Tiong Bahru is the most charming neighbourhood in Singapore, with a fascinating art scene where traditions and trends exist in harmony. With Art Deco buildings, hipster cafes, old-world shops, bookstores, markets and street art, the oldest residential estate in the country is worth a visit for creatives, culture lovers and anyone who wants a taste of Singapore’s old town cultural heritage.
Here are 12 ways you can explore the beauty of Tiong Bahru the local way.
1. Admire the Art Deco architecture
Unlike the rest of Singapore’s towering HDB cityscape, Tiong Bahru still retains the old world charm of the 1930s. The prewar buildings and conservation apartments here are low-rise, inspired by both British as well as local design. Take a stroll and admire the Art Deco architecture, such as dominant geometric lines, parapet walls, spiral staircases, curved walls and overhanging eaves. Look out for the aerodynamic and nautical elements!
With Singapore’s landscape changing so rapidly, it’s nice to wander around a nostalgic neighbourhood that has stood the test of time. Plus there are photogenic spots around every corner.
2. Join a heritage tour in Tiong Bahru
There are so many stories to tell about Tiong Bahru – whether it’s the architecture, art, culture, food and local community. While some people prefer to take in the sights on their own, it’s a whole new perspective when you are guided by a local who has lived in Singapore all their lives.
You can find several heritage trails that take you through the neighbourhood, amidst the beautiful buildings, landscaped gardens, historical ruins of air raid shelters, murals and local food spots. Of course, with a guide, you can break the ice with the natives you come across and interact with them. You might just go home with a fascinating insight into Tiong Bahru’s history!
3. Visit old shops that have been around for decades
Across Tiong Bahru, there are many family-run provision shops that have stood against the tides of time, despite the changing profile of its residents.
One such shop is Pin Pin Piau Kay & Co, which has been supplying daily necessities since 1938 and is now run by third generation owners. Hup Seng is a husband-wife business which was established in 1955. Tiong Bahru Market is another on on your list if you’re looking for some of these veteran stalls.
4. Hunt for murals
The street art in Tiong Bahru is an artistic way to explore Singapore’s past across the last four decades. Local artist Yip Yew Chong designed several murals here to capture glimpses of the nation’s bygone days, some even making use of his personal family items.
The “Bird Corner” mural at Seng Poh Road tells the tale of bird singing competitions that were one held every week at Tiong Bahru. The ” Pasar and the Fortune Teller” illustrate the traditional trades of yesteryears. Other installations you can find are “Home”, where you can ‘check in’ on a local’s home, a giant “Goldfish” and a “Goat Family”. Time to snap away!
5. Explore Singapore’s independent bookstores
Singapore’s literary scene thrives in this hipster little neighbourhood. Head to BooksActually for the largest collection of books from local publications. If you love exploring the culture through literature, be sure to pick up a book by one of the emerging writers. You can also find rare editions of major press books, a book vending machine, and quirky stationery.
For children’s books you can’t find it your average bookstore, go for Woods in the Books. Nostalgia will hit you as you find picture books such as Tin Tin and The Hungry Caterpillar. Try to catch one of the storytelling sessions or activities!
6. Tiong Bahru Bird Corner
Located at the junction of Seng Poh Road and Tiong Bahru Road is a oft-forgotten, peculiar spot that locals would remember as a popular bird corner. Back then, there was a popular bird shop within the area, where birdcages with colourful songbirds would be hung across the shop, enticing passers-by and tourists with the lively atmosphere.
During the 1980s, the owner of Wah Heng, a traditional coffee shop just opposite the road, erected a metal structure outside his premise, and permitted bird owners to hang their birdcages while they drank coffee. Soon it attracted enthusiasts who wanted to display their birds, and anyone who wanted to see such a sight. American jazz flutist Herbie Mann even visited Bird Corner in 1984 to perform amidst the birdsong!
Bird Corner was closed in 2003 for renovation, and later reopened the structure in 2008. Although no one has used it since, you can still see the structure were the birdcages would have been hung, where the Nostalgia Hotel is. Perhaps you can imagine what it was like to be immersed in a feathered symphony!
7. Visit the Monkey God Temple
Tiong Bahru Qi Tian Gong (齐天宫) is the first temple in Singapore to workship Sun Wu Kong, the Monkey King from the classical tale, The Journey to the West, who is said to be almighty, ingenious, brave and respected. The Taoist temple is founded in 1920.
Every year, the Birthday of the Monkey God falls the 15th or 16th day of the First Lunar Month. During the celebration, you can see medium performing miraculous rituals that include piercing their own flesh, vocal performances and lion dances.
Tiong Bahru Qi Tiang Gong
Address: 44 Eng Hoon Street, 169786 Singapore
8. Enter a pre-war Air Raid Shelter
Take an alternative trail and venture underground to an air-raid shelter constructed under the flats of Block 78 Moh Guan Terrace. Built in 1939, the 1,500 square metre bomb shelter was used to hold up to 1,600 people during World War Two. That said, it was not used often as Tiong Bahru was not a main target for Japanese bombers.
9. Taste French pastry at Tiong Bahru Bakery
If you are peckish for French pastry, Tiong Bahru Bakery is your best bet. The cafe is popular for its breakfast menu and artisanal baked goodies, such as croissant, danish, pain au chocolate, tart, and kouign amann. You can also enjoy your daily dose of coffee with decent Australian-style brunch options. It gets pretty crowded during the weekends, but it’s worth trying if you are in the area – or you can take away the pastries!
Tiong Bahru Bakery
Address: 56, Eng Hoon Street, #01-70 Tiong Bahru, 160056, Singapore
10. Enjoy old-fashioned coffee at Hua Bee Restaurant
Hua Bee Restaurant is a kopitiam that has been serving traditional Singapore breakfasts for over 70 years. Set within a homely setting, you can enjoy dishes like kaya toast with half-boiled eggs, mee pok, and fish ball noodles. Since it is the oldest coffee shop in Tiong Bahru, you would want to try the traditional kopi-o (black coffee). It was also the filming set of Eric Khoo’s 1995 Mee Pok Man.
Hua Bee Restaurant
Address: 78 Moh Guan Terrace, #01-19, Singapore 162078
Opening Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 7.30am – 2.30pm (Closed on Sunday & Monday)
11. Indulge in Japanese food at Bistro @ Hua Bee Restaurant
Set in the same venue as Hua Bee Restaurant is Bistro, a Japanese yakitori restaurant. While it is a mee pok stall by day, it transforms into its upscale alter ego by night. Bincho serves omakase sets and izakaya-style dishes.
Address: 78 Moh Guan Terrace, #01-19, Singapore 162078
Opening Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 12pm – 3pm, 6pm – 12am (Closed on Monday)
12. Enjoy comfort food at Loo’s Hainanese Curry Rice
For over 70 years, Loo’s Hainanese Curry Rice has been serving up hearty curry rice to locals in Tiong Bahru. Taking around 3 days to prepare, the curry is mildly spicy with a robust aroma of coconut milk and ginger.
Pair it with pork chop coated with cream crackers (the traditional ingredient of crust), chap chye (vegetables), sambal prawns or squid, and your stomach is all set!
Loo’s Hainanese Curry Rice
Address: 71 Seng Poh Rd, #01-49, Singapore 160071
Opening Hours: Friday – Wednesday, 8.00am – 2.45pm or until sold out (Closed on Tuesdays)
12. Eat your way in a local food trail
Fun fact: Tiong Bahru has the highest concentration of old-school hawker stalls in Singapore. Since its gentrification efforts, the neighbourhood has also given rise to hipster coffee joints and restaurants that has people flocking here. You cannot go wrong with a food trail through Singapore’s cultural district, sampling the best Tiong Bahru has to offer.
It’s even better when you have a native storyteller sharing stories about the food and culture of Singapore. If it’s your first time in Singapore and want a local insight into Tiong Bahru, we suggest joining the Discover Hipster “Old Town” Tiong Bahru tour or Quaint Little Shops & Tiong Bahru tour.
13. Look for vinyl records at Curated Records
Record lovers would enjoy a trip to Curated Records, an independent record shop with a collection ranging across different genres such as classic, rock, indie and jazz. New stock comes in each week, so you can always find something new. If you need help, we suggest asking the owner Tremon for recommendations!
14. Have a walk in Seng Poh Garden
Seng Poh Garden is a landscaped garden in Tiong Bahru, planned in 1972. Its centrepiece is a concrete Dancing Girl sculpture, crafted by a Sarawakian sculptor Lim Nang Sing. It is meant to be a blissful harvest dance, but some people think the sculpture looks like a bird. These days, Seng Poh Garden is frequented by locals for their morning exercise.
Seng Poh Garden
Address: Seng Poh Road, Singapore
15. See modern art at Degiosart Gallery
If you are exploring Ting Bahru at a relaxing pace, you might just stumble on Degiosart Gallery. Run by the owner, Pino, the minimalist gallery features paintings, sculptures and antiques from different countries.
Address: 01-82 Eng Hoon Road Singapore, Blk 57, Tiong Bahru, Singapore 160057
Opening Hours: Every Day, 11.00am – 7.00pm
17. Look for knick-knacks in novelty shops
Tiong Bahru is dotted with lovely shops selling a variety of adorable knick-knacks – but that is no secret, of course! Some of the shops you should visit are Cats Socrates (a gift shop with works by local designers), Nana & Bird (contemporary clothes store), Tumbleweed (plant shop) and Toy Or Game (video game store).
18. Play at Tiong Bahru Park
Tiong Bahru Park is a fitness and family haven for locals. There are two running trails around the park at 730m and 1050m respectively, along with exercise stations. Every Sunday morning, you can join a line dance with the locals. If you have children, you must bring them to the playground, where a train is made the centrepiece.
19. Chill at Kim Pong Park
Designed with the Art Deco inspiration of the surrounding neighbourhood, Kim Pong Park is a smaller, pleasant park. There is an open field for recreational activities, garden swings and a pavilion with a stage for community events. It may not be big, but this little lush spot is great for family activities, quick jogs and a moment of peace in the bustle of Singapore.
Kim Pong Park
Address: Jalan Bukit Merah, Singapore
20. Grab a bite at Tiong Bahru Market
Tiong Bahru Market is One of the best hawker centres in Singapore, and it’s where all the signature dishes in the country can be found under the same roof. Some of the local delights you can find here are the chwee kueh (Stall #02-05), lor mee (Stall #02-23), pau (Stall #02-18) and prawn noodles (Stall #02-31). You should also pay the wet market a visit to immerse yourself in a local market atmosphere.
Discover Tiong Baru with native guides on LokaLocal
LokaLocal connects you to unique activities in Singapore, so you can explore neighbourhoods the local way. If you would like to experience the unique cultural heritage of Tiong Bahru with experienced guides, we suggest these tours: