Cheap things to do in Chinatown
While Singapore may be the most expensive city to live in, tourists can still indulge themselves with cheap local finds in Chinatown. If you are a cultural geek, then you are in for a good time. Visitors can preoccupy themselves with endless activities such as immersing oneself in the serenity of temples, honing the art of window shopping and the gormandizing of Singapore’s local delicacies. As Chinatown is an area with many side alleys and small streets, walking would be the best form of transportation around the neighborhood. Let your senses lead the way – as there is something to see and smell along every street. If you are wondering what to see in Chinatown, use this Singapore tour itinerary to help find the best Chinatown attractions (for free!).
1. Free guided walking tour
Join the Original 2.5 Hour Walk through the heart of Singapore. You’ll be introduced to the City in a Garden and sneak a peek at how the locals live and eat.
We will bring you into Chinatown – a tourist attraction, but at the same time, also a local living area. Over the period of the tour, we hope that you will see how our unique blend of culture/religion/perspective has shaped Singapore to the city that it is today.
The walking tour aims to go deeper than just introducing the sites: we’ll stray off the beaten path and delve into the city’s amazing history. While we are at it, we will also show you some of our favourite eating spots!
Mingle with Singapore’s Chinese diaspora at landmarks like Fuk Tak Chi Museum, which was once the oldest Chinese temple in Singapore, and Thian Hock Keng, the oldest Hokkien temple in Singapore. Visit Chinese places of worship, such as the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum and Chinatown Complex, to learn more about this group of migrant people. Enjoy a wide variety of local dishes like barbecued stingray and oyster omelette at Chinatown Food Street, which gives diners a semblance of what early Singapore’s street hawker stalls looked like. Keep a lookout for Sago Lane—once called ‘the street of the dead’ for its many funeral parlours, this area has evolved into a bustling lane of modern and traditional eateries.
Tour operator: Monster Day Tours
2. Free visit to the temples of Chinatown
The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is a magnificent four storey wooden structure that was constructed with beautiful colours. The temple is based on the Tang dynasty architectural style and was erected to house the unique relic said to be a tooth from Buddha, hence the namesake of the temple. In addition to the temple on the ground floor, the building also houses a museum, an alluring roof garden where one can ring the prayer bell, an exhibition space and a depository for sacred texts.
The temple has many sights to offer; from the main hall where prayers are chanted to the walkways around the temple showing the history of artefacts and statues, along with other smaller areas for prayer and meditation. The temple is truly an incredible place of worship worthy for a recommendation to visit when in Singapore.
Do bear in mind the dress code when visiting the temple, it conveniently provides access to sarongs and scarves to cover up should one not be appropriately dressed for the visit.
Operating hours: 9am – 6pm
Address: 288 South Bridge Rd, Singapore 058840
Thian Hock Keng Temple is Singapore’s oldest Chinese temple (and one of the most important Hokkien temples) steeped in rich heritage. Having been constructed by the Hokkien clan at Telok Ayer Street in 1840, the temple is literally screaming for attention from all history aficionados and those curious about the oriental culture!
The details of the temple’s history are recorded on stone steles inside the Entrance Hall. There is also a plaque inscribed with the words “Bo Jing Nan Ming” (meaning Gentle Waves over the South Seas) presented by Qing Dynasty Emperor Guang Xu in 1907, evidence of the temple’s grand stature. Lore has it that the temple used to be graced by the presence of Chinese immigrants giving thanks to Mazu (Goddess of the Seas) for their safe voyage across the sea to Singapore.
The temple was built in traditional southern Chinese architectural style, this meant that the entire structure was assembled without nails! It is an architectural masterpiece of stone, tiles and wood, carvings of dragons and phoenixes, intricate sculptures and imposing columns; truly a sight to behold. Recent restoration projects have allowed the temple to clinch 4 architectural awards, including the most prestigious award from UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage 2001 Awards for Culture Heritage Conservation Building.
Operating hours: 7.30am – 5.30pm
Address: 158 Telok Ayer Street, Singapore 068613
Sri Mariamman Temple
Located in the heart of Chinatown, the six-tiered ornamental gopuram (grand tower entrance) on the iconic Sri Mariamman Temple’s façade has been a landmark to generations of Hindu worshippers and Singaporeans alike. Built in the Dravidian style of architecture and decorated with Hindu deities and mythological figures, the temple serves as a focal point for the Hindu community and is dedicated to the Goddess Mariamman who was known for her powers in curing epidemic illnesses.
Be sure to join the heart of the festivity when the temple celebrates the main festival, Theemithi, (Fire walking ceremony) held annually in October/ November!
Operating hours: 7am – 12pm & 6pm-9pm
Address: 244 South Bridge Rd, Singapore 058793
3. Take instagram-worthy pictures at People’s Park Complex
This spot is the perfect example of how the most random places can be made famous by social media. The mighty People’s Park Complex is a mustard-colored high rise residential and commercial building in the skyline of Chinatown whose only special feature is a striking yellow facade that can act as a perfect retro backdrop for pretty much any type of photos. Gritty and industrial, if you want to up your street cred, you know where to go.
Address: 1 Park Road People’s Park Complex, Singapore 059108
4. Free Entrance to Singapore City Gallery
Source: InDesign Live
The Singapore City Gallery showcases Singapore’s dramatic transformation over the past 50 years, to become one of the most liveable cities in Asia. It portrays the story of Singapore’s development, through 40 interactive and immersive exhibits that details our planning challenges and innovative solutions to tackle them.
The three storey gallery is a great starting point to get to know the city for free as it goes beneath the skin of the city to understand how the city came to be with its memorable buildings, historic districts and walkable streets. The main draw of the gallery is an enormous model replica of the City Centre with an uncanny accuracy of miniature buildings, giving you a bird’s eye view of the streetscapes of Singapore. Visit the Singapore City Gallery and have a glimpse of the city’s physical transformation in the past, present and future.
Operating hours: 9am – 5pm (Monday – Saturday)
Address: 45 Maxwell Road The Ura Centre | The URA Centre, Level 2, Singapore 069118
5. Cheap Entrance Fees for Red Dot Museum
Source: Red-dot Museum
Strategically located along the Waterfront Promenade at Marina Bay, the Red Dot Design Museum is the physical embodiment of the international Red Dot Design Award. The geometrical form that comprises of playful composition of structural steel elements and large overhanging roofs is a hallmark of the museum’s nature, it being design.
Learn and enjoy design from over 200 works on exhibition by winners of the prestigious Red Dot product design awards in the boutique museum from one of the most prestigious design awards in the World. This is a great place to head to if you want to get inspired!
Singaporeans and PRs: Pay as you wish
Operating hours: 10 am to 8 pm, daily
Address: 11 Marina Boulevard, Singapore 018940
6. Free walk in Pearl’s Hill Park
Pearl’s Hill is one of the two hills located on either side of the Singapore River. The park is much loved by locals for morning exercises and dog walking as shaded walking tracks are plenty and accessible outdoor gym equipment for free usage.
Tucked away in a corner of Chinatown, Pearl’s Hill City Park is a hidden oasis of peace and tranquillity. The park is a great place to take a brief respite from the hustle and bustle of city life. Visitors can look forward to enjoying the wooded ambience provided by the mature Tembusu trees while basking in the serenity of the park. Alternatively, sit back and relax by the pond and admire the beautiful lotus plants. When in full bloom, the lotus plants provide a brilliant splash of colour across the pond’s still waters.
Address: Along Chin Swee Road and Pearl’s Hill Road
7. Soak in the atmosphere of the bustling streets of Chinatown’s main market street
Take yourself back in time at the vibrant Chinatown Street Market and scour through a rich variety of cultural items like dragon candles, street opera masks, traditional clothing and Chinese calligraphy. A great spot for day and night walks with both offering differing atmospheres, it gets livelier in the evening with the colorful lights and it has a wealth of offerings of street food and cheap eats along with small souvenirs!
Stop and enjoy a cool drink and a meal from any one of the numerous stalls and restaurants along these little alleys and streets or grab a souvenir to take home, there is something for everyone at the market street.
Location: Trengganu St, Singapore 050005
Open: Daily from 9.30am to 8pm
8. Free visit to NUS Baba House
A bright ultramarine colour stands out from the rest of shophouses along Neil Road. With its rich history, NUS Baba House is a Peranakan house that was build in the 19’s by a rich shipping merchant Wee Bin. The first and second floor reflects Wee family and their house fittings. Till this day, each piece of furniture objects are preserved and protected by the organisation to allow future generations to view. The third floor has been transformed to an exhibition explore the community and neighbourhood from different perspectives. Do remember to book an appointment or sign up in advance for the free heritage tour.
Heritage tours: Tuesday – Friday, 10am
Mandarin tours: 1st Monday of every month
Self-guided visits: Saturday (1.30pm, 2.15pm, 3.15pm, 4pm)
Operating hours: 10am – 6pm (Closed on Sunday and Monday)
Address: 157 Neil Rd, Singapore 088883
9. Wander along Keong Saik Road
Source: Urban Journey
Once a hangout for small-time criminals, Keong Saik Road has slowly transformed from Singapore’s red-light district into one of the country’s most eclectic and experimental dining hotspots. From bold brunches to a nightcap at a speakeasy, this once seedy stretch now houses tantalising dining options to suit all tastes hence allowing the neighbourhood to be a great place for a bout of urban exploration.
Cutting through Singapore’s Chinatown, Keong Saik Road is a colourful one-way street of traditional colonnaded architecture. From dawn till dusk, the neighbourhood of Keong Saik is a place where the traditional and the modern fuse seamlessly together. Whether you’re a morning lark or a night owl, Keong Saik’s eateries, bars and gathering places are certain to pique your interest.
Address: Keong Saik Road
10. Explore Ann Siang Hill and Club Street
Source: Visit Singapore
Named after Chia Ann Siang, a wealthy businessman, Ann Siang road is home to restored shophouses (some still retaining the Peranakan tiles) that house clan associations, restaurants, bars and niche boutiques. There’s also a hidden green space behind the row of shophouses for a quiet stroll.
On Friday and Saturday nights from 7pm to 1am, both Ann Siang Road and Club Street – the name comes from the Chinese clubs that used to line the stretch – come to life as the area is closed off to traffic and the crowd spills out onto the streets. A recent influx of new businesses and developments have filled the slopes of Ann Siang Hill with quirky shops, cafes and drinking holes – making it a great weekend hangout for the younger crowd.
The interconnected enclaves of Ann Siang Hill and Club Street have all you need for a quick recharge – from intimate restaurants to rooftop bars with sweeping views of the hip ‘hood. The choice of places to go might be overwhelming, but remember to take in the beautiful street lined with restored shophouses and lush green spaces if you’re heading down during the day.
Address: Ann Siang Hill, Singapore
Club Street, Singapore
11. The 3 Murals at Everton Park
Mr Yip Yew Chon, a Singaporean accountant, whose fondness with art allowed for him to draw and paint these beautiful murals. Set in Everton Park, the small neighbourhood is littered with pre-war shophouses with hipster cafes and pubs.The Everton Park murals are about village (or kampung) life in the old days of Singapore. The scenes are quite rare in Singapore these days but not totally vanished yet.
First art piece: Amah
The “Amah” (妈姐) mural is a long piece of artwork on a wall along Everton Road. “Amah” refers to a housemaid that is employed to perform domestic tasks in a household. The mural depicts an Amah washing and drying clothes of a Peranakan family. A cupboard with kitchen wares stood on one end with a rooster and its family roaming around. This scene was pretty common in kampung villages in the old days.
Second art piece: Barber
Source: The HoneyCombers
The “Barber” mural depicts a very common scene in the good old days where village folks went for hair cuts on the streets under makeshift shelters. This mural will bring much nostalgia and memories to those who are able to relate.
Third art piece: Provision shop
Source: Yip Yew Chong
The mural depicts a provision shop with all kinds of dried goods in intricate details on display for sale. An interesting thing to point out about the mural specifically is of woman grinding coconut, this is usually a pre-process to extract coconut milk when advanced technology was not available back then.
Source: Yip Yew Chong
Explore even more Yip Yew Chong Murals and interact with it using augmented reality through LocoMole‘s app today!
12. Free Touching of The laughing Buddha
Make this your pit stop to rub for some luck.Traditional belief has it that you’ll be blessed with an abundance of food if you rub the tummy of this golden Buddha statue. Which explains why even much of the gold coating has been rubbed off on his belly!
The Laughing Buddha is often called such due to the wide smile on his face usually depicted on the statues. One who is not superstitious may feel inclined to give the belly a good rub given the inviting smile!
Address: Sago Lane, Singapore
13. Lomography Gallery Store
This is for you hippies or photography enthusiast. The popularity of old-school analog photography has skyrocketed in recent years, thanks to a resurgence of interest among professional and amateur Photographers. Lomography Gallery Store is the second largest in Asia selling 18 different types of Lomo camera. Workshops, talks and networking activities are held every week for the Lomo community. Spot over a hundred images of Singapore captured by the various members of the local Lomography Society!
Operating hours: 12pm – 9pm
Address: 295 South Bridge Road, 058838 Singapore
14. Hong Lim Park (Speakers Corner)
Located in the middle of Chinatown, Speaker’s Corner is the only place where citizens are allowed to hold public protest, demonstrate and voice their opinion legally. With the condition of registering on the government website. It hosts the annual Pink Dot SG, an event that support the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer(LGBTQ) community in Singapore. When it is not hosting any events, Hong Lim Park is a peaceful haven that you can come for a quiet stroll or even enjoy your lunch.
Address: 43 North Canal Road, Singapore 059299
For us, intriguing Chinatown is never a bore to revisit in Singapore, especially when the attractions are free. Ranging from the rich cultural sights to see to the local gourmet selects of Chinatown, one will not be short of options to preoccupy themselves with when it comes down to spending one whole day in Chinatown. A range of activities to participate in, Chinatown is perfect for individuals of all ages. Now arm yourself with a bottle of water and a map and start exploring!