So, you find yourself in Singapore. You’re done with your business meeting and have already walked up and down Orchard Road five times, staring at branded goods you can’t afford.
Now, you want to spend a chill afternoon slowly exploring a neighborhood, eating and shopping along the way. Here are three enjoyable strolls in the downtown area, each with their own distinctive personalities and easily accessible by public transport.
1. Little India: Bargain Shopping and Appetizing Indian Fare
Little India is the vibrant heart of Singapore’s Indian community. Along your walk, be sure to stop and snack on roti prata (grilled flatbread with clarified butter) and teh tarik (pulled sweet milk tea) at the small restaurants on the way.
Head to Little India MRT Station, exit on Race Course Road and head east. Take a right turn down Kerbau Road and another right down Chander, where you’ll find Jaggi’s, home of hearty Punjabi food.
From Jaggi’s, travel down Belilios Road until you see the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, a Hindu temple dating from the 19th century. Built in classic Tamil style, the temple boasts a towering roof covered with beautifully-carved figurines.
At the end of Belilios, turn left onto Serangoon Road, the main artery of Little India, which is crammed full of small shops. Don’t be too distracted; turn right by the Anguilla Mosque onto Syed Alwi Road, where you will find the legendary Mustafa Centre.
This budget department store, open 24 hours a day, inspires strong loyalty among its regular customers. If, for whatever reason, you need a gold necklace, a watch, chai masala spices, a cheap suitcase, a new television and an Indian tourist visa, all at the same time, you need never leave the building.
The main draw, though, is that the Mustafa Centre, like Terry Pratchett’s Unseen University library, seems to warp space and time, with a finite exterior enclosing an infinite space.
When you finally find your way out, your head will be spinning after your travels through hyperspace. While readjusting to reality, tumble back to Serangoon Road and head east to Mavalli Tiffin Rooms, often referred to simply as MTR. This chain of vegetarian restaurants from Bangalore serves South Indian comfort food of the finest quality, which should satisfy even the heartiest meat eaters.
Once you’re full, Farrer Park MRT Station is right next door. Simply hop on a train and whiz back to your hotel.
2. The Downtown Core: Colonial Buildings, Museums and Burmese Food
The downtown core is Singapore’s oldest area, with stately colonial-era buildings, museums and surprisingly good Burmese food. Get your camera out and snap away for classic views of the city skyline and colonial architecture.
Start at Raffles Place MRT Station and make your way north to the beautiful Fullerton Hotel. Formerly the General Post Office Building, you can enjoy afternoon tea in the lobby.
Next, cross the Singapore River over the 19th century Cavenagh Bridge; note the sign forbidding horses and cattle from crossing. On the other side, head to the Asian Civilizations Museum, which hosts a good collection of Southeast Asian artifacts. Also, be sure to get a picture of the Raffles Statue, commemorating the founder of modern Singapore, in the shadow of the Singapore skyline.
Continue along Fullerton and Connaught Roads to the National Gallery of Singapore. The building, cobbled together from the former Supreme Court and City Hall buildings, displays works by Southeast Asian artists. In its immediate vicinity are the modern Supreme Court and Singapore Parliament buildings. Once satisfied, turn right on St. Andrew’s Road to see the neo-gothic St. Andrew’s Cathedral.
Now for a change of scene: turn West on Coleman Street to Peninsula Plaza, the heart of Singapore’s Burmese community. Visit Inle Restaurant in the basement for classics like tea-leaf salad, chickpea tofu and Myanmar-style biryani, and look around the Burmese grocery stores.
To return to glitz and glamor, head north up North Bridge Road to get to Chijmes and the Raffles Hotel. The first is a former convent, redeveloped into a restaurant and bar complex, while the latter is a colonial-era five-star hotel and the birthplace of the legendary Singapore Sling cocktail.
When you need to head back, City Hall MRT Station is right by the cathedral.
3. Tiong Bahru: Hipster Cafes and Public Housing
Tiong Bahru was one of the first public housing estates in Singapore. Today, it’s home to a collection of hipster cafes and shops that merge seamlessly with 1920s art-deco architecture, populated by long-time residents seemingly unfazed by the changes in their neighborhood.
Start from Tiong Bahru MRT and get on Tiong Bahru Road. Head eastward, then turn right at Kim Pong Road. Next, walk till you reach Moh Guan Terrace. If you circle the area, you will find several interesting places to shop, eat and collect highly likeable Instagram snaps.
There are two good bookstores on Yong Siak Street: Books Actually and Woods in the Books. The former has a back room crammed full of vintage knick-knacks, and you can also pick up some products by local Singaporean designers. You may notice signs to the Tiong Bahru Air Raid Shelter, a World War II-era shelter, although this is rarely open to the public.
For food, you will be spoiled for choice. Pop in to Forty Hands for coffee, or head to PS Café Petit for a decent pizza (be sure to add the chili sauce!). For more traditional food options, follow Seng Poh Road until you reach Tiong Bahru Market, where you can indulge in typical Singapore fare in the hawker center upstairs. Try Jian Bo Shwee Kueh, which serves steamed rice cakes with a spicy relish, and steamed buns from Tiong Bahru Pau.
Turn right on Eng Hoon Street and stop by Tiong Bahru Bakery for a couple of pastries to sate your sweet tooth. Keep going until you meet Outram Road, and then follow it to Outram Park MRT Station to catch your train.
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[Photos by Samuel Lipoff]