Singapore has long been a city popular with travelers. It’s often a convenient stopover for long-haul flights, a popular destination for a city break or visa run, and is arguably the easiest place to get acquainted with living in Asia. Not to mention, the small city-state is hyper-organized, visa-friendly, and English is spoken widely.
Unless you find a room/apartment in a Housing Development Board (HDB) flat, Singapore’s version of affordable public housing, accommodation is not the cheapest. You will however have access to everything and anything you need, from embassies to delicious, fresh-cooked meals at over 100 open-air hawker centers and tze char stalls, coffeeshop style communal dining. You won’t even need a car to get around because public transportation is cheap and reliable and Singapore scores high marks when it comes to safety.
As entrepreneurship takes off in the Little Red Dot, there’s no shortage of sleek coworking and co-living spaces and fast WiFi-enabled cafes popping up. From the hip local enclave of Tiong Bahru, expat-friendly Holland Village, the Peranakan charms of Joo Chiat, and the edgy fringes of Little India, here are some of the best neighborhoods to get some work done while enjoying the city.
What was once home to plantations and nurseries has evolved into one of the most convenient places to live in Singapore. If you like to walk, you’ll enjoy access to the 24-kilometer-long Green Corridor trail and can refuel with a mix of excellent hawker fare, trendy cafes, and independent boutiques. All this has made this a highly desirable neighborhood for locals and expats. In particular, the charming Chip Bee Gardens estate with its terraced houses and the decently-sized HDB apartments on Holland Avenue are particularly in demand. Its proximity to Launch Pad @ One-North (Singapore’s version of Silicon Valley) also adds to this all-in-one spot's buzzy vibe.
For a coworking set-up, head down to Metropolis where you can rent a hot desk or a dedicated space, including printing and admin support. If you prefer a less corporate space, D’Good Cafe offers decent WiFi and a garden-themed setting and Aussie-style cafe Jimmy Monkey over at One-North Residences beckons with its lowkey ambiance and excellent flat whites.
With so many college kids hanging out in Holland Village after class, many trendy eateries have popped up. Sitting side-by-side, Project Açai pretty superfood bowls offer a healthier treat versus Tai Cheong Bakery’s divine buttery, crumbly egg tarts. A short walk across the street, The Daily Scoop provides local-flavored scoops like the Surprising Coconut that come highly recommended; plus they are pretty generous with samplers. Get in the queue at Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao for a proper meal of juicy soup dumplings and hearty noodle bowls.
A big part of Holland Village's energetic vibe is due to the local creatives found there. Ong Shunmugam’s modern cheongsams' artisan elements make her East-meets-West designs one to own. Similarly, Ling Wu’s sustainably-sourced leather bags are an indulgence but its zero-waste production process eases the consumer guilt to own a buttery soft piece of arm candy. The tropical climate almost demands the addition of printed threads from Our Second Nature to your wardrobe. Take your time over a cuppa from their in-house cafe to decide which one of its breezy, easy-to-wear pieces suits your silhouette best.
Come sunset, head to Wala Wala Cafe & Bar, a stalwart of Holland Village that has been around for more than 20 years. The second-floor space is still the spot to listen to local musicians as you work your way through the beers on tap or bucket deals. If you need even more unwinding, get a late-night foot rub or massage at Natureland. It sounds terribly indulgent but this is a form of self-care you never knew you needed.
The combination of a charming, walkable neighborhood with the city-state’s prettiest HDB apartments sporting curved balconies and spiral staircases has made this leafy enclave a hipster haven. Located close to Chinatown and the waterfront setting of Robertson Quay, the eclectic mix of eateries, affordable old-school tze char, which literally means “cook and fry” and coffee shops makes this locale a turnkey opportunity to live like a local but with some Western conveniences.
While coworking spaces like The Great Room and Gather Cowork require a short commute, there’s an abundance of Aussie-inspired cafes like Forty Hands and Flock Cafe that serves strong, good coffee and a menu of all-day breakfast-style grub. For the creatively inclined, being in the same neighborhood as Grey Projects is a massive bonus as its art library and gallery space offers hour-long open desk space for an impromptu sketch/brainstorm session. Need a good stretch session? Yoga Movement has Zen classes, Hot Core and Power Flow running all day long—and the full shower and hair amenities let you spruce yourself up after class. Have a few hours to kill in between meetings? Trawl the furniture mecca that is Tan Boon Liat Building and pick up an accent piece from Journey East or Bode.
Foodwise, you can't have a bad meal in this neighborhood thanks to the Tiong Bahru Market. A few fixtures that locals drive across the island for: Zhong Yu Yuan Wei Wanton Mee (#02-30) tender, crunchy egg noodles served with freshly-roasted barbecue pork and Tiong Bahru Fried Kway Teow (#02-11) where individual plates of noodles are fried with lashings of dried cured pork sausage, crisp bean sprouts, and tender fish cake. Come nighttime, popular tze char eateries like Por Kee Eating House and Sin Hoi Sai serve up plates of chili crab and other live seafood favorites. If you prefer a home cooked meal, stock up at Foodie Market Place known for affordable, high-quality cuts of air-flown New Zealand and Australian beef portioned out to your desired thickness, specialty cheeses, and almost any seasoning you can think of.
Noisy, gritty, and full of color, Little India may be a little rough around the edges, it has gentrified in recent years. Its location, near the Central Business District, and on the fringe of Orchard Road, is unbeatable. As an area geared toward the younger set, there’s no shortage of spaces to work. Like Meet Work has a simple set-up with affordable hot desk rates and virtual office services, while a short ten-minute walk away, Lowercase’s free WiFi and spacious tables offer a change of scenery if you’re in need of a more energetic vibe. Next door, Sim Lim Square is the place to check out the latest computer deals (or to get your laptop fixed) and if you’re in desperate need of a charging cable or spare battery pack, they have plenty available for sale.
A neighborhood best explored on foot, there’s always something to look at: from the colorful murals mapped out on the Art Walk to the hustle and bustle of shoppers picking up colorful saris at Pottu Kara Maami or fresh flowers from Jothi’s Store and Flower Shop. There’s plenty of sightseeing to squeeze in with the colorful Sri Veeramakaliamman Hindu Temple on Serangoon Road and it's impossible to miss intricate statues and detailing. The Indian Heritage Center baoli (Indian stepwell)-inspired exterior reveals staircases within the facade, providing visitors from the street a peek-in to what’s happening.
Feeling hungry? Little India’s Tekka Market is a treasure trove of affordable Indian-Muslim and South Indian food. Zone in on Allauddin’s Briyani (#01-232) for fall-apart mutton briyani and Sri Tiffin Stall (#01-224) crispy masala dosas. For vegetarians, Nagercoil Arya Bhavan located close to Mustafa Center is the spot to hit before tackling the five-story Mustafa Center that’s open 24/7 and always has bargains. For a more upscale experience of Little India, restaurants like Meatsmith Little India offer hefty meat platters, but if you’re really trying to expand your Little India footprint, head to The Elephant Room where Indian-influenced tipples like the rum, banana, and coconut Tekka is the way to end the night.
Katong & Joo Chiat
Singapore is a bustling town, but its East-residing residents swear their hood just feels more laidback and idyllic. Perhaps it’s the gentle ocean breeze from nearby East Coast Park, or the streets of colorful Peranakan shophouses in the Katong and Joo Chiat area. Either way, this heritage town, once a seaside retreat for the wealthy has become the hottest new place to live.
Working out of this area has its perks, from Crane’s nook-like workspaces and meeting rooms will help you focus, making it easier to hit those deadlines. Plus their events calendar unlocks opportunities to make new friends. More play-like, less work-like, Choice Cuts Goods + Coffee casual coworking set up within a record shop and deli sparks all the right creative juices. Make note of the fresh stewed turnip rolls at Kway Guan Huat Joo Chiat Popiah (only available on weekends) and 328 Katong Laksa’s coconut-rich laksa soup. Chin Mee Chin Confectionery is a coffee shop that has been going strong for over 80 years and you can’t go wrong with the simple breakfast of soft-boiled eggs and toast with coconut jam. Newer additions that carb-lovers will fall for include The Coconut Club with its upscale spiced-and-fried organic French Poulet chicken dish paired with “fatty rice” which should not be skipped, and Forma which specializes in handmade pasta.
Koon Seng Road’s colorful Peranakan shophouses with ceramic Peranakan floral motifs and geometrical tiles are a big draw, as are the vibrant murals by artists Dyn and Ink&Clog. Drop by the Eurasian Heritage Gallery to learn about the Eurasian community in Singapore, or book a private tour by Peranakan collector Alvin Yapp as he brings you around his family home at The Intan expounding on the rich history, culture, and cuisine of the Straits Chinese people.