Singapore Botanic Gardens serve as the lungs of Singapore – one of those few places where you see nature in abundance. Like everything else in the country, it’s Botanic Gardens is also well organized with excellent connectivity to the public transport system and perfect signage across the gardens complex. A map can be spotted at every 100-200 meters telling you exactly where you are and which is the nearest exit gate or garden shop.
Visit Singapore Botanic Gardens
It is Singapore’s first and only UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other gardens that have this honor are Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, Classical Gardens of Suzhou, Botanic Garden Padua.
It is a large garden dotted with smaller trails and specialized gardens. Every now then you would meet a water body, some with birds in and around and others with the sculptures of birds. You would see perfect round lotus leaves floating like a saucer on the waters. You would meet various artificially created waterfalls and landscapes. There are trees standing in the middle of dwarf fountains. Having said that, the gardens do have some of nature’s prized possessions – like a small rainforest and some really ancient trees.
Let me walk you through a slice of it that I covered in half a day.
It has History!
Well at 156, Singapore Botanic Gardens are 3 times older than the country itself, making it a proud elder that you must pay a visit to. Founded in 1859 by Agri-Horticulture society it played a major role in rubber trade and rubber research in early 20th CE.
If like me, history interests you, visit the heritage museum located very close Tanglin Garden and you can get a walk through the history and heritage.
National Orchid Garden
Now we all know that Orchid is the national flower of Singapore. If you have ever stepped into the country, the ubiquitous purple flower will tell you this fact from every touristy corner in the country. However, I was not aware of the fact that this nation is an exporter of cut Orchids. And the National Orchid garden here is as much a research laboratory for Orchid as it is a pleasure garden for the visitors. A lot of hybrid varieties of Orchids take birth here. National Orchid garden is home to as many as 1200 types of orchids and 2000 odd varieties of hybrids – no wonder it is a favorite spot to walk around.
Vanda ‘Miss Joaquim’ or more popularly known as ‘Singapore Orchid’ is the exact species that is the national flower. It is a hybrid climbing orchid in shades of purple. It is named after Armenian Agnes Joaquim who had bred this variety way back in late 19th CE. I also gather that Singapore honors visiting dignitaries and celebrities by naming the new hybrid varieties of Orchids after them. These can be seen at VIP Orchid Gardens. I must admit I missed it during my visit.
You walk through colorful orchids and I was reminded of all the wild orchids I saw on our road trip in Arunachal Pradesh.
You might have seen a lot of foliage you see in the Foliage Garden here, but it takes a walk to realize that foliage can also be of so many varieties. As I walked through this garden I kept ticking a mental checklist saying – ok this is counted as foliage. Since they are placed very close to each other, you tend to notice the various sizes and shapes of leaves that we call foliage.
I loved the shades of green on display at this patch.
This is an interesting garden that tries to trace the evolution on earth – the emergence of various flora and fauna as they started making an appearance on earth. A steel plate embedded on the road tells you that you are going back in time – 300 million years ago.
The walk is a little quirky, especially if you are the only one walking around. It is difficult to make out what is real and what is artificial. Some of the stone columns are actually fossilized trees. You pass through various small structures and stone sculptures. Guess it would be a good education for kids.
For more details check out the Evolution Garden Map.
Now, this small patch of original rainforest laden with most species of plants that you can see in Singapore is my favorite part. The lovely wooden walkway takes you through a small trail of the natural heritage of the nation. Walking through the forest is not just beautiful but also very do-able for anyone.
You can stop by to look at some of the ancient trees who may be the oldest residents of this island. There are benches for you to sit and admire the greenery at leisure.
The Ginger garden is, in reality, a small herbal garden with various varieties of Ginger’s extended family. A small board tells you the history and journey of each of the herbs.
Did you know the word Ginger comes from Sanskrit word ‘Singriva’?
I learned that Arrowroot and Galangal are from Ginger family and turmeric is also distantly related to them. And you thought only we humans have extended families.
The Ginger garden is surrounded by many artificial waterfalls and lotus ponds. It is a famous selfie spot.
Swan Lake & Around
You can’t miss this lake for the famous sculpture of Swans that it hosts in the middle of its muddy waters. Honestly, I would prefer real swans to their sculptures but I understand that artists also want their space amidst nature.
There is a famous cast iron Victorian style Gazebo next to this lake that dates back to 19th CE.
All across the Gardens, you would see expats walking their dogs or vice-versa. In fact, this is the only place where I saw so many dogs of all sizes and shapes. Thankfully, the law keeps them leashed to their owners, else it would have spoilt the walk for me.
You would see people doing Tai Chi and this was my first exposure to people doing Tai Chi in a natural environment.
Practical tips for visitors
It’s Free! – Yes, entry is free, except the National Orchid Garden that is ticketed at a nominal SGD 5 at the time of writing.
Timings – Open 19 hours of a Day! – Open from 5 AM to Midnight every day. For someone who likes to go for an early morning walk, it is a perfect place to spend a morning. In fact, mornings are the best time to visit Botanic Gardens given the hot and humid climate.
Late evenings and maybe night outs would also be a good idea.
Explore the garden with Walking Trails – If you are in Singapore for more than a couple of days, you must explore this garden by over few days, choosing one trail at a time, admiring each type of gardens beautifully laid out for you. Just download their walking trail guides and pick your choice from following
- Rainforest walking Trail
- Ginger Garden walking Trail
- National Orchid Garden Trail
- Evolution Garden Trail
- Heritage Trail
If you want a guided tour, choose to be there on Saturdays when they offer free guided tours of some of these trails, conducted by their volunteers. Most conducted tours happen between 9:00–11:00 AM. They are also available in various languages like Japanese, English, Chinese, and Tamil. Check their website for the latest timings.
How to reach Singapore Botanic Gardens
Best way to reach here is to take an MRT called – Botanic Garden MRT. Pick up an MRT map and track your way to the station. However, do remember that Botanic Garden MRT is located at one end of the Singapore Botanic Gardens and the other end – located close the famous Orchard Road called Tanglin Gate is roughly 2.5 km’s away. And it’s much longer with all the diversions that you would take to explore various gardens.
A good option is to start at either end – the Tagline gate Closer to Orchard Road or Bukit Timah Gate located close to the Botanic Garden MRT and finish at the other end and take a bus or a taxi from there.
Don’t forget to carry a cap/hat, a water bottle and if you’re conscious your sunscreen lotion – it is hot and humid and you need to walk a lot. That also means you need to wear comfortable walking shoes.
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