When travelling to Singapore, there’s no doubt that you’ll spend a good chunk of your time strolling through the streets of Chinatown. The area is among the city’s most atmospheric, featuring colourful heritage buildings and old shophouses that hearken back to a bygone era in Singapore’s history.
As home to some of the top tourist attractions in Singapore, it’s hardly a surprise that there are plenty of superb things to do in Chinatown, Singapore, from scouring through temples to chowing down on some of this food-crazy city’s best dishes.
Ready to plan your day in Singapore’s most interesting district? Here’s a quick guide to the best places to visit in Chinatown, Singapore.
Table of Contents
- What to do in Chinatown, Singapore: The top attractions & best places to visit
- Eat to your heart’s content at Chinatown Complex Food Centre
- Get spiritual at the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
- Check out the colourful Sri Mariamman Temple
- Relive the past the Chinatown Heritage Centre
- Chow down at Hong Lim Market & Food Centre
- Feel the culinary buzz at Chinatown Food Street
- Explore Chinatown’s Muslim culture at Masjid Jamae
- Find bliss at Thian Hock Keng Temple
- Chill out at Ann Siang Hill Park
- Chow down (more) at Maxwell Food Centre
- Live it up on Keong Saik Road
- Where to stay: The best hotels in Chinatown, Singapore
What to do in Chinatown, Singapore: The top attractions & best places to visit
Eat to your heart’s content at Chinatown Complex Food Centre
After visiting Singapore a couple times, I have to say that I found myself roaming the food stalls of the Chinatown Complex Food Centre more than a couple times. It’s hardly difficult to find a good meal in Singapore, but if you’re looking for a massive selection AND some superb quality, this is the place to get ‘er done.
The Chinatown Complex Food Centre isn’t just one of the best hawker centres in Singapore; it’s the biggest in the city. You can expect nothing short of street food brilliance if you decide to let your tastebuds ride the crazy culinary train here.
While you truthfully can’t go wrong with most of the stalls at this ginormous food court, give the Shanghai-style steamed dumplings at China La Mian Xiao Long Bao (#02-135), the wonton noodles at Lao Ren Jia Roasted (#02-03), or the katong laksa at Terry Katong Laksa (#02-04) to get a taste of some of the best food in Singapore.
Get spiritual at the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
In a city not known for its temples, the massive Buddha Tooth Relic Temple truly stands out as one of the top things to see in Singapore. Clinging to the edge of Chinatown, this eye-popping five-storey temple isn’t just for peering at street-level; it’s as stunning inside as it is outside.
Entering the temple, you’re greeted by a cavernous main hall adorned with bright reds and gold. After soaking in the atmosphere, be sure to head up to the 4th floor where the temple’s namesake sacred relic is enshrined inside a 2-metre-high gold stupa. One level up, you’ll get to enjoy rooftop views of Singapore along with a pagoda and prayer wheel.
Despite its ancient Buddhist mandala-inspired looks, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is only a young pup with less than 20 years of history behind it. Nonetheless, while wandering about Chinatown, stepping inside for a glimpse of its sacred Buddhist art & artefacts is an absolute must.
Check out the colourful Sri Mariamman Temple
While it might see a little out-of-place in this small Chinese enclave, Sri Mariamman Temple was Singapore’s first Hindu temple and is still one of the finest in the city. Unlike the more popular Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, this place of worship dates back to the early-19th century when an influx of Tamil immigrants from Southern India flocked to Singapore.
The architecture of Sri Mariamman is typical of Dravidian temples, featuring an ornate six-tiered entrance tower (gopuram) adorned with colourful figures drawn from Hindu culture. The vivid colours continue in the interior where you’ll be dazzled by a handful of paintings and shrines dedicated to a number of Hindu deities including Draupadi and Lord Krishna.
Relive the past the Chinatown Heritage Centre
If you’re intrigued by history, you simply need to throw the Chinatown Heritage Centre into your Singapore itinerary. Located on Pagoda Street betwixt the two main drags of New Bridge and South Bridge Roads, this museum occupies several floors of a former Chinese merchant house in the heart of Chinatown.
In the museum, you’ll discover exhibits that detail the history of Singapore’s first Chinese immigrants. Watch Chinatown unfold before your eyes, taking you through the district’s journey from one of the city’s most ill-reputed areas to one of its most vibrant.
Be sure to come early or book your Chinatown Heritage Centre ticket online to beat the crowds.
Chow down at Hong Lim Market & Food Centre
You didn’t think I’d leave you hanging with just one food recommendation in Singapore’s Chinatown, did you? Even after you’ve indulged at Chinatown’s mainstay hawker centre, don’t miss out on a chance to get a little more local at the nearby Hong Lim Market & Food Centre.
Tucked away from the main tourist avenues of Chinatown off of Upper Hokkien just south of the stunning PARKROYAL on Pickering hotel, this gem is a two-floor celebration of Singaporean food that’s bound to send your tastebuds into a frenzy.
Despite its lack of name recognition and more off-beat location, the Hong Lim Market & Food Centre shines with some of the tastiest food stalls in Singapore including a couple brilliant Michelin-starred choices.
Be sure to ramble over to Ah Heng Curry (#02-57/58) and Famous Sungei Road Trishaw Laksa (#02-66) to taste their signature dishes. If you’ve got cravings for a little spice, I guarantee that these dishes will sit among your best memories in Singapore!
Feel the culinary buzz at Chinatown Food Street
Okay, so maybe just two Chinatown food recommendations would do. But, hey, this is Singapore, so here’s one more. If you’re wandering around the area, you’re bound to stumble upon Chinatown Food Street, officially known as Smith Street.
This pedestrianized street, stretching between New Bridge and South Bridge Roads, truly lives up to the name as the host of a multitude of restaurants, bars, and food stalls.
Prices along Chinatown Food Street are a little more expensive than nearby hawker centres, but the atmosphere is worth taking in. The restored Chinese shophouses under the canopies and soft light from the lamps and neon signs create a lovely scene to enjoy some food and drinks to unwind after a day of sightseeing in Singapore.
Explore Chinatown’s Muslim culture at Masjid Jamae
While no one would blame anyone for assuming that Buddhist or Taoist temples would comprise the bulk of Chinatown’s religious building, Masjid Jamae, like it’s Hindu neighbour, Sri Mariamman Temple, throws a wrench into that theory.
Masjid Jamae, also called Masjid Chulia, was built in the 1820s and is one of the oldest in Singapore. The mosque was one of three built in Chinatown by Singapore’s early Tamil Muslim immigrants. It’s still one of the only in the city to offer services in Tamil.
What’s truly unique about Masjid Jamae is the assortment of architectural styles used throughout. The main gate is distinctly South Indian in flavour, exhibiting a classic Indo-Islamic design its its dual minarets and palace façade. Inside Masjid Chulia, you catch a glimpse of non-Islamic influences including two rows of Doric columns and Chinese-inspired green-tiled windows.
Find bliss at Thian Hock Keng Temple
Although it’s slightly outside the boundaries of Chinatown proper, don’t skip out on a visit to Thian Hock Keng Temple. Unlike the less-than-20-year-old Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, Thian Hock Keng is the real deal. It’s the oldest Chinese temple in Singapore, dating back to 1839.
Dedicated to Mazu, the Goddess of the Sea, this Hokkien folk temple, surprisingly, once sat upon the seafront when Telok Ayer Street straddled the Singaporean coastline. Early settlers would arrive at the temple by sea to express thanks for their safe passage over the South China Sea.
The design of Thian Hock Keng Temple is quite remarkable. Visitors will relish in the temple’s Fujian architectural style, featuring intricate carvings of folk deities and dragons.
Chill out at Ann Siang Hill Park
While Singapore’s Chinatown can sometimes feel like dense urban low-rise planning at its finest, a break at nearby Ann Siang Hill Park will quickly alleviate that feeling.
Snuggled behind the lovingly-restored historic Chinese merchant houses of Ann Siang Road, this small park offers a quick and relaxing escape from the buzz of central Singapore. There’s a wide array of interesting tree species here to scope out including cinnamon, nutmeg, breadfruit, and tamarind.
After you’ve snuck in a few moments at the park, cozy up for a quick bite & a drink at one of the hip cafés & restaurants along Ann Siang Road and nearby Club Street.
Chow down (more) at Maxwell Food Centre
Another recommendation for foodie? You bet! Eating to excess is simply one of those must-do activities in Chinatown. And I’m not ashamed to give a thumbs up to (yet another) fantastic Singapore Chinatown food hotspot: Maxwell Food Centre.
Located just southeast of Chinatown on South Bridge Road, Maxwell Food Centre is one of the most famous places to eat in Singapore. And justifiably so. The selection of choices for what to eat at Maxwell Food Centre are as varied as Singaporean cuisine itself.
If you’re looking for one of the hawker centre’s specialities, queue up at Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice, for rice that, as the late-and-great Anthony Bourdain put it, is “so fragrant & delicious that it can be eaten on its own.” For something a little different, I’d also highly recommend checking out the Kuala Lumpur-style curry chee cheong fun at Chee Cheong Fun Club.
Live it up on Keong Saik Road
In an ever-changing city like Singapore, it’s hardly a surprise that a place like Keong Saik Road, located on the southern edge of Chinatown, could shift from a former red-light district to one of the coolest neighbourhoods in the city.
Whether by day or night, Keong Saik Road will catch your eye with its handsome assemblage of restored shophouses. Inside, you’ll find some of the best places to eat & drink in Singapore, from hipster-approved restaurants to popular after-work cocktail hangouts.
One of the most famous haunts along Keong Saik Road is Potato Head Singapore. Occupying four floors of an eye-popping heritage building straddling the sharp corner of Keong Saik and Teck Lim Road, Potato Head has a little of everything for travellers from a gourmet burger joint to a South Pacific-inspired rooftop bar.
Where to stay: The best hotels in Chinatown, Singapore
Thanks to its central location and excellent selection, Chinatown is undoubtedly one of the best places to stay in Singapore. If you decide to base yourself here, you’ll have no problems finding some comfortable accommodations. Here a few of the best hotels in Chinatown, Singapore, to start your search…
- The Southbridge Hotel: Quite possibly the best bang-for-your-buck in Chinatown, this budget-friendly hotel offers simple yet comfortable rooms in a highly central location.
- Oasia Hotel Downtown: A stunning hotel in an even more stunning building, this lovely 4.5-star sits just outside the bustle of Chinatown in Tanjong Pagar and charms guests with its stylish rooms and relaxing sun terrace and outdoor pool area.
- Parkroyal on Pickering: It doesn’t get much better than this top Singapore luxury hotel perched on the edge of Chinatown! The building itself is an absolute work of art, featuring hanging balcony gardens and a sun terrace and infinity pool with views over the city. Indulge in the hotel’s soothing spa & wellness treatments for an extra special stay in Chinatown.