The Top Things to Do in Chinatown, Singapore

Chinatown is an unmissable stop on any Singapore itinerary
Chinatown is an unmissable stop on any Singapore itinerary | © 贝莉儿 DANIST / Unsplash.com
Photo of Jaclynn Seah
Singapore Travel Writer20 May 2021

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.

Chinatown Street Markets

Market
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People at night at Chinatown Market, Singapore
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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.

Masjid Jamae (Chulia)

Mosque
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Masjid Jamae Mosque / Chulia Mosque with octagonal minarets at South Bridge Road in the Chinatown district of Singapore
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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.

Singapore Musical Box Museum

Museum
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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.

Telok Ayer Street

Market, Natural Feature
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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.

Pagoda Street

Market, Natural Feature
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Singapore, Oct 2019: Busy, crowded street in Chinatown district. Chinese oriental decorations on street full of souvenir shops
© DLugowski / Alamy Stock Photo
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.

Chinatown's Maxwell Food Centre

Food Court, Street Food
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People, locals queuing for Hainanese chicken rice at Maxwell Food Centre a hawkers food hall in Tanjong Pagar Singapore.
© domonabikeSingapore / Alamy Stock Photo
Hawker centres (open-air food courts) are the best destinations to discover the authentic flavours of Singapore, and Maxwell Food Centre is one of the more popular with both Singaporeans and tourists. The Hainanese Chicken Rice at Tian Tian Chicken Rice is a Michelin Bib Gourmand recipient and a must-try dish – but if you’d rather skip the perpetually long queue, there are plenty of other stalls that serve quality and cheap food from Asian cultures.

Chinatown Complex

Food Court, Street Food
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Customers line up at the Michelin starred Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle stall in the China Town Complex in Singapore
© Asia File / Alamy Stock Photo
Chinatown Complex is home to the largest hawker centre, with over 260 food stalls offering a variety of Singaporean street food fare. Head up to the second level to discover traditional Hainanese chicken rice and char kway teow (fried noodles), craft beers and Michelin-star stalls – mostly at budget-friendly prices. Over 470 wet market and sundry stalls fill up the other levels of this unassuming building.

NUS Baba House

Museum
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NUS Baba House, a museum of Peranakan history, is a prime example of a traditional Peranakan terrace-house. You can learn all about the culture, which is rooted in Chinese and Straits Malay heritage. The furniture and artefacts inside are all relics from when the house was inhabited in the 19th century, making it a genuine representation of previous Peranakan life in Singapore. Advance booking is necessary for guided tours, which are free and very informative.

Thian Hock Keng Temple

Buddhist Temple
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SINGAPORE, SINGAPORE The Thian Hock Keng Temple in Singapore, dedicated to both Buddhism and Taoism, contrasts with the modern t
© AsiaDreamPhoto / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

Sri Mariamman Temple

Hindu Temple
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Sri Mariamman Temple, Singapore
Angela Koblitz / | © Culture Trip
Sri Mariamman Temple, the first Hindu temple in Singapore, is one of Chinatown’s many places of worship. The temple worships the goddess Mariamman and was constructed in the early 19th century by southern Indian immigrants. It is in the architectural style of Dravidian temples, with a gopuram (entrance tower) that’s filled with ornate sculptures from Hindu mythology and culture. Visit the temple in the evening to see their daily Hindu rituals.

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

Buddhist Temple, Museum
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Singapore at the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple.
© Sean Pavone / Alamy Stock Photo

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

Building
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Singapore, Chinatown, Keong Saik Road
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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 Pinnacle@Duxton Skybridge

Building, Bridge
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Pinnacle@duxton building with Chinese temple in front, Singapore
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The Pinnacle@Duxton is Singapore’s tallest public housing estate, towering over the shophouses of the nearby Chinatown district. There are two skybridges connecting the towers, but only the 50th-storey rooftop is accessible to the public for a small fee. Book in advance, as they only take 200 visitors per day, and try to visit on a clear day for the best panoramic views.

Ann Siang Hill

Park
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Singapore. January 2020.   Typical shop houses in Ann Siang Hill
© Sergio Delle Vedove / Alamy Stock Photo

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

Building
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Colorful old Peranakan-style houses in Bukit Pasoh Road, Tanjong Pagar / Chinatown area, Singapore, location of a scene in movie Crazy Rich Asians
© Rainer Krack / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

These recommendations were updated on May 20, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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