13 OF THE MOST INTERESTING HISTORICAL SITES IN SINGAPORE

Old Hill police station is one of Singapore's interesting historical sites
Instagrammable moments … Old Hill police station

By LINDA JAMES | Updated MARCH 10, 2022 | SEE & DO

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Singapore has played an important part in many critical events and so contains a number of important historical sites. While it was officially “found” in the early 19th century, it was believed to be a key trading settlement as early as the 14th century.

British statesman Stamford Raffles (whose name appears on a hotel, statues and streets among other places) negotiated a treaty in 1819 under which Johor allowed the British to have a trading port on the island and, in 1867, it became a crown colony.

During World War II, the city was occupied by the Japanese from 1942 to 1945 and when they surrendered, it again was controlled by the British. In 1963, after years of increasing levels of self-government, it was merged with the Federation of Malaya to form Malaysia in 1963. This resulted in significant strife between Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party and Malaysia’s Alliance Party and it became an independent republic in 1965.

Its long involvement in trading led to the diversity seen in Singapore today and explains why it’s viewed by many as the Gateway to Asia and where “East meets West”.

Bukit Brown Cemetery

Bukit Brown Cemetery, a public Chinese cemetery established in the early 20th century, may well be the biggest Chinese graveyard outside China with about 100,000 graves.

Named after its first owner, George Henry Brown, a ship owner who arrived in Singapore from Calcutta in the 1840s, the 213-acre site became a Chinese cemetery in 1922. It eventually closed and faced the threat of being cleared for redevelopment in the 1970s. It’s now home to wildlife and bird species.

There’s a walking trail through the cemetery, which can be accessed by running right immediately after walking under the flyover near Kheam Hock Park.

Address: Lornie Rd, Mt Pleasant Rd, off Sime Rd and Kheam Hock Rd
Open: 24 hours
Cost: free
Getting there: closest Caldecott MRT (Cc17/Te9), 32 min walk, Botanic Gardens MRT (CC19/DT9), take Exit A, 34 min walk, cross the overhead bridge, make a right turn onto University Rd. Walk 13 min until you see Kheam Hock Park; buses – 52,74,852,855,93

Cavenagh Bridge

Just down the road from Old Parliament House, Cavenagh Bridge provides a convenient link for pedestrians to get from the north bank’s cultural district to the south bank of the Singapore River and the Merlion statue. On the way, drop in for afternoon tea at the beautifully renovated Fullerton Hotel, which is next to the bridge.

It’s the only suspension bridge in Singapore and one of the oldest in the city, having been built in 1869.

The bridge, which features elaborate steel suspension struts, still contains a police notice at either end restricting vehicles (and cattle and horses) that weighed more than 152kg.

Address: 1 Fullerton Sq
Open: 24 hours
Cost: Free
Getting there: near Raffles Place MRT (EW14/NS26), 5 min walk; buses – 100,131,75
Cavenagh Bridge one of Singapore's top historical sites
Cavenagh Bridge … one of the oldest in Singapore

Emerald Hill Road

Emerald Hill is a conservation area between Newtown and Orchard Road. Emerald Hill Rd is lined with colourful houses featuring Chinese Baroque architecture that were once home to members of the wealthy Peranakan community. Now they host bars and restaurants and are popular backdrops for many Instagram pics.

Open: 24 hours
Cost: Free
Getting there: near Somerset MRT (NS23), 10 min walk, Newton (NS21/DT11), 16 min walk, Dhoby Ghaut (NS24/NE6|CC1), 18 min walk; buses – 106,175,502,65

Former Ford Factory

This historic factory is the permanent site for the National Archives of Singapore exhibition titled Surviving the Japanese Occupation: War and its Legacies. The factory is where British forces surrendered to the Imperial Japanese Army on 15 February, 1942. The exhibition presents the events and memories surrounding the British surrender, the Japanese Occupation and the legacies of the war. There are special activity guides available for children, differentiated by age.

There are free guided tours every day for 20 people (except for public holidays).

Address: 351 Upper Bukit Timah Rd
Open: Tuesday to Sunday, 9am-5pm, closed Monday
Cost: Free for Singaporean residents, $S3 for others
Getting there: near Hillview MRT (DT3) 18 min walk; buses – 170,184,754,961
More information: Former Ford Factory

Istana

The Istana (“the Palace”) is the official residence and office of the President of Singapore and also the working office of the Prime Minister and is home to Sri Temasek, the official residence of the PM although none of the prime ministers has ever lived there.

The Istana is an 18th-century neo-Palladian style building with a tropical layout like a Malay house, surrounded by tall columns, deep verandas, louvred windows and panelled doors to promote cross-ventilation. There is a central three-storey, 28m tower block that dominates the building.

The two-storey side wings feature Ionic, Doric and Corinthian orders with Ionic colonnades at the second storey and Doric colonnades at the first storey. The building is in an elevated position overlooking its beautifully kept grounds.

On the first Sunday of each month, 36 Guards and two Guard Commanders conduct a changing of the guard ceremony similar to the British Changing of Guards Ceremony at Buckingham Palace. The incoming guards march from Koek Rd to meet the outgoing guards at Istana’s main entrance. The ceremony includes the symbolic handing over duties and a rifle precision drill complete

Address: Orchard Rd
Open: only open to the public during Open House days on major public holidays from 8.30am-6pm
Cost: free for Singaporean residents, $S2 for others; guided tours extra
Getting there: near Dhoby Ghaut (NS24/NE6/CC1), 17 min walk; buses – 106,131,166,175,502
More information: Istana

Istana Heritage Gallery

If you’re not in Singapore on a public holiday, however, the heritage gallery provides an insight into the history and heritage of the Istana. It gives you an opportunity to learn more about the building and its history, especially the significant events that have taken place since it was completed in 1869.

The specially curated exhibition includes state artefacts, artworks and some of the gifts presented by foreign dignitaries to Singapore’s presidents and PMs.

Address: 35 Orchard Rd, opposite the Istana
Open: Daily 10am-6pm, closed Wednesday
Cost: free
Getting there: near Dhoby Ghaut (NS24/NE6/CC1), 17 min walk; buses – 106,131,166,175,502
More information: Istana

Kampong Lorong Buangkok

This is the last surviving kampong (which means “village” in Malay) in Singapore. Built in 1956, it was known as Selak Kain in Malay, which meant “hitching up one’s sarong (skirt)” because the people who lived there had to hitch up their sarongs to walk through floodwaters whenever there were flash floods. It is now an oasis of simplicity in a city known for its massive high-rise buildings. A surau (small mosque) is surrounded by wooden, single-storey dwellings with tin roofs. Once there were many kampongs but they have all been swallowed up by urbanisation.

The current residents are all relatives of the original tenants and continue to live a simple life, rearing and growing their own food.

Address: 7 Lorong Buangkok, off Yio Chu Kang Rd
Open: best to do a paid tour as these are residences
Cost:
Getting there: from Serangoon MRT, take the 70 or 103 bus for 5 min to Church of St Vincent de Paul stop. Cross the white bridge and follow the unpaved road behind the jogging trail to a group of trees.

Old Hill Street Police Station

Popular with Instagrammers, this historic building that once housed members of the Singapore Police Force.

The building has 927 windows painted in the colours of the rainbow. The colour intensity of the windows on the first four storeys gradually increases on the upper windows to highlight the cantilevered balconies.

The station was originally built to establish a police presence in an area that was notorious for gangland, secret society activities in the 1930s. At the time it was one of the taller buildings in Singapore and was nicknamed the “police skyscraper”.

The building not only housed the station and cells but police personnel and their families lived there too. It was considered very modern with flushing toilet systems and lifts for access to higher floors.

The station was gazetted as a National Monument in 1998. It now houses the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth and Ministry of Communications and Information.

Address: 140 Hill St
Open: you can see the exterior 24 hours
Cost: free
Getting there: Near Clarke Quay (NE5), 6 min walk; buses - 147,166,197,51

The Padang

This open playing field (padang in Malay) is an iconic feature of Singapore that has been the centre of many historical events. It has hosted National Day Parades as well as the victory parade when the Japanese surrendered Singapore back to the British. Today, it’s still used for sports such as soccer and rugby and includes the Padang Cricket Ground. Several important landmarks surround the Padang including Saint Andrew’s Cathedral, City Hall, the Old Supreme Court Building and the City Hall MRT station.

Address: between St Andrews Rd and Connaught Dr
Open: 24 hours
Cost: free
Getting there: near City Hall MRT (EW13/NS25), 6 min walk, Esplanade MRT (CC3), 9 min walk; buses - 100,106,197,57,75

Peranakan Terrace Houses

Many Instagram moments have happened at the Peranakan Terrace Houses off Joo Chiat Rd, Koon Seng Road and Joo Chiat Place. These brightly coloured shophouses feature pintu pagar (swinging doors) at the front to allow the breeze through while maintaining the privacy of the inhabitants as well as detailed wooden carvings.

Address: 287 Joo Chiat Rd
Open: exterior can be viewed 24 hours
Cost: free
Getting there: Near Eunos MRT (EW7), walk about 20 mins; buses – 16,33, walk 3 mins 

Petain Road Terraces

These shophouses are some of the most beautiful and well-preserved pre-war terrace houses, built in the early 1930s. Like those in Emerald Hill Rd, they are classic examples of the Chinese Baroque style.

Address: Pertain Rd
Open: exterior 24 hours
Cost: free
Getting there: near Farrer Park MRT(NE8), 8 min walk, Bendemeer MRT (DT23) 10 min walk, Lavender MRT (EW11), 12 min walk; buses – 130,131,147,23,64

Raffles Hotel

Raffles Hotel is synonymous with Singapore and conjures up images of times gone by when people lounged in sumptuous luxury sipping tea from fine china and nibbling on crustless sandwiches. You don’t have to just imagine though, you can still go and enjoy the afternoon tea experience for yourself for about $S80 per person.

Raffles is also the home of the Singapore Sling, which was apparently created in the Long Bar where it is still customary to throw peanut shells on the floor! This colonial-style luxury hotel in the Colonial District was built in 1887 and named after British statesman Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the founder of colonial-era Singapore.

It’s now managed by AccorHotels and owned by Qatar-based, government-owned Katara Hospitality.

The hotel has had many upgrades and extensions over the years and its most recent claim to fame was its inclusion in the “Crazy Rich Asians” movie.

Address: 1 Beach Rd
Open: 24 hours
Cost: free
Getting there: near Esplanade MRT (CC3), 3-min walk, City Hall MRT (EW13/NS25), 7-min walk, Bugis MRT (EW12/DT14), 12-min walk; buses - 100,106,502,57
More information: Raffles Hotel
Stamford Raffles statue Singapore
Sir Stamford Raffles’ statue … at Raffles Landing where he apparently first landed

Raffles Landing

Raffles’s Landing Site, in the Riverside area, is where Sir Stamford Raffles was meant to have landed on 28 January, 1819. There’s a statue of him on the north bank of the Singapore River. The plaque at the landing site reads: “On this historic site, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles first landed in Singapore on 28th January 1819, and with genius and perception changed the destiny of Singapore from an obscure fishing village to a great seaport and modern metropolis.”

Address: 1 Old Parliament Ln
Open: 24 hours
Cost: free
Getting there: near Raffles Place MRT (EW14/NS26), 8 min walk; Raffles Landing Site Jetty, 1-min walk, Fullerton Jetty, 5-min walk, Raffles Place Jetty, 6-min walk; buses - 10,147,197,61,75,80,961

Conclusion

There’s so much history to experience in Singapore: these are just 13 of the most interesting historical sites that mark or document the key events in the city state’s history. There are also many museums and memorials that shouldn’t be missed.

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