Four of Singapore’s most scenic bike routes
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
This article is part of a new guide to Singapore from FT Globetrotter
One of the first things I did when Singapore announced a four-week lockdown in April last year was buy alcohol, not a bicycle. Two weeks in, however, when the government extended the lockdown to eight weeks and I craved fresh air, I realised the error of my ways and bought my first bike.
The last time I had been in the saddle was in my early 20s during a Topdeck tour in Croatia. It ended with me plunging into a picturesque lake. But if there is one positive thing about Covid-19, it is that it has forced people like me outdoors to exercise.
As with most cities in the past year, bicycle sales in Singapore have surged and bike-sharing companies say business has boomed. With less time spent commuting, there is now more to spend on exercise and, conveniently, Singapore is green, mostly flat and small. In fact, you can cycle around the entire city-state in under one day. With a bike, you’ll find yourself surrounded by water and palm trees just minutes from Singapore’s bustling hawker centres (outdoor food courts) and polished skyscrapers.
The city has a series of “green corridors” connecting all the main parks and gardens for walking, cycling and running. Known as the Park Connector Network, all of these corridors — comprising pedestrianised zones and tarmac paths — will eventually link together, with minimal need to cross busy roads. Launched in 1991, the government has been adding to it for years. However, the project is still a work in progress and cycling here can involve time on the road alongside cars if you’re going longer distances.
Bike hire and getting around
There are plenty of shops to hire bikes from dotted around the island and near cycling paths. SG Bike, a pay-per-use bike-sharing company, also has stations located across Singapore. For those wanting to purchase a bike, I bought mine from Decathlon, but you can find decent second-hand deals on apps such as local ecommerce start-up Carousell.
In order to go further afield, unfortunately you cannot take your bike on buses or the rail network unless it’s foldable, so you either have to cycle to where you want to go or put your bike in a Grab, one of the city’s ride-hailing companies. (Be sure to specify the six-seater option when ordering, as regular cars are not big enough.)
The routes I have chosen here might not satisfy mountain-biking enthusiasts or anyone wanting to go great distances at speed. But they are perfect for those like me who have found themselves — and their families — back on bicycles, searching for a scenic day outdoors.
I have two pieces of advice before embarking on any ride. First, bring plenty of water. Singapore is hot all year round and the humidity means you will be sweating within minutes. You can fill up along the way at public facilities. Secondly, safety: in Singapore, sticking to the left while walking or using your indicators in the car are viewed kind of how Italian drivers regard red lights — as more of a suggestion. So be vigilant, especially on the road.
1. Robertson Quay/Civic District loop (18km)
Good for: Seeing Singapore’s landmarks. There are plenty of bars and cafés too
Not so good for: Avoiding crowds
FYI: Look up for incredible views of the skyline, including Marina Bay Sands
My go-to before- or after-work ride loops around Singapore’s iconic skyline. You can begin at the Marina Bay Sands hotel for a slightly shorter ride (about 12km), but I start near the Four Points by Sheraton in Robertson Quay, a riverside suburb on the city centre's fringe with many cafés and restaurants. Starting here means you’ll pass through Clarke Quay and Boat Quay, home to some of the city’s most favoured watering holes. But jump on anywhere along Robertson Walk.
Bike lanes are being built in this area, but it is in any case flat and easy riding — just remember you will share a large chunk of the path with pedestrians.
En route, you will pass some colonial-era buildings, such as the National Gallery and the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall. Shortly after, head right on to Jubilee Bridge. The structure, opened in 2015 as part of the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s independence, is a pedestrian and cycling bridge that forms an uninterrupted link with the Marina Bay waterfront promenade and gives you a panoramic view of the skyline.
On the other side, hug the waterline and head into the downtown financial district before coming up to the Gardens by the Bay. You can leave your bike and have a deeper wander through the much-loved gardens, which featured in the 2018 film Crazy Rich Asians. As you continue, you’ll see lots of ships floating lazily out at sea (Singapore is the world’s busiest container shipment hub) as you pass the Marina Barrage. Cross the reservoir via the bridge — and note the nine 27m hydraulically operated steel crest gates — and into Marina East Park.
Here, the path starts to open up more, with dedicated lanes for walkers and joggers and another for cyclists. Watch the road for monitor lizards or one of the numerous families of otters that frolic around the gardens.
By now you have left the city behind you and are surrounded by greenery. I enjoy this part of the ride most because it is such a change of scenery from the urban jungle at the beginning of the route. You’ll notice picnic areas as you loop around near the stadium and plenty of palm trees along the water’s edge. If you have brought along snacks, this is a great area to stop and wipe off the copious amounts of sweat you will have undoubtedly worked up.
Make your way through Kallang Riverside Park and before long you are heading back towards the city — this time passing Singapore’s famed Formula One track. You can even ride on the track itself, though sadly the spectator seats are empty so you won’t have an audience to witness your triumphant return.
I like to do this route during the evening, so that I can stop off for dinner or even a refreshing drink at one of the riverside cafés in Robertson Quay. Publico is a great spot to cool down with a beer and there are plenty of restaurants to choose from.
2. East Coast Park Cycling Trail (54km)
Good for: Lots of greenery, and plenty of facilities such as public restrooms and car-parking areas
Not so good for: Sightseeing buildings
FYI: The area is a popular swimming, picnic and camping spot, so watch for small children and people suddenly wandering across your path
Don’t be alarmed by the distance: this route is flat and easy to ride. Large sections of it are covered by voluminous trees and it is good for whacking on your headphones, putting on one of your favourite albums and not thinking too hard. You’ll see a lot of characters, including elderly Singaporean men merrily belting out songs on speakers they have attached to their bikes.
I start just near the Bay East Garden visitor centre on Rhu Cross. It’s hard to miss, especially with cyclists whizzing past you. If you want to start a little further up, there are bike-hire spots nearby, including the Area B Bikeshop.
East Coast Park stretches all the way out to Changi Airport and is great for a morning activity, followed by lunch in one of the numerous hawker centres or restaurants along the way. These are pretty simple eateries, so don’t expect a fine-dining experience. I recommend the East Coast Lagoon Food Village for local food, or the famous Singapore chilli crab overlooking the water at Jumbo Seafood.
Stop at the Singapore Wake Park to appreciate some water acrobatics, including wakeboarding and water skiing. You can even book yourself in, if you’re feeling adventurous. From there it’s just a question of how far you want to go.
If you are feeling less energetic and don’t want to navigate through different parks, I suggest just doing the stretch to the National Service Resort & Country Club near Changi Airport and then turning around to return to the Bay East Garden visitor centre. This is just under 27km and very straightforward.
If you are up for a bit more excitement, take the Eastern Coastal Park Connector Network Cycling Trail, which is a 42km loop. This well-shaded route comprises seven park connectors. After the National Service Resort & Country Club, keep heading east and then north along Changi Coast Road. There are splendid views along this part, known as the Coastal Park Connector. You will soon find yourself in Changi Beach Park and shortly after a heritage-tree conservation area, where you can check out some of Singapore’s oldest trees, such as the sepetir. A few connectors later you will hit Pasir Ris Town Park, where you can dismount and walk along a boardwalk into the mangroves.
Head south-west through Tampines and Sun Plaza Parks, winding your way back towards East Coast Park. You may want to sink your toes into the sand at the beach and cool off, or hit one of the nearby eateries for some food after such a long ride.
3. Pulau Ubin (16km)
Good for: Exploring one of Singapore’s many islands
Not so good for: Eateries/cafés/bars
FYI: Some of Pulau Ubin’s trails can get quite rocky and uneven, so a road bike won’t cut it. For mountain bikers, there is a series of trails of varying difficulty that you can add on to the route. Also, make sure you have cash with you for food and drink — and the ferry
One of the things I love about Singapore is the unexpected reminders that the city is so much more than grand skyscrapers and infinity pools. A visit to Pulau Ubin, one of the surrounding islands and spanning 10 sq km, is like going back in time several decades.
Start at Changi Point Ferry Terminal where you hitch a 15-minute ride over to the island on a public “bumboat” (also known as a twakow or tongkang) — picture a gas-guzzling, paint-peeling Asian adaptation of the old wooden, European-style open-air boats. Drop your bike on the back of the boat and climb aboard. It costs SG$4 (about £2.15) with an extra SG$2 for the bike.
There is no timetable for bumboats — you just arrive and either get on, or sit and wait while it fills up. The journey is a glorious reminder of Singapore’s early roots as an Asian port with the surrounding chaos and noise, as well as the lack of any formal ticketing system. On a recent trip, the cheerful captain spoke little English and was barefoot as he nimbly darted around the boat.
Once you arrive at Pulau Ubin, you can go any way you like. You can also rent a bike at one of the many hire places near the ferry terminal for a small fee. Cash is king on this tiny island, so make sure you have plenty.
Unfortunately, you can’t do a full loop around the island. There are maps when you exit the jetty and around the island, and you can explore both sides. Heading north-east will bring you more tree-covered trails, with the shade taking some of the bite out of Singapore’s heat. The western side is slightly more open, with a couple of drink stalls along the way.
Make sure you have a refreshing coconut water at the Ah Ma Drink Stall, a rustic-looking shed set among the mangroves serving up icy cold drinks just near Jelutong Bridge. Ah Ma’s stall has been around for decades but was renovated a couple of years ago as part of a cultural initiative to help preserve the heritage of Pulau Ubin. The island was known for its prawn farms from the late 1950s onwards, and near the stall you can see one of the old sluice gates that were built to regulate the water levels of prawn ponds.
There are very few inhabitants on Pulau Ubin so you won’t see anything but trees and water and the odd camping ground. Many people stay overnight on the beach or at one of the designated camping spots. If you are lucky you might hear the blood-curdling shriek of a wild boar or the chatter of monkeys rustling in the bushes near the path while you are riding.
Hop off your bike on the east side of the island at the Chek Jawa Wetlands. Do the boardwalk coastal loop and climb the 20m-high Jejawi Tower to view the tree canopy and get some perspective of the island.
After you catch your bumboat back to return to the city, I recommend a refreshing drink or lunch at the Little Island Brewing Company, a five-minute walk from Changi Point Ferry Terminal. There is a terrific selection of beer and I urge you to settle into one of the picnic tables as the afternoon melts away.
4. Punggol/North-Eastern Riverine Loop (19km or 26km)
Good for: A cycling adventure not too far from the city
Not so good for: Coney Island, which forms part of the loop, is a little gravelly, so be mindful if you have a road bike with thinner wheels
FYI: Coney Island is closed from 7pm to 7am, so plan your trip accordingly.
The great thing about cycling in Singapore is that the park connectors mean you can basically start a ride anywhere and you don’t have to be too prescriptive. My loop of the Punggol and surrounding riverside area ended up being accidentally slightly different to (and shorter than) the 26km guide I intended to do, but I enjoyed it so much I have since kept this same route.
Begin your ride at Hougang Avenue 7 alongside the Serangoon River. This is a pleasant riverside route with space for joggers and walkers, as well as cyclists. There are plenty of lookout points to spot otters swimming near the banks and admire the lush plant life, including purple fountain grass, with its unique colour.
The island, also known as Pulau Serangoon, is small and car-free, with a straight path running directly through the middle on which you can ride your bike (you can detour down other paths branching off it). Be careful — parts of it are gravelly. The island is home to 80 species of birds, as well as critically endangered plants. Head to the beach on the north side and you can look across and see Malaysia’s Johor Port, as well as Pulau Ubin.
Exit Coney Island and continue on the Punggol Park Connector through Punggol Waterway Park. The route is picturesque and pleasant along the river, and you can find clusters of cafés and restaurants to cool off along the way.
Maps by Liz Faunce
Where do you enjoy cycling in Singapore? Tell us in the comments