No trip to Singapore is complete without a visit to Chinatown. Historically the area of settlement for many Chinese immigrants who arrived in the then-British colony, Chinatown is rife with both Chinese and other Asian cultures. With good food, tourist hotspots, art, and one of the best skyline views of Singapore, you can’t pass up a visit to Chinatown.
Chinatown Heritage Centre
To know about the history of Chinatown and understand the influence of Chinese culture in modern-day Singapore, the Chinatown Heritage Centre is a place you cannot pass up. Stepping into this museum is like a step back in time, as it has recreated scenes of houses and shops in 1950s Chinatown, bringing to life the cramped living quarters and difficult lives of those early Chinese immigrants. The museum tells the story of the development of Chinatown and how Chinese immigrants went from being sin-keh (guests) to the largest ethnic group in the country, with major influences on the language and culture of Singapore.
Opening hours: 9am – 8pm, last entry at 7pm
Address: 48 Pagoda St, Singapore, +65 6534 8942
This bright blue house, preserved in the style of the traditional Peranakan terrace-house, was once the ancestral home of the Peranakan, or Straits Chinese, descendants of 19th century Chinese immigrant and shipping businessman Wee Bin. The furniture and artifacts inside are all relics from when the house was inhabited by the family, making it a genuine representation of Peranakan life and culture in Singapore in the 19th and 20th centuries. Advance booking is necessary, but the tour is for free and very informative.
Opening hours: 2pm – 3pm (Mon), 6:30pm – 7:30pm (Tues), 10am – 11am (Thurs), 11am – 12pm (Sat)
Address: 157 Neil Rd, Singapore, +65 6227 5731
Maxwell Road Hawker Centre
Food is an important way to understand a country and its culture, especially for multicultural Singapore where there is a strong street food culture. Maxwell Road Hawker Centre is one of the oldest and largest hawker centres in Singapore, with over a hundred stalls in an open-aired, covered hall filled with mouthwatering smells and buzzing with energy. Grab a cheap meal of laksa noodles or Hainanese chicken rice, or buy some affordable snacks like kaya toast and dim sum to experience Signapore’s street food culture.
Opening hours: 8am – 10pm (may vary by stall)
Address: 11 South Bridge, Singapore
Thian Hock Keng Temple
The first major Hokkien temple in Singapore, Thian Hock Keng temple was built by immigrants from Hokkien, China in the 19th century to worship the Taoist goddess Mazu. Originally a small shrine, it is built in the style of traditional southern Chinese temples, characterised by a curved, tiled roof and elaborate carvings. Over the years it has grown to be a centre of the Hokkien community as well as for other Chinese groups, even gaining recognition in Imperial China. Today, not only is it a place of worship, but it is also a venue for performances and celebrations of Chinese culture.
Opening hours: 7:30am – 5:30pm
Address: 158 Telok Ayer Street, Singapore, +65 6423 4616
Sri Mariamman Temple
Chinatown is home to a multitude of places of worship for many religions, including the Sri Mariamman Temple, the first Hindu temple in Singapore. The temple, which worships the goddess Mariamman, was constructed in the early 19th century by southern Indian immigrants. It is in the architectural style of Dravidian temples, with a towering gopuram (entrance tower) decorated by six tiers filled with ornate sculptures of figures from Hindu mythology and culture. Historically, the temple was a centre of Hindu culture and offered help to immigrants; today, it retains many of its social, cultural and religious significance among the Hindu community. Visit the temple in the evening to see their daily Hindu rituals.
Opening hours: 7am – 12pm, 6pm – 9pm
Address: 44 South Bridge Rd, Singapore, +65 6223 4064
Red Dot Design Museum
Housed in a huge, red building that is impossible to miss, the Red Dot Design Museum is one of the largest design museums in Asia and houses designs that are the winners of the annual Red Dot Award: Design Concept. The current exhibitions have a focus on modern and futuristic concepts, such as ideas for future inventions, and the power of marketing and media. As new designs are added every year, the exhibitions are ever-changing, making every visit a new experience.
Opening hours: 11am – 6pm (weekdays), 11am – 8pm (weekends) (check website for details)
Address: 28 Maxwell Road, Red Dot Traffic Building, Singapore, +65 6327 8027
Tea is an important aspect of Chinese culture, symbolising unity and harmony, as well as offering health benefits and giving a sense of tranquility. Visit Tea Chapter to sample different kinds of Chinese tea and exquisite traditional snacks. While Tea Chapter offers workshops broken down into four sessions, the Tea Appreciation Package is recommended if your stay in Singapore is a short one. This single, hour-long session allows you to taste different kinds of tea and to learn about the history and cultural significance of tea in traditional Chinese culture.
Opening hours: 11am – 10:30pm (Sun – Thurs), 11am – 11pm (Fri – Sat, Public Holidays)
Address: 9 & 11 Neil Road, Singapore, +65 6226 1175
Pinnacle @ Duxton Skybridge
For the perfect conclusion to the day, check out the view of the Singapore skyline from Pinnacle @ Duxton Skybridge. At 50 stories high, this is the world’s tallest public housing building, and its viewing deck is open to the public. The view of the skyline is unique as it is one of the few, if not the only, building offers an arial view of the city’s CBD and Chinatown. The Skybridge connects the rooftops of the residential buildings, giving a 360 degree view. However, only 200 people are admitted every day, so as not to disturb the residents, so you may want to come early to guarantee a spot.
Opening hours: 9am – 9pm
Chinatown Street Markets
The street markets are indisputably one of the biggest tourist attractions in Chinatown. While it has become increasingly more touristy and commercialized, it is still a wonderful place to go for souvenir shopping, as you can buy literally everything there, from generic tourist t-shirts, to weird and pretty trinkets. With some bargaining you can get souvenirs to take home and give to your friends and family at a cheap price. Even if you’re just browsing, it’s worth a walk through just to feel the vibrant buzz of Chinatown, especially around Chinese festivals like Chinese New Year or Mid-Autumn Festival, when festive decorations are put up.
Opening hours: 10am – 10pm (may vary by stall)
Get A Massage
Feeling tired after a long day of shopping, sight-seeing, and visiting museums? Head to one of the many massage parlors in Chinatown for a relaxing foot massage that can rub away the ache in your muscles and leave you refreshed at the end of the day. Apart from the physical comfort, massage have health benefits, including relief for back or joint pain, insomnia, and stress-related problems such as anxiety.