Singapore's most popular attractions may include a boat-like tower with an infinity pool and two durian-looking domes and other impressive manmade structures but you'll be surprised by the amount of the greenery you can find within the city-state (and surrounding offshore islands). The best way to discover this? Hiking.
Put on your best trekking shoes and go on foot to explore these hidden (and not so hidden) trails around the island. But before you get on the best hiking trails in Singapore, it might be best to slap on some sunscreen – and it wouldn't hurt to bring along some mosquito repellent.
The seventh nature park on the island joins in other existing parks such as Chesnut, Springleaf and Windsor to act as a green 'buffer' – to reduce visitorship pressure – for the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. There are five trails to choose from in the park that span over 3.8km. Each trail takes you on a sightseeing tour to see ferns, ruins, macaques, streams and the Raffles' banded langur – a highly elusive and endangered monkey. Other wildlife residing in this reserve also includes the Sunda pangolin and the Malayan porcupine but you have to be extremely lucky to spot them in the wild. The nature park also houses a former Hainan village in Singapore and visitors can get a glimpse of this from the ruins and rubble that has been left behind from its heydays in the 60s. See the remnants of a rambutan plantation, a farm and several old village houses (one of them used to belong to the family behind popular Singapore eatery, Han's). Old street signs have also been left untouched so you're literally walking through an old kampung in 1960s Singapore.
Located in the Botanic Gardens, the Learning Forest was designed to integrate with the existing 6-hectare rainforest to form an enlarged forest habitat. Unlike the rest of the Botanic Gardens, the Learning Forest is a little more rustic and sprawling, segmented into different areas like the bamboo garden, an arboretum of wild fruit trees, and wetland ecosystems for curious sorts to explore, discover and like its namesake, to learn about Singapore’s rainforests.
Part of the Southern Ridges, Labrador Nature Reserve contains the only rocky sea-cliff in Singapore and offers a panoramic view of the sea and cliff-side vegetation. Take a waterside stroll or explore the tunnels and fort that are remnants of WWII. Thriving with wildlife, the park is a favourite haunt of nature lovers. It is not uncommon for visitors to hear songs from a variety of bird species, including those of the oriental magpie-robin and black-naped oriole. Take a leisurely stroll along one of the nature trails, and you may spot the resident squirrels scurrying up trees.
Home to 170 species of birds, 54 types of butterflies and 33 different kinds of dragonflies, this nature reserve is the perfect recreation area to observe and enjoy the island's wildlife. At 57 hectares and with a range of natural and green habitats, Kranji Marshes is Singapore's largest freshwater farmland. If you do want to check out the core conservation area which is not open to the public, do make an appointment with NParks via the website – it's worth it.
Located in the far end of the North East, Coney Island is deliberately left rustic to preserve the island's natural character. This ecologically sustainable park also uses timber from fallen trees for all the signage in the park, benches and the boardwalk over the mangrove swamp. Keep your eyes open for native macaques, rare birds and butterflies on the island while you explore the woods and the hidden beaches.
Highlights of this 63-hectare park include the Wallace Education Centre which houses both the Wallace Environmental Learning Lab (WELL) and an interpretative centre where you can browse the exhibits and try the hands-on activities. But get out into the open and trek the trail towards the scenic Singapore Quarry at the park’s south-western end. Keep a lookout for the striking red and yellow heliconias as well as the monkeys, pangolins (if you're lucky!), dragonflies around the quarry and butterflies.
Featuring constructed wetlands and plenty of open fields, hike the trails of Sengkang Riverside Park or fly a kite on one of the plains. Observe aquatic wildlife like damselflies and mangrove birds in its habitat. The park has also been awarded the ABC Waters Certification for being an excellent example of how the protection of our water resources can be creatively integrated with urban planning in a sustainable manner.
Take a walk on the wild side as you step foot on one of Singapore’s last surviving kampongs. At a sprawling 1,020 hectares, Ubin boasts lush greenery and abundant wildlife, drawing nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts to explore the many wonders of the granite island. Whip out your binoculars to spot birds at Pekan Quarry, wander through nature trails, and hike 75 metres up Puaka Hill for a breathtaking panoramic view of the islet. Though it's much easier and faster to get around the island on a bike, it's still pretty much walkable with friendly inclines and well-made paths.
If you're looking for a leisurely hike with the family, head to Hindhede Nature Park located next to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve which has easy trails and well-defined footpaths perfect for families, children and hiking beginners. Scenic and serene, it is also an excellent spot for wildlife watching as it is home to inhabitants like the banded woodpecker, clouded monitor lizard and plaintain squirrel so it pays to keep your eyes open when taking a walk. The main highlight of course is the picturesque Hindhede Quarry which is located at the end of the park.
Split into North and South regions, Chestnut Nature Park covers 81 hectares, making it Singapore’s largest nature park. The park has separate mountain biking and hiking trails that are clearly marked out, too. The former has winding slopes and a pump track where bikers can practise their stunts, while the latter, especially along the 2.1km Southern Loop, takes you through varying terrains and steps.
Singapore’s oldest and most popular nature park is a haven for joggers, families and weekend strollers; occasional free concerts are held on Sundays. To get into the rainforest proper, the MacRitchie Trails around the reservoir offer easy boardwalk treks and ambitious hikes, ranging from up to 11 km. Wildlife – from flying lemurs to tree frogs and pangolins – is abundant but rarely seen. Long-tailed macaque monkeys are more common, but be wary: some can be quite ferocious, as they’re used to being fed by irresponsible visitors.
A highlight is the HSBC TreeTop Walk, a suspension bridge positioned 25 metres above the forest floor, which connects the two highest points in the reserve and offers splendid panoramic views. Depending on where you start, the round trip is 7 to 11 km (about 3-5 hours walk), and graded in parts as ‘difficult’ – so attempt it only if you’re fit and properly equipped. Traffic on the bridge is one-way, so there’s literally no turning back. There are toilets, but bring your own water, food and insect repellent.
This nature reserve is renowned for having one of the richest and most diverse ecosystems in the world. Besides hundreds of animal and insect species, it also contains more tree species than the whole of North America. Weekends are busy with walkers, nature lovers and mountain bikers, so come on a weekday if you prefer a quiet trek. There are four walking trails. A steep paved path takes you directly to the peak, but more interesting are the unpaved trails; route 3 (green) follows a winding forest path, past caves used by Japanese soldiers in World War II. Look out for long-tailed macaques, squirrels and snakes, and listen for the incessant chirping of the striped tit-babbler. Cyclists should wear protective gear as the biking trail is extremely rugged. The visitor centre has toilets and souvenirs, but no food.
Strap on your best walking shoes and trudge through the swamps of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve to learn more about the flora and fauna that call this mangrove forest home. Weekly, volunteer-led tours – they regularly change – introduce the plants, birds, insects and other indigenous species found in this ASEAN Heritage Park (Singapore has two, the other being Bukit Timah Nature Reserve). This wetland reserve of mangrove swamps, ponds and the secondary forest is also home to 140 species of birds. Take a spot at observation hides or rent binoculars to bird-watch. There are also nature trails where you can also spot mudskippers, monkeys and climbing crabs on the mangrove boardwalks.
Take a trip down one of the boardwalks at Windsor Nature Park and discover the different flora and fauna, including fruits such as jackfruit and bananas. The three trails are relatively easy – you can finish walking the park in 2 hours. On your path, look out for the dragonflies, too. NParks has recorded 56 species of the insect in the park, almost half of the 122 dragonfly species found in Singapore.
The serene Bukit Batok Nature Park was developed on an abandoned quarry in 1988. There are various lookout points that afford stunning views of the quarry from all angles, along with footpaths to cycle and jog on and a moderately easy rustic hiking trail through the foliage. For a bit of a history lesson during your hike, head to the WWII memorial at the top, which commemorates the location of one of the fiercest battles that took place in Singapore during the war.
Prefer cycling instead? Check these out
A cycle through the Eastern Coastal Park Connector Network is a tranquil, easy and leafy experience
Bring a camera along when you take this green-swathed route through parks and temples
You’d be surprised by the number of nature parks and quarries on the Western Adventure Loop
More outdoor activities
Singapore isn't just a concrete jungle, there are pockets of green to seek out the wild, urban walking trails and unique group sports activities – there are plenty of reasons to go outside in this city. Strap on a good pair of shoes and embark on one of these land-based adventures.
Spending 24/7 in the thick of city life can take a toll. Hop on a boat to these offshore islands and breathe in the fresh air. Set up camp – or a picnic mat if you don't intend to stay the night – and relive those kampong days at these uninhabited islands that are ripe for exploration. Just don't forget to mozzie repellant and sunscreen.
Singapore may be small in size but you'll be surprised to find plenty of green spaces including farms (yes, we've got farms!) and outdoor activities indulge in – if you know where to look. So leave the car at home, hop on a bicycle (get a cool one from one of these bike shops or do a bike-share) and explore these cycling trails in and around the city. Don't worry, we've included plenty of leisure beginner-friendly options (with a good view to boot), intense mountain biking tracks and everything else in-between to suit all abilities.