • Tuas

Journey to the far end of the north for a sight to behold. Located at the tip of our Raffles Marina's breakwater, the charming 12-metre lighthouse overlooks the Tuas Second Link bridge, and lights the way for yachts navigating into and out of the marina. After soaking up the stunning scenery complete with the sea view and breeze, head to Raffles Marina Club and take a relaxing stroll along the promenade. While you're at it, check out the luxe yachts docked at the marina.

  • Things to do
  • Jurong West

Don't listen to what you hear in the songs – here's one waterfall you should be chasing. Located in the far West of Singapore is Yunnan Garden. Inspired by lush and landscaped traditional Chinese gardens, you'll find plenty of elements and features in this park that pay homage to the literature, culture and architecture. 

Start from the boardwalks at Nanyang Lake that will take you over and across and clear lake. The main attraction of course is the 5.6-metre-tall waterfall at the heart of the park. There is an elevated viewing platform where you can get a clear view of the waterfall and the entire park grounds – but you can also stroll down the platform to get up close to the waterfall and artificial wetlands. 

The park is quite an educational one too – there are 19 routes and trails you can take, from the herbal and culinary trails to the art and literature trails. Along these designated trails, discover various plants, herbs and flowers that fit into the trail category. Don't want to cram your pretty little head with too much factoids? Take it easy and stroll around this serene park and check out the stone sculptures, little ponds and gazebos around the park before a photo opportunity at the Nantah Arch at the entrance of the gardens. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Hawker
  • Seletar

There are plenty of spaces in Seletar that feel like a step back in time and Boh Geh Uncle Canteen is definitely one of those spots. The makeshift canteen is a popular spot for those working in the area, cyclists, joggers and also curious sorts. Don't expect anything for the 'gram – firstly, photos and videos are not allowed in the canteen and also, it really is a part of the former Seletar Camp that has been around from 1969. And it still feels like the late 60s at this corner where patrons sit on rickety tables and mismatched stools and benches under a DIY tarp canopy. Food-wise, there are only three stalls here – a cai png shop, a Muslim food stall and a drinks stall run by Boh Geh Uncle himself – who is also the owner. Prices are super cheap for food and drinks. 

Tuas Lamp Post 1
Photograph: Richie Tampos/Last Lamp Post Facebook

Tuas Lamp Post 1

Pasting stickers on public property may get you fined in Singapore – but not at Tuas Lamp Post 1. This particular lamppost on the furthest end of Tuas is quite the attraction among the cycling crowd in Singapore. It all began when the popular Love Cycling Singapore Facebook group started an event to travel all the way to the west – Tuas – called “Song Song to Jurong”. The group's founder was the first to place a sticker on the lamppost to mark the endpoint of the route and up till today, cyclists always slap a sticker on the post as a sort of ritual. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Singapore

Fancy digging into the freshest catch of the day at a modern kelong, floating on the waters between Pulau Ubin and Changi Point Ferry Terminal? Take a 15-minute boat ride to the Smith Marine Floating Restaurant where you can tuck into a wide spread of seafood – think sambal mussel ($28), chilli crab (from $68), steamed prawn (from $35), calamari ($28), and steamed lobster with pumpkin sauce (from $120). A set menu for up to 8 people starts from $480, and you get the best of each. If you want level up the experience, head to the resto's pond and catch your very own seabass or snapper at $35.

Seng Chew Quarry
Photograph: Delfina Utomo

Seng Chew Quarry

Said to have water with magical properties, Seng Chew Quarry in Bukit Gombak is a product of the mining heydays in Singapore. Only thing is that it isn't as prominent (and as accessible) as the other quarries in Singapore. Though it is not completely a restricted area, it is mostly undeveloped and can be dangerous. The hidden quarry is located behind a residential block of flats in Bukit Gombak. Wear proper non-slip shoes because you have to climb steep hills before you find a huge drain at the top. Follow the drain and Seng Chew is just a short walk away from. Beware of the mosquitoes and tread the muddy trails carefully – but the views are worth the climb. 

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  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Jurong West

Hidden in the industrial CleanTech Park in Jurong is a tranquil eco-garden. The five-hectare park covers over four main zones – the Summit Forest, the Wildlife Corridor, the Stream Ravine and the Freshwater Swamp Forest. The eco-garden is also home to plenty of flora and fauna like several butterfly species, birds, and dragonflies.

  • Property
  • Bukit Merah

The former three-storey creative space that was home to artists and creative types may be demolished but in its place is a cooler, more interesting building. In a sea of grey buildings in an industrial area, The Mill stands out with its Art Deco style, complete with a gothic tower. And if the design looks a little familiar, that's because one of the towers of The Mill was designed by the same team who worked on the iconic Parkview Square in Bugis. The other tower – also in gothic style – is designed by an established architecture firm in Singapore who have designed landmarks like St Andrew's Cathedral and Goodwood Park Hotel. On the inside, The Mill remains to be a creative hub, counting a bespoke tailor and a couple of interior design firms as tenants. You can also drop by for a coffee at the minimalist-style Alchemist, the rooftop café.

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  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Bukit Batok

Not far from the well-known Little Guilin at Bukit Batok Town Park is the abandoned Bukit Batok Hillside Nature Park. Just a 10-minute walk from Bukit Gombak MRT station, this is a place you've got to be prepared to get dirty to explore. Two poles beside the bus stop by the edge of the forest are all that marks its entrance, where you'll find manmade stone steps leading up into the park proper. Vegetation has largely overtaken what likely used to be proper trails. Still, the tread of many feet have left enough of a track for the would-be adventurer to follow. Take these up the hill face and you'll come across some highlights: a small well, a crumbling wooden boardwalk framed by torii-like gates, pavilions (we hear there are three in total) – and if you climb up high enough – an open hilltop. 

Little is known about the history of Bukit Batok Hillside Nature Park. People familiar with the area say there used to be a farm on the other side of the park, and some nearby residents have petitioned to keep the regenerating forest intact – a valid concern considering that Tengah, the vast forest facing the nature park, has quite recently been cleared to make way for housing blocks. While it still remains (and fingers crossed that it does for a long time), head down to check out this hidden gem – just bring along your trusty mozzie spray, wear good hiking shoes, and keep your skin covered to protect yourself from the occasional thorny vine. 

Clementi Forest
Photograph: Delfina Utomo

Clementi Forest

The rail corridor was formerly a railway line that was used for commuting and transporting goods from Singapore to the rest of the Malay Peninsula. Today, the 24-kilometre route has been converted into a recreational path that brings you through some of Singapore's parks and reserves – as well as neighbourhoods. Discover the untouched Clementi Forest located 10 minutes away from the former Bukit Timah Railway Station – but be prepared to go off-trail. Hike through muddy paths and trails to see a sprawling valley, or trudge through thick vegetation to uncover old rail tracks that lead to the nearby Maju Forest. Pro tip: put on proper hiking shoes to navigate the muddy terrain and knee-length grass.

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  • Things to do
  • Lim Chu Kang

Taking a trip to Bollywood Veggies is already half the adventure done. Journey through Singapore's countryside – that's Kranji for you – and you might feel like you're almost not in the country. You can't miss the place with its cheeky green and yellow signs, lush plants and buzzy bistro. Upon entering take some time to follow the trail around the farm where you'll see various fruit trees, vegetables, an irrigation pond, and plenty of banana trees (of different sorts!). Remember to be mindful of where you're stepping, you might just chance upon frogs and ants crossing (there really is a path for ants in the compound). At the end of the trail, take some time to sit by the beautiful lotus pond at the end of the trail for a pocket of peace. 

  • Things to do
  • Singapore

One for the history buffs – this military underground tunnel, located deep in the thick Marsiling jungle between Admiralty Road West and Marsiling Crescent, was built by the British as a storage facility to supply oil for the British Royal Air Force. It was left abandoned after Singapore gained independence in 1965. If you plan to explore the underground tunnel, you best gear up as it's heavy-duty. There's a lot of bashing required to navigate through the jungle. Look out for the rope hanging by the tiny entrance. Be sure to turn on your headlight before squeezing through as the bunker is pitch-black.

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  • Things to do
  • Seletar

While The Oval at Seletar Aerospace is bustling with the brunch crowd, next to it is the tranquil Hampstead Wetlands Park. Though just a small pocket of green in the somewhat industrial area, the former marshland area has seen been spruced up so that it looks like a lush English garden with a pond – complete with lily pads – now. Though there are observatory decks and railings (so you don't fall over!), the area has retained its rustic element and is not as 'polished' as other parks. There is a short trail loop you can take which will take you through the forested area and by the waterside. You can easily explore the place under 30 minutes but keep the peace – it's a favourite haunt for birdwatchers in Singapore. 

  • Things to do
  • Bukit Timah

Owned by the Malaysian government from its opening in January 1903 until its turnover to the Singapore government in July 2011, Bukit Timah Railway Station is a conserved building and has been accessible to the public since September 2011. The building still stands the way it was when it was vacated by the KTM. No refurbishment or development has been done to it since. If you're taking public transportation, the easiest way to reach the station is by bus: alight at the McDonald's in King Albert Park. The nearest MRT station is Bukit Batok but you'll still need to take a half-hour bus ride.

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  • Things to do
  • Geylang

The Former Queen’s Theatre was once a hot spot for cinephiles in Singapore. From 1930 to 1982, it was showing films from Singapore-Malaysia, Indonesia, and even Egypt on the big screen for as low as $1. Today, it forms part of Grandlink Square, but the façade of the old theatre can be admired from Lorong 44.

  • Things to do
  • Yishun

On the outside, this hidden spot in Seletar might look like just shabby and abandoned village. Located near the popular cyclist spot Rower's Bay Park, Yishun Dam and Seletar Airport, you can find kampong huts and a wooden jetty (called Jenal Jetty) which is still being used by fishermen making a living. The 'village' part and Jenal Jetty is out of bounds to the public but curious types can sign up on private tours to get a closer look at the fishing village and its daily activities. 

Seletar Fishing Village may be known as the last fishing village in Singapore but fishing is not what it is popular for. Cyclists and explorers know that the small beach area and breakwater next to it is a secret – and probably the best – spot to watch the sunset in Singapore. When the tide is low, you can even walk down to the beach and swamp area. If you're thinking to explore the area in low tide, remember to wear proper walking shoes. And if you have time, don't forget to check out the views at the nearby Punggol Barat Island and also Rower's Bay Park. 

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Istana Woodneuk
Photograph: sunriseOdyssey/Flickr

Istana Woodneuk

It's been deemed as the most expensive haunted house in Singapore. But enter if you dare – 'cos if you're not spooked up by the supernatural, you can get caught by the law for trespassing. Nonetheless, it's worth knowing that Singapore has an actual haunted mansion. The now-abandoned house is located in the deep woods of the Holland Road and Tyersall Road area. It was once occupied by a Sultan of Johor, but now remains empty and covered in vegetation and decay. What's creepier is the fact that the spot is not charted on the map of Singapore and is, therefore, out of bounds. But you can have a virtual wonder with this walkthrough video instead.

  • Things to do
  • Serangoon

Within the greater Seletar neighbourhood, you can find the remaining village in mainland Singapore, Kampong Lorong Buangkok. It's situated precariously in the middle of new developments so its future remains uncertain. Take a walk through the small village and get transported back to a time when life was simpler in Singapore. Be respectful of course, these are people's homes after all. If you wish to visit the kampong, do seek permission in advance from the landlord.

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  • Art
  • Buona Vista

Not all of Queenstown’s British past has been demolished, some black-and-white colonial houses still exist in scenic Wessex Estate. Stroll past blocks of apartments and semi-detached houses that were previously occupied by non-commissioned British officers and soldiers. Today, these houses are mostly residential, with some transformed into studio spaces for artists. And if you walk further down, you'll spot a massive abandoned water tank and Colbar, an old-school kopitiam serving Asian-Western comfort food.

Alexandra Woodland
Photograph: Delfina Utomo

Alexandra Woodland

Just a stone's throw from Wessex Estate is this hidden clearing called Alexandra Woodland (and also the location of the mysterious-looking 'Lost Ark'. The Alexandra Woodland is a small patch of wilderness which lies next to the Rail Corridor, opposite Alexandra Hospital and next to the Ayer Rajah Expressway. Start the trek from Portsdown Avenue and stick close to the main path to get there. The main attraction of this trail is the magnificent 'Lost Ark' structure made from giant fallen trees next to a natural pond. As it is an off-trail location, do hike at your own risk – always wear proper attire and walking shoes, and let someone know where you are. Most importantly, do respect the surroundings and leave as you found it and do be mindful of tramping on young plants and saplings. 

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  • Art
  • Rochor

Located on the third floor of the ritzy Parkview Square – also known as the 'Gotham City' building – this contemporary museum houses the largest collection of Italian art in Asia, as well as an extensive range of contemporary art from across Europe and Asia. The private gallery also hosts exclusive exhibitions, themed showcases and guided gallery tours for art aficionados.

  • Things to do
  • Chinatown

Built around a reservoir on top of Pearl’s Hill Terrace, this park is quite the hidden spot in the city. Take a short stroll from Outram Park MRT Station and with a little trek, you're on top of a hill where you can relax in the wooded ambience, feed the terrapins in the pond, spot the occasional squirrel, or continue your jog. 

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Keppel Hill Reservoir
Photograph: Delfina Utomo

Keppel Hill Reservoir

If you're willing to go off the main path, bash through some super tall ferns and wild grass and get slightly scratched by thorny plants and stems to find the secret Keppel Hill Reservoir, you will be greatly rewarded. There's nothing like a challenging hike and the beautiful and in this case, elusive views at the end. Formerly used as a private reservoir in 1905 and then a swimming hole from the 1940s, the body of water was totally left out on official maps of Singapore from 1954. Start your trek on Keppel Hill Road before slipping into a man-made path which leads to the reservoir.

  • Things to do
  • Pulau Ubin

While you're exploring life on Pulau Ubin, take a detour to the German Girl Shrine. Follow signs to the Ketam Mountain Bike Park, and take the left fork to get to the yellow hut located next to an Assam tree in the south-western open area of the island. This now-Taoist shrine commemorates the Roman Catholic daughter of a German coffee plantation manager. The German girl became a deity of sorts – worshippers from as far as Thailand have come to offer joss sticks and girly offerings to the Barbie doll figurine in the case.

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  • Things to do
  • Raffles Place

Formed by a group of Singaporean clay artists, this rustic hideaway is replete with local flavour and history. Be sure to visit this cultural gem and feed the 'dragon' – what's said to be the city's last elongated kiln that 'eats' and 'breathes' fire – before rumoured urban redevelopment projects reclaim this humble pottery abode.

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