No matter how ultra modern Singapore may be, Chinatown remains a cultural beacon for many people. On a normal day, you’ll find plenty of tourists and locals roaming its streets–a place where modern tastes meet a rich and colourful history.
The area was first fully developed in the late-1800s, with many significant changes made to its offerings and facades over the years. Businesses have come and gone, but there are many reliable names that have planted their operations there for decades.
Given its enduring popularity, Chinatown holds plenty of surprises to this day. To compile the hidden gems and red-hot spots, we list the best places to enjoy Chinatown based on its popularity with locals!
The best part? Most of the recommendations are within a 15-minute walk from Dorsett Singapore, a hotel located right above Outram Park MRT station, at the fringe of the heritage-rich Chinatown and the trendy hip enclave of Keong Saik.
1. Bring home souvenirs and have a taste of local food at Chinatown Street Market
Let’s start with the OG attraction: Chinatown Street Market. While it is characterised as a bustling night market full of value-item buys, it also gives visitors a flavour of Singapore’s culture, allowing tourists to sample local delights and take home souvenirs.
If you’re new to Singapore and pressed for time, this place–which stretches from Pagoda Street to Temple Street–is a must- visit.
Market vendors usually begin operations around 10am, and, as you can imagine, there’s plenty of food to choose from. Whether it’s thick slices of bak kwa (barbequed pork), fresh dim sum or large cups of bubble tea, you’ll never go hungry walking around the market looking for collectibles and gifts!
There are many cultural antiques, cute souvenirs and clothing at this market–silk scarfs, lanterns, herbal medicine, vintage stamps, pots and vases. You can even take a quick trip to Chinatown Complex (which we’ll discuss more in detail later) where there are several outlets on the first floor with other alluring collectibles.
2. Indulge in shopping and bespoke services on Ann Siang Road
Just a five-minute walk from Chinatown Street Market is the stretch that is known to locals as Ann Siang Road. Here, expect service and selections that teeter closer to high-end, luxury experiences.
While Ann Siang Road is best known for its generous offerings of boozy bars, there are plenty of thriving local brands and boutiques excelling in artisanal items.
For starters, there is Yumumu, a local fashion brand with a range that will speak to the divine feminine in you. From breathable, stylish jumpsuits to modest dresses, and even hand woven jewelry, there’s nothing ordinary about its offerings.
Speaking of jewellery, you can find a greater variety of it at Madly Gems, which perfectly encapsulates its devotion to jewels. This is the place to go to if you’d prefer something bespoke, as opposed to an off-the-shelf piece, and its in-house designers will be there with you to create the perfect wearable item.
Fancy a haircut and trim by the gods? Truefitt & Hill devotes itself to a lineage of the gentlemanly shave, and you can select from a variety of services–regular haircuts, massages, shaves and facial hair grooming–that will make you feel like a million bucks.
3. Pick out your favourite scent, vinyl records and books along Duxton Hill
If you’ve traversed the grounds of Ann Siang empty-handed, fret not. Just a five-minute walk away is Duxton Hill, another hideout full of luxurious brands.
Here, alongside a selection of restaurants and bars that come alive at night, you can find perfume maker Maison 21G–where you can craft your own scent with its expertise–along with activewear giant Lululemon.
If you’re hankering for some entertainment, next to each other are Retrophonic Records, a record store with plenty of music on vinyl, along with Littered with Books, which offers a curated selection of literature.
4. Visit an iconic religious site - Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
In Chinatown, religion and culture are intertwined–so much of its street sights are rooted in tradition. However, despite its name denoting a large presence of Chinese culture, there’s also the legendary Sri Mariamman Temple, one that regularly attracts curious tourists with its holy ceremonies.
The famed Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is hard to miss.
Replete with golden opulence and a towering presence, it’s an attraction that offers four levels of history and a rooftop area comprising four sacred pavilions. It also has a basement food court, which is accessible from a non-descript door at the side of its exterior.
This food court only offers vegetarian fare. It also has some of the most budget-friendly offerings in the area, with meals costing less than $5 each.
5. Modern art and traditional history at Everton Park
At Everton Park, prepare to be inundated with arts and crafts.
Here, you can find plenty of murals by local artists, artisanal cafes where you can ease your mind with a hot cup of coffee, and shophouses that are steeped in Peranakan tradition.
You will find three murals by local artist Yip Yew Chong in the area - Amah (housemaid washing and drying clothes), Barber and Provision Shop - depicting life in a kampung (village) in the old days of Singapore.
The NUS Baba House, which serves as a heritage destination of sorts, and not so much your regular museum, has been fastidiously restored over the years. It’s the best place to learn more about the history of the Straits Chinese people who have made Singapore what it is today.
6. Cityscape views and fitness to-dos at Duxton
If you’re hankering for a panoramic view–whether it’s just to clear your head after a long day, or to stage the perfect Instagram shot–look no further than the skybridge at Pinnacle@Duxton.
While it is primarily a residential building, its sleek skybridge, located at level 50, is open to the public. From here, you can have more than a bird’s eye view of the Chinatown area, the Central Business District and Tanjong Pagar. From this vantage point, you can also easily map out the perfect jogging route within the vicinity if you intend to break a sweat in the afternoon. Be sure to include Ann Siang Hill Park in it!
If you’re looking to work out indoors instead–which we wouldn’t blame you for, given our sometimes unforgiving climate–there’s also Cru68 at Duxton Hill, which offers members and visitors the facilities for different activities: cycling, HIIT, or even boxing!
Around the corner, Body Fit Training also offers value for money, if you’re a member of Dorsett Your Rewards programme by Dorsett Hospitality International: its members will get to enjoy a 15% discount for the gym’s day passes online.
7. Explore Singapore’s gastronomic indulgences at Maxwell Food Centre
As with any Singaporean destination, there’s always delectable food that you must try. Affordable local hawker fare can be found at Maxwell Food Centre and Chinatown Complex–just be sure to prepare yourself for crowds during lunchtime!
At Maxwell, the main attraction is undoubtedly Tian Tian Chicken Rice, which has been endorsed by luminaries like the late Anthony Bourdain and, importantly, countless Singaporeans.
Be sure to try out the famous Mr Appam, which offers sweet Indian delights at a cheap price. Other must-trys at Maxwell Food Centre include Maxwell Fu Zhou Oyster Cake, Tong Xin Ju Special Shanghai Tim Sum and Jin Hua Fish Head Bee Hoon.
8. Grab coffee, pastries and so much more along South Bridge Road
Along South Bridge Road, you can find midday hideouts, where you can indulge in coffee with a friend at places like Maxi Coffee Bar and Nanyang Old Coffee.
If you’re looking for a convenient place after lunch at Maxwell, you can head to La Grigne Patisserie–located just behind the hawker centre–where it serves its signature salmon mentaiko croissants.
Of course, this area turns into something special at night. Come for the coffee, stay for the classy alcoholic drinks, we say! Bars like Potato Head, Esquina, CU Bar and Papa Doble will welcome you with open arms.
9. Stay in comfort (and convenience) at Dorsett Singapore
If Chinatown has sounded irresistible to you, especially if you’re making your first visit here, why not make your stay here? The district has plenty of hotels for you to choose from.
Undoubtedly, you’ll want an accommodation that’s closest to your must-see destinations in Chinatown and easily accessible to other tourist attractions. For that, look no further than Dorsett Singapore.
It’s located right at the heart of Chinatown, and right above Outram Park MRT station. With convenient access to three MRT lines - East–West, North–East and Thomson–East Coast lines, it’s not just Chinatown that’s at your disposal–it’s most of Singapore, thanks to our train system’s ability to bring commuters around the entire island.
Dorsett Singapore was built with the road warriors in mind–those who intend to spend hours upon hours exploring the area. With a total of 285 guestrooms, it has various thoughtfully-designed rooms offering unique experiences. Ranging from the Deluxe Room with everything available for a comfortable stay to the Balcony Room, Loft Room, and even a Splash Room for tub lovers, you will be able to find a room that suits your preference.
Nestled within the hotel are an array of amenities you will need, encompassing an outdoor swimming pool, a well-equipped gym and a recently added feature - a self-service laundromat.
Moreover, the hotel hosts a Foodie Tour every Sunday morning, designed to introduce guests to beloved local delicacies and to support the local community's small businesses. This exclusive 2.5h tour, limited to 12 guests each time, offers the opportunity to tantalise your taste buds and forge new friendships with fellow guests. If you are up for a culinary adventure, sign up at Dorsett Singapore’s reception desk when you check in.
For foodies who prefer a free-and-easy experience, you can book a Foodcation with Dorsett Singapore and receive S$60 worth of Dorsett Dollars upon checking in to the hotel. You can spend the Dorsett Dollars at recommended restaurants and eateries in the hood, tasting some of the best local and international cuisine in the area! Book now on Dorsett Singapore’s website.
Besides that, all guests staying in-house are entitled to exclusive discounts at the F&B partners, which have been personally sampled and recommended by the staff at Dorsett Singapore. Check out the full list of curated F&B partners, ranging from a durian specialty cafe to Japanese restaurants and local eateries:
Most importantly, for all the destinations we’ve mentioned above, all are within walking distance from Dorsett Singapore. How much better can it get?
There’s no doubt that Chinatown attracts countless tourists every day, even during non-holiday periods. However, that shouldn’t stop you from spending days in this wonderful and culturally-rich district–not when there are nearby hotels that ensure you’ll be first in line at any spot with its unparalleled convenience!
This story is written in partnership with Dorsett Singapore.
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