Exploring Singapore Chinatown: Top 5 Things To Do & See

by Karen Warren
Colorful houses with first level store fronts on the main street of Singapore's Chinatown area

One of the best things to do in Singapore is to explore the Chinatown area. 

Here you will find traditional shopping streets, restaurants, hawker centres, beautiful temples, and more. 

It’s the perfect starting point on any Singapore itinerary or even if you have a quick layover due to the central location and easy access by the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) train system. 

If this is your first visit, then this guide provides an overview of the top attractions and what to do in Singapore Chinatown. 

All you need to do is wear some comfortable walking shoes, wear a hat, and wander around to explore this historical area. You’ll love the area as much as I did!

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About Singapore Chinatown

Singapore’s Chinatown dates back to 1819 when Sir Stamford Raffles established a British colony here. 

He decided that separate areas should be set aside for each of the ethnic communities who moved onto the island. 

In the early days, Chinatown was full of brothels and opium dens, and densely packed housing. 

However, in recent years it has been renovated so that, although still teeming with life, it has a clean and freshly painted feel.

Visitors and locals wander the vibrant streets to buy household goods, souvenirs, or food, or simply to soak up the atmosphere.

1. Ask Questions at the Singapore Chinatown Visitor Centre

If you’re stumped on where to eat or have any questions about the area, stop by the Chinatown Visitor Centre. 

Located across from the Buddha Relic Temple, it’s a convenient spot to stop by for a few minutes and ask for recommendations from the customer service team

You can also purchase tickets to local attractions or do some souvenir shopping here. 

Also, another reason to visit is to enjoy the air-conditioning. Singapore is humid and hot all day long, so finding a place to cool off is sought after. 

Address: 2 Banda St, Singapore

Opening Hours: 9:00am to 6:00pm

2. Explore the Shopping Streets Of Chinatown

The area between Sago Street and Mosque Street is packed with shops and places to eat. The streets are hung overhead with trademark red lanterns. 

Here you will find all manner of goods on sale from cheap clothes to food and incense. 

Souvenir hunters can buy chopsticks, brightly colored fans, adorable luggage tags, good luck charms, and much more. 

If you want Singapore-branded t-shirts, magnets, handbags, hats, and other souvenir items, then you’ll have many opportunities to find these items here. 

Prices are listed on the items, so you don’t need to haggle. But you may need to use your bargaining skills if there aren’t any prices shown. 

There are many bespoke tailoring shops and as you pass you are likely to be requested to buy a made-to-measure suit or silk gown.  

A street in Singapore Chinatown with red lanterns and signs for tailors

Singapore’s Chinatown is festooned with lanterns that are lit up at night. Photo credit: WorldWideWriter

Walk along the narrow pavement behind the street stalls to find more conventional shops selling jewelry, electronic goods, or traditional Chinese medicines.

This area is still very much the home of the Chinese community in Singapore. You will see brass plates advertising the presence of lawyers and accountants in the upper apartments. 

At the end of Sago Street, you will see the Chinatown Complex, a large concrete building housing a busy food market (also known as the hawker centre). 

It’s a popular place to eat as there are hundreds of stalls selling a variety of foods. Whether you’re looking for foods such as laksa (coconut spicy noodle soup), biryani (mixed rice), or char kway teow (fried noodles), you’ll have plenty of options to choose from. 

One of the entrances to the Chinatown Complex has street art of Bruce Lee, a famous Hong Kong-American martial artist, holding nunchucks and a durian. 

Street art of Singapore's Chinatown Complex with Bruce Lee holding a durian

Here is street art of Bruce Lee at Chinatown Complex. Photo credit: Life Of Doing

Address: 335 Smith Street, Singapore 050335

Opening Hours: 6:00am to Midnight (Please contact individual stalls for specific opening times as they will vary)

The square outside is a meeting place where people talk, eat, or sit down for a leisurely game of checkers.

3. Wander Through The Temples Of Chinatown Singapore

Even in Chinatown Singapore’s multiculturalism is apparent in the number and variety of places of worship, encompassing Buddhism, Hindu, Islam, and Christianity.

Sri Mariamman Temple

As you walk towards the end of Pagoda Street, the ornate exterior of the Hindu Sri Mariamman Temple provides a striking contrast to the bustle of Chinatown and the highrise offices of modern Singapore in the distance. 

This temple, which is dedicated to the goddess Mariammam, was built in 1843 and is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore. 

Visitors can walk around the courtyard and admire the vividly painted friezes and statues, and the paintings of Hindu deities on the ceiling of the inner sanctum.  

In the autumn, the dramatic Thimithi ceremony takes place, in which people demonstrate their faith by running barefoot across a patch of burning coals in the temple’s courtyard. 

Even at other times, there is always something going on. At the time of my visit, the temple reverberated to the sound of horns and drums. 

TIP: If you are entering the temple, you need to remove your shoes. It’s advisable to have thick socks with you as the floor can be very hot.

A colorful tower with deities at Sr Mariamman Temple in Singapore Chinatown area

Ornate tower of the Sri Mariamman Temple in Singapore. Photo credit: WorldWideWriter

Address: 244 South Bridge Rd, Singapore 058793

Opening Hours: 6:00am to 12:00pm, 6:00pm to 9:00pm 

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

The impressive Buddha Tooth Relic Temple stands opposite the Chinatown Complex. It’s free to visit. 

Walk past the candles and statues in the entrance hall to enter the magnificent One Hundred Dragons Hall with its giant statue of Buddha and hundreds of miniature Buddhas lining the walls. 

You may see monks performing their rituals in the central area. 

Go upstairs for the Buddhist Cultural Museum and the teashop and for a view of the golden tooth relic.

TIP: Please cover your legs and shoulders before entering this temple. There are shawls available at the entrance.

A Buddha statue on a flower at the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in Singapore

Inside the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. Photo credit: WorldWideWriter

Address: 288 South Bridge Rd, Singapore 058840

Opening Hours: 7:00am to 5:00pm

More Information: Website

Thian Hock Keng Temple

As Singapore’s oldest Hokkien temple, Thian Hock Keng Temple is dedicated to Mazu, a sea goddess. Other deities worshipped here are Goddess of Mercy and Confucius. 

Built in 1840, one of the unique aspects of the temple’s architecture is that the structure is made without using nails. 

Unfortunately, this is one temple that I haven’t visited yet. Yet, the beautiful and intricate architecture and stone sculptures will be interesting to see. 

Free admission. 

Address: 158 Telok Ayer St, Singapore 068613

Opening Hours: 7:30am to 5:00pm

More Information: Website 

4. Nonstop Eating And Drinking

There is a vast range of food available, from street stalls (hawker stalls), cafés, and restaurants. 

Singapore food is a fusion of Chinese, Malay, and Indian cuisines but you will also find Thai and Vietnamese restaurants in Chinatown.

Street Stalls

Offerings from the hawker street stalls are inexpensive and include traditional Chinese dim sum, satay sticks, and roasted chestnuts. You can also find cakes, fresh fruit, freshly squeezed juices, and herbal tea. 

The cost of a meal with a drink is $5-$7 USD per person, so it’s very reasonable. 

Look for young coconuts with their tops sliced off so that you can drink the cool coconut juice through a straw. Once you’ve finished drinking it, use your spoon to eat the young coconut meat. 

A young coconut served on a plate with a spoon at a cafe in Singapore Chinatown area

The juice of a young coconut makes a surprisingly refreshing drink. Photo credit: WorldWideWriter

Or, if you are feeling adventurous, try a durian pancake, filled with the strong-smelling fruit with a surprisingly sweet flavor.


The roadside cafés will sell you anything from a drink to a snack or a full meal. 

There are some unusual specialties to look for such as crocodile meat or strange-sounding teas such as chrysanthemum wolfberry (also known as chrysanthemum goji berry). It was here that I finally got to taste durian! 

Hawker Centres

Or, you can eat as the locals do in the food court (hawker centres) on the upper level of the Chinatown Complex. 

Other nearby hawker centres include Maxwell Food, Amory Street, and Hong Lim Market. 

Life Of Doing Note: We love eating at Maxwell Food Centre. We usually eat here at least once a day since there is a variety of food options. 

Our go-to meals include eating chili crab at 鼎鼎紅麻辣香鍋 Dingdinghong Mala HotPot and also getting Hainan chicken rice at Ah Tai Hainan Chicken Rice or Tian Tian Hainan Chicken Rice. 

Address: 1 Kadayanallur St, Singapore 069184 

Sit Down Restaurants

Even the more formal restaurants are reasonably priced by Singapore standards and can provide a cool and pleasant place to escape for a while from the bustle of the streets outside. 

Alternatively, wander down the nearby streets where nightfall sees tables and chairs dragged into the center of the road to create a vast outdoor eating complex.

5. See Street Art & Murals

When exploring the streets of Chinatown, you’ll see beautiful murals and street art depicting the past and present of Singapore. 

Here are some fun murals that you’ll see when walking. You may see some new street art by local artists popping up on your next visit.

Letter Writer by Yip Yew Chong

Address: 336 Smith Street (on New Bridge Centre wall)

One of the street art in Singapore's Chinatown. An older gentleman is shown writing calligraphy. He is surrounded by red signs written in gold letters for good fortune.

Street Art of Letter Writer by Yip Yew Chong. Photo credit: Life Of Doing

Puppet Mask & Puppet Seller by Yip Yew Chong

Address: 227 South Bridge Road (on Mohammad Ali Lane)

Mamak Store by Yip Yew Chong

Address: 227 South Bridge Road (on Mohammad Ali Lane and next to Puppet Mask & Puppet)

Community by Sam Lo 

Address: 89 Neil Rd, #01-01, Singapore 088849 (on Shake Shack wall)

How To Get To Chinatown Singapore

There is an MRT station in Chinatown. The station name is Chinatown (牛车水, சைனாடவுன்) on the purple Northeast Line and blue Downtown Line.  

To access the main tourist area leave the station by Exit A; this will take you to the middle of Pagoda Street. 

There is also Maxwell MRT Station (麦士威, மெச்ஸ்வெல்) which is located next to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Maxwell Food Centre. It’s accessible on the brown Thomson-East Coast Line. It’s only a few minutes walk into the main Chinatown area. 

Other options include walking to the area, taking the public city bus, using the Hop-On-Off-Bus, or ride-hailing cars (ie: Grab, a Singaporean-based app that is the same as Uber). 

Frequently Asked Questions

How much time is needed in Singapore Chinatown? 

It will vary depending on personal interest. 

You can take a minimum of 30 minutes to do a quick walk through the main shopping street. 

Or, you can spend a few hours savoring the experience, view the temples, eat at a hawker stall, and go shopping.  

When is the best time to visit Singapore Chinatown? 

Early mornings and evenings will be quieter in the Chinatown area. Otherwise, it tends to be crowded all day long, especially around the food areas. 

If you don’t like huge crowds, you may consider visiting other areas. 

Do you need a tour of Chinatown? 

No, it’s not required as everything is within walking distance.

But, you can sign up for tours to get further insight into the area’s history. Since Chinatown has many incredible food places, food tours are also popular. Here are some recommendations below:

Chinatown Walking Tour Options

Chinatown Food Tour Options

Final Thoughts

Singapore’s Chinatown is well worth the visit. It’s a memorable place to try incredible and delicious local food options, learn about history, go temple hopping, and wander through the streets to see street art.   

If you’re looking for another fun place to visit after Chinatown, check out the Singapore Botanic Gardens. You’ll want to spend at least half a day or 6+ hours here.

Enjoy your time in Singapore. Please also follow my travels at WorldWideWriter

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Colorful houses with first level store fronts at Chinatown Singapore

Featured & Pin Photo credit: Life Of Doing

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