BY Mira Mare
Singapore's famous neighbourhoods like Chinatown and the financial district might already be on your radar, but if you're visiting Singapore and want to live like a local while you're in town, it's worth exploring a little further! Our local's guide to the best neighbourhoods to stay in Singapore will help decide where to choose as your home away from home!
This area is ideal for families and anyone on the lookout for a quieter neighbourhood. It may be a residential area, but you’d be wrong if you thought the landscape of Tiong Bahru only consisted of low-storey government buildings. This neighbourhood is slowly creeping onto the radar, and there are plenty of hidden-gem eateries and boutique stores waiting for you to discover. From local eats to Western cuisine, the food scene here will surely amaze you. Friendly locals are always there to help you out deciding what to do, and will happily give their personal recommendations, so don't hesitate to ask passersby. Tiong Bahru is blessed with a rich culture, good transport links and an excellent range of accommodation. If you are planning to sightseeing in the Centre, this is one of the best neighbourhoods to stay in.
Think that Woodlands is the end of the world, and that there is almost nothing to see there? Think again. It's a good place to stay for those looking for accommodation after the long wait at Woodlands Checkpoint to cross the Singapore-Malaysian border. While Woodlands is far away from all the places of interests in Singapore, and is filled with the jungle of HDB buildings (public housing in Singapore managed by the local housing committee), but that doesn't mean you should avoid staying here. The real value is in its “act like a local“ feel. I would recommend staying in one of HDB blocks (there are a couple of vacation rental listings in the HDBs), and people watching. As the area is surrounded by schools, supermarkets and community centres, you will be able to get a glimpse of local life and experience the real Singapore during your stay!
What was once a notorious red light area is now home to luxury food spots and holiday rental destinations. Riding the shophouse (a local commercial building that is a fusion of Western and local architecture) restoration wave, those traditional Singapore buildings accommodate locals and tourists alike. A staycation in Geylang is one of the major trends in Singapore, as locals love taking a day off and chilling out in one of boutique hotels after the hectic day of work.
Spending some time in the neighbouring East Coast Park (which is where you can cycle around and stroll along the beaches) is also popular. Travelers will appreciate the local arts and crafts, and more importantly a wide array of food options from the hawker houses (needless to say, the hawker food consists of Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisine) and biscuit shops (which is where locals get a cheap selection of sweets like biscuits and lollies). If you wish to find out what the latest trends are in Singapore, this is the place, and Geylang will have you never wanting to leave.
Another neighbourhood in the East Coast area where you’ll find quieter and cosy accommodation, Simei acts as an introduction to “contemporary Singapore.” Simei is meant to be a recreational area and above all, a residential district, but it’s also just a stone’s throw from the airport. This is where expats search for their ideal home away from home and enjoy spending a time in the golf clubs - but that doesn’t mean tourists should avoid Simei! With the help of the East West MRT line, travelers easily get into tourist attractions from Simei and benefit from the landmarks and shopps in the area. Through NTUC Eastpoint Mall, you will restock at a wallet-friendly price and immerse yourself in local hawker food.
The whole purpose of Toa Payoh is also as a residential and school area, and is not on a lot of tourists' radars. However, thanks to Toa Payoh's strategic location (literally in the heart of Singapore) it's still a good place to stay those seeking the escape from the busy and buzzing Centre but with easy access to tourist areas and other parts of Singapore. But the real beauty of Toa Payoh is shopping on a budget. After days spent in the luxury shopping complexes like Suntec or Orchard, you are going to love shopping around Toa Payoh Central mall and tasting local hawker food (some of them are open 24 hrs). These are where locals buy the provisions, so prices are a lot cheaper compared to those of famous touristy shopping centres. If you are “kiasu (stingy in the local Singlish language)” or simply aiming to save money, this is the place to be.
If you are really into camping in the middle of Mother Nature, and if you are tired of seeing “typical” touristic places, look no further. Yes, you got it right - islands in Singapore. These islands make up part of the mainland (the most famous one), and the other smaller islands which transport you to discover different perspectives of Singapore. There are no skyscrapers, no luxe restaurant or bars, and no tourist attractions - all you can do there is just hang out with the nature. The best thing is, it’s free to go camping on the islands. Singaporeans love freebies so that's why camping in those islands are popular amongst them - the islands don't have too much to see, but if you are interested in experiencing that kind of local spirit - just go for it. Don’t forget to register your camping plans with the local authorities.
For more refined, touristy and posh locations, there is River Valley. It houses a lot of expats from different cultures and nationalities and it’s also home to loads of accommodation options to choose from. As with the vibrant and busy Central Business District, Chinatown and other touristic spots are within a few MRT stops or walking distance. More unique to River Valley is the close vicinity to the Singapore Quays (within walking distance), where all kinds of people go for nightlife, social drinking and casual outings with their loved ones. If you prefer western foods, westernised buildings, luxe and classic boutiques, your best bet is to end up hanging out and staying in the River Valley area.
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