1. Jalan Besar
Meaning “large road” in Malay, this bustling neighbourhood is home to a growing number of cool bars, cafés and local designer shops. Its liveliness is a stark contrast to its previous incarnation as a swamp and betel nut plantation. Today the streets contain reminders of Singapore’s colonial past, with many of them named after British generals. For something a bit more current, pop by The Bravery at Horne Road for its signature lavender latte and a stack of fluffy pancakes, or Chye Seng Huat Hardware at Tyrwhitt Road, a complex dedicated to all things coffee, including a concept bar where visitors can have a 360-degree view of the baristas masterfully preparing their brews. The Jalan Besar Stadium also hosts football matches between local and regional teams.
2. Little India
This buzzing area has had a colourful history, starting out as a racecourse and brick-kilning district in the early 19th century, after which Indian traders settled in and began rearing cattle. Today, Little India’s vibrant streets are lined with pastel-coloured shophouses, flower garland stalls and authentic Indian eateries. Tour Tekka Centre’s huge wet market and snack on crispy, paper-thin dosa (rice flour pancakes), or try traditional temporary henna tattooing and threading services at Little India Arcade. The 24-hour shopping mall Mustafa Centre is a must-visit, if only to see the variety of electronics, groceries and travel accessories up for sale. If you’re in Singapore in late October, be sure to check out the kaleidoscopic displays and tantalising bazaars set up for Deepavali, the Hindu festival of lights.
There is no shortage of attractions in this dynamic district, from the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum to the Maxwell and Chinatown Complex food centres – where you can sample Michelin-rated hawker dishes. Gain insight into the lives of the early Chinese immigrants who settled here in the 1820s by visiting historic places of worship such as the old Hokkien temple Thian Hock Keng, as well as the traditional medicine halls lining the baroque terraces of Pagoda Street, just a minute’s walk from the Chinatown metro station. Besides the variety of great and cheap eats, Chinatown today is best known for its diverse places of worship, including the Sri Mariamman Hindu temple and the Masjid Jamae mosque, both located within easy walking distance of each other.
4. Kampong Glam
The oldest urban quarter in Singapore, Kampong Glam began as a port town with a strong shipbuilding culture, which was then allocated to the Malay, Arab and Bugis communities in 1822. Venture through Haji Lane for hipster cafés, live music venues, street art and quaint bohemian lifestyle boutiques such as Craft Assembly and Mondays Off. From there, take a short stroll to Muscat Street to visit the Masjid Sultan, one of the most prominent places of worship for Muslims in Singapore. The mosque is best known for its Indo-Saracenic architecture which incorporates minarets and balustrades. The domes are decorated with glass bottle ends which were donated by the poor as their contribution to the construction of the mosque. The best time to visit the mosque is during the Ramadan month where sprawling night bazaars are filled with the tantalising aromas of traditional snacks such as goreng pisang – fried banana fritters – and biryani, a vibrant mixed rice dish.
5. Tiong Bahru
As one of Singapore’s oldest housing estates, Tiong Bahru is a treasure trove of inspiration for local artists and culture lovers. The neighbourhood is full of quirky boutiques and artistic wall murals depicting the old days. Tiong Bahru is also where the traditional meets the contemporary in a seamless blend – the pre-war housing blocks, for example, were built in the Streamline Moderne style, which favours clean and functional lines. Kim Pong Park, which was opened in late 2018, was designed to reflect similar Art Deco influences. The Tiong Bahru Market food centre is home to Michelin Bib Gourmand chicken rice and Hokkien mee (Hokkien-style fried noodles) stalls, while Yong Siak Street is where you’ll find local bookstore BooksActually – pop in to immerse yourself in Singapore poetry and eclectic titles.
A version of this article was originally published in the April 2019 issue of SilverKris magazine