Gorgeous Peranakan architecture.
Published/Last edited or updated: 1st February, 2017
Emerald Hill is one of the most colourful streets in Singapore and makes an easy detour from the shopping belt of Orchard Road. Come for the beautiful Peranakan architecture, a bit of antiquing, or maybe a drink at one of the trendy bars?
During Singapore’s early colonial days, the Orchard Road area was home to fruit orchards and Emerald Hill was known for its nutmeg plantations. However, after a particularly bad blight killed all the crops in the 1860s, it was redeveloped as a residential area for the wealthy.
Emerald Hill was settled by the Peranakans – descendants of 16th century Chinese traders who became completely immersed in local culture. Also known as the Baba-Nyonyas or Straits Chinese, the Peranakans were the middlemen between the British and Chinese and, as a result, were quite powerful and wealthy.
Emerald Hill Road was laid out in 1901 and construction of the Peranakan-style shophouses began shortly afterward. Most of the buildings that survive were built between 1905 and 1925 and you’ll also spot Chinese Baroque and art deco architectural styles. Look for the grand entrance gates, ornate friezes, wooden window shutters and, if you can get around to the back, the external spiral staircases.
Today, Emerald Hill remains an upscale neighbourhood and the historical buildings have been restored to their former glory. If you think Emerald Hill might be a nice place to call home, do note that even the smaller two-storey houses costs a cool S$7 million to purchase, or more than S$12,000 a month to rent. Keep walking up the hill to reach a private school and playground with children attended to by their live-in nannies.
With rents like that, it’s not surprising that many of the Emerald Hill houses have been converted into businesses. Try No. 5 Emerald Hill Cocktail Bar for a martini or Singapore Sling, Ice Cold Beer Bar for the coldest suds in the city, or Alley Bar near the entrance to Orchard Road for great happy hour deals. For a fine souvenir of Singapore, drop by the bright red ‘One Price Store’ which specialises in antiques like marble dragons, hand-carved trunks and snuff bottles. The name is just for nostalgia – prices vary and they are not cheap.
With its rich history, Emerald Hill has also worked its way into Singapore pop culture. It was the setting of many short stories by author Goh Sin Tub and the popular local theatre production ‘Emily of Emerald Hill’.
For more Peranakan architecture visit the Joo Chiat or Katong neighbourhoods in East Singapore, or for a general overview of this uniquely Singaporean culture try the the Peranakan Museum.
Tanya Procyshyn is a freelance writer and photographer. With a passion for unusual destinations, she has camped alongside Komodo dragons and shook hands with soldiers in North Korea.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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