Welcome to Tiong Bahru, where time takes a delightful pause and history and modernity dance hand in hand. This unique neighborhood in Singapore is a captivating blend of the old-world charm of the 1930s and the vibrant pulse of contemporary life. From savouring nostalgic snacks to exploring hidden murals, Tiong Bahru offers a treasure trove of experiences that will transport you through eras and ignite your senses.

Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you make the most of your visit to Tiong Bahru.

1. Go cafe-hopping

Photos: Tiong Bahru Bakery (Left) and Plain Vanilla (Right)

Tiong Bahru is a paradise for cafe enthusiasts! Start your day with a cup of artisanal coffee and a hearty breakfast at one of the many cosy cafes that line the streets. 

Not sure where to start? Munch on delectable pastries at the flagship Tiong Bahru Bakery outlet, satisfy your sweet tooth with a cupcake from Plain Vanilla, or indulge in some hearty Italian food at Chapter 55! If you want a quick respite from the heat, treat yourself to a scoop of ice cream at Creamier. The food options at Tiong Bahru are truly endless, and will keep you fuelled for the rest of your adventure in the neighbourhood.

2. Capture memories with a photoshoot

Block 78. Photo: Canon Singapore Pte. Ltd. (Finbarr Fallon)

If you like taking photos, you’re in luck – Tiong Bahru is a neighbourhood that still retains the old world charm of the 1930s. With spiral staircases, curved walls and overhanging eaves, there’s a photospot at every turn that will surely inspire your lens. 

Stroll along the streets to discover the vibrant murals and street art that adorn the walls. These creative masterpieces add a modern twist to the area’s historic ambience; each mural tells its own story, and adds a touch of colour to the streets and alleyways.

Take a detour to Block 78 to take a look at colonial British architecture. Its back alleys and spiral staircases exude an aura of timeless beauty, and make for beautiful photo backdrops.

The narrow lanes of Tiong Bahru are also a treasure trove for candid street photography. Capture the daily lives of residents as they interact with their surroundings, creating authentic snapshots that reflect the neighborhood’s community spirit. The juxtaposition of traditional shophouses against modern elements adds depth to your compositions.

3. Seek blessings at the Monkey God Temple

Monkey God Temple. Photo: Roots.sg

Witness the interplay of faith and culture at the Monkey God Temple, officially known as the Qi Tian Gong Temple.

This temple is a work of architectural splendor. Its stunning facade is adorned with intricate sculptures and ornate carvings, reflecting a blend of traditional Chinese design elements. As reflected in its name, the Monkey God Temple pays homage to the legendary figure Sun Wukong, also known as the Monkey King, from the classic Chinese epic “Journey to the West.” The temple’s dedication to this iconic deity reflects the fusion of Chinese folklore, Taoism, and Buddhism that resonates deeply with the local community.

Entry to the temple is free, so head down between 7am and 5pm to seek blessings, explore cultural heritage, or simply admire its intricate architecture. 

Location: 44 Eng Hoon St, Singapore 169786

4. Go on a local snack trail

Tanjong Pagar Plaza. Photo: Streetdirectory.com

Remember the green, pink and yellow circles of Kuih Piring that we used to munch on? How about the little ice gems? Here in Tiong Bahru, some old-school snack shops have stood the test of time, and are still selling these snacks that have been beloved by generations. 

The Biscuit Shop at the first floor of Tanjong Pagar Plaza Market is one such shop. With a wide assortment of old-school snacks on display, you’ll definitely feel like a kid at your primary school tuck shop again. From potato wheels to keropok and wafer cookies, the choices are endless. What’s more — all the snacks are sold in small sealed packs, so you can try many different snacks at once. 

Embark on a local snack trail to visit these shops, and be prepared to go on a nostalgic journey down memory lane!

5. Explore an independent bookstore

Photo: Woods in the Books / Facebook

If you love the smell of fresh books like me, then exploring an independent bookstore should definitely be on your to-do list. Tiong Bahru is home to a few of these literary havens that beckon book lovers and curious minds alike. 

You’ll be able to find solace at Woods in the Books, an enchanting bookstore that looks like its straight out of a fairytale. With its iconic turquoise-coloured door and childlike paintings all over the walls, the storefront is a piece of work in itself. Specialising in picture books, the store is adorned with beautifully-illustrated books and graphic novels for both young and old. It’s easy to lose track of time here as you discover all the literary gems sitting on the shelves. 

Another interesting place to check out is The French Bookshop with a minimalistic interior. This place is filled with black shelves stacked high with books. As you might have guessed, this bookstore has all things French, from books to DVDs and CDs. If you want to learn more about French culture or pick up a new language, then this is a great place to start. 

6. Feast on local culinary delights 

Photo: Visit Tiong Bahru

No visit to Tiong Bahru is complete without indulging in its local culinary offerings. End off your adventure by visiting Tiong Bahru Market, the ever-busy hawker centre that embodies the heart of Singapore’s food scene. 

Feast on your favourite local delights like Hainanese chicken rice, char kway teow and rich, gravy-infused carrot cake. Your taste buds will thank you later!

7. Uncover history at a pre-war air raid shelter

Tiong Bahru Air Raid Shelter. Photos: Visit Tiong Bahru

Visit the Tiong Bahru Air Raid Shelter, a hidden relic that whispers of wartime tales and echoes of resilience. Concealed beneath the bustling streets, this unassuming 1500-square-metre structure serves as a poignant reminder of Singapore’s tumultuous past during World War II.

Constructed before the outbreak of the war, the shelter was designed to provide a safe haven for residents during the intense air raids that plagued Singapore during the war years. During difficult times, the shelter’s sturdy walls offered a sanctuary where families sought refuge from the terrifying symphony of bombs and artillery.

Venturing into the depths of the shelter today, you’ll be transported back in time; much of the original shelter has been retained, and the walls still bear the marks of their wartime occupants.

Embark on a guided tour to learn more about the experiences of those who once sought refuge here. Narratives of fear, hope, and survival intertwine as stories are shared, painting a vivid picture of the shelter’s role in a tumultuous period of Singapore’s history. It’ll definitely be an experience that will add a layer of significance to your visit. 

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