Singapore
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Singapore tours, sightseeing, Singapore River

Singapore River

Where both ancient and modern Singapore started from...  

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The area where modern Singapore started from, back in the days of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, lies around the mouth of the Singapore River. 

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This is also the site where historic, pre-colonial Singapore once existed, and even nowadays the area maintains its supremacy as the metropolis' main business and entertainment hub.

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You can see some of Singapore's nicest historical buildings around this area and visit some of the city's most interesting tourist sites and attractions.

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 Our starting point is at the place where Sir Raffles first landed, back in 1819 (Raffles Landing Site), a pleasant walking distance from either MRT-City Hall or MRT-Raffles Place.

From MRT-City Hall: Walk out of the station and turn to St. Andrew's Road. Continue walking along it for a few minutes, till you reach the T junction at the end of the road (The Padang Field should be on your left hand side and the impressive, classical Old Supreme Court building can be seen on your right hand side.).  Cross the junction, turn left and immediately right, and walk down Old Parliament Lane (next to Victoria Hall) to the Singapore River Waterfront Promenade.

 

From MRT-Raffles Place: walk out to Raffles Place Jetty (UOB Plaza), turn right and walk along the waterfront to historic Cavenagh Bridge.  After crossing it, turn left and walk a few steps along the waterfront until you reach Sir Raffles statue.

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The landing site is marked by a marble statue of the founder of modern Singapore, standing right on the waterfront promenade that faces Boat Quay and the glittering skyscrapers of Raffles Place.

 

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Just next to the landing site, The Asian Civilisations Museum is housed within the impressive Empress Place Building, a Neo-Palladian building that was originally built in the 1860s and started its life as a much smaller and rather humble courthouse.

It was later expanded and housed some government departments, and was simply known as Government Offices.

 

The current name was given to the building in the early 1900s, in honor of Queen Victoria.

 

The fabulous museum showcases the cultures of Asia and, particularly, those of the ethnic groups that built Singapore. There are eleven galleries, dedicated to Asia's different regions, where you can see thousands of exhibits from the cultures of China, East Asia, Southeast Asia, India and the countries of West Asia and the Middle East, including archaeological findings and relics, precious pieces of art, traditional costumes, religious artifacts and the likes...

 

The collections are truly beautiful and exciting, and the museum is tastefully designed in a way that the visitor is not bombarded with too much to see at once...

Moreover, every gallery has some interactive displays and touch screens that make the whole experience more interesting and tangible (especially for the little ones...)

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This short video gives you an idea about the Asian Civilisations Museum and its exhibitis... It is also worth taking a look at this pictorial guide, just to get a better idea of what Singapore's Asian Civilisations Museum is all about...

The entrance to the museum is from Empress Place, next to Cavenagh Bridge.

The museum is open 9 am to 7 pm, Tuesday - Sunday and 1 to 7 pm on Monday.

Admission costs SG$ 8 for an adult and SG$ 4 for over 60s and students. Small kids (under 6 years old) can get in free.

 

English guided tours of the museum are available at the following times: 2 pm on Mondays, 11 am and 2 pm Tuesday - Friday, and 11am 2, 3 and 4 pm on Saturday and Sunday.  The guided tours are at no extra cost but you'll better call the museum's front desk in advance 6332 7798

 

The museum is quite properly geared for people with disabilities and wheelchairs are available at the front counter.

For more information, you can either call the museum on 6332 7798 or 6332 2982 or you can visit their website: www.acm.org.sg

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Opposite the entrance to the museum, on the other side of Empress Place, you will see the original bronze statue of sir Raffles, standing in the well groomed garden in front of the entrance to The Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall complex. The left wing of this beautiful building (currently housing Victoria theatre) is the original structure that was built in the 1850s to accommodate the town hall of rapidly developing Singapore.  The right wing and the clock tower were added in the early 1900s, to honor Queen Victoria, who passed away soon before then.

The complex's design reflects influences of both Victorian, Neo-Palladian and Italianate architectures, with columned façade and decorated pediments.

 

The small, bright white obelisk at the entrance to the garden (facing 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)

 

Cross the small street and you will find yourself in front of Anderson bridge, a historic truss bridge with massive steel arches on its sides. Do not cross the bridge. Turn left and start walking along shady Queen Elizabeth walk, a lovely waterfront promenade sandwiched between the green Esplanade Park and the mouth of the Singapore River (which actually becomes Marina Bay at this point).

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Lim Bo Seng Memorial is the first site you will come across, just a few steps from the bridge.  The small pagoda shaped memorial, guarded by Chinese bronze lions, was built in honor of Lim Bo Seng, a Singaporean of Chinese origin who became a well-known anti-Japanese Resistance fighter during World War II and was killed in tortures by the Japanese army.

 

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Next in line is a small monument, standing at the place where the Indian National Army memorial once stood.  The original monument was dedicated to the "Unknown Warrior" of the Indian National Army, an anti-British organization that actually collaborated with the Japanese during the war. As soon as the war was over, the Brits destroyed the monument and the current one was erected in 1995

 

Few more steps and you are at the Cenotaph, another war memorial monument, built in memory of the Singaporean soldiers who died in the two World Wars.

 

Further on along the promenade, towards the end of the park, there is a Victorian marble fountain, built in honor of Tan Kim Seng, a Chinese philanthropist who made a significant contribution towards Singapore's first public waterworks.

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At this point you can turn right, cross under bustling Esplanade Drive and visit Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay: Singapore's spectacular centre for performing arts (The under-road passage is near Lim Bo Seng Memorial).

 

Inaugurated in 2003, this ultra-modern complex is distinguished for its enormous glass domes, designed like a Durian (a prickly fruit with unique odor, which is very popular in Southeast Asia and Singapore).  Many Singaporeans simply refer to the complex as "The Durian".

 

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The centre comprises of two grand performing halls (covered by the Durian-shaped glass domes): a 1,600 seats concert hall and 2,000 seats theatre.  Otherwise, there is a nice mall with some unique shops, selling performing arts related goods (movie memorabilia, handmade guitars and more...), outdoor performing arenas, a library and some nice restaurants and cafés where you can dine alfresco, by the waterfront.

The complex is really a fascinating architectural piece and visiting it is nice both during the day and in the evening.

 

You can take one of the guided tours around the complex or the iTour (where you tour the complex on your own, using their Personal Digital Assistant device).

For more details about the guided tours and the iTour, call 6828 8377

If you want to know what shows will be on when you visit the city, visit their website: www.esplanade.com or call the Customer Service hotline: 6828 8377

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Walk out through the main entrance and turn right. Proceed along Raffles Avenue, parallel to Marina Bay's waterfront. Pass near the "floating stadium", a massive stadium with an officially-seized football pitch that actually floats on the bay... (Scarce of land in Singapore surely results in some seriously creative ideas...) and you will get to Singapore's newest and most exciting tourist attraction...

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The Singapore Flyer, currently the world's largest Observation wheel, snatched the title from the London Eye and China's Star of Nanchang.  It comprises a 150 m (492 ft) diameter wheel, built over a three-story terminal building, giving it a total height of 165 m (541 ft).  Each of the wheel's 28 air-conditioned bus-sized capsules is capable of carrying 28 passengers, and a complete rotation of the wheel takes approximately 30 minutes.

 

Thanks to its location, on the southeast tip of the Marina Centre reclaimed land, the wheel renders some amazingly broad views of the city centre and beyond, to about 45 km, including the Indonesian islands of Batam and Bintan, as well as the Malaysian town of Johor and its surroundings.

 

The Singapore Flyer operates daily, from 8 am to 10 pm, and a basic ticket (One full round of 30 minutes) costs about SG$ 30 for an adult and SG$ 20 for a kid.

 

For more information, you can either call the Singapore Flyer on 6333 3311 or visit their website, where you can purchase tickets and check if there are any special promos going on.

 

A small tip from 'Metropolasia-Man':

To really enjoy the Singapore Flyer, you should visit it around sunset or thereafter...

Sunset in Singapore is around 6:30 - 7pm throughout the year, which means that if you board the flyer just before it's getting dark, you will be able to get a fantastic view of the city, as it lights up like a Christmas tree...

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Another important thing to remember is that if visibility is poor, there's no point for you to waste your time and money... Just wait for another time, and opt for a city-view dinner at the Equinox, or an evening drink at New Asia Bar instead.

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As expected, the Singapore Flyer's main terminal building is buzzing with activities...

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From the "indoors rainforest" which occupies the entire central atrium with its tropical plants and water displays, to shops, restaurants, cafés and unique attractions, like the Flight experience flight simulator, where you can experience how it feels to be a commercial airliner pilot.  The simulator, one of the best of its kind, is truly amazing and brings you as close as you can get to fly a real airplane without actually being a pilot... But the prices are also sky-high... around SG$ 150 for a 30 minutes "basic flight" or SG$ 250 for one hour...

 

The Flight experience simulator operates daily, 10:30 am - 10:30 pm. It's located at the 2nd level and for more details you can call them on 6339 2737 or visit their website www.flightexperience.com.sg where it's also possible to buy tickets.

 

A small tip from 'Metropolasia-Man':

To go directly to the Singapore Flyer, simply take the MRT to Promenade Station.  The recently opened station is just a few minutes' walk away from the "flyer"

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Walk back to Tan Kim Seng Fountain, turn right, cross Stamford Road and you will get to the War Memorial Park, on the corner of Beach and Stamford. The impressive monument in the middle of the park was built to commemorate the city's ordinary civilians who got killed by the Japanese during World War II.  Four pillars, rising to a height of more than 60 m., symbolize the four communities of Singapore: Chinese, Malay, Indians and Europeans.  Due to its shape, the monument is popularly referred to as "the chopsticks".

 

Back to Stamford Road, continue encircling the Padang Field, turn left to St. Andrew's Road (pass the entrance to MRT-City Hall) and right to the bright-white St. Andrew's Cathedral.

 

Distinguished for its Steeple, this impressive Neo-Gothic Anglican cathedral (possibly Singapore's largest cathedral) was built back in 1856 and replaced an earlier cathedral structure that was demolished after being hit twice by lightning strikes.

 

This short video boasts some nice images of old and characterful buildings within Singapore's Colonial District

The current cathedral was built by Indian convicts and was finished with Madras Chunam: a mixture of shell lime, egg's white, coarse sugar and coconut husks, that gave the cathedral's interior walls this special white color and unique smoothness for which they are known.

The cathedral has its own small visitor's centre, where you can learn more about the place, and guided tours are also available.

 

Walk down St. Andrew's Road to its end. On your right hand side, just by the corner, is the Old Supreme Court building, probably Singapore's most beautiful colonial-time building.

 

Built in 1939 by architect Frank Dorrington Ward , this impressive building reflects classical motifs like Corinthian columns, a pediment and a well distinguished dome.  The spacious interiors feature murals by the Italian artist, Cavalieri Rodolfo Nolli.

 

At the time of writing, the Old Supreme Court building is closed for renovations, as it is going to become a part of The newly opened National Art Gallery… Probably by the time you visit Singapore, it will already be reopened.

 

On the Old Supreme Court building's right hand side is the City Hall of Singapore, another notable colonial-era structure with an impressive façade of massive Corinthian columns.  It was in this building that on 12 September 1945, Japanese General Itagaki surrendered to British Lord Mountbatten, marking the end of World War II in Singapore.

 

Singapore's Old City Hall is also going to form part of the upcoming "National Art Gallery".

 

At the T junction at the end of St. Andrew's Road, turn left and immediately right and enter Old Parliament Lane, next to Victoria Concert Hall (almost as if you proceed strait with St. Andrew's Road).  On your right hand side is the Arts House, located in what was once Singapore's Old Parliament House.

 

This historic Neo-Palladian building, Singapore's oldest surviving government building, was completed in 1827 and was meant to be the private mansion of John Argyle Maxwell, a wealthy Scottish merchant who was based in Java.  However, before Maxwell had actually moved in, the colonial government took over the building for government use, leasing it from him for a period of 999 years.  The building served as Singapore's first Court House and became the seat of the Singaporean parliament in 1965, soon after the country got its independence.  In 1999 the parliament moved to its new location (just around the corner from this one) and in 2004 the beautiful building became the home of the Arts House, where you can enjoy music performances and Art exhibitions.

 

In front of the building (facing the Old Supreme Court building) there is a bronze elephant, given as a gift from King Rama V of Siam (currently known as Thailand) as a token of appreciation after his visit to Singapore in 1871

 

The Arts House is open 10am - 8pm, Monday-Friday  and  11am - 8pm on Saturday (closed on Sundays) and admission is free.

 

Guided Tours are available at 11 am and 3 pm. Each 45 minutes tour includes a short film screening and a drink and costs SG$ 8 per person.

 

For more information, including details on events and exhibitions, visit their website.

 

Proceed with Old Parliament Lane down to Singapore River's Waterfront Promenade and Raffles Landing Site (both of which have already been mentioned).

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Although it sounds like no more than another tourist cliché, a bumboat trip on the Singapore River actually provides another angle on the city and is, therefore, quite a recommended Singapore attraction (What's more, it is a fairly inexpensive attraction and you can leave the boat at any point-of-interest along the river and proceed with the next one… Just like a Hop on Hop off bus).

 

Operated by Singapore River Cruises , the boats can be boarded at any of the following points:

 

A)           Next to the Fullerton Hotel

B)            Boat Quay

C)            Raffles' Landing Site

D)           Liang Court (next to Clarke Quay)

E)            Robertson Quay

 

For more details and price-list, visit their website.

 

A bumboat trip on the Singapore River provides another angle on the city and is, therefore, quite recommended... Watch this short video to get a better idea. 

 

Turn right and walk along the waterfront. On your right hand side you will see the massive New Parliament House, with its interesting architecture, combining modern and colonial styles.

 

Continue along the river (upstream), pass by Coleman Bridge (do not cross it to the other side) and historic MICA building, which catches the eye thanks to its many colorful windows. This beautiful neo-classical building was built during the early 1930s and used to accommodate the Old Hill Street Police Station. Nowadays it houses some art galleries, including the excellent Gajah Gallery, which specializes in contemporary Southeast Asian art and is considered as one of Singapore's best art galleries.

 

Right here, there is a fork where you can either take Valley Road and explore the City Center's Northern part (see separate section), or you can continue along the bank of the Singapore River, right into cheerful Clarke Quay.

 

Named after Singapore's second Governor, Sir Andrew Clarke, this is the mezzanine of the three historic riverside quays.  The Singapore River used to be the city's main trade artery in the old colonial days and Clarke Quay too had its heydays, when dozens of bumboats moored beside it.

 

The funny Turkish Ice Cream Vendor has long become one of Clarke Quay's icons... Every scoop comes with a show...

Clarke Quay underwent major restoration and preservation during the 1990s. The old warehouses were beautifully restored and vivaciously painted, and the place has become one of Singapore's most popular Wine & Dine arenas, with excellent waterfront restaurants, great entertainment venues and even floating pubs and restaurants, housed within the refurbished Chinese bumboats.

 

One of Clarke Quay's restored buildings accommodates the Royal Selangor Museum.

Malaysian based company, Royal Selangor, is one of the world's largest and most appreciated manufacturers of pewter crafts.  This tiny museum showcases a private collection of pewter artifacts, including jewellery and tableware, and it gives you an idea about the production process.

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The museum is on #01-01 Clarke Quay (3A River Valley Rd.), open 9am - 9pm and the admission is free (it is part of their shop).

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Continue walking along the river. A few steps after Clarke Quay, just under Novotel and Liang Court mall, you can turn left and cross the river on Ord Bridge. After crossing the bridge, continue strait (across the large grass pitch) and there, on the corner of Merchant Road and Magazine Road, stands a beautiful Chinese temple, worth visiting.

 

The South China style Tan Si Chong Su Temple was built between 1876 and 1878, as the ancestral temple of the Tan clan. Facing the Singapore River, the temple is known for its fantastic "feng shui", as well as for its extremely rich decorations, elaborate ornaments and beautiful ritual objects. The entrance is lavishly decorated: a pair of granite columns, with deeply sculpted dragons, granite reliefs on the walls and the ultimate pair of granite lions, a male and a female, guarding the temple.

 

Deeper inside is the prayer hall, decorated with statues of different deities, and behind it, at the heart of the temple, lies the ancestral hall, with the ancestral tables.

 

The roofs are also packed with ceramic figurines of phoenixes, flowers and dragons.

 

Back to Ord Bridge (do not cross it back), turn right and walk along the south bank of the Singapore River, pass Riverside Point Mall and onwards to Boat Quay, the largest and busiest of the three historic riverside quays and a popular entertainment zone, packed with waterfront bars, cafés and restaurants.

 

Due to the deep curve of the south bank in this area, the river here looks like a fat fish's belly and the place is popularly called "the Carp's Belly"... According to Chinese belief, a carp's belly symbolizes wealth and prosperity and that is, probably, one of the reasons why this specific quay was so popular in the old days.

 

At the end of Boat Quay, pass Raffles Place jetty, you will reach the Neo-Classical Fullerton hotel, one of Singapore classiest hotels. The hotel's building is well noted for the fluted Doric colonnade on its façade.

 

This short video shows a truly unique lighting feature, by OCUBO, that allows video mapping on a sculpture... See how people created different coloring patterns for Singapore's best known statue

 

Keep on walking along the Singapore River and you will reach the Merlion statue (there is an under-road passage):

 

The Merlion, Singapore's most prominent icon, was originally designed in the early 1960s as part of the logo of the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).

This imaginary creature has a lion's head and a body of a fish, and hence its name is a combination of the word "Mer", which symbolizes the sea and the fish (as in "Mermaid"), and the word "Lion".

 

The idea behind this unique hybrid is to mingle between Singapore's long relationship with the sea and its history as a fishermen village, on one hand (symbolized by the fish-body), and the story about the legendary Sumatran prince, Sang Nila Utama, who landed on the island of Singapore sometime during the 13th century, after surviving a shipwreck, and saw an animal which he believed was a lion - a supposedly auspicious event which lead him to build a settlement on site and call it Singa Pura, which means "Lion City" in Sanskrit (Singa = Lion , Pura = City).

 

The original statue was erected in 1972, at the mouth of the Singapore River, but had to be moved a few meters away in 2002, due to the construction of the Esplanade Bridge and the fact that the entrance of the river also changed location, following that construction...

 

The statue-fountain soars to a height of almost nine meters and spouts water out of its mouth into the sea in a smooth arc.  Next to it, there's a "Baby Merlion" statue, where kids can take photos, and a wide open space with coffee shops and restaurants, where you can dine 'alfresco' and enjoy nice city & sea views. 

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At this point, our Singapore River trip comes to its end and you have a few options...

  • To continue to Chinatown (see the Chinatown excursion section)
  • To explore the City Center's Northern part (see separate section)
  • A bumboat trip on the Singapore River is a nice and pleasant way to see the area and although you have just completed a Singapore River sightseeing tour, you might still want to consider this option... It gives another angel and it's quite a refreshing experience (especially after a long walk in the humid heat).   

For those of you who don't like any of the above options: MRT-Raffles Place is just around the corner from the Merlion (a couple of minutes by foot). 

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