Sir Stamford Raffles’ early attempts at urban planning saw the development of a Chinese kampong west of the Singapore River. This area is popularly known as Chinatown, and it has survived even to this day, retaining its Chinese core while evolving with the times. Soak in the eclectic vibe of this ethnic enclave with these quintessential experiences.
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum
It’s easy to spend hours taking in the Buddhist art and culture on exhibit in this temple, which was designed to incorporate art from the Tang dynasty and architecturally inspired by the mandala (Buddhist diagram representing the universe). The highlight is the namesake tooth relic housed in a giant stupa made from 320kg of gold.
Address: 288 South Bridge Road
Opening hours: 7am to 7pm daily
Fee: Free, including 1.5-hour-long guided tours on Saturdays at 10am (Mandarin) and 2pm (English)
Chinatown Heritage Centre
Within the faithfully recreated interior of a 1950s shophouse, catch a glimpse of what life was like for the thousands of immigrants who left China to seek their fortunes in the southern straits. The galleries feature Chinatown in the 1950s and 1960s, complete with recreations of a street market, and a replica of a tailor shop and a Traditional Chinese Medical physician’s cubicle.
Address: 48 Pagoda Street
Opening hours: 9am to 8pm daily; closed on the first Monday of the month
Fee: $15 (adults) and $11 (children); additional $5 per person for guided tours at 1.30pm and 4.30pm
Singapore Musical Box Museum
This is Singapore’s first museum dedicated to musical boxes. Learn about the history of musical boxes and how colonial Singapore played a pivotal role in transforming the development of musical boxes globally. Be amazed by the skills of the early craftsmen in creating these musical gems. With over 40 antique musical boxes on display, visitors are in for an extraordinary experience as museum guides share the history and demonstrate the workings of automated music.
Address: 168 Telok Ayer Street
Opening hours: Daily 10am to 6pm (Except Tuesdays and selected Public Holidays)
Fee: S$12 for adults, paid guided tours upon request
Chinatown Food Street
If you're strapped for time, Chinatown Food Street offers the best of Singapore's street food along one convenient stretch. Choose from local favourites such as char kway teow (stir-fried flat rice noodles) or Hainanese chicken rice. The more adventurous can try fried oyster omelette or frog porridge!
Address: 7 Smith Street
Opening hours: 11am-11pm
Kok Sen Restaurant
It’s not hard to find this traditional zi char (Chinese cooked food) restaurant: just look for the coffee shop where the queue spills out onto the pavement. Order the same comfort foods that attract locals from all over the island: prawn paste chicken, big prawn hor fun (flat rice noodles) and clay pot yong tau foo (stuffed tofu in soup).
Address: 30-32 Keong Saik Road
Opening hours: noon to 2.30pm, 5pm to 11pm; closed alternate Mondays
Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle
This Chinatown eatery gained instant fame in 2016 when it was named as one of two street hawkers awarded a Michelin star when the famed dining guide's Singapore edition was launched.
The stall specialises in Cantonese favorites like chicken rice and chicken noodles served with its trademark soya sauce. And with some dishes going for under $2, it is one of the cheapest Michelin-starred eateries in the world. Just be prepared for the snaking queues!
Address: 335 Smith Street, Singapore
Opening hours: 11am - 8pm
Helmed by chef André Chiang, the intimate 30-seat restaurant recently received two Michelin stars for its excellent French nouvelle cuisine. His eight-course set menu is founded upon his Octaphilosophy, which takes into account eight elements of gastronomy, including texture and terroir.
Address: 41 Bukit Pasoh Road
Opening hours: noon to 3pm, Wednesday and Friday (lunch); 7pm to 10pm, Tuesday to Sunday (dinner); closed on Mondays and alternate Sundays
Egg tart lovers from around Singapore flock to this shop, situated in the heart of Chinatown, specialising in traditional Chinese pastries. According to Tong Heng, the secret to their signature "melt in your mouth" diamond egg tarts lies in its crumbly-layered pastry and velvety smooth egg custard filling. Other offerings include red bean paste pastry and walnut cookies, and crispy barbecue pork buns.
Address: 285 South Bridge Road
Opening hours: 9am - 10pm
Get in through the door cryptically marked with outlines of an inverted crown and a rectangle, down the stairs into a dimly lit basement and you’ll find yourself in what appears to be an apothecary’s secret laboratory. And that’s not too far from the truth: the cocktails here are experimental, mixed from unmarked bottles to stave off preconceived notions of flavour.
Address: 7 Ann Siang Hill
Opening hours: 6pm till 12am, Tuesday to Saturday
Perhaps the best-kept secret in Singapore, this speakeasy-style bar requires a password to enter (hint: visit their Facebook page, they post the password every Monday). The fun continues inside with cocktails such as the Frequent Flyer (gin, lemon juice and Maraschino) complete with a faux boarding pass, and Rub-a-dub-dub, served in a miniature bathtub and rubber ducky.
Address: 47 Keong Saik Road
Opening hours: 6pm to 1.30am, Monday to Saturday
Set in a row of five conservation shophouses built in its namesake year, the 32-room boutique property is bedecked in a playful mix of classic and retro chic furniture such as the dentist chair in the lobby. The Terrace Suite with its bathtub out on the private veranda is the best room of the house.
Address: 50 Keong Saik Road
Fashioned after the quintessential town club, this establishment boasts a fine-dining restaurant, a full-day cafe, a rooftop bar and a whisky bar – and happens to have 20 guest rooms as well. Good option if you need to entertain, or be entertained, thanks to its proximity to Club Street’s countless bars and restaurants.
Address: 28 Ann Siang Road
Bee Cheng Hiang
Barbecued pork slices, commonly known as bak kwa, is a local delicacy that make great gifts for friends and colleagues back home. One of the most famous bak kwa sellers is Bee Cheng Hiang, a chain that boasts outlets all over the island. Their two shops in Chinatown is located in the same district where the founder first started selling his delicious offerings on the street over 80 years ago.
The bak kwa is wrapped in wax paper and slotted into a plastic bag before being placed in a box with handles that make for easy carrying and the perfect present!
Address: 189 New Bridge Road / 69/71 Pagoda Street
Opening hours: 10am-10pm