All Articles 4 can’t miss neighborhoods in Singapore

4 can’t miss neighborhoods in Singapore

And the hawker stalls, spas, and more you can't miss in each.

Audrey Phoon
By Audrey Phoon5 Apr 2024 5 minutes read
Colorful Peranakan houses in the Joo Chiat district of Katong, Singapore
Colorful Peranakan houses in Katong, Singapore
Image: mehdi33300/Getty Images

Sure, the whole Supertrees, skyscrapers, and Crazy Rich Asians thing is cool, but the truth is, many of Singapore’s richest experiences lie away from the glitz. I’ve lived in the center of the city and also in its heartlands, and I know that to really connect with its soul, you need to venture through the less-touristed spots. In these neighborhoods, you can discover older spaces being revitalized by young entrepreneurs, chill out at bustling coffee shops filled with beer-swigging seniors, or explore quieter pockets that often hold surprises like art walls or community gardens. Here, a few of Singapore’s can’t-miss neighborhoods.

Jalan Besar

New World’s End immersive audio tour
New World’s End immersive audio tour
Image: Tripadvisor/Management

Jalan Besar was known for its industrial workshops and seedy nightlife, but in recent years it’s cleaned up and is coming alive with new businesses. There’s a grittiness that’s attracting local creatives, who are finding ways to breathe fresh purpose into the old buildings.

One of my favorite activities is the New World’s End immersive audio tour, a self-guided walk narrated by some of Singapore’s best-known thespians. It tells a story of this historic area through the lens of a pair of lovers and the collapse of the Hotel New World, one of Singapore’s biggest post-war disasters, and lets visitors peek into spaces that aren’t usually open to the public.

Down the main stretch is the Jalan Besar Stadium, the birthplace of Singapore football, where you can sometimes catch the national youth team training. But these days, it’s the cool cafes and bars like Chye Seng Huat Hardware and Druggists clustered around the stadium that draw the crowds.

Tip: Be sure to walk by the candy-colored heritage shophouses on Petain Road—they’re just as stunning as the popular ones along Katong’s Koon Seng Road.

Where to eat: Restaurant Khiri, from a chef who lived in northern Thailand and does incredibly delicious Thai fare served omakase-style, is the most exciting restaurant in the area. Catty-corner, Scaled offers its modern interpretations of Singaporean seafood dishes. It’s owned by a local kelong (fish farm), so you know the seafood here is always fresh. For something fast, cheap, and tasty, try Sungei Road Laksa, one of Singapore’s most famous laksa stalls.

Hotel pick: Wanderlust, a beautiful boutique hotel in an Art Deco building, has the most comfortable rooms in the neighborhood. Hotel Yan is a more wallet-friendly alternative, with extras like minibar treats thrown in for free, though the rooms are on the small side.

(The other side of) Orchard

The lobby bar at the Singapore EDITION
The lobby bar at the Singapore EDITION
Image: Tripadvisor/Management

Orchard’s biggest charms aren’t in the gleaming, newer malls where high-powered designer shopping takes place. They’re in the buildings from the ’70s and ’80s, where independent retailers have set up shop. Far East Plaza is the best place to poke around vintage curios (try The Attic or The Corner Shop) and second-hand luxury watches and bags (at Watch Exchange and Madam Milan).

A few doors down, you’ll see Tangs, Singapore’s oldest department store and champion of local fashion brands. Cross the street and head against the flow of traffic till you reach Delfi Orchard, where a yoga class at the sunlit Space & Light studio is the perfect way to start or end your day.

Tip: Need a massage? Heng Heng Massage is my favorite place to get a no-frills pummeling.

Where to eat: The food court in Tangs’ basement is great for cheap eats, but when I want to treat myself, I head to Jade Palace inside the retro Forum the Shopping Mall for dim sum and claypot rice. If you’re up for a walk, Orchard Plaza at the opposite end of Orchard Road is the surprising home to some of Singapore’s best Japanese restaurants. Try Sage for refined Japanese-French plates, and ShinnSato for authentic Okinawan food.

Hotel pick: The suites at the Singapore EDITION are spacious and there are nods to the city everywhere—from the stunning glass conservatory draped in tropical greenery, to the stone benches that resemble the outdoor furniture in my grandparents’ home. Yotel Singapore is a more budget-friendly but equally well-located option, with rooms that are modern and comfy.

East Coast

D'Authentic Nasi Lemak in the Marine Parade Central Market
D'Authentic Nasi Lemak in the Marine Parade Central Market
Image: Tripadvisor/Skaramoosh

For a more laid back side of Singapore, head to the seaside neighborhood of East Coast, where locals go for weekend vibes throughout the week. (Bonus: It’s adjacent to trendy Katong, where many of the buzziest cafes and brunch spots are clustered.) My favorite starting point is Marine Parade Central Market, the heart of this district, where you can explore nearly 200 lively hawker kiosks and market stalls. Comic fans will want to stop by hole-in-the-wall Silver Kris Comics, a treasure trove of pristinely preserved Marvel and DC comics from the ’80s and ’90s where rare finds at reasonable prices aren’t uncommon.

From here, take the pedestrian underpass to East Coast Park, the main attraction. This lush 9-mile stretch facing the Singapore Strait is dotted with sea almond trees, barbecue pits, and bicycle rental kiosks. You’ll emerge to the squawking of macaws at the Bird Perch, where you can watch bird owners train their free-flying pets. If you have kids, let them run wild at the sprawling Marine Cove public playground while you grab a coffee (and some air-conditioning) at carefree East Coast Commune.

Tip: Many visitors don’t make it to the far end of the park, away from the city center, but it’s worth hopping on a bicycle for: this is where you’ll find the lovely Bougainvillea Garden—a profusion of pink all year round, and a captivating photo op.

Where to eat: The Marine Parade market has a fantastic range of hawker food—I love D’Authentic Nasi Lemak for coconut rice with fried fish or curry, and Emmanuel Peranakan Cuisine for pocket-friendly Peranakan fare served with blue-pea rice. Fico, a rustic-chic Italian restaurant near the Bougainvillea Garden, is the hippest place to eat around here. It can be tough snagging a table, so I usually grab a takeaway of their crusty-on-the-outside, fluffy-inside San Marzano tomato foccacina to have by the beach.

Hotel pick: Even if you don’t play golf, the Dusit Thani Laguna golf resort is a hole-in-one with its light, bright rooms and tranquil greenery or pool views.


Shophouses in Geylang
Shophouses in Geylang
Image: Tripadvisor/62ColleenF

If Singapore is a melting pot of cultures, Geylang is its distillate. You’ll hear everything from Malay and Hokkien to Vietnamese and Bengali as you walk the shophouse-lined streets. And while it’s true that Geylang used to be home to our biggest red-light district, much has changed since the pandemic.

On one end, you’ll find the bustling Geylang Serai Market, a cornerstone of the Malay community, packed with halal produce, food, and clothes. I like visiting during Ramadan, when the whole place becomes one giant party after sunset, and there’s a massive bazaar where all kinds of snacks are sold. One street across, the sprawling 24-hour is popular with locals (and travelers with long layovers)—you pay a flat fee to enjoy a bunch of wellness facilities including hot and cold pools, a sauna and even a buffet.

Tip: I come here for rooftop qigong (a Chinese wellness practice that’s believed to help heal the mind and body) classes at Nam Wah Pai; they have world-class instructors and you can sign up for a trial.

What to eat: The Geylang Serai Market has hands-down the best selection of halal food in the city. Sinar Pagi is where I get my fix of nasi padang, and my go-to snack here is the otak (parcels of mashed fish grilled in coconut leaves) from Otak-otak Kampung Singapore—it’s even more fragrant than the traditional version because there are bits of toasted coconut in it. Outside of the market, the Michelin Bib Gourmand JB Ah Meng is a can’t-miss for its crispy pancake-like noodles and white pepper crabs. Le Chasseur, which sounds fancy but is actually a hawker stall in a coffee shop, does fabulous claypot rice, with crispy bits in all the right places. And Mongkok Dim Sum is a local favorite for its Hong Kong-style dim sum.

Hotel pick: Most of the hotels here are the hourly-rate type but Coliwoo Hotel Gay World (named after the Gay World Amusement Park that used to be in the area) is decidedly family-friendly. It’s spread across three refurbished historic shophouses, and the pretty loft-style rooms have convenient amenities like a microwave oven and fridge.

Audrey Phoon
Audrey is a travel and lifestyle writer and social media consultant based in Singapore. She has written for Conde Nast Traveler, The Wall Street Journal, The Telegraph, Elle, South China Morning Post and more. A sometime professional glutton and full-time travel addict, she's on a mission to eat every street snack around the globe.