Many new arrivals to Singapore are 20-30-year-olds who stay for 1 or 2 years at a time. For these expats, fun and busy downtown neighborhoods like Chinatown, River Valley, or Orchard are ideal.
While many young people also live in Bugis, Geylang, Holland Village, and Novena, the most popular bars tend to be closer to the downtown area, and thus attract young professionals.
Chinatown provides easy access to the Marina area and Boat Quay, which offer a good selection of bars, are close to downtown, and make it easy to run or bike along the water.
River Valley caters more to Robertson Quay and Clarke Quay, two more great nightlife areas, while the area around Orchard is perfect for anyone who wants to be close to Singapore’s high-end shopping center.
Chinatown: Increasingly trendy in recent years thanks to the addition to many swanky bars on Club Street and unique eateries on Amoy Street, Chinatown is a place to see and be seen in Singapore. While Club Street and Ang Siang Hill host most of the neighborhood’s night life, the social scene spills over to nearby Amoy and Telok Ayer streets as well.
Chinatown is easily accessible by the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), with the Chinatown, Raffles Place, and Telok Ayer Street stops all within walking distance. For those working in the downtown area, most offices are less than a 10-minute walk apartments in the area.
Telok Ayer was the main landing area for early Chinese immigrants, with the street set aside by Sir Stamford Raffles as a Chinese area. The neighborhood is packed with temples and mosques built by nineteenth-century immigrants as thanks for their safe journey. Religious diversity co-exists peacefully with the Hokkien Thian Hock Keng Temple dedicated to Matsu, the Goddess of the Sea; the Hock Teck Chi Temple, built by the Hakkas and Cantonese; the Al-Abrar Mosque, constructed by Indian Muslims; and the Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church in close proximity to each other.
Much of Telok Ayer Street is protected under the government’s architectural conservation plan, with over 7,000 buildings having designated conservation status. Most shophouses are all 2–3 stories tall, with a small open area on the sidewalk to display their wares or provide seating for customers.
While there are many traditional shops selling Chinese food and exotic snacks, Telok Ayer has become quite trendy and chic, with a variety of new yoga and pilates studios, wine bars, and tech start-ups moving in.
Arab Quarter: In search of good hummus and falafel? Look no further than Singapore’s Arab Quarter. This neighborhood offers a wonderful mix of cultures and heritage, as does the rest of Singapore. In a single stretch along Arab Street and Haji Lane, you can buy anything from Persian rugs and Turkish hookah pipes to delicious roti prata and hijabs.
On the weekends, the Arab Quarter’s pedestrian streets are packed with expats enjoying the good music and relaxed ambiance. Bali Lane is known for its party scene, but many of the restaurants closer to the Sultan Mosque, or Masjid Sultan, maintain a voluntary dry policy, keeping with the Islamic character of the neighborhood.
Many young people are moving to the neighborhood as rents are lower than downtown and it has a casual, bohemian vibe. Easily accessible by the Bugis MRT stop, it is only a few minutes ride from downtown Singapore.
The neighborhood’s history can be traced back to 1819, when the British East India Company and Stamford Raffles signed a treaty with the Sultan Hussein Shah of Johor. Under the so-called Raffles Plan, the colony settlement was divided according to ethnic groups—Europeans, Chinese, Chulia, Arab etc. Kampong Glam, as the Arab Quarter is also known, was set aside for the Sultan and the Malay and Arab communities.
The Sultan Mosque and the Malay Heritage Center, originally part of the Sultan’s palace, are the heart of the neighborhood, and when wandering through the streets it is easy to imagine that you are standing in Amman or Damascus. While the original Sultan Mosque, funded in 1824 by the East India Company, no longer stands, a similar mosque was built in the same location in 1928. Its beautiful gold dome and several minarets soar over the small, colorful shop houses on Muscat Street.
Little India: Bright shops, buzzing streets, and the best curry in town—Singapore’s Little India is one of the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods. With the Little India MRT station just a few stops from downtown, and relatively low housing prices, Little India a convenient place to live. The neighborhood has fewer high rises and condos than the surrounding areas; many buildings are older houses that have been divided up into smaller apartments or are shared among groups of friends.
This area’s charm lies in its small alleyways, crowded restaurants, and many beautiful Hindu temples. Serangoon Road is Little India’s main thoroughfare, is lined with many retail attractions including Tekka Centre, Mustafa Center, and Serangoon Plaza.
Geylang: The Geylang neighborhood lies to the east of the central business district, and is known for its characteristic shophouses that line much of Geylang Road. These structures were the first point of contact for new immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries, and have been preserved as-is in the Geylang district.
While Geylang is also known as Singapore’s “red light” district, the area boasts stunning architecture, good (and local!) eats, and a unique vibe, due to the old shophouses being protected from demolition or modernization.
Following the gentrification of other neighborhoods in the 1970s, Geylang began attracting young entrepreneurs with this nostalgic ambiance and lower rents.
Some of the best hawker centers can be found in this neighborhood, and while many other parts of Singapore will start to shut down around midnight, Geylang always offers a fun place to sing karaoke or share a drink with friends.