These days, the bustling island city-state of Singapore has become synonymous with towering skyscrapers and futuristic design, but did you know some of the best Singapore photography spots are actually hidden in plain sight in several of the city’s oldest neighborhoods?
Singapore’s historic shophouses are some of the most colorful photography locations in Singapore. Dating from the mid-1800’s to early 1900’s, these beautiful architectural links to Singapore’s past stand in stark contrast to the modern construction that surrounds them today. Featuring vibrant facades, elaborately decorated with ceramic tiles, Chinese reliefs, and decorative embellishments from countries as nearby as Malaysia and as far-flung as France and the UK, Singapore’s shophouses are a direct reflection of the melting pot of cultures that make up this extraordinary country.
If you’re searching for photogenic spots in Singapore or simply looking to up your Instagram game, the list below will tell you where to find the prettiest and most colorful shophouses around the city.
What are Shophouses?
Typically found in cities in Southeast Asia, shophouses are long, narrow structures, usually two or three stories high, that traditionally featured a shop or restaurant on the ground floor and a residence belonging to the shop owner on the floors above. The first shophouses in Singapore were fairly basic, but as time and styles progressed, shophouses became more elaborate in design, making them one of the most photographed sights in Singapore.
Tips for Photographing Singapore’s Historic Shophouses
- Most of the shophouses on this list are either businesses or people’s homes, so first and foremost, be respectful. Don’t touch anything, and if someone asks you to stop taking photos, just smile, apologize, and walk away. Even though these are all public areas and photography is permitted, it’s the polite thing to do if you’re asked to stop by a home or business owner.
- You’ll get better results if you visit early. If you can arrive after sunrise (7am) and before businesses start opening (usually 9-10am), you’ll have far less pedestrians and other tourists to contend with in your shots.
- Early is also good if you struggle in the heat. Singapore is hot and muggy all year round, so if you’re an Instagrammer who wants to be in the shot, bring supplies for freshening up. Oil-absorbing facial tissues and a handheld fan will go a long way in keeping you sweat-free, but I’d also bring a change of clothes if you plan to be out for several hours. The sweat struggle is real here.
- Anytime you’re going out to take photographs of Singapore, always bring sunscreen and an umbrella with you. You’ll likely need both on the same day.
- If you plan to visit all of the locations on this list, purchasing an EZ-Link Card from any MRT station in Singapore is a much easier (and in most cases cheaper) way to use public transport than paying for a single ticket each time.
- I also recommend downloading the free Citymapper app to your phone. When you enter the destinations below into the app, it’ll give you all the MRT, bus, and taxi options available from your current location along with estimated arrival times. This app was my lifeline for getting around Singapore when I lived there.
- One more thing – Singapore is serious about their trash pick-up, so you’ll likely find rubbish bins standing proud outside several shophouses on this list every day of the week. Unfortunately, you can’t move them. Your best bet is to get creative with angles or remove them in Photoshop later. I’ve left them in my photos so you can see what you’ll be working with.
Singapore Photography Spots: Where to Find Colorful Shophouses
Koon Seng Road
Chances are, if you’ve been on Instagram lately, you’ve caught a glimpse or two of these ultra-popular Peranakan shophouses on Koon Seng Road in the eastern part of Singapore. Originally built between 1900-1940, the two sets of terraced shophouses that line this photogenic street have been well-maintained and are a favorite among tourists and photographers.
One side of Koon Seng Road features boldly colored shophouses, whereas on the opposite side, you’ll find softer, more pastel-colored hues. Both sets are currently used as private homes, so you’ll find lots of personality here complimenting each shophouse’s historic features. If you’re headed out in search of Instagram-worthy spots in Singapore, this should be your first stop.
Koon Seng Road is a relatively busy street, so be sure to watch for traffic. For best results, try to arrive around 9am – early enough to beat other tourists, but late enough to miss the weekday morning traffic.
- Find Koon Seng Road on a map here.
After you’ve gotten your shots on Koon Seng Road, walk a few steps east and turn right on Tembeling Road. Here, you’ll find a collection of natural-toned and all-white shophouses, stylishly decorated with delicate patterns and perfectly spaced greenery, before reaching more Peranakan-style shophouses as you continue down the road.
Tembeling Road sees far less traffic than Koon Seng Road, both of the tourist and car variety, so you should have an easier time getting good shots over here. If you’re curious and up for a wander, there are a couple residential roads/alleys off of Tembeling where you’ll find another type of traditional Singaporean home featuring spiraling staircases on the outside of the house. Some of these are also painted quite colorfully.
- Find Tembeling Road on a map here.
Joo Chiat Road
When you reach Duku Road on Tembeling, make a right and head for the main road out here – Joo Chiat Road. On this street, you’ll discover historic shophouses that are still being used in the traditional sense – merchant shop on bottom, residence on top.
There are loads of opportunities for colorful street photography on this road. I recommend walking down Joo Chiat from Duku Road back to Koon Seng Road to get a feel for the area. You can expect to find old school bicycle repair shops, charming homes with brightly-colored shutters built above handmade bun restaurants, and heritage buildings housing supermarkets – it’s a real mixed bag, but fun to explore.
- Find Joo Chiat Road on a map here.
Next we’re heading over to one of my favorite neighborhoods in Singapore, Tiong Bahru in the south. This area has sort of become hipster central in recent years, but the historic side of Singapore has still been nicely preserved here as well.
In Tiong Bahru, it’s not so much the shophouses themselves that are colorful, but what’s painted on the sides of them. Several local artists have contributed to the street art scene in Tiong Bahru, the most famous of which are the cultural heritage murals by Yip Yew Chong.
You’ll find the most popular murals in Tiong Bahru on Seng Poh Lane, Eng Watt Street, and Tiong Poh Road, but definitely have a look around elsewhere, too, particularly in the areas surrounding Tiong Bahru Market, as there are some fun hidden animal murals by Ernest Goh to discover there.
- Find Tiong Bahru on a map here.
If you’re looking for colorful Singapore photography spots, look no further than Little India. Bold reds, bright pinks, deep blues, and vivid shades of every other color of the rainbow bathe the whole neighborhood like the inside of an artist’s paint box.
Little India has a wealth of historic shophouses to photograph, so definitely take your time and wander around for a bit. Some key areas to make sure you hit are the streets surrounding Tan Teng Niah (the rainbow-colored Chinese villa pictured above), Serangoon Road near the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, parts of Norris Road and Rowell Road, and both Buffalo Road and Kerbau Road beside the Little India MRT station.
- Find Little India on a map here.
Jalan Besar Road
After you’ve properly explored Little India, you might as well make a quick pit stop over on Jalan Besar Road. While you won’t find as many bold colors on this street as you will on streets in Little India, there are several gorgeous shophouses here bearing a distinct old-movie-set-vibe that’s hard to find anymore in Singapore.
Also, if you don’t mind walking a bit, check out Petain Road off of Jalan Besar while you’re here. It’s part of the Heritage Trail in Singapore, and the intricate Chinese Baroque shophouses and terrace houses on this street are beautifully preserved. The floral tiles that adorn the outside of these shops are to die for, but be careful not to wander into the alleys off Petain Road. They’re part of Singapore’s red light district and are definitely, uhm, questionable.
- Find Jalan Besar Road on a map here.
Right smack in the middle of Orchard Road, Singapore’s biggest and busiest shopping mecca, is Emerald Hill, a quiet tree-lined street with an elegant collection of early 1900’s shophouses.
At the entrance to Emerald Hill where it meets Orchard Road, you’ll find the cheerily-colored shophouses of Peranakan Place housing a handful of restaurants and bars. Walk a little further up the hill, however, and you’ll enter a different world, far removed from the chaos of Orchard Road. (If not in distance, certainly in spirit.)
Pride of ownership is clearly evident in the enchanting shophouses turned homes on this street. Intricately-carved wooden gates that once served as a means of natural air-conditioning open onto tiled verandas complete with small gardens. Chinese and Peranakan design elements are a nostalgic throw-back to Emerald Hill’s first residents. One of the first places to be designated a conservation area in Singapore, if stylish historic shophouses are your jam, you’ve got to see this street.
- Find Emerald Hill on a map here.
I may have spoken too soon when I called Tiong Bahru hipster-central. If you really want to eat avocado toast at an artisanal cafe playing indie music surrounded by millennials wearing skin-tight jeans and beanies even though it’s 100°F outside, then make haste to Haji Lane in the Kampong Glam area of Singapore.
I’m kidding. Don’t get your unnecessary layers in a knot. Haji Lane is actually pretty cool and it’s definitely one of the most colorful Singapore photography locations. From the giant murals covering half the street to the quirky shophouses selling off-beat and, ahem, “vintage” items, you’ll find no lack of fun photo opportunities over here.
If you don’t want a thousand other people in your photos of Haji Lane (which is super narrow, by the way, so bring your wide angle lens), it’s probably smart to arrive well before noon.
- Find Haji Lane on a map here.
Before you start talking in hashtags and converting to vegetarianism, mosey on over from Haji Lane to the intersection of Baghdad and Bussorah Street where you’ll be treated to a car-free stretch of beautiful shophouses offering up carpets and silks for sale, souvenirs, and my favorite – a vast supply of hummus and baba ganoush, doner kebabs, and baklava.
Not only are the shophouses a Turkish delight here, but they’re also set against the grand backdrop of the gorgeous Masjid Sultan Mosque, which is a prime photo spot in Singapore itself. For more historic shophouses in this area, take a walk down Arab Street which runs parallel to Haji Lane.
- Find Bussorah Street on a map here.
Last but certainly not least, a multitude of historic shophouses in Singapore can be found in the cultural district of Chinatown. Both times we lived in Singapore, Chinatown was where we took all of our guests, both for the food (Maxwell is the best!) and the unlimited opportunities for capturing atmospheric photographs of Singapore’s eclectic blend of old vs new.
From the Instagram-worthy red and orange lanterns strung alongside the shophouses of Pagoda Street to the Sri Mariamman and Buddha Tooth Relic temples, Chinatown is simply bursting with color. Besides Pagoda Street, be sure to check out Temple Street, Sago Street alongside the Buddhist temple, and Chinatown Food Street (aka Smith Street) for fun shophouse shots and more souvenir shops than you can shake an incense stick at.
- Find Chinatown on a map here.
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