The 13 Best Things to See and Do in Little India, Singapore

Haw Par Villa, Singapore
Haw Par Villa, Singapore | Photo by Thyla Jane on Unsplash

Singapore Travel Writer

Of all of Singapore’s enclaves, Little India is the city-state at its liveliest and most colourful. With narrow little lanes and a bustling community, it is quite unlike the rest of orderly Singapore. So, keep your cameras and your appetites at the ready – here’s our guide to the top things to see and do in Little India, Singapore.

1. Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple

Hindu Temple

sandip-roy-ju7GD5zfbow-unsplash
Photo by Sandip Roy on Unsplash

The Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple is one of the oldest Hindu temples in Singapore. It’s dedicated to its namesake, better known as Kali, the goddess and destroyer of evil. This temple was built by early Indian immigrants and settlers in 19th-century Singapore – it was known then as Soonambu Kambam Kovil, Tamil for “temple at the lime village”, a reference to the many lime kilns in the area at that time. Despite the air raids of World War II, the temple escaped unscathed and has been renovated several times since.

2. Indian Heritage Centre

Museum

This reflective, modern building, inspired by the Indian baoli (or stepwell), sticks out amidst the narrow streets and old shophouses found in Little India. This four-storey building houses a significant collection of artefacts telling the story of the diverse Indian diaspora, including a permanent exhibition of the history of the Indian community in Singapore. It’s educational, never too jam-packed with people, and a great spot to chill out and soak in some heritage on a hot afternoon.

3. Tekka Centre

Market

Close up of a flower stall in the Tekka Centre of Little India, Singapore
Claudio Schwarz / Unsplash
Tekka Centre is home to a hawker centre with a wide variety of fresh, low-priced street food. The Indian food is particularly good at this historically popular wet market. It is also home to a host of little sundry stalls offering everything from household goods to religious paraphernalia and tailoring services. The name Tekka comes from Teh Kia Kah (or Tek Kah), a Hokkien name meaning “foot of the bamboos”, a reference to the many bamboo plants growing along Rochor Canal.

4. Komala Vilas

Restaurant, Indian

The family-run Komala Vilas is an institution in the Little India dining scene. It is famous for its South Indian vegetarian cuisine – come here for delicious dosa (similar to crepes). The masala dosa, a rice and lentil pancake topped with mashed potato, is a big crowd-pleaser; combine it with the lentil-based vegetable stew sambar and cap it off with a good cup of South Indian coffee. There are several branches within the Little India area, but this one at Serangoon Road is the original outlet that opened in 1947.

Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple

The Sri Srinivasa Perumal temple, along Serangoon Road, is a Hindu temple built in the late 1800s. It was dedicated to Sri Srinivasa Perumal, or Lord Vishnu, the preserver and protector of the universe. Once known as Narasinga Perumal Kovil, this temple in Little India is known for its five-tiered gopuram, or gatehouse tower, covered with the many avatars of Vishnu and other Hindu deities. The temple is the starting point for kavadi carriers during the annual Thaipusam celebrations.

Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple

The Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple is also called the Temple of a Thousand Lights, due to the 15m (50ft), 300-tonne statue surrounded by what seems to be thousands of little lights housed within its walls. This Buddhist temple is an eclectic mix of Chinese, Thai and Indian styles dating back to 1927. First constructed by Thai monk Venerable Vutthisasara as a simple zinc roof shed, it was later built into its current form through donations by Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par – the entrepreneurial brothers who created the medicinal ointment Tiger Balm and Haw Par Villa.

House of Tan Teng Niah

The House of Tan Teng Niah stands out in Little India with its bright rainbow hues, but also because it is one of the last surviving Chinese villas in a largely Indian enclave. Its former owner Tan Teng Niah was a businessman who owned several sweets-making factories along Serangoon Road along with a rubber smokehouse, and it was said that he built this house for his wife. The house was originally white and green, with its kaleidoscopic colours added in more recent times; today, the building houses several commercial offices.

Built-in 1900, House of Tan Teng Niah is a colourful palace/residence that resembles strong Chinese architectural style located in Little India

Mustafa Centre

Insomniacs love Mustafa Centre, stocked with over 300,000 items across four floors, as it’s open 24 hours a day. It’s not uncommon to find people getting their shopping done in the wee hours of the night in this Little India treasure. First started in 1971 as a garment shop in nearby Campbell Lane, Mustafa Centre now encompasses visa services, travel agencies, jewellery, catering and even a hotel.

Mustafa Centre

Little India Arcade

The Little India Arcade is a collection of shophouses that date back to the 1920s, with narrow alleyways selling sundry and novelties alongside street food stalls and other eateries. It is a tourist favourite to pick up all sorts of Indian souvenirs, whether it’s fresh floral garlands or intricate textiles, or even a traditional henna tattoo. The building has been preserved to retain some of that retro flavour from its early colonial days.

The Banana Leaf Apolo

The Banana Leaf Apolo is one of the best places for a good hearty meal in Little India. It is famed for its traditional Indian practice of serving food on freshly cut banana leaves, giving the food some additional natural flavours. With over 40 years of experience and several outlets around the island serving both North and South Indian cuisine, the fish head curry is the star dish for your foray into Indian food in Singapore, but don’t miss out on mutton mysore, chicken masala and biryanis.

Jothi Store and Flower Shop

Jothi Store & Flower Shop isn’t a run-of-the-mill corner store. Jothi, in the heart of Little India, is the go-to shop for the countless needs of the Indian community. Typical shop staples like food, medicine and other household goods sit on shelves alongside prayer items used in traditional customs and rituals. Though it caters to local life, Jothi is a must-visit for travellers as well, whether to pick up groceries for the evening or stop and inhale a breath of their wonderfully fresh flowers.

Deepavali

The aroma, illumination and lively performances of the Deepavali – also known as Diwali – festival of lights invites all five senses to celebrate the triumph of good over evil. A major cultural festival for Hindu men and women world-wide each October or November (based on the Hindu lunar calendar), Deepavali in Little India hosts light-up ceremonies, workshops on rangoli and henna painting, and plates upon plates of Deepavali-inspired dishes. Take a walk through any surrounding neighbourhood any time during the month of the festival to spot amazing artwork, installations and decorations on homes and shops.

Pongal

Those headed into Little India after the New Year will be whisked into the vibrant, annual four-day Pongal Festival. Dazzling light displays, traditional dress and bountiful foods fill the streets as those embracing this South Indian festival celebrate new beginnings. Each day is devoted to different practices, beginning with worshipping Lord Indra and then the Surya Pongal, before ending the celebration by honoring cattle and the elders of each family. Be ready to indulge in Pongal, as abundance is showcased through food, performances and plenty of hands-on activities.

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