Singapore is divided into 28 districts and the Central Business District is located within the central south area. While Singapore is a relatively small city, which means moving from one end to another probably takes a maximum of 2 hours, your lifestyle choices could determine which area you would prefer to live in.
Putting budget aside, you may want to consider your priorities to choose which district suits you best. Choosing to stay in the central area (district 1 to 9) clearly brings a lot of convenience in terms of being close to the major shopping districts, drinking holes and if your office is around this area, you could probably even walk to work! However, being central also means it is much more crowded, rental rates are significantly higher, and you probably will not get to experience how a real local lives in the ‘heartlands’ (Singaporean term for suburbs). If you love greenery, you can expect to see a concrete jungle out of your bedroom window instead of the lush, green garden city you so often hear about. If waking to the wonderful view of the sea is your fantasy, then the Marina Bay area could be your best bet.An interesting area to stay in the central district is the Chinatown/Tanjong Pagar area. Being at the periphery of the CBD, this area is a mishmash of the old and new, traditional and modern, low profile and hype. The area is well-known for its rows of shop-houses (some owners renovate the living area for rent) and food varieties. In the main Chinatown district of New Bridge road, you will find shops selling what you can find in Chinatown all over the world—a Chinese medicine hall, Chinese eateries and places selling dried food products. Things are relatively cheap and the area is very accessible by public transport. On the other side nearer to the Tanjong Pagar district, you will be able to discover a whole new side of Chinatown. The area of Club Street has a hippy charm around it and houses several high-end restaurants and bars, luxurious cafes and boutique hotels. If you are looking for a unique living experience, this could be the district for you.
If you prefer the opportunity to hang around with the expat crowds, there is also a good chance to find them in the CBD area. If not, try Holland Road located in District 9. For many years, Holland Village has been known for its rows of bars, fine dining and even cheap local food. You can find bars opening till late even on weekdays, fancy restaurants serving cuisine from all over the world, including Spanish, Japanese and Italian food, specialty café and dessert shops. It represents a good mix of suburb culture and expat living, with plenty of landed houses and local HDB flats. It used to be a little less convenient as the nearest MRT was quite out of the way but this concern has been solved by the completion of the circle line in 2011. There are also plenty of buses to the shopping district of Orchard Road.
Districts 12 to 16 offer a good compromise for lower rental price compared to the central area but still being very accessible to town by bus. One of the most famous roads here is Geylang—the red light district of Singapore. While even some Singaporeans shun buying property and staying in the area (you really don’t want to have rows of skimpily-clad women and leering men in your lobby), due to the limited land area in Singapore, developers have increasingly built luxurious condominiums in this district away from the main road. This could mean a little inconvenience, but for a lower rental, plenty of supper places and relative proximity to town, you might consider it. What’s more, friends from overseas would definitely appreciate a walk along the main road of Geylang!
The Marine Parade and East Coast area is an expat favourite because of the East Coast Park nearby with one of the most accessible beaches on the island. While the beach is nothing compared to the ones in Sentosa or even those of the neighbouring countries, the precinct itself offers a myriad of healthy activities for the restless. Rental of bicycles, rollerblades, the Skate Park, water sports and a nice long jogging track (10 km) are just some of the facilities available. There is also a large hawker centre, seafood restaurants and beachside bars for some food and drink. This area is a 15 minute drive to the Changi airport so if your work requires frequent travelling you may want to consider staying around here.
Districts 17 to 28 are generally termed the ‘heartlands’ of Singapore. You will probably find fewer expats in these areas but increasingly, due to lower rents and cheaper shopping/supermarkets, one can see more foreign faces in the heartlands. What’s more, if your office is near the industrial parks in these areas, the proximity is a bonus. In all of these districts, there is usually a mall or town centre with supermarkets, boutiques, library and food centres that cater to the needs of anyone through the week.
Singapore is a small city but can provide a varied living experience in each of its districts. Safety is seldom a concern here and amenities and public facilities are usually available within a 10 minute drive. The general rule to remember: the further you are away from the city, the more ‘local’ the area (where merchandise and rental prices are usually cheaper than ‘expat’ areas).