Historically one of Singapore’s oldest urban quarters, Kampong Gelam is a neighbourhood where age-old traditions and trendy lifestyle come together in a heady blend.
The word ‘kampong’ means “compound in Malay, while “gelam” refers to the long-leaved paperbark tree, commonly found in the area and used for boat-making, medicine and even as a seasoning for food.
The district has a history that dates back to Singapore’s colonial era, when Sir Stamford Raffles allocated the area to the Malay, Arab and Bugis communities. Since then, the area has evolved into a haunt for hip travellers and connoisseurs of culture alike.
A world of culture and heritage
As you explore this historic district, let the golden dome of the majestic Sultan Mosque be the landmark that guides you along its busy streets and bustling byways.
Built in 1824 by Sultan Hussein Shah, this magnificent place of worship is one of Singapore’s most prominent religious buildings. Tours of the mosque’s grounds are available in a variety of languages.
For a deeper dive into the district’s history, pay a visit to the Malay Heritage Centre. This institute of Malay heritage sits on the grounds of a former palace, and boasts six permanent galleries as well as a range of exciting cultural activities. Get a glimpse into the intricacies of seafaring and traditional Malay seafaring vessels, learn about Kampong Gelam’s status as a regional printing hub and admire a range of beautifully-preserved artefacts once used by royalty.
Street art aficionados in search of inspiration should also consider a visit to Gelam Gallery—our island’s first outdoor gallery is home to 30 works of street art and wall murals by local and international artists.
A feast fit for a king
Foodies taking a stroll around the neighbourhood will find local delicacies and global dishes to feed their cravings for new flavours.
For traditional fare, drop by Hjh Maimunah—a Michelin Bib gourmand-listed eatery that specialises in nasi padang (steamed rice served with various dishes)— or Zam Zam Singapore, famous for its roti prata (South Indian flatbread) and murtabak (pan-fried bread stuffed with meat and eggs).
If you’re hankering for global flavours, you’ll also find Middle Eastern fare along Bussorah Street, Italian cuisine at Tipo Pasta Bar and Swedish food to fill your belly at Fika Swedish café and bistro.
A trove of retail treasures
Besides being a foodie paradise, Kampong Gelam is home to both traditional tradesmen and trendy modern retail.
Make a beeline for Haji Lane to lose yourself in a world of multi-coloured street art and hip boutiques. You’ll find uniquely Singaporean trinkets at Craft Assembly, home décor and elegant accessories at Hygge and beautifully crafted jewellery at the Silver Triangle.
Treasure hunters looking for traditional wares may want to visit Sifr Aromatics for custom-made perfumes, Molkan Fabrics for silks, scarves and textiles or the Malay Art Gallery—an emporium of artefacts like kris (traditional daggers with distinct wavy blades), plates and brooches.
Music and merriment after dark
When you’re done with your shopping spree, you’ll want to stick around until nightfall. Kampong Gelam takes on a whole new life after the sun sets, with live music bars and hip restaurants abound along Haji Lane.
Locally-inspired cocktails can be found at Ah Sam Cold Drink Stall, while The Singapura Club and Piedra Negra are both popular dinner spots for hungry travellers looking to knock back a tipple and soak in the bustling ambience.