Kampong Glam: A Cultural and Lifestyle Haven
Old meets new in an organic and distinctive way in this historic neighbourhood
By Janice Lin
Mention Kampong Glam and what comes to mind for most Singaporeans is the image of hip cafés and quaint, indie stores housed within pretty shophouses along Haji Lane. Its now-hipster image, however, belies a rich cultural heritage that dates back to Singapore’s founding years.
This area was home to Malay royalty once and was where the Muslim community settled in the early days, putting up buildings and features that reflect their livelihood and culture. Some of these still exist today, including Masjid Sultan, one of the most important mosques in Singapore, whose large golden domes serve as Kampong Glam’s distinguishing landmark.
Over the years, the neighbourhood has welcomed a number of ethnic communities into its fold, including the Javanese, Sumatrans, Arabs, Baweanese, Banjarese, Chinese and Indians. And while this neighbourhood is no longer a residential area, these communities have nevertheless left their mark in different ways, from businesses that have stood the test of time, to the buildings they left as a legacy.
Quirky shops for the indie at heart
Today, Kampong Glam has an eclectic mix of culture, history and trendy lifestyle outlets. Tucked between the mosques, Turkish restaurants, Malay fabric shops and Persian rug stores that have been around for ages are newer cafes and shops that have mushroomed quite organically over the years and given the neighbourhood a more modern vibe.
A stroll along the back alleys of Haji Lane and Arab Street will take you to an array of offbeat stores offering homeware, accessories and other curious finds – enough to satisfy the indie at heart.
Drop by quirky boutiques on Haji Lane for trinkets and knick-knacks, such as En Pointe The Boutique for unique pieces from independent Asian labels, and small furniture stores like A Thousand Tales, where pieces are sourced from all over Scandinavia.
Kampong Glam may not have been immune to urbanisation, but that doesn’t mean the neighbourhood is any less rich in culture; this delicate blend of old-world charm and new-world appeal gives the area its own idiosyncratic character.
Eat, drink and be merry
When it comes to food, you’ll find a bit of everything in this neighbourhood. While you shouldn’t miss heritage eats like Singapore Zam Zam and its famous biryani, you’ll also want to gather some friends and check out cafes like I am… for its charcoal grilled burgers, or & Why for its cold brew coffees.
Those with more refined tastes may want to dine at Symmetry, which serves all-day breakfasts using top-quality ingredients. Novelty-seekers can try NOX – Dine in the Dark, where, as its name suggests, you eat in a pitch-dark room, in order to fully savour the flavours of a meal without any other distractions.
Come sunset, Blu Jaz dishes out cool beats, live jam sessions, stand-up comedy and affordable bar grub to regulars on the scene. But if you prefer something a little more low-key and intimate, try catching an indie film at The Projector, an independent cinema that occupies the space that was once the historic Golden Theatre.
A Walk for Two
From unique concept stores to fascinating heritage sites, there’s plenty for you and that special someone to discover together in Kampong Glam.
Malay Heritage Centre
Stopping by this centre is a must. Once the royal seat of Singapore’s Malay sultans, the building is now a museum that offers visitors a glimpse into the neighbourhood’s past, through a wide collection of artefacts and exhibits that showcase the rich heritage and history of Singapore’s Malay community.
Address: 85 Sultan Gate
Formerly the royal mosque for the Sultan of Johor in 1823, Masjid Sultan bears great significance for the local Muslim community, so much so that it was gazetted as a national monument in 1975. The mosque is open to visitors every day, with informative guided tours provided in English, Malay, Chinese, and even Japanese.
Address: 3 Muscat Street
Café by day, fine-dining venue by night, Maison Ikkoku has something for both tea lovers and night owls. Drop by in the afternoon for some high tea, or come by after dark with your partner for a 12-course European Japanese omakase dinner and bespoke cocktails created by its very own in-house mixologist. Nights out with that special someone don’t get better than this.
Address: 20 Kandahar Street
Jamal Kazura Aromatics
This perfume store is quite the institution, having been around since the 1920s. You’ll be spoiled for choice here, with its glass shelves lined with vials of aromatic oils from all around the world. But feel free to ask for something a little more bespoke – the store is more than happy to customise a signature scent for you.
Address: 728 North Bridge Road
This home décor and multi-label store offers a mix of homeware and trinkets sourced from the world over. Grab a friend and explore its selection of patterned cushions from South Africa, traditional cheongsams, Scandinavian-inspired crafts and a curated selection of books provided by local bookstore BooksActually.
Address: 76 Haji Lane