You will often hear that Singapore is a shopper’s paradise—and that’s because retail therapy in the city goes far beyond big brands and flagship stores. Take the time in the various enclaves to scratch beneath the surface and you’ll be rewarded with exciting shops and boutiques, from the cutting-edge to the traditional, where you can score many surprising finds. 

Joo Chiat/Katong

Joo Chiat/Katong

The Joo Chiat/Katong neighbourhood is a beloved gem in the East, and it’s easy to see why. The heady mix of old and new draws you in as you spot traditional shophouses alongside chic yoga studios and traditional coffee shops beside hip cafés that crank out cold-brewed coffees. At every turn, you’ll be met with a unique take on local heritage. Visit Peranakan (Straits-born people of Chinese and Malay/Indonesian heritage) shop Rumah Bebe to pick up rich fabrics and embroidered pouches, and then head over to Cat Socrates. This charming shop, founded by Hellen Jiang, specialises in Singaporean literature and quirky local-inspired bric-a-brac—think cushions that resemble kueh tutu (steamed cakes with crushed peanut or grated coconut filling), terrariums, feline-related merchandise and Singlish (a colloquial form of English) postcards.

Orchard Road

Orchard Road

Although there are fleets of international designer labels and high-street brands such as Chanel, Abercrombie & Fitch and Zara on this iconic stretch, there are also many local brands that call this premier shopping belt home. Take, for instance, local design retailer Naiise, which does an admirable job of serving up everything from homeware to stationery to clothing to conserves. There is also Rockstar at Cineleisure that stocks breezy local and international threads for you to nail that casually put-together style. But if you want something one-of-a-kind, get yourself a custom notebook or leather pouch handmade by craftsmen at Bynd Artisan over at Chip Bee Gardens nearby. You can even attend a craft workshop to make one yourself, if you like. 

Little India

Little India

The vibrant sights and sounds of Little India are gifts in themselves: the rich fragrance of curries, the colours of hanging garlands, the sounds of prayer chants filling the air. But what if you want to bring home a memento that’s more tangible? Other than the gorgeous textiles and addictive snacks—murukku (savoury crackers) comes to mind—make a stop at Mustafa Centre, a secret among local night owls and bargain hunters. This mega-mall is open round-the-clock, and sells over 300,000 items that include beauty products, jewellery, groceries and electronics. 

Chinatown

Chinatown

Take time to wander around the touristy bits of Chinatown’s bustling markets, and you’ll be duly rewarded with unexpected finds. For every Merlion keychain, there is an exquisite calligraphy painting; for every fridge magnet of the city skyline, you’ll find perfume and make-up at jaw-droppingly low prices. But if it is quality traditional garb you are after, look out for this name: Golden Scissor Cheongsam. There are no ill-fitting off-the-rack finds here. The shop offers custom-made cheongsam (traditional Chinese dress), tailored to every curve of your silhouette and designed in your choice of modern or traditional fabrics, patterns and trims. 

Kampong Glam

Kampong Glam

This Malay heritage area dazzles with trendy modern boutiques amid a rich backdrop of cultural landmarks, such as the Sultan Mosque and the Malay Heritage Centre. Be lured by the charms of hipster haven Haji Lane, where beautifully curated boutiques and an eclectic mix of bars and cafés await. Duck into Mujosh for chic sunnies, or Dulcetfig for an eclectic selection of bags and purses. But if you want a whiff of the area’s rich heritage, pop by Sifr Aromatics, which deals in handmade scents, candles and balms that combine modern techniques and old-world ingredients. For a truly special keepsake, customise your own bespoke scent after consulting with the store’s professionals.