6 Best Singapore Neighborhoods to Visit

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These are the neighborhoods to explore for a truly multicultural experience in Singapore, from Chinatown to Little India.

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JTourists often rave about Singapore’s state-of-the-art skyline of skyscrapers and supertrees. But we locals are the first to admit that these attractions won’t even tell you who we really are. To get a taste of life on this island, spend a day or two exploring some of our everyday neighborhoods. In this way, you will experience what we are proud of: our nation’s humble origins, our multicultural identity and our love of good food. You can start with these six colorful and historic neighborhoods:

Nostalgic street murals by artist Yip Yew Chong celebrate Chinatown's heritage.

Chinese district

Best for: Shopping and chinoiserie and dim sum

In 1822, the British colonial government allocated this area west of the Singapore River to the many Chinese immigrants who settled there. Now a tourist attraction with its nostalgic murals by artist Yip Yew Chong, Chinatown remains a treasured repository of this nation’s ethnic Chinese heritage. The jumble of souvenir stalls and craft shops outside the MRT station might seem touristy, but plenty of items here, such as retro 1920s “Shanghai girl” posters, lacquered dowry chests or fine Chinese porcelain, may be worth a look. Make your way through this street market, to the People’s Park complex where all the local activities take place. Say hi!” to old uncles playing checkers outside, then step inside to browse the rows of shops selling everything from traditional Chinese medicine to woven baskets and antique mah-jongg sets. This two-story market is home to also a cavernous hawker center brimming with Singaporean staples.From there, visit the nearby Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, home to several massive prayer halls containing ornate Buddhist artwork. Authentic Hong Kong-style dim sum at Red Star Restaurant.

In Little India, the heady scent of incense, Tamil music and markets will transport you across the Bay of Bengal.


Little India

Best for: The sights, sounds and flavors of Big India

What was once a swampy area for Indian cattle traders in the 1800s has since become the bustling heartland of Singapore’s ethnic Indian population. Little India stretches along both sides of Serangoon Road and starts from the bustling Tekka Market at its southern end. This building is the go-to place for South Asian supplies, where heaps of fragrant spices, bundles of herbs, or bundles of henna bracelets and tattoos can be purchased at wholesale prices ( and highly negotiable). Outside the building, sari tailors share commercial space with jewelry merchants and traditional artisans. Mamak various stores. If the intoxicating smell of incense combined with Tamil music hasn’t gotten you across the Bay of Bengal, then the traditional flower garland vendors along Buffalo Road surely will. From this street, a small alley leads to Tan Teng Niah’s old house – it’s a beautifully restored old Chinese villa with colors that will brighten up your IG feed. You can then stop for tea and a dosa at Komala Vilas, which has been serving authentic South Indian delicacies since 1947.

Shops supported by a mosque's call to prayer in Kampong Glam.

Kampong Glam

Best for: Middle Eastern-meets-Far Eastern vibe, plus hipsters

The laid-back Malay restaurants along North Bridge Road give a sleepy village feel to one side of this district, until you reach the huge Sultan Mosque on the corner of Arab Street. Kampong Glam was once known for its Arab immigrant population and for almost a century now it has been the starting point for local Muslims embarking on their hajj pilgrimage. The neighborhood retains its Middle Eastern flavor, especially along Arab Street with its generations-old shops selling Persian rugs, Ottoman lamps and textiles. On adjacent Bussorah Street, open-air Turkish and Lebanese restaurants vie for diners within earshot of the Sultan Mosque’s call to evening prayers. Alaturka, in particular, serves a medium dish of hummus, koftas and kebabs. Fifty yards away in Haji Lane, overrun with hipsters, traditional shops have been replaced by vintage clothing stores and not-so-traditional retro boutiques. Head to the street art-encrusted south end for the requisite selfie and an ice-cold beer with live music at Blu Jaz Café.

Changi Village is Singapore's closest thing to a modern beach community.


Changi-village

Ideal for: simple pleasures in the calm of the seaside

Despite being in an island-nation, Changi Village is the closest thing Singapore has to a modern beach community. Come here anytime and you’re bound to find anglers, campers and families making good use of the long, quiet shoreline. Relaxing is by far the most popular activity here; head to Changi Beach Park to watch the hornbills flutter through the trees or hop on a wooden ferry for a quick 15-minute ride to Pulau Ubin, the country’s only undeveloped island and getaway for nature lovers. You can then retreat to Little Island Brewing Co. at the end of Changi Village Road for a few pints of craft beer. Plus, the nearby hawker center is home to some of Singapore’s favorite restaurants. nasi lemak coconut rice and Ayam Penyet fried chicken vendors. To really get away from it all, take a walk on Changi Promenade. It’s a trail of just over a mile that winds through the scenic northeast coast of Singapore. The Coastal Settlement, a very quirky garden restaurant-bar, awaits you at the end of the walk.

Despite its history as a red-light district, Geylang also attracts visitors with its decades-old shops and restaurants run by locals.


Geylang

Ideal for: local color and regional cuisine

This neighborhood is said to be the true downtown of the city, a strong defender against gentrification that has infected many other neighborhoods. The heritage buildings that line Geylang Road are a hodgepodge of architectural styles that include pre-WWII Sino-Portuguese shops, Art Deco warehouses and traditional Chinese temples. Geylang Lorong 24a in particular hosts fine samples of it all. Start your tour in this quaint alley and visit the Chinese Cultural Shop, a store frozen in time with its 1960s wares and interiors. Then stroll down Geylang Road, heading east to the various shops open 24 hours a day, the perpetually busy food places, sex shops, nightclubs and brothels. You’re just here to soak up the atmosphere, and sample the authentic regional cuisine that attracts Singapore’s foreign worker population. We recommend Gu Thai House for its Thai mookata hot pots, and Absolutely Pho-bulous for its on-demand Vietnamese barbecue.

To find out more, read Geylang is developing a new reputation as a foodie hotspot.

Get a better sense of Singapore's rich Peranakan heritage in Katong.

Katong

Best for: Getting a closer look at Singapore’s Peranakan heritage

In the eastern suburbs of the city, Katong bears a refined character that has long been associated with Singapore’s Peranakan families. These locally born ethnic Chinese married into indigenous communities and were known to be wealthy businessmen. This neighborhood was their gentrified enclave in the years before World War II. Today, their distinctive fusion culture and social class remain evident on many streets in Katong. This is especially true around Joo Chiat Road, which is still home to many old and ornate mansions in the area. Its corner with Koon Seng Road is said to be Singapore’s prettiest street with its rows of colorful 1920s terraced houses. Two blocks north of here is Guan Hoe Soon restaurant, a local culinary institution since 1953. Sample authentic Peranakan cuisine here, then top it off with a fitting dessert — cakes and ice cream inspired by traditional sweets — at Sinpopo Brand. The budding cafe scene will also give you a reason to linger (Homeground Coffee Roasters has great espressos), as well as the Katong Antique House, a preserved century-old house that showcases Singapore’s Peranakan heritage.

>>Next: The best new hotels in Singapore

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