With vibrant low rise buildings, lantern lit streets and aromas of traditional cuisine from satay skewers to stingray, Chinatown is like another world within Singapore.
Whether you’re ready to feast on the best food in Chinatown Singapore, learn more from the ornate Chinese, Hindu and Buddhist temples or simply shop till you drop – there are so many things to do in Chinatown Singapore that you could spend days here.
Our guide also shares our favourite accommodation and some sneaky money saving tips for those visiting Singapore on a budget.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF CHINATOWN, SINGAPORE
Chinatown is located on the outskirts of the CBD and around 20 minutes from downtown Singapore. Unlike the Chinatowns you will find in New York or London, Singapore’s Chinatown is far more than just a neighbourhood. It has in fact 4 sub-districts called Telok Ayer, Kreta Ayer, Tanjong Pagar and Bukit Pasoh.
It is considered the heart of Singapore – where the first Chinese migrants arrived and settled before the British Indians who helped develop the area as we know it today.
Chinatown has a dark and fascinating history – from the brothels of Smith Street in the 10th century to the thriving opium trade of Pagoda Street in the 1800s, there is even said to be a secret bunker in Chinatown reserved for police to have crisis meetings back in the day!
WHERE TO STAY IN CHINATOWN, SINGAPORE
We are actually kicking off our guide of things to do in Chinatown Singapore with something we wanted to do for SO LONG – sleep in a pod bed! If you are backpacking Singapore or simply looking for cheap hotels in Chinatown, we cannot recommend Cube Boutique Capsule hotel enough.
We understand sleeping in a pod room may sound claustrophobic and we’ll be honest we envisioned prison-cell style cubes which at 6ft 4 Daz was not too keen on.
However, we were treated to a beautiful, spacious pod with a comfortable double bed, air-con, fresh towels and complete privacy. There were even large lockers which were secured via our room key and were big enough for our backpacks. The room was shared with others, but it was so quiet (and our Singapore itinerary was so jam packed) we fell asleep as soon our heads touched the pillow.
Best of all, if searching for Cheap hotels in Chinatown, Singapore – the Cube Boutique capsule hotel was by far the best, as we paid only approximately £37 per night which included breakfast.
THINGS TO DO IN CHINATOWN, SINGAPORE
Fast forward to today, the area is an eclectic mix of food, religion and race living side by side and of all the things to do in Chinatown Singapore, simply wandering the bustling streets is at times entertaining enough.
One minute you’ll be entering an ancient temple, the next a hipster coffee house – regardless of budget or background you will make unforgettable memories in Chinatown.
1. Photograph the Colourful Shop Houses
The colourful and ornately detailed shophouses of Chinatown conceal a dark history. One of the most popular things to do in Chinatown Singapore is photograph the picturesque streets, the most famous of which (Keong Saik Road) used to be Singapore’s red light district.
Other photo-friendly facades can be found on Craig Road and Ann Siang Road where a mix of Peranakan design and European influence can be found, and pastel coloured houses are adorned with French shutters and colourful floor tiles.
The Raffles’ five foot way concept also provides the perfect framing for insta-fans and tourists alike, though remember people do live in these homes so be a responsible traveller and always seek permission before striking a pose on someone’s doorstep.
2. Try An “Impossible Burger” At Potato Head
As mentioned Keong Saik Road has a colourful past to say the least but a few decades of gentrification later the former brothels and mistress dwellings are now trendy boutiques, digital nomad filled co-working spaces and stylish bars.
One of the most popular things to do in Chinatown, Singapore is head to Potato Head – the biggest hipster magnet in all of Keong Saik Road. It’s rooftop garden is the perfect place to sip on cocktails and admire the area’s quaint architecture or try the world-famous “Impossible Burger.”
Impossible burgers were invented by food scientists as a meat-free alternative. Not only are they gluten-free and Halal certified but they are created using 87% less water, 89% fewer emissions and 96% less land than a typical beef burger. Arrive early as Potato Head is partial to a lengthy guestlist – alternatively, book in advance.
3. Visit Nus Baba House
If searching for free things to do in Chinatown Singapore, a tour of Baba House should be high on your list. The bright blue exterior is the perfect example of a traditional Peranakan terrace house and once inside the furniture and artefacts remain untouched providing the perfect insight into Peranakan culture in 19th Century Singapore.
The home was once owned by a Peranakan man (or Baba) called Wee Bin followed by generations of his descendants – their history of which you can learn all about during a FREE guided tour as the house is part of the NUS Centre for the Arts. The Centre aims to conserve the social and urban history of the area as well as research the architectural significance of the Peranakan houses.
Tours need to be booked in advance here.
4. Enjoy the Coffee & Street Art in Everton Park
A quick 4 minute jaunt round the corner from Baba House is Everton Park. Situated on the fringe of Chinatown, Everton Park is home to some of the oldest shophouses in Singapore and is THE place for coffee enthusiasts and all things hipster.
One of the most popular coffee shops in Everton Park is Nylon Coffee Roasters – don’t be fooled by it’s tiny shopfront, they are big in the caffeine business specialising in 6 blends. After a caffeine kick, get your sugar fix at Everton Creamery – a gelato parlour like no other. Offering flavours such as Avocado and Matcha, they do not use any artificial ingredients so expect ice cream like no other.
Another of the most popular things to do in Chinatown Singapore can be found in Everton Park – the heritage mural trail. Created by Yip Yew Chong’s who is actually an accountant by day, the heritage inspired murals are dotted throughout Singapore, with some of his most famous, found on Everton Road.
5. Admire the Views from the World’s Tallest Residential Building
Location: 1G Cantonment Rd, Singapore 085301, Singapore
Found on top of the world’s tallest residential building, you can expect the most epic views of Chinatown all the way to Sentosa. It’s an ideal activity for those visiting Singapore on a budget as it’s only SG$5.00 to enter. To access the observation platform you simply top up and use your EZ-Link Card (the public transport pass.)
Although it’s one of the best things to do in Chinatown Singapore to truly grasp a full view of the area, it is limited to only 200 visitors per day and is open from 8am – 5pm (except Saturdays when access stops at 1pm) or until the 200 visitors cap is reached.
6. Visit The Chinatown Landmark – People’s Park
Location: 1 Park Road, Singapore 059108
From one iconic view to the next – People’s Park. A visit to People’s Park has recently became one of the most popular things to do in Chinatown thanks to a well known photo app. Unfortunately, thanks to the influx of insta-influencers the rooftop carpark is no longer open to the public, it used to be one of the best free viewpoints in Singapore.
Regardless, this bright yellow 31-storey icon was the first of its kind in South East Asia and it set the standard for the famous Singapore malls that we know today. People’s Park first 6 floors are a mall and the remaining 25 are residential. It was originally the People’s Park Market until 1966 when a devastating fire destroyed it. Thankfully, it was redeveloped and grew to the landmark that locals and tourists can enjoy today.
It’s a fascinating place to people watch or pick up a bargain or two – from massages to Maldives honeymoons there are endless travel agencies, electrical shops and massage parlours within the People’s Park Mall.
7. Learn the Secrets of Singapore at Singapore City Gallery
Location: 45 Maxwell Rd, The URA Centre, Singapore 069118, Singapore
Open: Monday–Saturday from 9am to 5pm (closed on Sundays)
If you’ve ever wondered how Singapore became one of the most liveable countries in Asia, Singapore City Gallery tells all. With over 40 interactive exhibits spanning 3 floors, it is one of the best things to do in Chinatown Singapore.
Showcasing the fascinating Singapore story including the city’s past, present and future. You can even view a 3D model of the city as well as learn about the hidden contemporary systems which keep Singapore thriving ensuring land and resources are continually optimised.
If you’re wondering what to do in Chinatown Singapore, the city gallery is the perfect place to start and best of all – it’s completely free!
8. Visit the Beautiful Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
Location: 4 288 South Bridge Rd, Singapore 058840
Open: Monday–Sunday from 9am to 5pm (may vary during religious events, festivals etc)
Situated on South Bridge Road, visiting Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is one of the most fascinating things to do in Chinatown Singapore. Considerably modern, as it was first established in 1980 to a house a relic of Buddha which was found in a collapsed temple in Myanmar before officially opening in 2002.
The colourful, Tang-style design stands out against the narrow streets of Chinatown and it one of the most even more spectacular when lit up at night. It is completely free to enter and wander round, with the relic available for the public to view on the 4th floor of the temple.
Don’t forget to cover shoulders and knees and remove shoes before entering as well as to be mindful of Buddhists and locals when taking any photos.
9. Learn About Hinduism at Sri Mariamman Temple
Location:244 South Bridge Rd, Singapore 058793
Mere metres from Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore – Sri Mariamman Temple. It could not be more different in design, with its towering gopuram entrance tower adorned with colourful Hindu sculptures. There is a very similar Hindu temple in Little India called Sri Veeramakaliamman which is also open to the public.
The temple is free to enter and a highlight of things to do in Chinatown Singapore for us as there was a Hindu celebration on during our visit and we witnessed hundreds of attendees celebrating out into the streets following drummers wearing vibrant flower garlands and traditional clothing.
It is best to visit the temple in the evening as this is when most Hindu rituals take place. Again, shoes must be removed, and appropriate clothing worn – not forgetting to always seek permission before photographing local people in their place of worship.
10. Visit Thian Hock Keng Temple
Location: 158 Telok Ayer St, Singapore 068613
Opening Hours: 07:30am – 5:30pm 7 days a week.
Okay, we understand you may be feeling “Templed-out” but our final temple is equally as beautiful and entirely unique as the others on this list. The reason we’ve included Thian Hock Keng Temple (also known as Tianfu Temple) on our guide of things to do in Chinatown Singapore is because this temple was miraculously made without using nails. Instead it was built from materials such as tiles, stone and even recycled ship parts!
It is an important temple for the Hokkien people, originally built to worship the sea goddess Mazu to bless the trade and travel between China and Singapore. It’s unique design and cultural significance awarded the temple recognition as a National Monument in 1973.
Prior to Singapore’s land reclamation, the temple used to be located right on the shore – nowadays, the coastline is over a kilometre away but the significance of the sea still stands and visiting this tranquil place is a very rewarding thing to do in Chinatown Singapore.
11. Party at Ann Siang Hill
If looking for things to do in Singapore at night partying in Ann Siang Hill is one of the most popular with tourists and locals alike.
Although the narrow streets of Chinatown are teeming with revellers most nights of the week, on Friday and Saturday nights in particular Ann Siang Road and Club Street are closed to traffic.
This transforms the hilly cultural hub into a booming nightlife district with party places suitable for all budgets and travel styles from sports bars to rooftop restaurants. Drinks in Ann Siang Hill are one of the best things to do in Chinatown Singapore to mingle with expats, locals and backpackers all in one unforgettable little place.
12. Shop for Souvenirs at Chinatown Street Market Singapore
Location: 335 Smith Street, Chinatown, Singapore
Talking of unforgettable places, probably the most popular thing to do in Chinatown is browse the bustling stalls at Chinatown Street Market, Singapore.
Once you can get past the initial stench of durian, you will be treated to souvenirs, decorations and sweet treats a plenty from morning until night. We recommend going around dusk as the shop fronts and lanterns begin to light up under the Singapore sunset – it’s a truly unforgettable sight.
The Chinatown Street Market in Singapore is also dotted with tasty treats from fresh produce (if you dare the durian) to herbal teas. You are welcome to bargain and hawkers welcome hagglers but remember your manners and don’t forget a smile if you want the best price. Singapore is renown for their respectful culture so haggling must be done politely.
FOOD IN CHINATOWN, SINGAPORE
If you’re wondering what to do in Chinatown Singapore you’re guaranteed the most popular answer will be EAT. From stingray to satay skewers, Hipster hole-in-the-walls to the world’s cheapest Michelin Star restaurants. There is an overwhelming choice of food in Chinatown Singapore so after some calorific research, these were our fave foodie finds…
13. Visit the World’s Cheapest Michelin Star Restaurant
Location: 78 Smith St, Singapore 058972
Hawker Chan started out as a humble hawker stall like those found in Chinatown Complex, until its signature dish Soya Sauce Chicken & Rice was awarded a Michelin Star in 2016.
Although this is one of the most popular things to do in Chinatown Singapore (there’s even markings on the pavement to show you where to queue) we found it completely by accident as our hotel was above it.
Since it’s star rating it’s popularity has flourished (as has the prices, it was previously SG$2.00 but we paid SG$5.00 during our visit) yet it still remains the world’s cheapest Michelin restaurant. We were grateful we didn’t have to queue as the food wasn’t as good as we expected.
Darren’s was served cold and rubbery but mine was hot and delicious but for SG$5.00 I guess we can’t complain. Regardless, visiting Hawker Chan is still a fun thing to do in Chinatown and an unmissable stop when sampling the food in Singapore.
14. The Largest Hawker Centre in Singapore, Chinatown Complex
Location: 335 Smith St, S 050335
Most tourists would not realise this unassuming building is home to some of the best food in Chinatown Singapore. With over 260 stalls you will be treated to traditional cuisine such as Hainanese chicken rice, Hokkien mee or chicken wings.
Alternatively, for the more adventurous it offers the opportunity to sample BBQ stingray, frog porridge and pork intestine. When searching for things to do in Chinatown Singapore this place should be high on your list as most foodie finds are less than SG$5.00!
If you fancy trying something new (or simply don’t know where to start!) this guide explains the top 10 dishes you should try when visiting Chinatown Complex.
15. Sample Bak Kwa Pork
One of the first things you’ll notice when wandering the streets of Chinatown is the many Bak Kwa pork retailers. To be honest, you’ll probably smell them before you see them.
Bak Kwa translates to dried meat and is a traditional Hokkien word. It is essentially a pork jerky although instead of it being dehydrated it is barbecued over a charcoal fire. This gives Bak Kwa its signature oily yet delicious taste and to be honest, irrisistable smell like crispy bacon.
One of the most popular places to sample and purchase it is Bee Cheng Hiang. They sell both varieties – the thinner, sliced version which is chewier and the tender version made from minced pork. You can also purchase some on New Bridge Road or Pagoda Street at popular store, Fragrance Bakkwa.
16. Eat at Maxwell Food Centre
Location: 1 Kadayanallur St, Singapore 069184
No Singapore itinerary would be complete without a visit to one of the city’s best Hawker centres – Maxwell Food Centre. When searching for food in Chinatown Singapore, this place should be top of your list because firstly, it’s where the locals go (so don’t expect tourist trap prices here) but secondly, it’s world famous thanks to Anthony Bourdain’s rave reviews and the Michelin guide.
From laksa at SG$1.00 to the best Hainanese chicken rice in Singapore (Tian Tian Chicken Rice) you will find a budget bite to eat regardless of taste or traveller – perfect if you are backpacking Singapore on a budget!
It’s also one of the best things to do in Chinatown Singapore if you like people watching – from taxi drivers to finance workers, all walks of life enter and enjoy the treats of Maxwell Food Centre and the atmosphere here is unbeatable.
It’s open until 10pm on weekdays and until 3am on weekends so there’s plenty opportunity to try traditional food in Chinatown Singapore.
We completely understand many people are drawn to Singapore for the glitz and glam of the skyscrapers, Marina Bay Sands and rooftop bars. For us it was the vibrant neighbourhoods and pockets of culture, religion and delicious food that made our time here unforgettable.
With so many unique things to do in Chinatown Singapore, it really pays to drag yourself away from downtown and explore this hub of colour and charm. If (When!) we return to Singapore, we would choose to base ourselves in Chinatown again as we loved the area so much – and hope you do too!