What better way to discover Singapore’s colourful past than visiting the historical sites? Take a trip down the memory lane as you visit these sites and learn more about the colonial days, war times and more.
TOP 1 Fort Canning Hill
Fort Canning Hill (also known as Forbidden Hill and Government Hill in the olden days) is steep in history, with archaeological evidence that dates back to the 14th century and even earlier. Once the residence of Malay rulers and the battlegrounds during World War II, there’s much to see here including the ancient tombs, forts and The Battlebox, a bomb-proof shelter beneath Fort Canning Hill which acted as a secret underground command centre for the British army during World War II. Today, Fort Canning Park has 9 historical gardens to help both visitors and locals understand the rich history of the place. Get ready to glean more about Singapore’s history than you ever thought you would!
Address: Fort Canning Hill
Opening hours: 24 hours
TOP 2 National Gallery Singapore
Housed in two national monuments – the former Supreme Court and City Hall – National Gallery Singapore is nothing short of breathtaking. The green dome of the former Supreme Court stood out prominently in the structure, which is also the last grand Neoclassical building constructed during Singapore’s colonial era. The former City Hall was the site of many important events in Singapore’s history, such as the surrender ceremony of the Japanese forces during World War II, the swearing in of Singapore’s first fully elected government and the site of Singapore’s first national day.
The interior of National Gallery Singapore is an elegant integration of the City Hall and former Supreme Court, and complementing it is the unique collection of more than 9,000 artworks from across Southeast Asia spanning the 19th century to the present, making it one of the world’s largest public collections. Feast your eyes on the architecture of the national monuments as you get up close with the city hall chamber and the various features of the former Supreme Court such as the rotunda, the foyer, the historical lobby, the balcony and the terrace.
Address: 1 St Andrew’s Road, Singapore 178957
Opening hours: 10am – 7pm daily
TOP 3 The Fullerton Hotel
Completed in 1928, the present-day Fullerton Hotel is a historical landmark at Marina Bay, having witnessed key events in Singapore’s history such as British occupation, World War II, Japanese occupation and Singapore’s independence. Built by the British after the Allied forces had the victory in World War I, it was once home to British governmental offices, Singapore’s General Post Office, the prestigious Singapore Club and the Singapore Exchange. It has a neo-classical style and is easily identifiable by the colossal Doric columns that line its exterior. There is also a lofty portico over the main entrance with trophy designs and royal coat of arms and a lighthouse on its rooftop that was built to guide the ships in the harbour (present-day Marina Reservoir).
Today, you can still witness the architectural intricacies within its walls. The room in which the British Governor was first told to surrender to the Japanese during World War II is now an exclusive lounge with a one-of-a-kind, barrel-vaulted coffered ceiling. The historic lighthouse was replaced with Fullerton Light, a revolving beacon emanating light from the roof of the building, and a luxury restaurant, aptly named Lighthouse, in its place.
Address: 1 Fullerton Square, Singapore 049178
TOP 4 CHIJMES
CHIJMES (pronounced “chimes”) which stands for Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus Middle Education School, is an iconic building in the busy streets of City Hall. Established in 1854 by French Catholic nuns, the original complex houses a school for girls from poor families, an orphanage, Caldwell House (nun’s quarters), and a chapel. It has now become one of Singapore’s hottest and most aesthetically-pleasing dining and entertainment venues, so anyone can step in and be enchanted by its beauty.
Caldwell House is a two-storey building built by colonial-era architect G. D. Coleman. It was built in the neo-Classical style with a semi-circle extending out of the front of the building. The upper floor which used to house the nuns’ dormitory has a grand gallery with large Doric columns supporting a vaulted timber ceiling.
The chapel, now known as the CHIJMES Hall, was built in the Gothic style with high ceilings, flying buttresses, a five-storey spire, elaborate stained glass windows produced in Belgium which depict scenes from the Bible, a cross-vaulted ceiling, terrazzo-tiled floors and 648 Corinthian columns and corridors with unique and elaborate carvings of birds and plants. It is undeniably the star of the complex, and understandably a highly popular venue for weddings and concerts.
Step out of the chapel, and you’ll be in a well-maintained garden with marble waterfalls and a beautiful courtyard. It’s hard not to fall in love with this place!
Address: 30 Victoria Street, Singapore 187996
TOP 5 The Arts House at The Old Parliament
The Arts House is Singapore’s oldest colonial building. Built in 1827 by distinguished colonial architect G. D. Coleman, it served many purposes such as Court House, Supreme Court and government store house before becoming Singapore’s first Parliament House when Singapore gained independence. This almost 200-year-old building was gazetted as a national monument in 1992.
Today, the Parliament has moved to the new Parliament House right beside it and the Arts House occupies the old parliament house. It plays an important role in the arts and creative scene by serving as a multidisciplinary arts centre holding various programmes such as Singapore Writers Festival, Singapore International Festival of Arts, exhibitions and movie screenings. The former parliament has become a popular venue for weddings and concerts. If you have the privilege of stepping inside, look out for the names of senior ministers of the state that are still engraved on the key seats there!
Address: 1 Old Parliament Lane, Singapore 179429
Opening hours: 10am – 10pm daily
TOP 6 Thian Hock Kheng Temple
Thian Hock Keng Temple is one of the oldest Chinese temples in Singapore, completed in 1842 by the Hokkien Clan in Telok Ayer Street. Originally located along the coastline before land reclamation took place, it was near the landing point for the immigrants, and was popular among the early Chinese immigrants to Singapore who visit the temple to give thanks to Ma Zu (Goddess of the Sea) for their safe voyage. It was also a key landmark in Chinatown in those days, where the immigrants hang out at the temple and at the nearby shophouses that still flank Telok Ayer Street today.
The remarkable southern Chinese architectural style is in full display here, with elaborate carvings of dragons, phoenixes and deities on its columns and supporting structures, intricate sculptures and a distinctive roof with dragons and colourful broken porcelain on the roof ridges, a Fujian decorating technique. Beyond that, the entire structure of stone, wood and tiles is constructed without using a nail, making it an architectural wonder.
Address: 158 Telok Ayer Street, Singapore 068613
Opening hours: 7.30am – 5.30pm daily
TOP 7 Changi Chapel and Museum
Changi Chapel and Museum tells the story of the painful past of World War II where Prisoners-of-War (POWs) and civilians were interned at the infamous Changi Prison (a stone’s throw away from Changi Chapel and Museum) during the Japanese Occupation. The museum’s collection of photographs, drawings, letters and items by the prisoners sheds light on the harsh treatments, overcrowding, food shortages and diseases that befell them in the prison and serves as a solemn reminder of the brutality of war and the price of freedom.
Visitors can pay their respects to those fallen in the war at the chapel and visit the nearby old Changi Prison where the double-leafed steel entrance gate, two corner turrets and 180-metre stretch of wall of the World War II-era Changi Prison was gazetted as national monument.
Address: 1000 Upper Changi Road North, Singapore 507707
Opening hours: Changi Chapel and Museum is currently undergoing renovation and is expected to reopen in 2020
TOP 8 Fort Siloso
Fort Siloso is the only preserved coastal fort in Singapore. Built in the late 19th century by the British to protect Singapore against attacks from the sea, it stands tall on Sentosa Island with coastal guns and cannons. Unfortunately, these majestic guns and cannons weren’t of much help during World War II as Japanese troops invaded Singapore by land from the North, and Singapore was eventually surrendered to the Japanese.
Today, many of the remains of the fort are well-preserved for visitors to have a look. Make your way up the Fort Siloso Skywalk, a treetop trail set 11 storeys above ground, to get a bird’s eye view of the fort and even imagine enemy warships sailing close as you look out at the sea. Then, continue your exploration by taking the Heritage Trail and the Gun Trail to look at the World War II memorabilia more closely. You should also not miss out the Surrender Chambers where you can watch an interactive video documentary which recreates the scenes of war from the Japanese invasion all through the Japanese’s surrender at the end of World War II.
Address: Siloso Point, Singapore 099981 (Board Sentosa Bus A or C and alight at Siloso Point)
Opening hours: 10am – 6pm daily
TOP 9 Statue of Sir Stamford Raffles
The statue of Sir Stamford Raffles stands on the historic Raffles Landing Site, which is where Raffles was believed to first set foot on Singapore in 1819. The white polymarble statue of Raffles with his arms folded and gazing into the distance has long been a landmark along Singapore River and is widely photographed by tourists and locals alike. The location of the statue against the backdrop of Singapore’s central business district points to Raffles’ contribution to Singapore’s development during the colonial era which plays a part in its present-day prosperity. You can also catch the much older, original statue just a short stroll away, in front of Victoria Memorial Hall at Empress Place. Sculpted by renowned English sculptor and poet Thomas Woolner, it was unveiled on Jubilee Day on 27 June 1887.
Address: North Bank of Singapore River, Singapore 179555 (in front of Asian Civilisations Museum)
Opening hours: 24 hours
TOP 10 Old Hill Street Police Station
This vibrant building with window panes taking on the colours of the rainbow lies on the banks of the Singapore River at Clarke Quay, and has caught the eye of many visitors. Officially opened in 1934, it was the largest government building at the time and it housed the Hill Street Police Station and living quarters for police personnels. The six-storey building was built in the Neo-Classical style characteristic of many government buildings in England during that time, with balconies, columns, Palladian windows and two internal courtyards. Today, it is home to the Ministry of Communications and Information and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth. The courtyards are venues for art exhibitions and performing arts events.
Address: 140 Hill Street, Old Hill Street Police Station, Singapore 179369
Opening hours: 10am – 5pm daily
Photo credits: Viator, Visit Singapore, The Fullerton Hotel, CHIJMES, Flickr/courthouselover, theculturetrip, Visit Singapore, Wikimedia Commons/Michael_Spencer, Asian Civilisations Museum, Old Hill Street Police Station
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