10 MUST DO kickass things in the Singapore CBD
Nobody wants to visit a central business district on holiday, do they? At least, that’s what I think when I'm planning places to visit when I travel. When I was in London I stayed at an apartment in Canary Wharf and while it was interesting to be looking out at the offices it felt pretty quiet and boring in the evenings. However, Ginza in Tokyo is very much thriving and I love the vibe whenever I stay there. One night we didn’t get there early enough and the standing bar izakaya I love got so crowded with post work drinkers we couldn’t find a single spare spot to squeeze into. The whole street, in fact, was filled. I spend a lot of time in the Singapore CBD, and it's filled with gems. There's no shortage of things to do in the Singapore CBD stretching from Raffles Place to Telok Ayer to Ann Siang Hill.
Singapore is one of those ever evolving cities where if you return every three or five years you’ll find that certain parts of the city has completely changed from before. Some of our most popular attractions were only recently built in the last decade, and there’s still plenty of upcoming attractions to look forward to. Our CBD has stayed largely local despite the growing presence of skyscrapers, offices and salad joints. Contrary to what one might think about a business district, it’s richly filled with hip bars and local foods, some of which are the best in Singapore. One side of this district are the high rise offices flanking the main stretch, Robinson Road. Go deeper off the side of Robinson Road into Telok Ayer and Tanjong Pagar and you’ll find yourself in a different world of heritage shophouses, hawker centers, Korean BBQ restaurants and boutique mixology bars.
If you’re looking for what to eat and drink in Singapore, seriously give this area a shot. You’ll find every quintessential Singapore experience and more.
1. Hawker Centers - Lau Pa Sat, Amoy, Maxwell
Always crowded at lunch times, this is where locals come to for their cravings of beef noodles, hokkien mee, Indian food and any local favourite you can think of. At 7pm every night one side of the street at Lau Pa Sat closes to traffic and turns into a night time open air satay street. A dozen vendors line up beating fans furiously at smoking grills packed with delicious sticks of pork, chicken, or mutton satay.
While Lau Pau Sat is the more touristy, if you’re venturing for something truly local, the Amoy food center or Maxwell is the place to be. This is where I get most of my lunch time meals and where you’ll find salads at half the price (SGD6, almost unheard of) of more upscale joints (SGD13! For vegetables!). Maxwell also houses the world famous Tian Tian chicken rice praised by Anthony Bourdain and Gordon Ramsey. What makes chicken rice so amazing is the chilli sauce so even if you’re a little afraid of spice, go on and suck it up because you don’t want to miss these exotic flavours.
Lau Pau Sat - 18 Raffles Quay, Singapore 048582
Amoy Street Food Center - 7 Maxwell Rd, Singapore 069111
Maxwell Food Center - Kadayanallur Street, Singapore 069184, Singapore
WHAT TO EAT
Tian Tian Chicken Rice - #01 -10/11 Maxwell Food Center
Ho Kee - #01-45/46 Maxwell Food Centre. One of my favourite places for cheap dim sum. Their standards have gotten less consistent since the renovations of the place begun, but I think they'll be back to fighting form soon enough.
Maxwell Fuzhou Oyster Cake - #01-05, Maxwell Food Center. Good enough to eat as a snack or a few pieces as a meal, this is one of the most traditional things you'll come across in Maxwell that's been selling since the 1950s. These cakes are burnt and crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside with the most delicious oyster, prawn, minced meat and cilantro mixture.
Good Day beef hor fun - #01-25 Amoy Street Food Centre. I don't deviate from salads lightly and this is decadent mess is one I'll gladly give up my calories for.
A Noodle Story - #01-39, Amoy Street Food Center
SAP Thai Food - #01-58, Amoy Street Food Center
2. Bars at Telok Ayer, Ann Siang Hill, Boon Tat Street
Here is where you’ll find some of the most prominent mixologists in boutique bars hidden nonchalantly amongst vintage shophouses. Jigger & Pony, Birds of a Feather, Operation Dagger, Spiffy Dapper, Bitters & Love are well known bars with upscale, chilled out vibes and fantastic cocktails while Sum Yi Tai recreate a classic grungy Hong Kong landscape. All are fantastic for an evening out experiencing the best cocktails incarnations in the Lion City.
Jigger & Pony - 101 Amoy Street, Singapore 069921
Birds of a Feather - 115 Amoy Street #01-01, Singapore 069935
Operation Dagger - 7 Ann Siang Hill, #B1-01, Singapore 069791
Spiffy Dapper - 73 Amoy St, Second Floor, Singapore 069892
Bitters & Love - 118 Telok Ayer Street, Singapore 068587
3. Cafés at Telok Ayer, Tanjong Pagar, Asia Square, RAFFLES PLACE
If cafés are what you’re after, there’s plenty in the CBD area worth checking out and tons that serve up a decent brunch to go with it. Drury Lane is especially known for their food and coffee whereas Free the Robot is cafe by day that turns into a bar at night (Bitters & Love). Closer to the CBD in Asia Square, you’ll find 63Celsius, which has excellent coffee and tapas menu for evening drinks. For coffee and desserts, Artisan Boulangerie Co does both wonderfully and is a great place to sit back and people watch during the lunch hour rush.
Drury Lane - 94 Tanjong Pagar Rd, Singapore 088515
Free the Robot - 118 Telok Ayer St, Singapore 068587
63Celsius - #01-03, 12 Marina View, Asia Square Tower 2, Singapore 018961
Dapper Coffee - 73 Amoy St, Second Floor, Singapore 069892 (Yes! This nighttime cocktail joint serves up creatively different coffee by day such as Unicorn Tears or Gold Brew.
Artisan Boulangerie Co - #01-02 Asia Square Tower 2 12 Marina View Singapore 018961
SPRMRKT - 2 McCallum Street, Singapore 069043
Ya Kun Kaya Toast - 18 China Street, #01-01, Far East Square, Singapore 049560. If you are craving for something very local, then Ya Kun is where most of us get our local kopi, which is a strong coffee made with condensed and evaporated milk. Come here for the special toast and wash it down (or dip it!) into cracked soft boiled eggs mixed with soy and pepper.
PS.Cafe - #02-02, 45 Ann Siang Road, Singapore 069719. Also a delightful lunch spot if you fancy something boozy and well, fancy.
PAUL - #01-01, Ocean Financial Centre, 10 Collyer Quay, Singapore 049315
Joe and the Juice - Raffles Place, #01-35A, 30 Raffles Place, Chevron House, 048622
4. World-Class Gastronomic Restaurants
Singapore is known as the multi-cultural city where many races come together in harmony, so you’ll easily find Chinese, Malay, Indian food and more. Recently Japanese, Korean and Mexican restaurants have opened by the dozens and they’re not poor imitations to be sniffed at. While you'll find really cheap local versions at the hawker centers, why stop there when you can carry on the culinary adventures with renowned restaurants bringing to the gastronomic landscape various interpretations of multiple cuisines with a world class touch.
Ding Dong - 01-02, 115 Amoy Street, Singapore 069935
Flying Squirrel - #01-02, 92 Amoy Street, Singapore 069911
Bochinche - 115 Amoy Street #01-02, Singapore 069935
Cheek by Jowl - 21 Boon Tat Street, Singapore 069620
5. Have a drink at Sofitel So
This 1927 neo-classical building first housed the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company. It was eventually taken over and made famous by Ogilvy & Mather, one of the global big 4 advertising agencies, for many years. Ogilvy closed their doors here in 2013 and moved up the road into another building. Now it’s a fabulously stylish business hotel with a fantastic rooftop bar for evening drinks overlooking the crowd and bustle at Lau Pa Sat.
Sofitel So - 35 Robinson Road, Singapore 068876
6. Thian Hock Keng Temple at Telok Ayer
Translating into “Palace of Heavenly Happiness” in the Hokkien dialect, this temple was built in 1839 by immigrants giving thanks for safe sea passage into the island. It is a temple that was rebuilt with the help of the Indian community of Chulia Street and perfectly highlights the multi-racial harmony beginnings of Singapore. This temple has been renovated multiple times over the years and now includes a few Western-style features, though it primarily retains its historic traditional Chinese design and architecture.
These days the streets are mostly clogged up with hungry office workers between noon and two pm and the endless tour buses that stop here, painting a wonderfully insightful look into how far Singapore has come from its origins as a fishing village.
Thian Hock Keng Temple - 158 Telok Ayer St, Singapore 068613
7. Raffles Place
The heart of the CBD and gateway to treasures such as the restaurant-prominent Boat Quay and vibrant nightlife-centric Clarke Quay isn’t too bad itself either. By day you can shop H&M and Uniqlo (guilty of spending an hour during lunch browsing, myself) as well as some smaller shops. Food here is arguably catered towards Western and local tastes so that means more salad joints, but amidst the local fare (Arcade basement food court) you’ll also find excellent Hawaiian poké at Aloha, one of my favourite lunch spots (takeaway if you can’t find a seat out of the two six-seater tables they have) or the Standing Sushi bar. At night, drinks and tapas at Five izakaya is almost routine for many working around the area. If 360 panorama views of the city at night at One Altitude is not your thing every day, their ground floor outdoor bar has a fabulous vibe too.
Aloha Poké - 30 Raffles Place #01-34
Five Izakaya - 16 Collyer Quay, #01-05B, Chevron House
Standing Sushi Bar - 16 Collyer Quay, 02-02, Chevron House
Also see cafés and 1-Altitude on this list.
8. Marina Bay waterfront
In the evening this place comes alive with activity of a different kind. Employees from buildings all round the CBD attend various boot camps that pop up all along the waterfront, doing anything from 30 minute circuit training to group boxing. It may not be an activity you would think to participate in but wait, there’s more - the waterfront views overlook Marina Bay Sands and the impressive Art Science Museum structure.
9. Altimate @ 1-Altitude
There used to be more clubs around this area, one of them being Kyo which closed down just last year in its location in a nondescript office building. Just when you think Clarke Quay might be THE place to be for the best nightlife in Singapore, then you have to try 1-Altitude in the CBD (special shout out if not mention to all the smaller clubs around Tanjong Pagar area!), Singapore's highest alfreso bar. At level 63, Altimate is the highest clubbing spot in town.
1-Altitude - 1 Raffles Place, Level 63
10. Fullerton Bay
If you're going to start from Raffles place and head down into Telok Ayer, Clarke Quay or Boat Quay then you really must kick it off from Fullerton Bay, with its view of the Merlion, Esplanade and Marina Bay Sands. The riverside front is similarly filled with restaurants and although the famous Butter Factory club here has long closed, it still retains a lovely calm vibe just at the edge of the business district. Have a drink at the Fullerton Bay Hotel, the Lantern Hotel, or just stroll up to anyone of the many cafés and restaurants here with an unbeatable view.
Visiting Singapore soon? Pin this and hope to see you soon!