Kampong Glam – Singapore’s Muslim Quarter
Kampong (Malay) = village // Glam = the cajeput tree, called “gelam” in Malay
Another neighborhood walk brings us to Kampong Glam that is known as Singapore’s “Muslim Quarter,” a counterpart to Chinatown and Little India. The area was given to Sultan Hussain Mohammed Shah for use by the Muslim community and has ever been. Over the years, however, the district has developed into a hipster enclave full of chic boutiques, textile shops, and restaurants, with a lot of Malay and Middle Eastern influences. Today, Kampong Glam is not only one of Singapore’s oldest quarters but also a popular tourist spot.
Here’s a little tour of this buzzy treasure trove:
The Arab quarter, north of the Singapore River, in the planning area of Rochor and is located between Beach Road and Muscat Street with the Sultan Mosque in its epicenter. By the way, other streets in Kampong Glam have names like “Subhan St”, “Baghdad St” which alone creates a very “oriental atmosphere”.
Kampong Glam Flair
As soon as you enter Kampong Glam, you might forget time and space. The quarter is not only different to other parts of Singapore but also quite picturesque. And with the impressive Sultan Mosque and its golden dome that has a decisive influence on the image of the quarter you might think you are in some Middle Eastern city rather than in Singapore. Around the mosque, there is an atmospheric world of oriental shops and street cafés. The street scene also includes traditionally veiled women and the daily call of the muezzin.
During the day, the streets are mostly frequented by men sitting in one of the various street cafés, drinking a sweetened coffee with cardamom or a chai tea with mint. Until 2014, the area was also known to serve shisha (hookah). But even without the flavoury smell of the famous Arabian smoke the area still has its own, rich and sweet odor on the streets.
In addition, Kampong Glam has many colorful, faithfully restored houses and shops, which are a contrast to the otherwise rather oriental ambience, but are no less well attended. Due to the narrow streets and alleys and with its many bars, shops and live bands at every corner the district always seems to be very dizzy and especially in the evenings it can get quite crowded here.
Masjid Sultan / Sultan Mosque
The central point of the quarter is the Sultan Mosque, located between Muscat Street and North Bridge Road, with its golden dome, balustrades, arches and spires reminiscent of a Thousand and One Nights fairy tale. The mosque has been a national monument since 1975 and is one of the most important mosques in Singapore.
Non-Muslims can also enter the mosque (with appropriate clothing), but filming and photographing is prohibited here. The prayer halls can accommodate over 4000 people at a time (in non-pandemic times).
Bussorah Street is one of the most picturesque streets in Singapore, with its tiled pedestrian area, heritage architecture, and palm trees, leading towards the Sultan Mosque. On both sides, there are plenty of al fresco restaurants and cafés with resounding names such as “Instanbul’s Grill’s & Café” or “Taste of Lebanon”, all of which offer classics from Lebanese, Turkish and Egyptian cuisine. You better be careful here, as the waiter can be very pushy and within a blink of an eye you might end up in one of the colorful restaurants, eating a fattoush salad. Many establishments are Halal; so don’t expect to enjoy a drink with your dinner.
In addition to oriental cuisine, Bussorah Street also has many small shops and dawdy-like shops selling Muslim clothing, accessories and furniture. The area is especially famous for textiles and you can find carpets, prayer folders, and batik, but also lamps, jewelry or oriental perfume. Most of the products are handmade, but not necessarily cheap. But you can try trading.
Haji Lane runs parallel to Arab Street through the Kampong Glam district and is very popular among tourists and locals alike. This narrow shabby lane is lined with offbeat boutiques selling cult labels and vintage clothing stores, and offers a different world of shopping from the glitzy shopping malls that Singapore is famous for. On the walls of the rather traditional and small houses, artists from all over the world have immortalized themselves with their colorful yet socially critical pictures. Behind the painted facades there are hip shops, bars and cafés, partly hidden behind plants, vinyl and postcards. At night, live bands perform and thus immerse Haji Lane in a very special setting.
Even though the scents around Arab Street are very tempting and the shops are always busy, I have been told that the cuisine here is not very good let alone authentic. Moreover, the prices are disproportionately high – but therefore, one enjoys the fabulous view to the fairy-tale mosque. But in the neighboring streets of Beach Road and Haji Lane there are restaurants and cafés that are very popular among locals and that I would like to recommend to you.
Working Title, 48 Arab St, Singapore 199745 – Popular Burger Bar.
Piedra Negra, 241 Beach Rd, Singapore 189753 – Buzzing place in Haji Lane with solid Mexican food and great prices (happy hour!), perfect for an evening get-together.
NOX – Dine in the Dark, 269 Beach Rd, Singapore 199546 – Unique experience of dining in the dark, with a menu changing every two month.
Going Om, 63 Haji Ln, Singapore 189256 – Excellent food with very affordable pricing, inspired by Himalaya mountains.
Mrs Pho (Beach Road), 349 Beach Rd, Singapore 199570 – Former hawker that made it to a proper restaurant with authentic Vietnamese food and interior.
Moosh Softserve, 44 Haji Ln, Singapore 189237 – delicious soft ice served with fun ingredients such as brownie, Nutella and others.
Bar Stories, 55-57A, Haji Ln, Singapore 189248 – Bar with amazing opulent drinks and amazing food
Oriental Elixir, 10 Haji Ln, Singapore 189203 – A hidden secret bar with an impressive 5-star rating on google that is rather unknown amongst tourists.
Bar Stories and Orient Elixir have made it amongst my favorite bars in Singapore.
Coffeeshops & Roasters
The Hangar Coffee Express, 1 Kadayanallur St, 01-33
Wakey Wakey, 302 Beach Rd, 05 The Concourse, #01-04, Singapore 199600
Fika Swedish Cafe and Bistro, 257 Beach Rd, Singapore 199539
All things delicious., 34 Arab St, #01-01, Singapore 199733
Konditori Artisan Bakery, 33 Bussorah St, Singapore 199451
The area has maintained its ethnic ties to the trade that followed from the rest of Asia and the Middle East and many people head there for its abundance of carpet and fabric shops, while Bussorah Street is home to a string of souvenir shops, with the odd antique or jewelry store in amongst the mix. Kampong Glam is also known for its vintage clothing boutiques, and Haji Lane with its many local designer boutiques is one of Singapore’s hidden gems for shoppers. Owners change frequently what makes it hard to point out to specific shops. I recommend strolling through the alleys of Kampong Glam and let them lead your way.
Time After Time, 62 Haji Lane, Singapore, 189255 – vintage store with a mix of dresses, hats, and accessories as well as a huge variety of modern costume jewelry.
Andwelldressed Studio, 660 North Bridge Rd, Singapore 188797 – Contemporary Fashion Label, das aktuelle Trends mit Klassikern kombiniert.
Craft Assembly, 61 Haji Ln, Singapore 189254 – uniquely local-made crafts, vintage apparel as well as old-school toys from local designers.
HYGGE, 37 Haji Lane, Singapore 189230 – Whimsical cafe on Haji Lane that offers a selection of cakes, tea and coffee that recently converted fully into a minimalist lifestyle store that sells pretty handmade trinkets as well as gorgeous vintage apparel.
Hotels / Capsule Hotels
Kampong Glam is traditionally associated with budget accommodation, so if you want to try out a capsule hotel, or a boutique hotel in an ethnic atmosphere, you most likely find it in the scenic quarter. Here are a few hotels with great ratings and affordable prices:
***This section contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.
Kampong Glam – Is it glam at all?
Kampong Glam isn’t all that glamorous but it is one of Singapore’s oldest (and hippest) neighborhoods and popular for tourists and locals alike. It’s certainly worth a stop whenever visiting Singapore. However, it is not a classic residential area but a tourist attraction which is why you won’t find any authentic Singaporean life here but might be able to tell your own tale from one Thousand and One Nights.