Singapore's Cultural Districts

This post is part of a series of articles that highlights the unique and beautiful elements of Singapore in the lead-up to Singapore's National Day on August 9.

A country rich in diversity and history, Singapore is an international hub of many nationalities and cultures. Though the nation has grown more integrated since its early days as a trading port for British India, its ethnic enclaves still exist to this day.

These ethnic enclaves were established by Sir Stamford Raffles in his Jackson Plan, designed in 1822. In this, he dictated the layout of the city of Singapore, wherein the settlement was divided according to different ethnic groups. These included Chinese, Chulia, Arab, and Bugis kampongs (kampongs meaning “village”), as well as European Town. In the lead-up to Singapore's National Day, we would like to highlight some of the wonderful pockets of culture that make Singapore what it is today.

Chinatown

The ethnic Chinese were allocated the area west of the Singapore River, where they built narrow streets and shophouses inspired by Fujianese, Teochew and Cantonese design styles.
Though other ethnic communities lived, and still live, within the Chinatown district, it has retained its predominantly Chinese character.

Decorative Chinese lanterns zigzag this busy Chinatown walkway

Singapore's Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, located in the heart of Chinatown, is a major religious destination for Singapore’s Chinese Buddhist Community

Today, Chinatown’s unique heritage remains visually apparent to all who walk its narrow streets. Lined with colourful shophouses featuring traditional culture, arts, crafts, and food, this Chinese “kampong”, located in the Outram district, is a bustling spot joining the old and the new, featuring traditional Chinese shops and great hawker food by day, and chic bars and restaurants by night.

Little India

Little’s India’s commercial activity is mainly situated along Serangoon Road. This area was popular due to its proximity to the river, cattle rearing trade, a prime economic activity, agricultural production potential, and the presence of the racecourse. As cattle rearing was a predominantly Indian trade, many Indians lived and worked within the area during this time. Mosques and Hindu temples were built for worship.

Little India during Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights

Fragrant Indian spices

Today, Little India is a popular residential area close to the city. Memorable for its fragrances, it is one of Singapore’s most vibrant and buzzing districts. Old-day trades and new businesses coexist aside one another. Taste delicious Indian delicacies at local eateries, observe beautiful, traditional craftsmanship at sari stores, or shop for electronics at the 24-hour mega mall, Mustafa. Check out more photos of Little India's architecture, temples and traditional food on Raydar's website.

Arab Street/Kampong Glam

The Kampong Glam area, north of the Singapore River, was written up in Sir Stamford Raffles’ town plan as an area for Sultan Hussein and his household, as well as Arabic and Malay communities. Following rapid urbanisation of the area, Arab Street became the district’s main shopping area and trading centre, attracting Arab, Indian, Bugis, Javanese and Chinese businesses.

A colourfully decorated wall in Haji Lane, near Arab Street

The Sultan Mosque is a key landmark and congregation point for the Singapore’s Muslims

Today, the Kampong Glam area is better known as “Arab Street”, and retains strong ties to Native-Malay and Muslim communities. Arab Street is known for its vibrant colours, beautiful textiles, and stylish cafes and bars.

Civic District

Home to some of Singapore’s most historic buildings, the Civic District marks the beginning of “modern Singapore”. Located on the banks of the Singapore River, this area was designated to support the country’s trade activities.

Victoria Theatre was once the Town Hall

The iconic Esplanade also resides in the civic district, a cultural institution for Singapore

Today, the nation’s historic buildings have been given a new lease of life. Singapore’s old Parliament House is now the Arts House, the Town Hall is presently the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, and the former City Hall and Supreme Court has become the National Gallery of Singapore. The Esplanade, a performing arts centre and one of Singapore’s defining icons, also resides in the Civic District.

With such a diverse population, Singapore's ethnic enclaves offer a unique experience of colour, culture, and cuisine. Grab your camera and walking shoes and spend a day exploring!

You can find more photos of Singapore's cultural districts using Raydar, an intelligent stock photo search engine.