Singapore's Second Favorite Pastime
Next to food, shopping is Singapore's second-favorite pastime. The shopping scene in Singapore is nothing short of legendary—shopping malls criss-cross the island, linked by air-conditioned underground tunnels and MRT stations.
Best of all, Singapore will reimburse tourists for the taxes they pay for your shopping. You'll be charged a Goods and Service Tax (GST) of 7%, but taxes on purchases above SG$100 can be reimbursed with little trouble. (Read about tax-free shopping in Singapore for more details.)
Now, if you have your credit card and your most comfortable shoes ready, you're on your way to tackling the following shopping hotspots in Singapore.
Little India - An Authentic Whiff of the Subcontinent
Where else in Singapore can you tell where you are by the smell of spices and jasmine? Only in Little India, where Singapore's Indian community buys its food, spices, saris, and jewelry. Little India is centered around Serangoon Road—its main thoroughfare and side streets are lined with shops selling everything from jewelry to Bollywood memorabilia to curries to papier-mache boxes.
While you're there, you simply must stop by two of the most famous shopping stops in Little India: the Tekka Centre and the 24-hour Mustafa Centre.
The Tekka Centre along Bukit Timah Road trafficks in all sorts of uniquely Indian items—the wet market on the ground floor sells vegetables, meats, flowers and spices, and the adjacent hawker center sells Indian vegetarian meals and other popular local fare. The upper floors teem with vendors selling religious paraphernalia, hardware, and saris.
Mustafa Centre (145 Syed Alwi Road; Tel: 62955855) is open 24 hours, and it stocks a wide assortment of wares in its cramped interior. The walkways are quite narrow, all the better to stock more stuff in its six floors. The Centre is best known for its cheap electronics, affordable gold, and a wide assortment of spices in the supermarket. Prices for these items are surprisingly low, which explains why Mustafa Centre is such a draw for tourists.
Nearest MRT Stops: The North-East MRT line's Little India (NE7) and Farrer Park (NE8) stations exit near Serangoon Road. The East-West line's Bugis station (EW12) is within walking distance of Little India.
Holland Village - Souvenirs, Asian Handicrafts, Cozy Dining Choices
Holland Village is the unofficial cultural center for Singapore's huge expat population, and as such it offers the old and new, the East and the West in equal measure.
Holland Road Shopping Centre houses shops like Lim's Arts and Crafts, a purveyor of quality linen, glassware, and other Asian crafts and antiques. Other shops in the vicinity sell Asian antiques, handicrafts, clothing (and haberdashery services, if the local Asian sizes don't fit your outsize frame), tribal artifacts, and teakwood furniture (which can be shipped to your home address).
If you're looking for more Asian arts, crafts, antiques, and handicrafts, you should try the shops along Lorong Mambong at the rear of Holland Village. You'll find pottery, household items crafted from rattan and cane, and other local souvenirs.
The wet market and the modern Cold Storage supermarket attract housewives doing their household shopping. Other shops in the area sell CDs, curios, and discount clothing.
If you've shopped till you're ready to drop, recharge at Holland's many dining options, from fine dining establishments to simple noodle stalls.
Nearest MRT Stop: Exit at the East-West line's Buona Vista station (EW21) and take SBS Bus 200 to Holland Village.
Orchard Road - Singapore's Shopping Mecca
If you have to go to only one place in Singapore to do your shopping, Orchard is the place to be. Shopping malls line the street from end to end, offering mostly high-end retail items from designer labels to cutting-edge electronics.
Ngee Ann City (391 Orchard Road; Tel: 6739 9323) is a humongous shopping complex with some of Singapore's finest stores. The Japanese department store Takashimaya calls Ngee Ann City home, as do brands like Guess, Zara, Mango, and Kinokuniya, the largest book chain in Asia. All in all, over a hundred specialty stores reside in Ngee Ann City, with sports items, electronics, designer clothing, and assorted services on demand. A passageway in the basement leads directly to the underground Orchard MRT station.
Tangs (320 Orchard Road; Tel: 6737 5500) is Singapore's oldest department store, having repositioned itself over the years as an Asian lifestyle outlet, with exclusive fashion labels and brands from all over the world.
Wisma Atria (435 Orchard Road; Tel: 6235 2103) houses high street fashion outlets like FCUK, Gap, Nike, Topshop, as well as the Japanese department store Isetan.
The Heeren (260 Orchard Road; Tel: 6733 4725) houses HMV, the region's largest music superstore, cutting-edge retail clothing at the fourth and fifth level, and a wide assortment of Asian cuisine on the fifth level.
Paragon Shopping Centre (290 Orchard Road; Tel: 6738 5535) is the ideal destination for fashionistas in search of international brands like Valentino, Escada, and Gucci. Other lifestyle brands in the vicinity include Marks & Spencer, Crabtree and Evelyn, the Food Cellar, and POA Superstore.
Nearest MRT Stops: No less than four MRT stations stop at or near Orchard Road: The North-South Line's Orchard (NS22), Somerset (NS23), Dhoby Ghaut (NE6/NS24) and City Hall (EW13/NS25) stations line Orchard Road itself, with the latter two stations serving as interconnections with the East-West Line.
Chinatown - Restored Shophouses, Traditional Chinese Wares
Chinatown lurks behind Singapore's financial district, the old underpinning the new. The district's current look is a shiny, antiseptic version of the historic Chinatown in colonial times. Resurrected shophouses sell traditional crafts, Chinese medicine, jewelry, and cheap souvenirs, while nearby hawker centers and fruit stands tempt passersby with their wares.
The old-timey Eu Tong Sen Street has its fair share of larger shopping malls, like the former movie house turned mall Majestic (80 Eu Tong Sen Street), and Pearl's Centre (100 Eu Tong Sen Street), with its twisting passageways and odd collection of wares, from sexy men's underwear to Buddhist artifacts.
More modern shopping options can be found around the Cross Street area, where you'll find large shopping complexes like Chinatown Point (133 New Bridge Road), People's Park Complex (1 Park Road), and the landmark OG People's Park (100 Upper Cross Street, OG Building, Singapore; Telephone: 6535 8888).
Nearest MRT Stops: You can reach Chinatown via the East-West Line's Outram Park station (EW16) and the North-East Line's Chinatown station (NE4).
City Hall/Riverside - Singapore's Shiny Shopping Showcase
Singapore's Central Business District is a showcase for Singapore's urban development, where old-time buildings like the Raffles Hotel stand side by side with gleaming new retail developments like the Raffles City Mall.
The area's malls cover the basics and more. Some distinguish themselves by their impressive design (the Raffles City complex was designed by I.M. Pei), while others are devoted to particular themes (Funan Mall is devoted to the latest technology). The district's malls of note include:
Suntec City Mall (3 Temasek Boulevard; Tel: 6825 2667 / 6825 2668 / 6825 2669 / 6825 2670) is the largest mall in Singapore, with over 83,000 square meters of retail space. French hypermart Carrefour is here, as are hundreds of other major worldwide brands. The mall is known for the Fountain of Wealth, known to Guinness Records aficionados as the largest fountain in the world.
Raffles City Shopping Centre (252 North Bridge Road; Tel: 6338 7766) houses a variety of international fashion and specialty shops, including Guess, the Metropolitan Museum of New York, and Tommy Hilfiger.
Funan DigitaLife Mall (109 North Bridge Road), is arguably Singapore's second-best place for affordable electronics (the first-best is Sim Lim Square, which is more suitable for experienced computer shoppers). The government keeps a closer watch on stores in Funan, so you can be fairly sure you're not getting ripped off (which is not always the case in the more rough-and-ready Sim Lim).
Millenia Walk (9 Raffles Boulevard; Tel: 6883 1122) offers fashion stores and specialty shops by the dozen.
Marina Square (6 Raffles Boulevard Tel: 6339 8787) has over 300 shops to lose oneself in.
CityLink (1 Raffles Link) is an underground mall that links the City Hall MRT Station to Suntec City Mall and Marina Square. CityLink is no slouch in the retail department - it offers a wide range of shops and restaurants, from HMV to FCUK to Adidas.
Nearest MRT Stops: Three MRT stops offer access to the vicinity: Clarke Quay (NE5), Raffles Place (EW14/NS26), and City Hall (EW13/NS25)
Bugis/Arab Street - Old and New Side by Side
Bugis is Singapore’s shopping mecca, an amalgam of small shops on tiny lanes, big malls, and covered markets, as well as restaurants and nightspots. Named after the local sea pirates that used to terrorize sailors in the 19th century, Bugis was a seedy district populated with cruising transvestites, gambling dens, and nighttime vendors until it was redeveloped in the 80s.
The district's most ambitious development is Bugis Street (3 New Bugis Street,), a shopping complex developed from the streetside shops along Victoria Street and Queen Street. Take your pick from three levels of shopping with over 600 shops selling perfumes, clothing, electronics, accessories, and more - just start exploring and surprise yourself with Bugis Street's bang-for-your-buck finds. In 2014 the development launched bugisstreet.com.sg, selling items from featured stores in the complex. The site also lists all 600 stores at this location.
Immediately opposite Bugis Street, the Bugis Junction mall (200 Victoria Street, bugisjunction-mall.com.sg) serves up low-to-mid-priced Japanese stores and brands to a fashion-forward youth market. The mall is actually a section of shophouse-fronted street that has been covered over and air-conditioned.
Cross Bencoolen Street to reach Sim Lim Square (1 Rochor Canal Rd), a six-story mall with 390,000 square feet of unrestricted computer shopping bliss.
Buyer beware - the lower shops are known for gouging tourist shoppers, so be sure to check out the local prices first before striking a bargain.
Kampong Glam feels like a throwback to simpler shopping days, when prices were flexible and shop-owners knew their best customers by name. You'll find no malls in Kampong Glam - just shop houses encircling the Sultan Mosque, all sorts of exotica like rattan cradles, prayer mats, jewelry, and camel-skin bags. There are also plenty of great eateries in the area in case you need to recharge your shopping batteries.
Arab Street is full of textile shops stocking exquisite batiks and luxurious silks in every hue, including a few previously unknown to your nervous system. You can buy them by the meter, or ready-made as clothes and table linens. If you can only visit one, go to Toko Aljunied (95 Arab Street, +65 6294 6897), a clothing store that sells traditional Malay kebaya and batik fabrics.
The textile shops see the most business before Ramadan when Malay families have their baju kurungs made.
Bussorah Mall is a pedestrianized street that now sports two rows of shops down its length. At one end you'll find the venerable Sultan Mosque, and on the other, you'll find Jamal Kazura Aromatics (21 Bussorah Street, +65 6293 3320), one of the oldest perfumeries in Singapore. Founded in 1933 by an Indonesian entrepreneur, Jamal Kazura respects the Islamic prohibition on alcohol and sells oil-based (attar) fragrances instead.
Haji Lane, parallel to Arab Street, caters to a younger crowd looking for the latest in street fashion and "pre-loved" second-hand clothes.
Some of the best stores along Haji Lane tap into a retro pop vibe, like Dulcet Fig (41 Haji Lane, +65 6396 5648, dulcetfig.com). The owner drew inspiration from her mother and grandmother's collective wardrobes, curating a quirky collection of vintage clothes and throwback bags, leavened by new collections from indie designers.
Nearest MRT Stops: The East-West Line's Bugis Station (EW12) links directly to Parco Bugis Junction, and is a few minutes away from Arab Street