Singapore was once considered more of a stop-over than a destination, but with so much to see in this exciting and stunning city, passing it by should be out of the question. We’re running through the contenders for the best area to stay in Singapore.
Over the years, Singapore has accrued many accolades – cleanest, best-planned, most expensive, sunniest, most entertaining – and to be fair, all of these are somewhat based in truth. Although there are glam shopping malls, rooftop cocktail bars and fancy restaurants aplenty, budget travellers shouldn’t be deterred, as there are plenty of ways to keep costs down. One prime example is that the city’s best food is found in hawker centres – bargain food courts, of which there are more than 100, housing over 6,000 food stalls. Some are so sublime they’ve accrued Michelin star status! If a passion for food runs through your veins, Singapore is going to blow you away. You could spend every hour of the day eating and drinking and still only scratch the surface of the city’s incredible food scene.
The Lion City, as Singapore is known, packs a whole lot of attractions into a relatively small space. Wander between wildly different neighbourhoods to soak up completely different vibes, delve into the island-nation’s history and marvel at colourful historic and insanely futuristic architecture side-by-side. On one hand, you can shop till you drop and indulge yourself in luxury. On the other, you can flee the skyscrapers to rainforest surroundings in Singapore Botanic Gardens, the city’s Southern Ridges, or on the famous Night Safari. This is a city of contradictions – and as we all know, that’s what makes life (and the countries we visit) incredibly interesting. Whether you stay for a couple of days or a couple of weeks, one thing’s for sure, it’s impossible to be bored in Singapore.
Merlion Park 📸:@jangus231
The best way to whizz between Singapore’s sites is via the MRT system, which operates underground lines and buses that cover all corners of the city. Most attractions are within an easy stroll of an MRT station, so once you’re in a neighbourhood, you can easily explore on foot. Simply grab yourself a Singapore Tourist Pass (STP) based on how many days you’ll be in town and get unlimited travel on all bus services, MRT and LRT trains. Passes start from SG$20 (£11.30) for one day, plus a $10 (£6) refundable deposit for the card. Or, you can buy an EZ-link card, similar to London’s Oyster Card, for $12 (£6.80) at any MRT station or 7-Eleven, which you can whack some cash on and top up when necessary. Single MRT fares are around $1.50-2.50 (85p-£1.40). Trains run every two to seven minutes, from 5:30am until midnight. ‘Nite’ buses run from 11:30pm to 2am on Fridays and Saturdays.
Travelling by taxi in Singapore isn’t too pricey, although beware hidden surcharges! Taxi ranks are located by hotels and malls, or you can flag them down. The starting price is around $3.60 (£2) and then you’ll be charged around $0.22 (12p) per kilometre. You can pay for taxis with your EZ-link card. If you hop in a cab from Changi Airport there’s a surcharge of $5.00 (£2.80), and if you’re travelling between midnight and 6am, expect a surcharge of 50% of what the meter reads. During peak hours (6am-9:30am, and 6pm-midnight) this surcharge is 25%. The airport is connected to the city by the MRT, so save yourself cash by riding that, or by booking the airport shuttle which runs every 15-30 minutes and carts you into the city for $9 (£5).
There are also a couple of fun options for seeing the sights. Hop in a Trishaw, and enjoy a tour for around $40 (£22) for half an hour. Or, when the sun is out and you want to be as close to the water as possible while still sightseeing, take a cruise on a bumboat – the ideal way to see Singapore. These are handy for jumping between waterfront hotspots like the Esplanade, Clarke Quay and Boat Quay. A journey costs just $5 (£2.85) and again you can pay using your EZ-link card. There are also lots of options for bumboat tours, from morning cruises, high tea or dinner cruises. Or, get out of town and head to Pulau Ubin – a traditional village that provides a glimpse into city life pre-skyscrapers, and a great place to see native wildlife.
Jump straight to:
- What to do in the Civic District
- Best places to eat in the Civic District
- Best hostels in the Civic District
1. Civic District: the best area to stay in Singapore for culture
The Civic District is basically the very centre of Singapore, and is home to some of the most impressive colonial buildings in the city, including Chijmes, an old convent which has been transformed into a great place for fine dining and drinking, St Andrew’s Cathedral, the Supreme Court & City Hall and the Civil Defence Heritage Gallery. This is also the ideal base if you wanna get your culture on. The Civic District is home to the National Gallery Singapore, which only opened its doors in 2015 but has fast become an essential stop given it houses the world’s largest collection of South-East Asian art. Once you’re done marvelling at the building’s architecture and extensive collection, treat yourself to a tipple in Smoke & Mirrors, the gallery’s rooftop bar. The panoramic views are incredible, even if the drinks are a tad pricey…but hey, that’s rooftop bars for you! The National Museum of Singapore is a fun and interactive place to educate yourself in the history of the country, from its early days ruled by Malay Sultans, to British colonial rule, through to the modern city you’re exploring today. It’s $15 (£8.50) to enter the permanent galleries, $18 (£10) for special exhibits, or $26 (£15) for free rein. Singapore Art Museum is another good’un, perfect for modern and visual art lovers. While it’s not located in this part of town, one place art lovers should make the journey out to is Gillman Barracks – Singapore’s visual arts cluster, housed in old military barracks. The site (nearest MRT is Labrador Park) is home to multiple art galleries, exhibitions and pop-up events, providing insight into Singapore’s exciting arts scene.
National Gallery, 📸:@mbriney
What to do in the Civic District
The Civic District is a good base if you’re planning on making like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman and buying up all the city’s designer threads on Orchard Road. Much like London’s Oxford Street, Orchard Road has every store any self-respecting shopaholic could hope for, plus plenty of spas and beauty salons to revive yourself in once you really have shopped till you drop. Even if your backpack can’t take any new additions, Orchard Road is one of Singapore’s most famous streets, so it’s worth a wander. There are 30 malls to choose from, including ION Orchard, 313@Somerset featuring high-street stores for budget shoppers and Orchard Central, which offers plenty of sizeable discounts for tourists, and Singapore’s highest climbing wall! The best food options on Orchard Road are found at Plaza Singapura.
Fort Canning Park is a wonderful hilltop space overlooking the city that features nine historical gardens. Highlights include the Spice Garden, First Botanic Garden and Raffles Garden, but the whole thing is worth some exploration. Always check the park’s events calendar as they host fun events like Ballet Under the Stars, Films at the Fort and Shakespeare in the Park.
Time for one of Singapore’s best
cultural activities – Karaoke! The city is full of karaoke joints which offer you and your buddies sound-proof booths to really let loose in. Now, some karaoke places or KTV lounges are a cover for something far seedier…but here are some favourites where you won’t be expected to pay for any ‘extras’. K. Star is popular with a millennial crowd, mostly because of its instagrammable décor, while Cash Studio Family Karaoke Box and Party World KTV are solid choices too. You might also see mini karaoke booths outside MRT stations or shopping malls, so the opportunities to channel Britney and Bon Jovi are endless.
The Civic District lies on the doorstep of Clarke Quay and Boat Quay – the city’s most banging party options. Any night of the week, you’re guaranteed to find packed pubs, live music, clubs and thumping bass. Catch some live music at Crazy Elephant, a rock and roll blues bar, play some beer pong and arcade games at Pong or Level Up, or choose from more than 130 shots at Chupitos Shots Bar. Attica is a mammoth waterfront nightclub playing dancefloor fillers, RnB and hip hop on the first floor and electro, house and trance on the second floor. Ladies get in free on Wednesdays! At the weekend, you’re looking at a cover charge of $30 (£17), but that includes two drinks. Head to Zouk for dance music, and Phuture (part of Zouk) for disco. Canvas club attracts international DJs. The cover charge is $20, including a free drink. Fleek is the place for hip hop fans, and from 6pm-11pm, drinks are just $5 (£2.80). Or hit up Get Juiced – it’s open every night of the week, free to get in and is the first cashless bar in Singapore, which means no queues. If you’re keen for something less mainstream, Headquarters is a great shout and channels serious Berlin vibes.
Best places to eat in the Civic District
This corner of town is primarily home to swanky restaurants, so always check the prices before you dine. It’s possible to dine on a budget in some posh places, as long as you know what to choose from the menu. For example, in New Ubin Seafood in the Chijmes complex, satay is just $6 (£3.40) for five large sticks, and dishes like Hokkien Mee (a pork noodle dish) and Punggol Mee Goreng (a seafood noodle dish) are around $15 (£8.50). Tatsu is a superb sushi joint, also in Chijmes, that offers enormous set meals for around $30 (£17). For cheap eats, check out the options in Funan Mall on North Bridge Road, including Godmama which serves authentic Peranakan cuisine, which the friendly staff will happily talk you through. Alternatively, head down to Clarke Quay where you can get a set three or four-course lunch for around $15 (£8.50). Check out Spice World Hot Pot and RENNthai for the best deals. Tamoya Udon in Liang Court serves up steaming bowls of hearty Udon for $10 (£5.70)
Best hostels in the Civic District
Singapore’s hostels are generally superb, mostly because many of them are capsule hostels. Yes, this does make them more fun! To be close to the Civic District, choose a hostel located in Clarke Quay or Boat Quay so you’ll be within stumbling distance of party-central. To get the full capsule hostel experience check out Quarters Capsule Hostel or BEAT. Capsules in Boat Quay, which both have sociable areas and dorms quiet enough to sleep easy. Met A Space Pod really goes for it in terms of futuristic vibes. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to sleep in a spaceship, now’s your chance to find out!
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2. Downtown Core: the best area to stay in Singapore for iconic attractions
The Downtown Core of Singapore spans both sides of the river and is where the majority of Singapore’s touristy magic happens. Its biggest attraction is The Marina Bay District – ever so touristy, ever so essential to visit! $5.5 billion has been poured into this shiny corner of Singapore, mostly into the Marina Bay Sands Complex – a truly iconic hotel, featuring three towers topped by the world’s largest infinity pool. Entry to the SkyPark costs $23 (£13) and you get to enjoy the 360-degree observation deck, with access to the pool. If you’d prefer to team your visit to the top with a drink, you’ll have to fork out more cash than you’d like for the privilege, but its otherwise free to visit the CÉ LA VI Skybar which offers the same view as the SkyPark. Another highlight of this neck of the woods is the Water and Light Show, which takes place at 8pm and 9:30pm every night, and at 11pm on Friday and Saturday. Also, can you really say you’ve been to Singapore if you haven’t sipped upon a Singapore Sling in the iconic Raffles Hotel? While staying the night will likely blow your entire travel budget, visiting the Long Bar certainly won’t. A cocktail will cost you $10 (£5.70). Remember to leave the shorts and flip flops at the hostel, and to ask about the circus tiger that once escaped and hid in the hotel.
Marina Bay Sands, 📸:@ridershow
What to do in the Downtown Core
rdens by the Bay is another unmissable attraction in Singapore’s Downtown Core. These urban gardens cover more than 100 hectares and are split into three main sections; Bay South Garden, Bay East Garden and Bay Central Garden. The most iconic part of the gardens is the Supertree Grove, which features huge towers covered in ferns, ranging in height from 25-50m. While they’re a sight to behold at any time of day, visit at night to soak up the full effect. Every night at 7:45 and 8:45 pm, the Garden Rhapsody show wows crowds with a music and light show (which they switch up every month). The OCBC Skyway weaves between the trees and is worth the $8 (£4.50) entrance fee, just be warned that lines can be lengthy. Besides the supertrees, highlights include the Flower Dome – the largest glass greenhouse in the world, the Cloud Forest – which has the world’s tallest indoor waterfall and more than 40 art sculptures, which you’ll discover dotted around the gardens.
While you’re down by the water, be sure to swing by Merlion Park to grab a selfie with the famous Merlion statue – a 70-tonne, half-mermaid, half lion that spits water! There are plenty of places close by to grab food or a beer. Also located at the waterfront is the impressive lotus-shaped, ArtScience Museum, which hosts museum lates, great speakers, tours and workshops. The Red Dot Design Museum is also worth a visit. If you fancy squeezing in a round of golf or hitting some balls at a driving range, Marina Bay Golf Course boasts some seriously distracting views. 18 holes costs $130 (£74) during the week, but just $14 (£8) if you play at night!
Esplanade Park is the oldest green space in the city and a lovely place for a stroll en route to Theatres on the Bay – an outdoor concert complex on the north of the river. If you’re in town at the weekend, take in a free outdoor concert overlooking the harbour. Who’s to say what the music will be – it could be anything from Chinese opera to punk or RnB. Take a ride in The Singapore Flyer, the world’s largest big wheel. This bad boy is 150m wide and 165m tall (30m taller than the London Eye), and offers spectac
ular views of the city’s famous sights, including Marina Bay and the Singapore River. A spin in the wheel will set you back $33 (£19).
Marina Bay, 📸:@wel_shy
Best places to eat in the Downtown Core
Head to Lau Pa Sat, or Telok Ayer Market as it is sometimes called, one of the most attractive hawker centres in Singapore housed in a 19th century cast-iron building. Veggies should check out Thunder Tea Rice, which serves Hakka cuisine packed full of herbs, vegetables and tofu. Their meat and fish dishes are also great. There are a couple of great fishball options, as well as homemade thin-crust pizza at Kevin Bakery, and Costa Rican food at Mamacitas. La Pau Sat/ Telok Ayer is also great come night time, when the Satay Street stalls fire up their grills and you can feast upon satay and cold beer. The food court at Raffles Place is a fab place to dine, especially the The Salted Plum which serves to-die-for lu ro pork belly for $10 (£5.70). For something unusual to quench your thirst, check out Li-Ho Tea, a popular chain you’ll find all around the city. While they have many intriguing concoctions, including cheese tea (!) and fruit brews, it’s their milk tea with pearls (similar to bubble tea) that the kids go wild for.
3. Chinatown: the best area to stay in Singapore for food and drink
Chinatown is a perfect central location for all of your Singapore exploration, offering a wonderful mixture of old and new. The neighbourhood is within walking distance of most of the major attractions and the city’s coolest neighbourhoods. As you’d expect, there are nods to Chinese heritage down every narrow alleyway, from majestic temples and historic shophouses to the mouth-watering fragrances of hundreds of street food stalls and restaurants floating through the air…more about that below. When the night draws in and it’s time to get your party on, point your dancing shoes in the direction of Club Street in Ann Siang Hill. Club Street (and its surrounds) does exactly what it says on the tin – a whole street dedicated to bars and discos. There are some great rooftop options, including The Other Roof, Fry Bistro and Pandora’s Garden – the city’s ‘first and largest’ rosé wine garden. Operation Dagger is a hip joint staffed by waistcoat wearing mixologists there to make all your cocktail dreams come true. The best way to keep costs down is to hit up happy hours, and some of the best around these parts include, Chico Loco, Oxwell & Co, 360 Lounge and Beer Factory.
Keong Saik Road is the former red-light district, found nestled of the edge of Chinatown. The road itself, as well as nearby Duxton Hill and Bukit Pasoh Road, are perfect for a cheeky bar crawl. Potato Head Folk is a vibey venue with something different on every floor – Three Buns is its in-house burger joint, serving up beef rendang patties and salted egg mayo, Studio 1939 is its ‘drinking den’, offering carefully crafted cocktails in old-school Singapore surroundings, and the Rooftop Bar is a fairy-light-strewn Tiki bar with views of the skyline and decent tunes. For craft beer, hit up The Guild, Lucha Loco is fun for alfresco margaritas and if you’re in the mood for a dive bar, head to Flagship for an extensive selection of whiskies.
What to do in Chinatown
Visit the Chinatown Heritage Centre to learn about the early days of Singapore and to see for yourself what it looked like via their recreated street scenes and houses. There are a couple of incredible temples to explore for some serenity amongst the madness. The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum is a special place. Don’t miss the orchid-garden or the Ten Thousand Buddhas Pagoda up on the rooftop. Additionally, Sri Mariamman Temple is Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple and features hundreds of beautiful sculptures depicting mythological Hindu figures.
From Chinatown it’s easy to get to Sentosa Island, where you’ll forget what boredom is! Catch a train from Harbourfront MRT station or hop on the cable car from Singapore Cable Car Station at the top of Harbourfront Tower II. It costs $29 (£16.50) for adults and operates between 8:45am and 10pm. If possible, it’s best to experience Sentosa during the week when queues will be considerably shorter. Once on the island there are a couple of activities you can enjoy for free. Namely, sunning yourself on its golden sand beaches – Palawan, Siloso and Tanjong, or walking the nature trail. If you have a little cash to splash, visit the Aquarium ($40/£22) or Universal Studios ($79/ £45) for movie-related fun and games. There are 28 different rides, including the pièce de résistance – Battlestar Galactica, the world’s tallest duelling rollercoaster – which basically means two rollercoasters rolled into one. Adventure Cove Water Park ($38/£22) is another winner for defeating Si
ngapore’s humidity. Float around on the lazy river, brave the high-speed water slides, or snorkel on a real reef which is home to more than 20,000 tropical fish.
Many of the city’s most interesting districts are housed in public housing estates, including Everton Park, which is close to Chinatown and is earning itself hipster-points left, right and centre. Nylon Coffee Roasters or Just Want Coffee should be your ports of call for caffeine and Little Oasis is a tucked away gem known for its (healthy-ish) cakes, all-day breakfast and hearty lunches, all made with fresh, natural ingredients. Definitely pop in to Ji Xiang Confectionery – specialists in Chinese pastry. Ang ku kuehs (red tortoise cake) is the thing to try, and the head baker is something of a celebrity.
Best places to eat in Chinatown
Everywhere you turn in Chinatown you will be confronted with something you want to sample, so just go with it, you’re on holiday! Follow the general rule that if a place is full of locals, you’re in for a treat. The best hawker centres in Chinatown are the Chinatown Complex and Maxwell Food Centre – both brilliant places to let your foodie flag fly! Smith Street (also known as Chinatown Food Street) is another foodie haven. Choosing where to eat will cause you no end of stress if making decisions is your idea of hell, but here a few of the hawker stalls are so good, they’ve been awarded Michelin stars – not that you’d know it from the price! Check out Liao Fan Hong Kong, where plates are as cheap as $2 (£1.15) and J2 Famous Crispy Curry Puff for Singapore’s take on a Cornish pasty. Only 500 are made each day and they shoot out the door at $1.20 (70p) per piece, so get there early!
For the best laksa in the city head to Famous Sungei Road Trishaw Laksa on Upper Cross Street first thing in the morning for a bowl of heaven for $4 (£2.30). The Amoy Street Food Centre is home to Hong Kee Beef Noodles where for $4, you get a bowl of beef noodles topped with beef balls, beef slices and salted veggies in a broth that’s been simmering for 24 hours. Ann Siang Hill is another restaurant-heavy street worth exploring. The Coconut Club is highly-revered. It’s a touch more expensive, but still affordable at around $13 (£7.40) per main course. Their signature dish is nasi lemak ayam goreng borempah.
Best hostels in Chinatown
Most of Singapore’s hostels are located in Chinatown, so you will be able to find somewhere to suit your specific tastes. If you’re looking to party, The Bohemian is a sociable option close to all the nightlife action and tasty delights of Chinatown. Clarke Quay, Boat Quay and Marina Bay Sands are all within walking distance. Cube Hostel gives boutique vibes, just without the price tag, and there’s even a bar downstairs where you can meet fellow travellers. Adler Hostel and Coffee Bar is Singapore’s very first luxury hostel and it’s a favourite with couples and solo travellers. Beary Best! Hostel is housed in an art deco heritage building right opposite Chinatown MRT station. It’s a laid-back hostel with a spacious outdoor patio and space to store your bike. If you’re in Singapore to work on your start-up, Tribe Theory is an exciting place to stay where you can mingle with travellers with similar business aspirations.
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4. Kampong Glam: the best area to stay in Singapore for street art
Kampong Glam is one of Singapore’s oldest neighbourhoods, starting life as a humble fishing village, home to Malay families and people arriving from the Middle East. The neighbourhood is home to hipster faves Haji Lane and Bali Lane, and is known for its shopping, music and foodie scene. If you take the aesthetic of your Instagram feed seriously, the colourful shopfronts and street art of this historical part of Singapore will be just the likeable fodder you’re after. Haji Lane has some of the best pieces – check out the area around the Beach Road Junction, and the alleyway that connects Haji Lane to Arab Street, where you’ll find work by a range of local and international street artists. Victoria Street has some great pieces by Lithuanian street artist Ernest Zacharevic. Aliwal Arts Centre and The Blackbook Studio are also worth a look – you could get lucky and see the artists at work. For snaps sans-photobombers, get to Haji lane before midday, which is when the crowds roll in.
What to do in Kampong Glam
By day, Haji Lane and Bali Lane are a shoppers paradise, particularly if you’re in the market for something different from the pricey designer threads you find at Orchard Mall, The Shoppes or VivoCity. Have a mooch and see what colourful shop fronts take your fancy. Haji Lane is home to independent boutiques selling handmade jewellery, homewares and clothing, and those seeking vintage finds will love Modparade and Grammah. For something a little different, have your tarot read or a variety of spiritual healings at Life By Design, or if you’ve been thinking of getting inked, Visual Orgasm is one of the best tattoo parlours in the city – but book your appointment in advance.
For a dose of culture, download a free Kampong Glam Heritage Walking Tour map or app and take your own tour of the streets of Singapore’s Malay-Arab district. Kick things off at the Malay Heritage Centre ($6/£3.40), housed inside the 19th century residence of Malay royalty. Check out the Yellow Mansion, Pondok Java, the Alsagoff Arab School and the Masjid Sultan Mosque, an impressive building dating back to 1824.
Come night time, this corner of town comes alive. Check out Bar Stories to get your fancy custom-cocktail itch scratched. The bar has no menu, simply tell the bartender what you’re in the mood for and they will whip you up something special. If that all sounds a little too fancy, head to Goodluck Beerhouse for a fine collection of local and international craft beers. Maison Ikkoku is a fancy rooftop bar ideal for one special drink and BluJaz Café is a great choice for live music. As well as jazz, they host big parties blasting hip hop, drum and bass and reggaetón. Or, for something more sedate, pull up a bean bag and sip a glass of wine at The Projector, an art house cinema on the fifth floor of the Golden Mile Tower Complex. They have screenings of classics like Apocalypse Now and The Shining, plus more modern hits like Stranger Things. Get there early to secure one of their sofas or bean bags.
Haji Lane, 📸:@bnaignacio
Best places to eat in Kampong Glam
For bargain grub, in an old shopfront inspired by life in the Himalayas, check out Going Om on Haji Lane. This café-bar-restaurant serves up bar snacks, main meals and desserts that won’t blow the budget, and they host drop-in vinyasa and asana yoga classes at the weekends for $20 (£11) a pop. This is another fab place to catch some live music. If you’ve had your fill of noodles, check out Piedra Negra for tasty Mexican grub or I Am – a halal café located at the entrance to Haji Lane, which serves Dutch-inspired food, including bitterballen, banging burgers, and seriously delicious fries and mayo. The owners also own, & Why, around the corner on Bali Lane – an American-style diner inspired by The Great Gatsby, which does a great brunch. For traditional Malaysian dishes, hit up local favourite Hjh Maimunah.
North Bridge Road and Bussorah Street are where you’ll find the best Arabic fare. Any one of the street-side restaurants will satisfy your cravings for mezze. Those hankering after a hawker centre feed should trot over to Golden Mile Hawker Center, one of the best, most local and affordable of all Singapore’s hawker centres. Get there early, as when they sell out, they pack up and go home! Another great bargain, not on the internet, cash-only restaurant is Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle, which is the ideal place to try local favourite, bak chor mee (noodles with minced pork) with its own Michelin-star.
Definitely swing by the Rich & Good Cake Shop, which is so good people queue to get their hands on their delicious swiss rolls. For soft-serve ice-cream, check out Moosh – their Ondeh Ondeh flavour is a Singapore institution, but Nutella Brownie, Horlicks and Strawberry Cheesecake are also belters. aRoma on Arab Street serves excellent gelato and top-notch coffee.
Best hostels in Kampong Glam
There are not tons of hostels around this neighbourhood, but there are a couple of winners, particularly if you can’t get enough of Singapore’s signature capsule hostels. Beary Best’s outlet in Kampong Glam has a roof terrace with some sensational views of the city, including the golden domes of Musjid Sultan Mosque. Cube Boutique Capsule Hostel is another perfect choice for those wanting to get a healthy amount of shut eye, as is The Pod Boutique Capsule Hostel, which is the right side of the neighbourhood for the CBD and offers a complimentary hot buffet breakfast – yes please!
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5. Tiong Bahru: the best area to stay in Singapore for brunch
If you want to pow wow with the coolest kids in the city, get yourself to Tiong Bahru. Singapore’s original hipster neighbourhood is another public housing estate – in Tiong Bahru’s case, 20 blocks of low-rise Art-Deco style white buildings that will make you feel like you’re on a film set, or in Miami. The area boasts everything you’d expect from a hipster neighbourhood – cafés that take coffee seriously, independent shops, colourful murals and restaurants that look straight off the pages of design mags. Brunch fanatics, mark Tiong Bahru on your map with a big red cross, arrive on an empty stomach and prepare to be wowed. Most of the action happens around Yong Siak Street, Eng Hoon Street and Moh Guan Terrace.
What to do in Tiong Bahru
Hire a vintage bike from Plain Vanilla (and stock up on their pastries while you’re at it) and cruise around the neighbourhood, or explore on foot by following the Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail. Appreciate the art deco architecture, visit the World War II bomb shelter, and hunt for murals – the best of which were painted by local artist, Yip Yew Chong, depicting the district in days gone by.
Tiong Bahru is home to heaps of independent businesses. Show them some love when you’re in town and hopefully no big chains will move in and spoil the vibe any time soon. Music lovers should check out the vinyl in Curated Records, fashion-lovers head to Nana and Bird and The Slowhouse, and vintage fans should cruise by Dustbunny. Tiong Bahru is also famous for Books Actually, a gorgeous independent book store and publishing press that highlights Singaporean writers and poets. If you’re lucky, you might get to meet their resident cats. The onsite café, Forty Hands, is a top place to get your morning fuel and offers a healthy menu, perfect for vegans and veggies. Next door is Woods in the Books, a picture-book and graphic novel heaven. Wander down to the Singapore river area, where you’ll find second-hand stores, antique shops and flea markets.
One great (and totally bonkers) attraction that you can easily reach from Tiong Bahru is Haw Paw Villa – a 8.2-hectare outdoor art park created by Tiger Balm founder, Aw Boon Haw. The park is home to over 1,000 dioramas and sculptures that communicate traditional Chinese moral values…some are pretty disturbing! Granted, it is weird as hell, especially the performances that take place which you might be roped in to joining in with, but it’ll be a fun day out.
Tiong Bahru also has some great bars, which are perfect if you’re seeking out more of a local scene and have little interest in the packed bars and clubs found at Clarke Quay and Club Street. Coq & Balls (LOL) is a banging neighbourhood bar that’s good for watching sport and partying the night away with an international crowd. Canjob Taproom and Thirsty’s are nice choices for beer and ale aficionados. Enjoy some rooftop action at Lin Bar, home to cocktails and delicious bar snacks. Lee Tai Fu has a breezy beer garden perfect for balmy evenings. Backstage Bar and Tantric are all about the drink deals and dancing the night away.
Best places to eat in Tiong Bahru
This neighbourhood was made for brunching, lunching, and generally just stuffing your face! Coffee wise, as well as Forty Hands and Plain Vanilla, Flock Café and Whisk Café are perfect options for your caffeine fix. For pastries there’s nowhere better than Tiong Bahru Bakery, although you may have to queue. When it comes to the main event – AKA brunch – all of the cafés mentioned have fantastic menus. Additional highlights include The Butcher’s Wife, a gluten and dairy free bistro, and Drips Bakery. For cheap eats, Tiong Bahru Market is a must-visit. Locate the extensive food court on the first floor and fill your boots with bargain local delicacies like fishballs, bao, siew mai (dumplings) and chwee kueh (steamed rice topped with pickled radish). For something sweet, head to Galicier Pastry for traditional Singaporean confectionary and cakes. We recommend nonya kueh – shredded coconut wrapped in a pandan-infused crepe, and ondeh ondeh – a sugary, coconut treat.
Best hostels in Tiong Bahru
In keeping with the stylish vibe of the neighbourhood, Thad’s Boutique Hostel has been designed by the artistic minds of award-winning design firm, Ministry of Design. As well as being close to all the Tiong Bahru action, the hostel is a ten-minute cab ride to both Chinatown and Orchard Road. To get a glimpse of what it might have been like to live in this housing development back in the day, set up shop at Golden Hostel, a peaceful, leafy hostel which is a popular choice with couples and older solo travellers. For you bargain hunters, Happy Snail Hostel is a great choice, given their free Wi-Fi, walking tours and 24-hour free breakfast, featuring the holy duo of hostel breakfasts – peanut butter and Nutella.
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6. Jalan Besar: the best area to stay in Singapore for street photography
Jalan Besar is another hipster neighbourhood located in Singapore’s Lavender District to the north of Kampong Glam. Again, it’s a great place for eating and drinking and offers a real mix of Malay, Chinese and western cuisine, with a little bit of Indian thrown in given its proximity to Little India. Many of the city’s creative folk have congregated in this corner of town, which isn’t surprising given how attractive it is. Pack your camera and get lost exploring the colourful streets, the mix of cultures, historical hints and fancy-as-hell new eateries that are just as good to look at as the food and coffees they serve.
Things to do in Jalan Besar
Little India’s vibrant streets definitely warrant a little exploration and are home to a number of remarkable temples and mosques, plenty of restaurants, flower shops, murals and intricately-painted shophouses on Dunlop Road and Petain Road. Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple, and incredible Taoist Leong San See Temple are just across the street from each other. Take in the sights of Serangoon Road, Little India’s main drag. Check out Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, Little India’s main Hindu temple, Abdul Gafoor Mosque and Tan Teng Niah, Little India’s last surviving Chinese villa, found on Kerbau Road.
Singapore can get hot, hot, hot, so if you’re badly in need of full body submersion in cold water, head to the swimming pool attached to Jalan Besar Stadium, where you can enjoy a dip for $1.30 (75p). The perfect antidote to a day of stomping the city’s humid streets (and spicy Indian food!) Jalan Basar is also a great place to hop on a bike tour, or a tour of the city’s culinary scene with Wok n’ Stroll. Artify is a fun venue, hosting art and craft classes – and yes, you can bring your own booze!
Best places to eat in Jalan Besar
If you’re craving pancakes, head to The Bravery café, which also serves delicious cold-brew coffee – perfect fuel for your day of exploration. The Refinery is another hip hangout, either just for coffee, or for brunch, lunch or dinner. Their yakitori meat skewers really draw in the crowds. Also on-site is a cocktail bar (of course, it’s Singapore!) and a craft workshop.
Little India’s Tekka Centre is an ideal place to fill your boots with tasty north and south Indian treats, as well as Malay and Chinese food. Komala Vilas is a Little India institution serving traditional vegetarian Southern Indian cuisine at bargain prices. In Lagnaa Barefoot Dining you’re invited to kick your shoes off and relax on floor cushions as you dine on thalis. For the best soup in Singapore, check out Ng Ah Sio, a tea house on Rangoon Road. Their speciality is bak kut the or ‘meat bone tea’ – spareribs in a rich, peppery soup, served with rice and fried bread. Chuck in some kidneys for extra authenticity. The Druggists is a craft beer bar that serves fried treats like wings, jalapeño poppers and cheese sticks. Jalan Besar is also famous for dim sum. On Tyrwhitt Road you’ll find Swee Choon – a hole-in-the-wall restaurant serving delectable dim sum from 6pm until 6am. Perfect for a post party feast!
Little India, 📸:@charlpost
Best hostels in Jalan Besar
Rucksack Inn is a popular choice for its free brekkie, air-conditioning, rooftop terrace and bar, which guarantees social vibes. Dream Lodge chose its name well. Housed in a 1950s shop house, the hostel is perfectly located for all Singapore has to offer. This area is particularly popular with backpackers, so you’ll be sure to meet someone to sink a few beers with. Footprints is another cute option, offering beds for just $12.10 (£6.90) to the first ten people to book a bed each day.
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We hope this insider’s Singapore neighbourhood guide helps you to discover the dream hangout for your trip or stopover in the city. Let us know in the comments if you’ve stayed in one of our recommended neighbourhoods, or if you’d like to share a neighbourhood we haven’t mentioned that you think your fellow backpackers would love. Enjoy Singapore!
About the author:
Amy Baker is the author of Miss-Adventures: A Tale of Ignoring Life Advice While Backpacking Around South America, and founder of The Riff Raff, a writers’ community that supports aspiring writers and champions debut authors. You can follow Amy on Twitter here.