Before the 1980’s, Singapore’s Little India district was known as “Serangoon.” Today, the neighborhood meshes old Indian traditions with modern businesses and is full of diverse history, rich culture, traditional trades, and religions in a historic precinct. Little India is especially known for its colorful architecture and authentic Indian dishes.
The rooftoops of Little India as seen from the Indian Heritage Center.
The Little India Heritage Trail is one of the best ways to experience all that Little India has to offer. Three of the most popular routes are outlined below, or you can choose your own path like I did to incorporate the pieces of each route that most interest you! All walking tours are free, completed independently, and do not include guides, so you can spend as much or as little time at any given site as you wish depending upon your individual interests. Guide maps are available at the Indian Heritage Center to help you choose your route, and signposts mark the individuals points of interest.
Some of the many impressive murals scattered throughout Little India’s streets. This really satisfied the art lover in me!
There are a variety of beautiful murals scattered throughout Little India. Keep your eyes peeled for this and other street art as you wander through the precinct!
Serangoon in the 1900s (40 minutes, 1.3 km, 11 points)
This walking tour is somewhat of a trip through Little India’s history. Therefore, the best place to start your journey is at the Little India Heritage Center. Tours are S$5 for students and seniors and S$8 for all others if you’d like to view the exhibits and receive an overview of the history of Singapore’s Indian community. From here, walk up to Serangoon Road and cross to reach the Former House of Tan Teng Niah, which is the only remaining Chinese villa in Little India. Turn back and continue down Sergangoon Road to discover the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, built as a shrine by Tamil workers. From here you’ll head to Racecourse Lane and pass by several Chinese Clan Associations, established to provide economic support to Chinese immigrants; the Foochow Methodist Church is further along this route, first established as a Christian mission for working-class Chinese immigrants. Keep an eye out for the many murals along the way! If you’re hungry once your walk is finished, you can head to the Tekka Center, a new take on the original Tekka Market which was once located across the road from this spot, for some hawker cuisine.
Left to Right: Indian Heritage Center; Dunlop Street; Former House of Tan Teng Niah.
Walk of Faiths (1 hour, 2.6 km, 11 points)
Due to the wide variety of religions practiced in Singapore, especially in Little India, the buildings along this route span the major ethnic and religious groups found in the city, focusing on religious practices and diverse architecture. You should note that while most of these religious institutions are open to the public, you should behave appropriately and respectfully and wear modest clothing. First you’ll start at the Abdul Gafoor Mosque, a Singaporean National Monument. If you choose to enter, be sure to remove your shoes (note that the mosque is currently closed for renovations). Continue along to the Anglican Church of the True Light, and beyond that, the Kampong Kapor Methodist Church, both of which cater to the Straits Chinese or Peranakans. Next up are the Hindu temples Sri Veeramakaliamman and Shree Laksminarayan. The former was originally built for Tamil limestone workers, while the latter is the only North Indian temple in Singapore.
Left to Right: Shree Lakshminarayan Temple; Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple.
Continuing along the route, you’ll encounter the Foochow Methodist Church, originally built for immigrants from Foochow, China, and the Anguillia Mosque with a conserved gatehouse from the 19th century. Along the same road, you’ll see the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple with an intricately carved entrance tower (gopuram) and the Sri Vadapathira Kaliamman Temple with a stepped vimama, both adorned with deities and other characters from Hindu mythology. Two separate Buddhist temples with two completely different styles are located further along this route. The first, the Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple, is popularly known as the “Temple of a Thousand Lights,” while the second, the Leong San See Temple, is dedicated to Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy. Once you’ve traversed the multiple ethnicities and religions represented by the Walk of Faiths, stop for a bite at any of the authentic restaurants located throughout the neighborhood!
Left to Right: Sri Vadapathira Kaliamman Temple; Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple; Sri Srinavasa Perumal Temple; Leong San See Temple.
Shop Till You Drop (30 Minutes, 1 km, 6 points)
This walk isn’t about a conventional shopping spree (and the estimated duration isn’t inclusive of shopping time). Rather, it serves to document the traditional businesses that exist throughout Little India. The “Shop Till You Drop” route incorporates authentic food, traditional clothes, and bargain-hunting for souvenirs into Singapore’s cultural history. You’ll visit places such as the Little India Arcade and the Jothi Store and Flower Shop for snacks and everyday essentials. Stop at Haniffa Textiles for traditional saris, kertas, or lunghis before stopping at one of the many restaurants for lunch. Komala Villa, a vegetarian fast-food restaurant established in 1947, is a great option!
Left to Right: colorful shops on Serangoon Street; traditional Thalli from Kerala, one of the many banners spanning Serangoon Street.
Continue on along the five-foot-way on Serangoon Road (pedestrian walkway) to enjoy the traditional shops here. You’ll see an abundance of traditional jewelry stores; feel free to stop in for a closer look or simply window shop! Finally, you’ll arrive at the Mustafa Center, Singapore’s first department store open 24 hours per day, which stocks everything from jewelry to electronics to foods. Once you’ve satisfied your shopping needs, head across the street to Ananda Bhavan, Singapore’s oldest vegetarian restaurant, for an afternoon snack. Personally, I chose to visit a small restaurant called “Premaas Cuisine PTE LTD” because it advertised “the real taste of Kerala.” Having visited Kerala twice in the past, I was hoping for some authentic south Indian cuisine. This place did not disappoint!
Getting There and Away
Little India is conveniently accessible by public transportation. In addition to a number of public buses, the MRT is also a cheap and simple option, especially if you have a Singapore Tourist Pass. You can arrive at either the Little India (NE7), Rocher (DT13) or Farrer Park (NE8) MRT stops depending upon where you’d like to go. For visitors hoping to stay closer to the Little India Heritage Center and other attractions nearby, the Little India and Rocher MRT stops are the best option. Personally, I arrived via the Little India MRT stop, and, after traversing the precinct, chose to depart via the Farrer Park MRT stop.