No trip to Singapore is complete without a visit to Chinatown in the Outram district. Anticipate flavoursome cuisine at cheap prices from Chinatown’s Street Markets and Telok Ayer Street, must-see cultural landmarks like Singapore’s oldest Chinese temple, Thian Hock Keng Temple, and great shopping destinations like Pagoda Street. Culture Trip selects the best 15 things to do in Chinatown.
No trip to Singapore would be complete without a trip to Chinatown’s bustling Street Markets. This is one of the city’s most popular districts, with shops and stalls lining whole streets, including Pagoda Street, Trengganu Street and Temple Street. This area is a feast for the senses with sights, sounds and smells serving up an authentic Chinatown experience. Head to Mao Shan Wang on Temple Street for ice cream and pizza topped with durian fruit, and quench your thirst with bubble tea and frozen yoghurt drinks from Super Dream on Terengganu Street. Jump on the North-East Line (purple line) to get there – the MRT subway train will take you to Chinatown station.
This light green mosque, on South Bridge Road in the central Chinatown district, is a real head-turner, with two minarets jutting up towards the sky. It was established in 1826, making it one of Singapore’s earliest mosques; it is one of three erected by Tamil Muslims from the coast of Southern India. The mosque is open daily to both Muslim and non-Muslims visitors for free, with tours given around the two prayer halls and other areas. Remember that no shorts or skirts are permitted – you’ll also be given a blue robe on arrival and asked to remove your shoes. Keen photographers are permitted to take photographs quietly.
The Singapore Musical Box Museum, tucked away inside a temple, showcases dozens of antique musical boxes, which reveal how music was enjoyed before the internet. These music boxes produce sound as a set of pins on a cylinder or disc revolve and pluck the tuned teeth of a steel comb. Since these instruments are so delicate, you must book a guided tour, which takes around 40 minutes, in advance. The museum is open Monday and Wednesday to Saturday. If travelling by train, it is just a three-minute walk from the Telok Ayer MRT subway stop.
Hop off the MRT subway at Telok Ayer to explore this hip street that’s buzzing with cool cafés, restaurants and bars. The area is always a hive of activity, given its location in the heart of the Central Business District. Cocktail lover? Head to Bitters & Love at 118 Telok Ayer Street, which is one of the strip’s hippest bars – think bespoke drinks paired with moreish snacks like cuts of wagyu. Fu Lin Bar & Kitchen, at number 127, is another cool spot serving up yong tau foo (stuffed tofu) by day and Asian tapas and drinks by night.
Thinking of bringing home souvenirs? Hit Pagoda Street in Chinatown, where you’ll get the most bang for your buck. This pedestrianised strip, which was once known for its opium-smoking dens, is now home to dozens of bargain shops and stalls selling goods including silk clothing, fancy chopsticks and traditional Chinese medicines. Keep up your energy with a pit-stop at one of the restaurants dotted along the strip; Chuan Garden Restaurant is a popular choice for its Sichuan cuisine.
The Thian Hock Keng Temple, built in 1840 by the Hokkiens from the Fuzhou province, is one of the oldest Chinese temples in Singapore. The temple, which was crafted without the use of a single nail, showcases southern Chinese architectural styles and features elaborate carvings on the walls and roofs. It was originally located along the coastline before land reclamation took place, and was the first port of call for immigrants entering Singapore who thanked their deities for their safe journeys.
The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is a relatively young temple, having been built in its current form and at its location on South Bridge Road in 2007. This traditional Tang-style design, with its red lacquered walls, is a colourful addition to the architecture in diverse Chinatown. As its name suggests, the temple houses the sacred Buddha tooth relic which you can view – though only monks can actually enter the relic’s chambers. The temple also houses other revered Buddhist artefacts.
Keong Saik Road has a shady past as a former red-light district. But today it is known for being a hipster hangout, just down the road from Chinatown. This area, with its quaint row of narrow shophouses, has gradually become more gentrified with award-winning food outlets, trendy boutique hotels and co-working spaces.
The narrow lanes of Ann Siang Road and Club Street are bustling most nights – but make your visit on the weekend. The roads are closed off to traffic on Friday and Saturday nights, so tourists and office workers spill out of the many restaurants and bars onto the streets. Take your pick from breezy rooftop spots, intimate hole-in-the-wall diners, sports bars and trendy restaurants in this Chinatown treasure.
Everton Park, at the edge of the busy Chinatown district, is a collection of some of the oldest shophouses in Singapore. This neighbourhood is a favourite for coffee enthusiasts – you’ll discover numerous hipster cafés alongside retail outlets and traditional sundry shops. Heritage murals and other street art displays are also popular in this area.
Sadie Whitelocks contributed additional reporting to this article.
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