Chinatown is a spotlight of Singapore, not just because of its thousand hanging lanterns, but because of the enormous diversity that is packed into one small town. To help plan your trip, these are some of the very best things to do in Chinatown, Singapore.
When I first set my foot on one of the streets of Chinatown, I was astonished by how many intricacies and little things fascinated me. It doesn’t matter if you are a food lover, an explorer, a photographer, or just enjoy sightseeing, there is something that can satisfy your desire.
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Things to do in Chinatown Singapore
1. Discover the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
This temple was just built in 2007, but its meticulously designed interior and the comprehensive exhibitions of Buddhist art and history can tell you stories about a culture that is hundreds of years old.
The temple is named after a sacred artefact that Buddhists believe is the Buddha’s left fang, taken from the funeral pyre at his funeral in Kushinagar, India. The tooth and other sacred Buddhist artefacts in this temple are displayed in a magnificent golden tower made of 320kg of gold, which was donated by Buddhists.
You can discover the temple on your own or register for a two-hour tour with tour guides. Entrance tickets and weekly tours are free.
2. Visit the Sri Mariamman Temple
After exploring the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, I took a ten-minute walk right to the Sri Mariamman Temple. Sri Mariamman is one of the oldest and most important Hindu temples in Singapore. The temple was built to worship the Mariamman goddess, who has the power to cure all kinds of sickness.
The most special highlight of the temple is the large entrance tower – the Gopuram tower. It’s a symbolic work for many generations of Hindus as well as Singaporeans. The tower is covered with colourful sculptures of gods, mythical beasts and other beings.
If you are here in October or November, you can watch the renowned Theemithi, also known as the firewalking ceremony, where priests walk barefoot on a three-metre-long pit filled with burning coals.
3. Find peace at the Thian Hock Keng Temple
Thian Hock Keng is known to be the oldest Chinese temple in Singapore. Even though it was renovated, you can still feel the trail of time that is left here. The level of detail that is put into everything in this temple is overwhelming, in a good way. Whether you look up or down, there will be stunning dragon motifs or phoenixes, detailed carvings and sophisticated sculptures.
The sacred atmosphere, the unique ancient Chinese architecture and the slight smell of incense burning somehow make you feel really at peace. One interesting thing about this temple is that it was built perfectly without using any nails.
4. Learn about the culture of Singaporeans at Chinatown Heritage Centre
Let’s travel to the past, following the footsteps of the first immigrants that risked their lives to get to Singapore at the Chinatown Heritage Centre.
Here you can find out about their living environment, how they decorated the stores and houses, and their nightlife. Each displayed item here has its own story, bringing many interesting insights into the life of some of the citizens who helped create this modern city.
You can gain access into Chinatown Heritage Centre for 15 Singapore dollars for adults and 11 Singapore dollars for children.
5. Take an NUS Baba House tour
This relic house was home to a Peranakan family in the 1920s. It’s the only Peranakan house that is fully retained with the interior decoration of the unique style of Peranakan culture.
You will find more than 2,000 Peranakan antiques and decorations displayed on the first and second floors. Don’t miss out on short-term exhibitions on the Peranakan theme at the gallery on the third floor.
If visiting NUS Baba House, you need to make an appointment and register in advance to participate in the heritage tour.
6. Explore the Peranakan Tiles Gallery and the Singapore Musical Box Museum
Situated on the second floor of an old building that is Singapore’s first Chinese school, Peranakan Tiles Gallery is the perfect place for those who love history and culture, and to learn about traditional Peranakan designs. The owner of the museum, Victor Lim, has collected more than 20,000 titles in the past three decades and is hoping that UNESCO will recognise it as a Singapore heritage site.
The building also features the Singapore Musical Box Museum, and Chong Wen Ge, a ground floor café, serves both Kopi (a local coffee) and traditional Nonya dishes.
At the Singapore Musical Box Museum, you will learn more about Singapore’s historical context in the 19th and 20th centuries through the history of ancient music boxes, and have the opportunity to enjoy different types of music emanating from them.
7. Shop at Chinatown Street Market
During the daytime, this market is just like any other market in Singapore. At night, however, you will experience something completely different – an amazingly bustling and lively atmosphere. The night market area in Chinatown is known as a shopping paradise with many reasonable products.
Other than shopping, you can fill your stomach with great food and beverages. Don’t miss out on Nasi Goreng, the famous Indonesian fried rice with soy sauce dish.
It’s especially fun if you can visit for special traditional festivals like Lunar New Year. When night falls, many live shows take place such as the lion dance, martial arts performances, live Chinese opera and walking on stilts performances.
You can discover the street food scene here in depth with insights from a local guide on a Chinatown Singapore street food walking tour.
8. Take a photo of the Keong Saik Road
Keong Saik used to be a red-light town. Now, it has given way to cool boutique shops, trendy cafés, modern hotels and restaurants.
What makes this town photogenic is the closely built houses that have an identical early-20th-century architecture style, but were painted with different vibrant colours. After taking some Instagram-worthy pictures, you can take a stroll along the road and stop by any vintage café to have a sip of heaven.
9. Feast at Chinatown Complex Food Centre
Located right in the middle of Chinatown, Chinatown Complex Food Centre is where you can find all the must-try local foods and drinks at the lowest prices. The food can satisfy even the pickiest taste buds in the world.
It’s a great place to have a gathering of friends and family, or just hang out and enjoy good food. Even if you are a solo traveller, you won’t feel alone eating here because this place is always full of friendly people.
10. Try the food at Maxwell Road Hawker Centre
When travelling on the Lion Island, one cannot miss the opportunity to visit a hawker centre. It’s an iconic part of the Singaporeans’ culture. So iconic that it was even featured in the famous movie Crazy Rich Asians.
Maxwell Road Hawker Centre contains over 100 stalls, creating one of the largest collections of local dishes in Singapore. Having to select from so many stalls stacked with attractive menus can drive a food lover crazy!
Where to stay in Chinatown Singapore
Make your Chinatown experience in Singapore complete by staying in the neighbourhood! Here are three of our recommendations for places to stay in Chinatown Singapore for different budget ranges:
Things to do in Chinatown Singapore: map of attractions
You can see the locations of the highlight attractions in Chinatown Singapore on the map below: