The title of this story could easily have been, “20 Hoods You Have to Check Out….”. Because Singapore really does have some of Asia’s most fascinating, and diverse, urban precincts.
You’ve probably heard of Orchard Road, Sentosa Island, Marina Bay and Chinatown—they’re popular for good reason. But there are plenty of other equally alluring neighbourhoods to visit once you’ve ticked off the must-do attractions at these top hitters. From Singapore’s Malay heritage district to its colonial hillside, here are four other districts to explore next time you’re in the city-state.
Glamorous? Perhaps not. But there are plenty of other terms to describe Singapore’s Muslim quarter: vibrant, colourful and super trendy among them. The city’s Malay heritage area has become a haven for hipsters, who flock here to eat in century-old cafes and restaurants, then browse boutiques or sip cocktails set in beautifully preserved buildings. It’s a cliché, but this is really where old and new meet.
Singapore has some of the world’s most interesting places to stay, not in the least The Sultan. The 60 rooms here are all individually designed, and are spread over 10 beautifully restored shophouses. When you wake up here you’ll know exactly what part of the world you’re in.
Hotel Clover 33 Jalan Sultan
Another property making the most of Kampong Gelam’s historic buildings, Hotel Clover occupies a row of converted shophouses. Much of the old charm has been preserved in its rooms, which are designed with lush silks and dark woods—book a garden suite, so you can sip your morning coffee in a green haven steps from your bed.
This perennially popular café-cum-restaurant sits at the entrance to Haji Lane (see Vibes below). The menu features Dutch-inspired dishes (all halal): fries and mayo, bitterballen and guava beef ribs. If you’re just after coffee and cake, you’ve come to the right place—there’s cold brew alongside regular espresso, as well as a mean rainbow mille crepe and red velvet cake that will leave you bouncing off the walls.
Known for its authentic Malay and Indonesian cuisine carefully prepared through slow-cooking (some dishes take hours to prepare), quality ingredients and age-old recipes, Hjh Maimunah draws a loyal crowd. Order hearty dishes that pack a punch, like the oxtail soup and more-ish beef rending.
Singapore Zam Zam
Serving up delish Indian Muslim dishes for more than a century, this family run establishment knows what it’s doing. The house specialty is biryani (an Indian spiced rice dish with meat or vegetables) and murtabak, a type of stuffed crepe filled with pretty much anything under the sun.
There’s no cocktail menu at Maison Ikkoku. Instead, have a chat to the mixologist, tell them your likes and dislikes, and they’ll whip you up a concoction to tantalise your tastebuds. If the weather permits, head to the rooftop for stellar views over the hood.
The cocktails that head bartender Dave Koh creates at this intimate joint are almost too pretty to drink—almost. This is another place where the drinks are made just for you, so don’t even think about asking for a menu. This place gets packed on weekends; so arrive early.
At the heart of Kampong Gelam you’ll find Arab Street, and at the heart of Arab Street you’ll find the gilded, 200-year-old Masjid Sultan (Sultan Mosque). It’s surrounded by a melting-pot of stores selling everything from perfumes and gold-flecked textiles to carpets, spices and trinkets. Many of the hole-in-the-wall cafes and restaurants here have been feeding Singaporeans for decades—there are fascinating stories at every turn.
An extension of Arab Street, Singapore’s narrowest street is an eye-popping union of colourful shophouses and larger-than-life street art. If you can’t get a great gram here, you may as well throw away your phone. Once a gathering spot for pilgrims on the way to Mecca, the strip is now wall-to-wall boutiques courtesy of independent designers alongside oh-so-cool cafes, restaurants and bars.
Malay Heritage Centre
If you’re keen to learn more about the streets you’re visiting, pop into the Malay Heritage Centre to read up on Kampong Gelam’s fascinating history. There’s a permanent gallery stocked with artefacts and photos, as well as space for rotating exhibitions.
This leafy part of Singapore is just steps from the mega-malls of Orchard Road, but a world away in terms of its atmosphere and offerings. For starters, there are no cookie-cutter shops and restaurants here, but instead a host of independent boutiques and eateries set on tropical grounds that were once a nutmeg plantation, before being turned into barracks for the British Forces.
While there are no hotels in Dempsey Hill itself, there are a couple that you can stroll back to after a day here packed with shopping and dining. Among the closest digs is:
This design-driven bolthole is the first Yotel property in Asia. Their “cabins” (rather than rooms) are compact to say the least, but they’re full of smart tech and equally smart space-saving designs. If you’re out exploring all day, why waste your money on enormous accommodations? There’s also a great pool for chilling out after working up a sweat in Dempsey.
Baker & Cook
The Dempsey outlet of this hugely popular chain is set in a light-and-bright glasshouse, with leafy views out to a play area for kids. As its name suggests, the baked goods here are off the charts: you can order a basket of fresh breads to go with your coffee, or try sweet treats like chocolate truffle doughnuts, cherry Danish and almond croissants.
PS. Café at Harding Road
Whether you’re sitting indoors or out, you’ll feel like you’re part of the Dempsey jungle at this all-glass café. You may have to wait for a table (it’s that popular) but you’ll be rewarded with daily specials and evergreen offerings like Suzy’s spaghetti crab mee goreng, and double chocolate blackout shakes. Breakfast cocktail? Order the White Bouquet Sangria, with lychee, longan and white chrysanthemum flowers.
Ensconced at the corner of a conserved former British army barrack, amidst lush greenery, SPRMRKT at Dempsey Hill brings the heart and sould into the dining expereince. The cultural-culinary brand focuses on the simplicity of the everyday, keeping local produce and responsible sourcing at the centre of their ethos. Not only do they give us meals from breakfast through to dinner, seven days a week; they also give back to local communities and to the environment. We love to see it!
Open Farm Community
The goal of this place is to connect the community to nature, and it does that through lush (and edible) gardens and a restaurant that focuses on the freshest local produce available. Sit down to a meal of corn and coconut soup followed by organic mushroom tortellini and oxheart tomato salad. Then stroll through the rainforest that surrounds, pausing for a game of lawn bowls or to snap shots of the vibrant alfresco sculptures.
Red Dot Brewhouse
If you drink beer and it’s green, then it’s healthy, right? Tell yourself this over and over when you order the Monster Green Lager at Red Dot—this beverage gets its colour from an infusion of spirulina. Trust us, it’s pretty tasty! There are other drinks that look more like liquid gold than grass, and you can pair them with juicy burgers and woodfired pizzas.
Be sure to book in advance for your visit to Singapore's fist Gin Distillery. Tanglin Gin's very own Gin Jungle is where the best of Singapore meets the best of botanicals. Elevate your cocktail hour with a sneak peek tour into the Tanglin Creation Lab, or take a cocktail masterclass to curate your own perfect cocktail. Let the passion and gin run wild with nature all around at Dempsey Hill.
Heritage Walking Trail
Use the excellent online map to navigate your way around some of Dempsey’s historic attractions, from St. George’s Church to the old military hospital and the area’s onetime clubhouse. There’s a shuttle service between sites, but there are also great walking tracks if you feel like earning brownie points between bar visits.
Loewen by Dempsey Hill
This new-ish extension of Dempsey Hill is a creative hub of sorts, packed with experiences to enrich your stay. There’s The Yard, which is a gymnastics, trampoline and parkour studio, to stretch out your limbs; Trimmings & Spa, for a spot of grooming and pampering; and Anjali Chocolat, an artisan chocolatier with chocolate workshops for those looking to hone their creative cooking talents.
Like a compressed version of Delhi, Little India is a vibrant ethnic district rammed with colourful sari shops and tempting curry houses dishing up fragrant and fiery vindaloos. The Hindu temples here are especially exciting during festivals like Deepavali, usually held in October or November.
Set in a row of black-and-white shophouses, this smart boutique hotel is in the heart of Little India, within walking distance of some of the hood’s hottest attractions. The neat interiors are also monochrome, and while compact, they come with everything you need for a comfy stay.
V Hotel Lavender
Modern and with great city views, V Hotel is the perfect perch to explore Little India—it’s also on the cusp of Kampong Gelam, which is an added bonus. There’s an indoor pool, which you’ll want to make the most of after a day pushing the pavement outside.
Old Hen Coffee Bar
Sometimes the Singaporean heat gets so intense that you can’t possibly face a hot coffee. Enter Old Hen’s ingenious bottled cold brews, which come in black and white, as well as mocha and dark cocoa. You can take them away or linger in the café while munching on a crab burger or apple-cinnamon waffles.
There’s a lot going on inside this café—including a hoarders’ worth of knick-knacks surrounding a Mini Cooper. But that’s all part of the charm, and also the experience, with many pieces available for sale. If you just want to sit and sip, the coffee is as strong as the food menu, which includes everything from stacks of fluffy pancakes to deluxe Spanish omelettes.
The Banana Leaf Apolo
Pretty much everything on the menu at this restaurant is served on a banana leaf, which not only adds to the flavour of your food but is hygienic and environmentally friendly to boot! The southern Indian cuisine on offer ranges from tasty fish head curry to chicken masala and mutton vindaloo.
Singapore’s only Bengali and Punjabi restaurant, Mustard celebrates two of India’s most culinary sophisticated states. If you want to go truly authentic Bengali, order the fiery kalabadi chop: a chilli-heavy potato chop with a spicy pea filling. For a side of Punjab, go for a buttery curry, like the murgh makhani, which sees grilled chicken cooked in a tomato-butter sauce.
The Whiskey Library
Imagine a library filled wall-to-wall with rich books. Now replace those books with whiskey. Dubbed one of the world's greatest whiskey bars, The Whiskey Library's incredible whiskey selection serves up an impressive list of over 1000 rare and special whiskeys and is a must-visit for any whiskey connoisseur or whiskey curious.
Set in a gracious two-storey shophouse, Owls Brew pulls in some of the most hard-to-find beers in Singapore. The only downside? They go fast. But there are also great wines and cocktails, and a bar menu to match: a bunch of burgers, wings and pizzas that deliver all the late-night carbs you need.
Get your pilgrim on and hop between Little India’s eye-popping temples. First stop should be Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple (try saying that three times), one of the city-states oldest Hindu temples and a bit of a Little India landmark. Then make your way to Sri Srinivasa, to ogle a gatehouse covered with statues of Vishnu, and finally Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya, a serene spot for Buddhist worship, replete with a 15-metre statue of Buddha.
Indian Heritage Centre
Sporting a dramatic new guise after being remodelled in 2015, this exhibition hall is a shrine to Singapore’s Indian heritage. There are some 440 artefacts across five themed galleries, with the space also employing augmented reality to tell the stories of the Indian communities that have changed the face of the city-state over the decades.
This shopping mecca can be overwhelming to the uninitiated—there’s just so much on offer over the centre’s four floors. Plus, it’s open 24 hours, which means you can get your hit of retail therapy day and night. Come for everything from electronic goods to clothing, jewellery and toys. Phew! Get ready to shop 'til you drop.
As the name suggests, this neighbourhood was established by Singapore’s Dutch community in the early 1900s. Back then, grand colonial estates were ringed by plantations, and you can still glimpse this legacy amid the area’s alfresco cafes and restaurants, and boutiques dedicated to creatives.
Park Avenue Rochester
This hotel says it is “cuddled by lush greenery”. And it’s true: there are plenty of parks and gardens (not in the least the Botanic Gardens) within easy reach of your room. Accommodations here are compact but comfortable, and there’s a great pool and on-site gym.
Tiong Bahru Bakery
A fail-proof patisserie with community spirit at its core, Tiong Bahru Bakery offers up everything from savoury bread and tasty sandwiches to sweet, flakey treats and just about any style of coffee. Expect an unexpected array of dine-in or takeaway delights from smoked salmon squid ink rolls to apple kouign amanns.
There’s not much that goes better with great coffee than crispy waffles, and Sunday Folks do both with finesse. Within Chip Bee Gardens, this slick café is known for its sweet breakfast treats—most of them topped with creamy soft serve (flavours include pistachio and sea salt with palm sugar).
Innovating vegetarian cuisine since 1997, Original Sin dishes up a unique mix of Mediterranian and Italian flavours—with vegetarian ingredients as the hero. Proudly the first and only vegetarian Mediterranian restaurant in Singapore, this is the perfect place to grab a healthy bite with mates.
An ode to all the beautiful Italian grandmothers, La Nonna brings the warmth of a hug from an Italian nonna to Singapore with its unpretentious and authentic approach to traditional Italian cuisine. Settle in for a cosy catch-up with mates and taste the hearty flavours of Italy enveloped in trattoria-style decor.
Wala Wala Café Bar
This legendary establishment is one of the hottest places in Singapore for live music. It’s been pumping out rock, folk and grunge for more than three decades—if the tunes don’t get you, then the locally brewed beers and mead will.
Cha Cha Cha
One of Singapore’s oldest Mexican restaurants is still one of the city’s favourites, known for its generous servings of fajitas, tacos and burritos accompanied by frozen margaritas that will give you goosebumps.
Lovers of old-school stationary, rejoice! You’ll find it hard to drag yourself away from this beautiful shrine to paper—with a touch of leather thrown in to make things luxe. The husband-and-wife duo behind the operation collaborates with the finest artisans on the island to create products that are timeless, and tasteful.
Local designer Priscilla Shunmugam takes the traditional dyeing technique of batik and weaves in contemporary materials and silhouettes to create womenswear that is magical, understated and eminently wearable. Be sure to call ahead—the store is open by appointment only.
Once you’ve seen Orchard Road and Sentosa Island, take time to explore a few more of Singapore’s vibrant cultural hubs, which reveal as much about the city-state’s history as its forward-thinking future, where passions and possibilities meet. Head to Singapore Tourism for more info.
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