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With up and coming hipster hoods popping up around the city, Singapore’s veteran creative hub, Arab Street, continues to thrive, morphing into a calmer and cooler version of its once young and overly energetic self.
In addition to new trendy hangouts, Arab Street celebrates its colorful heritage in the city-state of Singapore.
Rather than just one road, Arab Street actually refers to the area including Bussorah Street, Haji and Bali Lanes and Muscat Street. Part of the culturally rich Kampong Glam heritage trail, Arab Street – surrounded by brightly colored fabrics and textiles, hand-knotted Persian rugs and aromatic Arab teas – is Singapore’s Muslim quarter.
Its heart is the Masjid Sultan Mosque, with a history that reaches back 200 years. But this is also an area of indie boutiques, restored shop-houses and street arts (not a common sight in Singapore) – that attract anyone from buskers to tourists to families.
This is our pick of what not to miss:
Kampong Glam Cafe
Serving local Kampung food since 2004, this place should be on everyone’s hit list.
Specializing in Singaporean, Indonesian and Malay food, anything diners choose from this old-school establishment’s extensive and eclectic menu will leave them wanting more – and perhaps a few extra glasses of water depending on how spicy they go.
Dinner and drinks for two costs less than $20 Singapore dollars (about U.S. $14).
Highly recommended is the Mee Siam (thin rice noodles in a mix of spicy, sweet and sour gravy) or Mee Bandung (delicious noodle soup with eggs and an array of chilies, onions, spice and shrimp paste).
Masjid Sultan Mosque
Masjid Sultan Mosque is a special place for not only the Muslim community, but for Singapore itself. It began life in the early 1800s , when Sultan Hussain Shah, Ruler of Temasek (the former name of Singapore) proposed to build a mosque. These days it’s considered the “national mosque” of Singapore.
The original Masjid Sultan Mosque was demolished after about a century to make way for the current building, which was completed in 1932. This, however, doesn’t take anything away from the attention it commands.
With its golden dome a majestic icon of the area, this place of worship is definitely worth a visit, no matter what one’s religious beliefs. Conservative dress is recommended, but they have shawls for visitors who require them.
More than 40 years old, The Projector describes itself as “not your average cinema.”
Independently run by a dedicated team of volunteers, The Projector is that alternative movie experience that’s admittedly hard to find in Singapore.
Featuring both local and international films and events, the diversity of what’s on offer here is far from conventional. This is very definitely a snapshot of your “rough around the edges” Singapore. Visit for information of their latest events and screening times.
Very shiok! That Malay/Singaporean term for experiencing sheer pleasure is the first description that comes to mind when walking over the threshold of this very-cool-without-trying vintage store.
Filled with tote bags, dresses and one-off jewelry pieces, this concept store commissions designers to display their work. This means that they can focus on crafting original pieces and the store can concentrate on marketing their products.
Everything is handmade and customers should be prepared to spend some time and money in this store.
Craft Assembly, 61 Haji Lane, Singapore;
Unashamedly feminine, Soon Lee is not a typical fashion store. It’s filled with pieces of clothing, books, and bags from both local and international designers. And the jewelry? As dainty as the store itself.
Singaporean owned and inspired, the mix of styles including corporate, casual and fun means shoppers will always find something their wardrobe is lacking.
Customers do have to physically visit the store – its owners are going against the grain and not having online sales – just a presence on Instagram and Facebook.
Soon Lee, 73 Haji Lane, Singapore;
Trippies / Children Little Museum
A definite blast from the past, the shop Trippies (formerly known as Grandfather’s Collections) and the Children Little Museum on Bussorah Street, offer a nostalgic look back at life as a young person in Singapore in the 1960s and 70s.
Patrick Neo, now a retired professional photographer, personally amassed everything on display at the museum – or for sale in his shop – starting in his childhood. There are no iPhones and iPads here.
Visitors are more likely to stumble upon something like Chapteh, or hacky sack with a shuttlecock, played by uncles and aunties (Singaporeans affectionate name for their older generation) in their youth. The shop’s tin-man robot stands tall and proud at the front door, waiting for sightseers to step in, and back in time.
Trippies’ opening hours from 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.
Sitting beneath a travelers lodge, this cafe’s name might be random but it’s worth making a special effort to get to this place.
It’s known for its pastas and craft beers, and is made up of a diverse collection of indoor and outdoor area furniture.
Working Title is the perfect place for a first date or a lazy afternoon with friends. Tried and trusted offerings include the oversized ice-cream cookies, and the English Earl – a light refreshing tea flavored ice cream that’s full of flavor.
Bonus: happy Hour is every hour, which means cheap drinks all the time.
As the name suggests, BluJaz Cafe hosts soulful live jazz music three times a week, wafting through its three-story shop house and courtyard.
Bands play every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights. The atmosphere is casual and the hours go by within the blink of an eye. Insider tip: Be sure to select your seat carefully as each area has a different feel.
The courtyard outside has a buzzy vibe with patrons sitting around massive wooden tables eating, drinking and letting the music drift around them. Inside on the first floor is for front row seats to the band, with the upper level the bar and dance floor.
It’s the highlight of any trip to the area during the evening – and one of the very few places that still has shisha on offer, to compliment its simple and tasteful Mediterranean menu.
Born in Kurdistan (northern Iraq), Jala Shekho fled the Middle East during the first Gulf War and was raised in New Zealand. She now lives in Singapore but considers herself a Kiwi – who’s proud of her Kurdish and Turkish ancestry.
Lisabelle Tay is a multitasking English literature graduate who’s training to be a teacher in her hometown of Singapore. She loves taking photos.