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Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
Photo: Nparks

The ultimate guide to Bukit Timah

Discover a slice of World War II history, experience the thrill of high-octane go-karting and uncover delicious eats across all price points in the charming neighbourhood of Bukit Timah

Written by
Time Out Singapore editors
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Bukit Timah oozes understated charm. Maybe it’s the lush green avenues, or the lack of towering high-rise blocks, but this neighbourhood feels more peaceful than the rest of the city. But there’s more to it than its beautiful bungalows and top-notch schools – it was once a World War II battleground and the site of logging and quarrying. Today, it offers a diverse mix of things to eat, drink and do. Explore the greener side of Singapore at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, then hop over for some high-octane fun at The Grandstand. Sample delicious and affordable local fare at Bukit Timah Market & Food Centre, or impress a date at the trendy Fat Belly. Whether you’re in slippers or heels, there’s bound to be something for you in Bukit Timah. 

RECOMMENDED: Ultimate guide to Singapore's neighbourhoods

DO

Immerse in WWII history at Former Ford Factory
  • Things to do
  • Bukit Batok

Learn all about Singapore’s World War II past at the Former Ford Factory. When it was first built, it was Ford’s first motorcar and vehicle assembly and construction plant in Southeast Asia. But who would have thought it would become the very place where British forces surrendered to the Japanese in 1942. Paranormal tales swirled around the factory after it was abandoned in the post-war period, but today it’s a spruced-up museum where you can walk into the very boardroom – including the one the British surrendered in – and travel back in time through oral history recordings and displays of historical artefacts.

Get your heart racing at The Grandstand
  • Shopping
  • Shopping centres
  • Bukit Timah

The Grandstand, once the home of Singapore Turf Club, is a sprawling family-friendly destination and training ground for sporting clubs. If you’re in search of some heart-pumping action, visit The Karting Arena for a go at its thrilling hairpin turns and straights. Meanwhile The Axe Factor offers another unusual experience – a chance to channel Thor by hurling an axe at a wooden wall. Once you’ve vented your frustrations, fuel up at one of the many restaurants in The Grandstand, including E-Sarn, The Dancing Crab or Ristorante Da Valentino.


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  • Things to do
  • Classes and workshops
  • Bukit Timah

Want to engage your artistic side? Go art-jamming with friends or a loved one at Arthaus. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have any experience with paint – it aims to create a safe, non-judgmental space for you to explore art forms and express yourself. If you find yourself falling in love with art, Arthaus has a range of longer courses that teach everything from the fundamentals to specialisations in watercolour painting or even coffee painting.

  • Film
  • Bukit Timah

The beloved MacDonald’s at King Albert Park may be gone, but in its place you have Bukit Timah’s first independent cinema. EagleWings Cinematics offers the usual blockbusters and latest releases, but as a premium experience at an affordable price. Expect a luxurious lounge complete with massage chairs, spacious theatres and plush seats for the price of $9.50 on weekdays or $6.50 for students.

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  • Things to do
  • Bukit Panjang

Since you’re in the hood, it makes sense to scale Singapore’s highest peak - incidentally 163 meters tall. The two-year multi-million dollar reconstruction effort means visitors now have new steps, boardwalks and rope railings to better learn about the hill’s native flora and faunaits home to 840 species of flowering plants and over 500 species of fauna, including the Singapore freshwater crab and Sunda pangolin. The easiest way to the summit is to take the main path from the Visitor Centre up by the South View Path. For a tougher climb, detour through Taban Loop towards Dairy Farm Nature Park. And for motivation, know that the view of the quarry from the lookout point is pretty special.

Zen out at Ikeda Spa
  • Health and beauty
  • Bukit Timah

The only day spa with a zen garden, it has become a favourite for its range of unique treatments like onsen baths (from $80, they have five bath salt choices) in a Rotenburo hot tub, the Geisha Organic Facial ($240) which uses rice bran, camellia oil, and uguisu no fun (powdered nightingale droppings) – yes, you read that right – and a 300-stroke Japanese meridian massage technique, and the signature Ganbanyoku ($180), a Japanese detoxification ritual taking place on a special Ganbanyoku Stone Bed to purge toxins and calories as you perspire.

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Learn to ride at Gallop Stables
  • Things to do
  • Bukit Timah

Saddle up – horse riding isn’t just for trust fund babies or polo players. Learning to ride at Gallop Stables starts from as little as $65 (per 30-minute session). There’s also private or group lessons, a 20-minute pony ride ($45) for little ones, three years and up, and the option to go riding (with an instructor) for an hour ($85) on the Fairways Green Track or Fairways Sand Ring.

Hit some balls at Champions Public Golf Course
  • Sport and fitness
  • Bukit Timah

Being Bukit Timah, it comes as no surprise there’s a public golf course in the hood. Built in 1988, the 9-hole course is a par-34, 2000 meter course open to the public with reasonable green fees that won’t burn a hole in the pocket (a standard 9-hole round starts from $45). There’s also a driving range with 66 bays to ensure that swing is being worked on regularly.

EAT

  • Restaurants
  • Hawker
  • Bukit Timah

Bukit Timah Market & Food Centre is overflowing with good food that hits the spot. You’ll find long queues at Leng Kee Fish Soup (#02-192), Jie Ji Boneless Braised Duck (#02-151) and Sin Chew Satay Bee Hoon (#02-162) – so do the Singaporean thing and line up. For dessert, don’t miss a refreshing bowl of chendol from Nyonya Chendol (#02-147) or baked goods from SL II Muffin (#02-201).

  • Restaurants
  • Bukit Timah

It’s nigh impossible to get a seat at Atlas Coffeehouse during peak hours on weekends. You can blame its top-notch specialty coffees and well-executed brunch items for that. Atlas Coffeehouse prides itself on precision, seasonality and quality, which shines through in favourites like the summer chicken stew ($!8), cereal prawn shrimp pasta ($22) and fluffy buttermilk waffles (from $12.50). It’s a good place for catching up with friends – just plan to arrive a little earlier or later than usual to snag a seat.

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Fat Belly
  • Restaurants
  • Steakhouse
  • Tanglin

Fat Belly, an alternative steakhouse right by the Botanic Gardens, is out on a mission to seduce customers away from mainstream cuts of meat. If you’ve never heard of, much less tasted, the likes of tri-tip, onglet or deckle, then this is the place for you to get adventurous. The menu is streamlined, but portions are generous – we recommend starting off with the duck rillete, ($10) with pink peppercorns, any of the beef cuts (from $28), and creamed kale ($8) on the side.

  • Restaurants
  • Seafood
  • Bukit Timah

If you’re in the West and in need of a seafood fix, head down to the cosy Greenwood Fish Market & Bistro. All the better if it’s a Tuesday to enjoy $2 oysters. Otherwise, swing by for fish ‘n’ chips (from $11.50); you can choose the house fish, barramundi or snapper that’s fried to a golden crisp in a special batter.  If you’re at a loss, the staff are more than happy to recommend something from the wide selection of fresh seafood.

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  • Restaurants
  • Bukit Panjang

You can tell a lot about an Italian restaurant by the quality of its pizza dough. At Acqua e Farina, the trek to Rail Mall is justified by the promise of excellent Neapolitan style pies, made with a dough that’s risen for 30 hours. Baked till crisp along the edges, with a soft, chewy middle, the Sicilian boat-style pizza – incidentally, they might be the only ones in Singapore to offer this – the Barca Bufala ($26) is festooned with a generous amount of Parma ham, creamy mozarella cheese and a well-balanced tomato sauce – a combination that’s nothing short of heavenly. Sadly, it’s so good, we’ve neglected to sample their handmade pastas or gilled mains, but we know we’ll be back.

Violet Oon Singapore (formerly Violet Oon's Kitchen)
  • Restaurants
  • Bukit Timah

While its sister outlets at the National Gallery and Clarke Quay makes for a sexier location outing, this is where it all started in 2012 when noted Singapore food ambassador Violet Oon (with her children Su-Lyn and Yiming) opened on Cherry Avenue. The unassuming space has since been renovated they’ve added a show kitchen and private dining room – and introduced a brunch menu with its own version of roti prata called Roti Violet (from $7): think of these as stuffed roti filled with tuna, pulled pork or chickpeas, or a calamansi and sugar version. Like all heritage restaurants, they’ve made sure to keep certain signature items – the Coronation Chicken ($9), Dry Laksa ($22) and Meatless Meatballs Rendang ($15) – always available, which makes returning here a familiar pleasure, and one more chance to sample the other dishes on the menu.

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My Cosy Corner
  • Restaurants
  • Bukit Timah
Brusque service, great popiah – guess we shouldn’t complain too much. Arguably one of the better tasting rolls ($2.50) around, while its no beauty – it arrives looking a little flat – the juicy turnip filling is full of flavor and rolled perfectly with a layer of crunchy batter bits, chopped peanuts, beansprouts, egg, julienned cucumbers and a generous drizzle of sweet sauce. If you dare to ask for a customized order, request for a smear of potent garlic and a dab of chilli. Maximise your time and order the kueh pie tee ($4.80 for six) that arrives semi-plated with chopped egg on the bottom. Fill each to the brim and bite into the crispy shell that shatters on contact. Pro tip: If you’re hoping to snag a seat, head down by 11.30am. Any later and you’ll be left waiting, watching, and dealing with food envy.
Picotin Express Bukit Timah
  • Restaurants
  • Bukit Timah

Nestled in the nook of Fairways Drive is this hideaway of a café and bar that makes up for its ulu location with its unblocked view of Champions Golf Club’s first tee, and a tranquil vibe usually reserved only for country club members. The menu is predictable – burgers, pizzas, pastas – but well executed, generous in size and ingredients. The thin-crust Pinto Pizza ($22) (one of 12 options) arrives with a liberal amount of Parma ham and shavings of Parmesan. While the juicy Pico Burger ($26) with a juicy, meaty patty, bacon and duck fat fries is the ideal Sunday brunch order. For beer lovers, linger behind and put away a few pints of Kilkenny draught, possibly the only peaceful place in Singapore to offer it freshly pulled.

DRINK

  • Bars and pubs
  • Breweries
  • Bukit Panjang

This little gem at The Rail Mall claims to be the first craft beer and bistro of its kind in the west of Singapore. Be spoilt for choice with eight regularly rotated craft beers on tap, alongside a variety of bottled and canned craft beers and ciders from all over the world. Good beer is made better with equally good food, and the local fusion dishes here certainly do the job.

The Straits Wine Company
  • Bars and pubs
  • Wineries
  • Raffles Place

The Straits Wine Company is a lovely place to settle in for a quiet evening with some wine. The staff are friendly and the vibe is intimate, befitting of its location on quiet Sixth Avenue. Browse the wall-to-wall racks of wine, which come from key producing regions like Italy, Australia and Spain – but you might want to ask about more exotic bottles from India, Croatia and Lebanon too.

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Bar Bar Black Sheep
  • Clubs

Bar Bar Black Sheep at Cherry Avenue makes for a laidback drinking spot, thanks to its breezy alfresco seating and unpretentious décor. Tuck into a large selection of multi-ethnic food, ranging from Thai and Indian to Western cuisine. To pair, choose from Bar Bar Black Sheep’s extensive list of craft beers, cocktails, wines and spirits. Go easy on the wallet and make it down for all-day happy hours on Mondays and Tuesdays, or till 7pm on other days.

SHOP

Buy some antiques
Photograph: kandl stock/Shutterstock

Buy some antiques

Antique Row, or ‘Junkie’s Corner’ at Turf Club Road looks something like a junkyard in a forest. The row of shops appears as one long shed, overflowing with weird and wonderful old furniture, toys, mannequins – you name it, they’ve got it. Some of the items may be too worn, large or even expensive for purchase, but set aside a few hours to explore and imagine the past lives and amazing stories behind these antiques.  

Go thrift shopping
Photograph: Salvation Army Praisehaven Mega Family Store

Go thrift shopping

Conveniently located on the Downtown Line, Praisehaven Mega Family Thrift Store is easily the Salvation Army’s largest thrift store outlet. Thanks to its location in the upscale Bukit Timah neighbourhood, shoppers have been known to nab branded goods at absolute steals – all it takes is a bit of patience and a dash of luck. Nevertheless, the store is well organised with clear sections for clothes, electronics, household goods and more.

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Indulge in retail therapy

For something more upmarket, make your way to the second level of Cluny Court where you can find a slew of fashion labels perfect for the more glamorous among us. Simone Irani retails easy, breezy resort wear – think gauzy dresses, kaftans and capes, perfect for trailing in the sand on your beach holiday. There’s also Alfie Browns, where you can look effortlessly Italian chic at a reasonable price. For something closer to home, check out Ying the Label at King Albert Park. This is the place to pick up unique prints that are designed and hand-painted by local founder Phuay Li Ying.

Stock up on sustainable goods
Photograph: The Source Bulk Foods

Stock up on sustainable goods

Be a champion for the environment and shop for your groceries at Source Bulk Foods. Just remember to bring your own jars and containers to cut down on packaging waste. Shop from a wide selection of grains, flours, spices, teas and more, in any quantity you wish, with organic and gluten-free options to boot. For unadulterated, sustainable fresh food, hop over to The Fishwives on the same row. This food emporium sources fish and meat from clean and green suppliers, meaning you skip any added hormones, antibiotics and additives.

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