A day of history, culture and colonial charm

 

 

Summary: This day trip will take you to Singapore's Colonial District, where you will see some of the city's nicest heritage buildings and visit three particularly impressive museums.

 

 

Our day starts from Raffles Place MRT Station: Leave the station through exit-H and turn right to tiny Bonham Street. After a minute, turn right again and walk along the Singapore River (the river should be on your left) all the way to the "Merlion" statue.

 

The "Merlion" is one of Singapore's best-known icons, and a must-see for every traveler who visits Singapore

The Merlion

Soaring to a height of almost nine metres, facing Marina Bay, The statue-fountain of "The Merlion" is one of Singapore's best known landmarks. This imaginary creature was invented back in the 1960s, as a logo for the tourism board and has since become a symbol of the city. It incorporates a body of a lion, which signifies the lion from the legend about the founding of Singapore, and a tail of a fish, which signifies the city's relationship with the ocean.

 

Walk back a few minutes and cross the river on historic Cavenagh Bridge, which was built in the 1870s and still boasts the 1910s police notice at each of its ends, restricting cattle and horses from crossing it…

 

As soon as you cross the bridge, turn left to visit "Raffles Landing Site". A white statue of the bright British administrator marks the actual point where Sir Stamford Raffles and his fellow Brits first laid foot on Singaporean soil, back in 1819… Along the promenade, you can also see groups of beautiful life size bronze statues, called "People of the River", which depict the daily lives of Singapore's pre-colonial inhabitants.

 

The imposing Neo-Palladian building, right behind the "landing site", accommodates the Asian Civilisations Museum, one of Singapore's most recommended museums, which displays the cultures of Asia's tribes and nations, with emphasis on those ethnicities that created Singapore. Exhibits are rich and fascinating and include ethnic costumes, traditional jewelries, ancient books, sculptures, religious artifacts and what not…

 

Daily: 10am – 7pm (till 9pm on Friday)

Website

.

After visiting this splendid museum, we can proceed to visit other enchanting colonial buildings in the vicinity: The Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, just across the street from the museum, was built in the 1850s to accommodate the town hall of early days Singapore. The small, bright white obelisk at the entrance to the garden (facing the Singapore River) is called Dalhousie Obelisk. It was built in 1850 to commemorate the second visit to Singapore of the then Governor-General of India, James Andrew Broun-Ramsay (the Marquis of Dalhousie).

 

The statue of the elephant that was given to Singapore by the king of Siam stands proudly outside the old parliament house

Photo by: Terence   License: CC BY 2.5

On the other side of the museum, just a few steps from Raffles' Statue (corner of Old Parliament Lane and Empress Pl), there is another beautiful Neo-Palladian building which was built in 1827 by a wealthy Scot merchant, named John Argyle Maxwell, and housed Singapore's parliament from independence till 1999. It had later been converted to an art-centre, where young local artists can perform their works. The Arts House at the Old Parliament, as the place is currently called, hosts art exhibitions almost all the time and there's a nice café too…

 

Daily, 11am – 9pm, entrance is free

 

Walk out of the Old Parliament and turn left to Old Parliament Lane. After a minute stroll you will reach the street corner, where you turn left again, to Parliament Place. On your left hand side you will see a small bronze elephant that was given as a gift from King Rama V of Siam (who became known thanks to the novel "Anna and the King of Siam"), as a token of appreciation after his visit to Singapore in 1871.

 

Across the street, on St. Andrew's Road, you can see two of Singapore's most beautiful colonial buildings: The Old Supreme Court was built in the late 1930s and features classic motifs, such as Corinthian columns and Roman pediment, and The City Hall Building, right next to it, had its "fifteen minutes of fame" on 12 September 1945, when the Japanese General Itagaki surrendered to Lord Mountbatten, towards the end of WW II.

 

The two historic buildings are now housing the National Art Gallery of Singapore

Daily, 11am – 9pm, entrance is free (Website)

 

Continue walking along St. Andrew's Road, turn left to Coleman Street and walk along it to the corner of Hill Street. The red-bricks building of Singapore's oldest existing fire station can be seen on the other side of Hill St. It was built in the early 1900s and currently accommodates the Civil Defence Heritage Gallery: A small museum where you can learn about the history of firefighting and civil defence in Singapore, and see some antique fire engines and other firefighting equipment.

 

Open daily (except Mondays), 10am - 5pm and admission is free.

The Armenian Church was designed by the famous 19th century architect, George Coleman, and is one of Singapore's most imposing colonial buildings

 

Next in line is the Armenian Church, Singapore's oldest existing church, which can be seen on the other side of the corner (60 Hill St.).

 

The bright white church was built originally in 1835, when a wealthy Armenian community still thrived in this part of the world. Designed by George Coleman, who is responsible for some of early Singapore's nicest buildings, it features both neoclassical motifs and traditional Armenian elements (Daily, 9am – 6pm, free entrance).

 

Continue along Coleman Street and turn right to Armenian Street, which will lead you to the Peranakan Museum: 'Peranakan' is a Malay term that describes those non-Malay who were born in Southeast Asia, particularly descendants of Chinese traders, who married local women and developed a distinctive culture, lifestyle and cuisine…

 

This fantastic museum is probably one of the if not the only place on earth where you can familiarize yourself with this unique culture, through an array of rich exhibits, including costumes, embroidery work, wedding paraphernalia and what have you…

 

Daily: 10am – 7pm (till 9pm on Friday)

Website

 

As soon as you leave the museum, turn left to Armenian Street and after a couple of minutes, right, to Stamford Road (next to historic Vanguard Building) and almost immediately left again, to Victoria Street. A minute or two after entering Victoria Street you will see the entrance to CHIJMES on your right hand side. This is where you can have your lunch break.

 

CHIJMES (pronounced Chimes) started as a complex of catholic convent buildings, back in the 1840s, and has been beautifully restored before it was converted into a thriving food, shopping and entertainment complex. There is also an art gallery here and live performances take place on weekends and public holidays.

 

Recommended restaurants in CHIJMES include: Tatsu Teppanyaki (Japanese Teppanyaki cuisine), Lei Garden Restaurant (Well known Chinese - Cantonese restaurant), Bobby's Taproom Grill & Ribs, Carnivore Brazilian Churrascaria and Hog's Breath Café (Casual, American-Australian resto-bar, serving steaks, burgers and their likes...).

 

Leaving CHIJMES, turn left to Bras Basah Road and after five minutes or so, left again, to Bencoolen. Cross Stamford Road and enter the National Museum of Singapore, the city-state's oldest and largest museum.

 

Occupying an impressive 1887 Neo-Palladian & Renaissance building (with some ultra-modern extensions), the museum's main feature is the "Singapore History Gallery", where the visitor walks pass dozens of beautifully designed life-size displays that replicate scenes from the city's past… Highly recommended!

 

Daily, 10am – 6pm (Singapore Living Galleries remain open until 8pm and admission is free during the last two hours). Website

The Raffles is one of the world's finest and most aristocratic hotels, and a Singapore landmark

The Raffles Hotel in Singapore

 

Next in line is The Raffles: One of the world's most classic hotels, where you can enjoy a sundowner at the famous Long Bar, where the Singapore Sling was invented, or opt for the more aristocratic Bar & Billiard Room, where Singapore's last tiger was shot.

 

"The grand old dame", as the Raffles is often called, has started its life as a rather humble 10-room colonial bungalow, back in 1887, but quickly became one of Southeast Asia's most glamorous hotels, attracting guests like Rudyard Kipling, Charlie Chaplin, Queen Elizabeth II and Elizabeth Taylor, just to name a few…

 

There is a small museum on the arcade's 3rd floor, where you can see nostalgic paraphernalia from the hotel's past (free), and a beautiful shop where you can purchase the hotel's vintage novelties.

 

You can enter Raffles Hotel from Bras Basah Road, 5 minutes' walk from CHIJMES.

.

If you still have the energy for more activities, you can wind up the day at the Singapore Flyer, or at Marina Bay Sands:

 

Singapore Flyer, the world’s current largest Ferris wheel soars 165 M (550 ft) above the city and affords stunning views of Singapore and its environs… The best time to ride it is at around 7pm, which is twilight time in Singapore almost all year around, but make sure visibility is fine, or else you are wasting your time and money (website).

 

Located at the shopping mall beneath the Singapore Flyer, Flight Experience's simulator is the closest you can get to flying a Boeing jet, without having a pilot's license. It's not a cheap pleasure, but the experience is hands down unforgettable (website).

 

 

Marina Bay Sands, Southeast Asia's newest and most popular mega-attraction, boasts an ostentatious casino (Singapore's first), a fantastic shopping mall and almost endless dining and entertainment options, although the real hoo-ha here is the Sands SkyPark - An enormous sky terrace that is perched across the three hotel skyscrapers, at a height of more than 200 metres (website).

 

24 hours a day / 7 days a week (lifts to Sands SkyPark run 10am - 10pm)

 

How to get there? Take the MRT from Bras Basah Station (next to CHIJMES / short walk from both Raffles Hotel, and National Museum of Singapore) and drop off at Promenade MRT (two stations away), which is directly linked to the Singapore Flyer.

 

Marina Bay Sands is directly linked to Bayfront MRT Station, which is one station ride from Promenade.