Better known for towering skyscrapers and shiny malls, some may become easily distracted from Singapore’s other rich offering - its thriving cultural hotpot. Singapore’s founding as a British trading port in 1819 brought in immigrants from China, India and the Malay Archipelago, who were attracted by the opportunities here. Witnessing this through the religious institutions found here can be an enriching peek into the multi-ethnic immigrant past of the city state. It’s also one of the most unique things to do in Singapore!
While everything else moves quickly to the pace of development, these places of worship in Singapore remain as rare stewards of the island’s history (with some made national monuments) - serving as authentic cultural custodians and spiritual beacons of the communities that have grown to call the country home.
Some of these have become Insta-famous - such as the pagoda-style Buddha Tooth Relic temple and museum and the Sultan Mosque with its gleaming domes - while others humbly carry on their spiritual work, providing a sense of calmness, serenity, and support to their followers.
Whether you’re looking for charming churches or intricate Hindu temples in Singapore, come discover some of the most prominent and enthralling places of worship in this list.
Sultan Mosque (Masjid Sultan)
Built in 1824 for Sultan Hussein Shah, the first sultan of Singapore, it’s hard to believe that the Sultan Mosque is turning almost 200 years old. Boasting pristine and striking golden domes, Sir Stamford Raffles, commonly known as the founder of Singapore, had contributed S$3,000 to the construction of its first rendition.
After being rebuilt in 1932, it acquired today’s unique blend of Indian, Islamic and European architectural elements. An annex was later added in 1993 to include a multi-purpose hall for events. This was especially important, because other than being an important site of worship housing 5,000 devotees, the mosque is also a beacon for the local community at Kampong Glam. It plays host to major festivals such as Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting - a perfect time for visitors to enjoy browsing through the night market and enjoy delicious treats from the many food stalls.
When visiting, one can appreciate the large main golden dome and towering minarets of the Sultan Mosque best from Bussorah Street. Gazetted as a national monument in 1975 for its historic and architectural significance, its details also demonstrate how inclusive the mosque was. Look out for an emblem of a prince of Saudi Arabia on the donated carpeting within, or the glass bottles placed at the base of the onion-shaped domes - donated by lower-income Muslim devotees to mark their contribution to this sacred site.
Address: 3 Muscat Street, Singapore 198833
Visiting hours: Monday to Thursday, Saturday and Sunday: 10:00am - 12:00pm, 2:00pm – 4:00pm, closed on Friday
Sri Mariamman Temple
When passing along South Bridge Road in the Chinatown district, one can’t miss the ornate facade of Sri Mariamman temple. Built in 1827, it is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore, and is one of under 30 found across the island.
Dedicated to the goddess Mariamman, known for her healing powers, the temple provides a stunning welcome in the form of an elaborate gopuram (ornamental tower gateway). Various deities and figures in mythological scenes perch themselves across six tiers, featuring intricate detail and vibrant colours that can be seen from a distance. As you enter through its giant doors, see if you can spot two important gods flanking the structure - that of warrior Murugan and protector Krishna.
Venture in and find more colourful statues, and at the heart of the sanctum is the original statue of Sri Mariamman installed by temple founder, Mr Naraina Pillai. She will be covered most of the time, but will make an appearance during puja (services) and certain festivals.
As an important Hindu temple in Singapore, the building sees itself in multiple roles of significance throughout its times. It offered refuge to immigrants in its early days, was once a Registry of Marriages for Hindus. Today, it continues to host important festivals, such as the annual fire-walking festival known as Theemithi, which falls in October or November.
It is one of the four famous places of worship for different religions found along South Bridge Road, and is also the reason for the neighbouring streets being named as Pagoda Street and Temple Street.
Address: 244 South Bridge Road, Singapore 058793
Visiting hours: Opens daily - 5:00am – 11:30am, 5:00pm – 8:45pm
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum
Also located in the Chinatown district, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum is one of the newer sites on the list, having only been built in 2007. As its name suggests, it houses what is believed to be a sacred tooth relic of Buddha.
The striking architecture of the building was created by the temple’s Chief Abbot Venerable Shi Fa Zhao. It contains a mix of elements derived from Tang Dynasty architecture, as well as the Buddhist Mandala - a symbol of the universe. The pagoda-like building is extremely eye-catching, and becomes even more so when lit at night - a stunning subject often captured on social media.
All are welcome at this buddhist temple in Singapore, and visitors can enter to view Buddhist art, precious religious artefacts as well as of course, the buddha tooth relic itself at the public viewing area. One can stay to witness daily ceremonies performed by resident monks, or just enjoy the tranquil rooftop atmosphere overlooking Chinatown.
Address: 288 South Bridge Road, Singapore 058840
Opens daily - 7:00am - 7:00pm
Opens daily - 9:00am - 6:00pm (for Museum and Stupa Chamber)
Thian Hock Keng Temple
Out of over a thousand temples in Singapore, Thian Hock Keng Temple stands as the oldest and most important Hokkien Chinese temples in Singapore, dating back to 1842. Tucked between the hip restaurants and bars around the area, one would hardly have known that this area once faced the sea and was known as Telok Ayer Basin.
With Singapore’s rich history as a trading port, it’s small wonder that a temple was built there to protect frequent seafarers. What began as a small prayer house in 1821 made by immigrants for the goddess of the sea, Mazu, soon became a full-fledged temple in 1983 thanks to figures such as the famous philanthropist Tan Tock Seng. Its role was so significant, that even the Qing Dynasty emperor of the time, Guang Xu, bestowed a plaque inscribed with the words bo jing nan ming - a blessing of “gentle waves over the south seas”.
While the plaque is now in the National Museum of Singapore, visitors can still experience the rich heritage of the temple by wandering through the building and observing its details. It boasts a distinctive traditional southern Chinese architectural style, featuring intricate carvings of dancing dragons and phoenixes, along the use of colourful broken porcelain on the roof ridges. Amazingly, there is not a single nail to be found in its structure.
The temple underwent extensive restoration in the 2000s and was declared a national monument in 1973. It is open to all who wish to witness a slice of Singapore’s history at this living museum.
Address: 158 Telok Ayer Street, Singapore 068613
Opens daily - 7:30am – 5:30pm
Often overlooked for its fancier neighbours, the Armenian Church sitting along Hill Street is actually the oldest Christian church in Singapore. Also known as The Armenian Apostolic Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator, it was consecrated in 1836 and continues to be an active place of worship.
Though humble in stature, the church boasts many remarkable elements, including its distinctive Byzantine-style architecture from Irish architect, George D. Coleman. Some of them are more quiet in nature, such as the tall roof spire, Roman Doric columns and traditional Armenian vaulted ceiling and cupola. More striking are the stained glass windows and beautiful murals within, dressing up the otherwise humble environment.
As a community project by the early Armenian community, it is only fitting that it is also a memorial for some of the most notable figures, such as the Sarkies Brothers who built and managed the Raffles Hotel, Agnes Joaquim who hybridised the orchid Vanda Miss Joaquim, and Catchick Moses who founded the Strait Times. Visitors can enjoy the peaceful compound and learn more at the integrated Armenian Heritage Centre next door - the first of its kind in Asia and very much one of the more unique things to do in Singapore.
Address: 60 Hill Street, Singapore 179366
Opens daily - 10:00am – 6:00pm
Central Sikh Temple (Gurdwara Sahib)
While the Sikh community in Singapore is relatively small with numbers just under 13,000 in the 2010 population census, they are a significant part of the local community. As followers of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, they have dedicated places of worship in Singapore known as gurdwara, and The Central Sikh Temple at Towner Road is the largest and most important one of all.
When they first arrived in 1881 to serve as the Sikh Police Contingent, the very first Sikh temple was set up within the police compound at Pearl’s Hill to serve the spiritual needs of these pioneers. A main gurdwara in its own building was inaugurated in 1912 as a spiritual and social hub for the Sikh community, and has since moved from its original location at Queen Street, to its present location in Little India in 1986.
Visitors can enjoy classical elements such as scalloped designs and a white dome tipped with gold from the outside, and find surprising additions like a beautiful fountain in its inner courtyard. Attached to the main building is a seven-storey annex, where community events are held to promote interfaith understanding and showcase Sikh culture and traditions. Anyone is welcome to enjoy a free vegetarian meal from the langar (community kitchen) at the temple’s dining hall, and mingle with the local Sikhs who are more than happy to share about their faith and customs.
Address: 2 Towner Road, Singapore 327804
Opens daily - 6:00am – 8:00pm
Maghain Aboth Synagogue
Built in 1878, the Maghain Aboth Synagogue is not just the oldest Jewish synagogue in Singapore, but also in Southeast Asia. Adding to that, it is also the largest in the region, and second largest in Asia outside of Israel, making it one of the more significant places of worship in Singapore, especially for those in Judaism.
Sitting along Waterloo Street in what used to be the Jewish Quarter in the early days, it is easy to miss the beige-coloured building. Those who take a closer look will find a Neoclassical facade anointed with three Stars of David - a symbol often associated with those of the faith - and within an elegant scene of marble floors and teak and rattan pews.
The Jewish cherish their small community, and the synagogue provides the perfect place for their religious and social activities, from daily worships and Sabbath services to rite of passage celebrations like Bar Mitzvahs and Bat Mitzvahs (adulthood events for boys and girls). Other than the distinctive design, look out too for the museum that displays Jewish artefacts and documents, or the supermarket that sells kosher products.
Address: 24/26 Waterloo Street, Singapore 187968
By appointment only. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +65 9232 7096 (Rabbi)
Yueh Hai Ching Temple
Just a stone throw’s away from the famous Thian Hock Keng Temple, is another Singapore Taoist temple located in Telok Ayer district. Why another in such close proximity, especially when it is similarly dedicated to the same goddess, you ask? Well, that’s because the temple has another popular figure within - Yue Lao, the divine matchmaker.
Built in 1826 by Teochew immigrants from the Fujian province, Yueh Hai Ching Temple translates to Temple of the Calm Sea and is actually a merged compound comprising the original temple on the left, and another honouring the ancestral deity Xuan Tian Shang Di (heavenly emperor) on the right.
While admiring the intricate architectural designs such as sculptural scenes of townships on the roof, or mosaic designs of dragons and other mythical flora and fauna, don’t forget to pay your respects to the famous bearded matchmaker here. Whether it’s to ask for a partner in life or to bless existing ones, a red string (used to symbolise the connection you have with your soulmate) is a lovely token to keep from this temple that has earned an Award of Merit in the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation in 2014.
Address: 30B Philip Street, Singapore 048696
Opens daily - 7:30am - 5:30pm
Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple
Come the stroke of midnight on the first day of Lunar New Year, you’ll witness quite a spectacle at the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple (also commonly known as Si Ma Lu Guanyin Tang). As a temple located in the Bugis area and popularly believed to fulfil wishes, devotees of the bodhisattva Kwan Im (Goddess of Mercy) feel that the earliest incense offerings proffer the best chances at fulfiling their dream, and will race towards the urn to plant their own during the event.
Outside of the Lunar New Year period, one can always see throngs of people visiting this Buddhist temple in Singapore, not just for the scenes of devotion but also to marvel at the distinctive red and gold exterior and ornate decorations. Even with its humble beginnings in 1884, the place was a refuge during the Japanese occupation of Singapore (1942-1945). Over the years, this endearing temple has been supported by the people with upgrades, such as a new facade in 1984.
If faced with uncertainty or bad luck, one can always pray to the goddess for her encompassing compassion. However, there are other deities one can approach within, such as Sakyamuni Buddha for wisdom and enlightenment, the monk Bodhidharma for clarity, and even Hua Tuo, a Chinese physician saint for good health. Pick up one of the lotus flowers from the vendors outside, or visit a seasoned peddler to get your fortune told if you’re so inclined.
Address: 178 Waterloo St, Singapore 187964
Opens daily - 7:00am – 6:15pm
Masjid Jamae (Chulia Mosque)
The Masjid Jamae is not only one of the oldest mosques in Singapore, established in 1826, but boasts a beautiful structure quite unlike many of the others. Located in the historic Chinatown district, it serves the Tamil Muslim community, which is why it showcases a unique blend of South Indian and Islamic architectural styles.
Pistachio-green and with two banded rising minarets, the facade of the mosque is hard to miss when passing by the area. Also known as the Chulia Mosque for the specific Chulia muslims it serves, the entrance also features a miniature palace scene with details such as doors and windows.
In line with early multi-cultural Singapore, the inside of the mosque boasts different influences. Visitors can expect a Neoclassical style at the two prayer halls, while green Chinese porcelain tiles can be seen below some windows. Entering the place can be akin to time-travelling to the past, when the street fades away as you wander inside the oldest of the five mosques in Singapore gazetted as national monuments, receiving the honour in 1974.
Address: 218 South Bridge Road, Singapore 058767
Opens 24 hours
St. Andrew's Cathedral
The St. Andrew’s Cathedral is a familiar sight due to its position at the buzzing site of the City Hall area. Its central location could be due to it being the largest Anglican cathedral in Singapore, while serving as the mother church of the Anglican Diocese of Singapore.
Today’s brilliant white structure was consecrated in 1862 but the very first church was actually built on the grounds in 1836. Unfortunately, two lightning strikes in 1852 deemed the building unsafe, so it was torn down before the new one came up in a Neoclassical style. One of the original features was the Revere Bell, but it was replaced by a peal of bells in 1889, with the original then sent to the National Museum of Singapore.
On top of offering worship services, community outreach and cultural events, the church also plays host as a memorial site. This can be seen by the three magnificent stained glass windows at the apse, dedicated to Sir Stamford Raffles, Singapore’s second British resident, John Crawfurd, and the then-Straits Settlements Governor, Major-General William Butterworth. There are other tablets about the compound, commemorating war heroes and victims, such as the 1915 Sepoy Mutiny in Singapore, having witnessed these significant historical events including the Japanese occupation during World War II.
The site continued to surprise when artefacts were discovered and resulted in a seven-month excavation? project from 2003 to 2004. Out from 240 square metres, experts and volunteers alike helped to unearth almost a tonne of artefacts including original church glass and tiles, war-era shrapnel and even imported ceramics such as Malay pottery, Chinese stoneware jars and porcelain bowls. Small wonder then, that this precious site full of religious culture and historic heritage features as one of the more rewarding things to do in Singapore.
Address: 11 St Andrew's Road, Singapore 178959
Opens daily - 9:00am – 4:00pm
Discover the beauty of these places of worship in Singapore and gain insight while learning about Singapore's multi-cultural and multi-religious past and present. They not only offer something for architectural and historical fans, but are also an authentic way to see the communities they represent. It’s an underrated but meaningful way to connect with Singapore’s past and present.
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