Today’s Singapore is best known for its futuristic skyscrapers, but if you have a few days to spend, you should definitely explore the old cultural districts that played a hand in shaping the history of the city. As in any major port, Singapore has for centuries hosted immigrants from all over Southeast Asia, the characteristics of each culture amalgamating into something uniquely Singaporean. Lucky for us tourists, the individual districts have been maintained with care, remaining hubs of culture where you can spend entire days shopping, snacking, and learning about the unique heritage of the city.
Before you embark on your tour of these districts, be sure to download the Go There app for on-the-fly directions concerning bus and metro lines!
KatongOur first shopping excursion was around the Katong neighborhood where we were staying at the Hotel Indigo. This neighborhood is one of the oldest standing in Singapore, and much of the colonial architecture has been restored to its former glory in the Peranakan cultural style (Peranakan are the Singaporean descendants of Chinese immigrants). The area is booming with modern restaurants, ice cream shops, salons and bookstores. Be sure to take a short detour down Ceylon Road to visit Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple. Foodies will find many Michelin-starred restaurants in Singapore, and even the ones with just a Michelin mention are worth visiting like 328 Katong Laksa, an unassuming laksa shop on the corner of Ceylon and East Coast Road.
ChinatownChinatown’s street markets are renowned for great shopping and seafood. We visited Chinatown Food Street one evening to sample a little from each food stall and were overwhelmed with the choices available! Schedule a full day to peruse the bakeries, clothing stores, and of course temples—some of the oldest and most picturesque temples in Singapore are located here including the Sri Mariamman Temple (Hindu), and Thian Hock Keng (Taoist). But you can’t miss the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple which, true to its name, holds a tooth relic of the Buddha encased in a solid gold stupa. On Sundays, look for the China Central Square Flea Market for vintage shopping!
Little IndiaThere’s a couple of shopping malls that anchor the neighborhood of Little India: Tekka Centre, Mustafa Centre and Little India Arcade. You can get a cab to one and walk along Serangoon Road in the direction of the others and pretty much see the major sites of Little India that way, making detours down side roads of course—after all, the best way to see a place is to get a little lost! Mustafa Centre is like a department store with great deals on everything from electronics to medical supplies, and when we walked in we couldn’t shake the feeling we had walked into a physical version of amazon.com. As you walk down Serangoon Road, you’ll see another impressive anchor of the area, the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple which was built in 1881. Be sure to end up at Little India Arcade, because you’ll be hungry from all the walking and then you’ll get to nibble on regional specialties at the extensive food court across the street!
Arab StreetPossibly our favorite shopping experience was walking down Haji Lane to discover dozens of hipster hangouts, chic vintage clothing shops and modern murals. It runs parallel to Arab Street, which houses the Lebanese and Turkish restaurants, ending at the Masjid Sultan, which is a National Monument of Singapore. Whether you’re shopping for carpets or just want to enjoy the smell of kebab, take a walk around this district and you’ll be surprised with the types of shops you’ll find!
With so many unique museums, restaurants and shopping malls, you may find you need more than a few days to explore these cultural districts and uncover the rich heritage of Singapore! Ready to start planning your trip? Start here:
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Hotel Indigo Singapore