City Orientation Walking Tour (Self Guided), Singapore

For centuries, the island city-state of Singapore has been a melting pot of Asian cultures: Chinese, Indian, Malay and Arab, prompting men and women from various parts of the continent to come and make it their home. Legacy of that fusion lives on today in the harmony of a multicultural society, making Singapore a one of a kind tourist destination which offers visitors a truly unforgettable experience. This self-guided tour will take you through some of the most popular tourist attractions of Singapore.
How it works: Download the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" from iTunes App Store or Google Play to your mobile phone or tablet. The app turns your mobile device into a personal tour guide and its built-in GPS navigation functions guide you from one tour stop to next. The app works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

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City Orientation Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: City Orientation Walking Tour
Guide Location: Singapore » Singapore (See other walking tours in Singapore)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 13
Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.2 Km or 2.6 Miles
Author: vickyc
1
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum

1) Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum (must see)

Located in Singapore's Chinatown, this opulent cultural monument is cherished by the local Chinese who make up the overwhelming majority of the city-state's population. The temple's majestic outside appearance is equally matched on the inside.

Always lit up at night, it is open to visitors 24 hours a day. The dress code is strict and demands women to cover their shoulders, with a conservative dress or slacks advised for the lower part. Likewise, men are prohibited from wearing shorts or tank-tops, but oddly enough shoes are permitted for all, as are non-flash photos in some places.

Locals go in to pray regularly and you may find here a monk conducting a prayer or chanting in a microphone quite often. Set in the rear are the statues of Buddhas each overseeing a certain astrological sign, but the key figure in the main hall is Maitreya, a Buddha that is yet to come to Earth, the wooden statue of which here is believed to be 1,000 years old.

One of the temple's floors is fully filled with statues, among which is that of Guan Yin – Chinese Bodhisattva, Goddess of Compassion, Mercy and Kindness. Further up, in the mezzanine, there are life-sized wax sculptures of present and past leaders of the Temple – quite rich in detail actually (even showing wrinkles on hands!) and fit to rival any wax museum in the world. Also here is a balcony from which one can observe, through the drapes, the huge main prayer room down below, on the 1st floor.

Finally, the 4th floor is where the ultimate treasure of the temple is found – the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic Stupa reportedly containing a tooth of Gautama Buddha himself, discovered in 1980 at a Burmese monastery. Now encased in a golden chamber behind glass panels, it can't be inspected up close, but there is an accompanying scale model at the front which can be viewed at any time.

Another must-see within the temple is the orchid garden on the rooftop featuring an enormous “prayer wheel” inside a pavilion of 10,000 small Buddhas lining the walls. Most people aren't aware of this garden, so it is very quiet and relaxing up here – an ideal setting for reflection prior to hitting the streets of Singapore's Chinatown once again.

Tip:
Non-flash-photos are permitted in some places, but not in the relic chamber.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 7am-7pm
2
Smith Street

2) Smith Street

Singapore's Chinatown abounds in eateries of various sort which are particularly diverse in the heart of the area, right on and around South Bridge Road. A few touts on Smith Street will try to lure you into some foreigner-friendly restaurants, all decent enough if not the best in their class, and varied enough to eat something different every day for a few weeks. So if you want a great selection of different Asian cuisines, head to Smith Street and dine your way around South East Asia with ease. Give the hawker stalls along the road a miss if looking for genuine local food, even though they're also quite delicious and relatively cheap.

You could start off the day with a Michelin-star hawker lunch at Liao Fan Hawker Chan; next, you could leave the restaurant and roam the streets for unique souvenirs that are much cheaper and affordable, compared to other places. There are several tea shops, craft beer stalls, and many other Chinese shops set in the historical shop-houses, and you will also be able to buy a Durian fruit here or taste Durian ice cream if you're feeling adventurous.

Wherever you choose to go, you won't feel intimidated or pressurized to buy unlike in many other countries. Curiously enough for a street with so much authentic fare, Smith Street is the only street in Chinatown with an English name.
3
Eu Yan Sang Medical Hall

3) Eu Yan Sang Medical Hall

First opened in the early 20th century and now very tastefully refurbished, this is Singapore’s most famous traditional Chinese medicine center where tourists can discover ancient Chinese methods of treatment across a wide range of products and an inventory of more than a thousand herbs.

The peculiar herbal smell is the first thing one notices upon entering; the second, is the strange assortment of ingredients on the shelves, which to the uninitiated appear rather alienating. Besides the usual herbs and roots favored by the Chinese, there are various dubious remedies derived from exotic and endangered species. Blood circulation problems and wounds are eased with centipedes and insects crushed into a “rubbing liquor”; the gall bladders of snakes or bears apparently work wonders on pimples, while deer penis is supposed to provide a lift to any sexual problem.

Above the hall is the small but engaging Birds' Nest Gallery, which casts light on this famous Chinese “delicacy”. Produced by birds known as swiftlets, the nests are a mixture of saliva, moss and grass, and emerged as a prized supplement among China’s royal and noble classes during the Ming Dynasty. Today they are still valued for their supposed efficacy in boosting the immune system and curing bronchial ailments. The swiftlets live high up in the caves of Southeast Asia, and you may be shown a video of men scaling long bamboo poles to get the nests.

Just a few doors down at no. 285, the egg tarts, walnut cookies, buns and other Chinese cakes at the Tong Heng Delicacies shop offer a great way to top up your blood sugar level before pressing on to other sights.

[Eu Yan Sang Medical Hall] Mon-Sat: 8:30am–6pm
[Birds' Nest Gallery] Mon-Sat: 10am–5:30pm
[Tong Heng Delicacies] Daily: 9am–9pm
4
Sri Mariamman Temple

4) Sri Mariamman Temple (must see)

Singapore’s oldest Hindu shrine, the Sri Mariamman Temple, is easily identified by the superb entrance “gopura” bristling with brightly colored deities. Located in the Chinatown district, the temple serves the majority Hindu Singaporeans, known as Tamilians.

Once inside, look up at the roof and you will see splendid friezes depicting a host of Hindu deities, including the three manifestations of the supreme being: Brahma the creator, with three of his four heads showing; Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer, the latter holding one of his sons. The main sanctum, facing you as you walk inside the temple, is devoted to Mariamman, a goddess worshiped for her healing powers. Smaller sanctums dotted all around the temple's walkway honor a number of other deities. In the one dedicated to the goddess Periachi Amman, a sculpture portrays her with a queen lying on her lap, whose evil child she has ripped from her womb, which is most interesting given that Periachi Amman is the protector of children, to whom babies are brought when they're only one month old. Sri Aravan, with his bushy mustache and big ears, is far less intimidating and his sanctum is at the back of the complex.

To the left of the main sanctum is a patch of sand which once a year, during the festival of Thimithi (in October or November), is covered in red-hot coals that male Hindus run across to prove the strength of their faith. The participants, who line up all the way along South Bridge Road waiting for their turn, are supposedly protected from the heat of the coals by the power of prayer.

Why You Should Visit:
If you go during certain times you will see different interesting rituals almost every day.
Visiting here is guaranteed to be a great, culturally-enlightening experience.
Free to enter though there's a small charge for tourists – called a "camera fee".

Tip:
As in any place of worship, you must be respectful toward locals and follow their lead. Lowered voices, covered shoulders, and removed shoes are generally required, but bringing a pair of socks would probably help the more sensitive, as the floors can be scorching hot due to the sun and burn the feet.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 5am-11:30am / 5pm-8:45pm
5
Thian Hock Keng Temple

5) Thian Hock Keng Temple (must see)

To get a glimpse of a culture that is absolutely out of the ordinary, visit Thian Hock Keng, the oldest Hokkien temple in Singapore whose name literally translates to the "Palace of Heavenly Happiness". Now skillfully restored, the temple was constructed in the 19th century in the Southern Chinese architectural style, without any use of nails and with all the materials imported from China. It stands on the site of a small house where immigrants made offerings to Ma Cho Po, aslo known as Mazu [Ma-tsu] in Mandarin, regarded by her worshipers as a powerful and benevolent Queen of Heaven whose statue, also shipped in from China, was set here in time for the temple’s inauguration in 1842. It now stands in the center of the main hall, flanked by the God of War on the right and the Protector of Life on the left.

From the street, the temple looks quite spectacular, with dragons stalking its broad roofs, and the entrance to the temple compound bristling with ceramic flowers, foliage and figures. Specifically, the side entrance gates feature brightly colored tiles portraying peacocks, roses and the Buddhist swastika motif symbolizing good luck, eternity and immortality. Two stone lions, traditional sentinels of any Taoist temple, stand guard at the entrance while the door gods, painted on the front doors, prevent evil spirits from entering.

Beyond this elaborate entrance are two courtyards, straddling which is the temple proper, comprising the shrine of Ma Cho Po. On either side of the temple are pagodas – the one on the left is a shrine of Confucius, and the one on the right houses ancestral tablets of immigrants who founded the temple. Look out for signboards to better understand the significance of various motifs found in all parts of the temple. Look out, too, for the huge ovens, always lit, in which offerings to either gods or ancestors are burnt.

The story of the Chinese immigrants who, in the early 1900s, left their hometowns in Southern China for Singapore in search of a better life is very nicely painted as a wall mural that runs the entire length of the temple's back wall along Amoy Street, so don't forget to check it out before leaving.

Why You Should Visit:
Very peaceful atmosphere and a wonderful piece of Asian architecture.
A photographer's dream, with ornate and colorful carvings everywhere.

Tip:
Make sure that you respect the privacy of those praying and only take photos in the front area.
Located literally next door to the temple is an Indian Muslim Mosque – the Nagore Dargah.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 7:30am-5:30pm
6
UOB Plaza

6) UOB Plaza

They say that the main reason to visit Singapore's Financial District is to feel like a tiny ant in a canyon of gleaming skyscrapers. To see what things look like from the top of the man-made canyon, the best place to head is the OUB Centre – home to the Overseas Union Bank, which is the complex to the west of the United Overseas Bank Plaza, offering truly amazing panoramic views from its rooftop bar, the world's highest alfresco bar, called 1-Altitude. To the right of the soaring metallic triangle of the OUB Centre are the twin towers of the rocket-shaped UOB Plaza One and the slightly older UOB Plaza Two. Both buildings are connected by a 45 m (148 ft) podium supported by four columns. Also visible from there are the rich brown walls of 6 Battery Road, the sturdy Singapore Land Tower, and the almost Art Deco-style Chevron House.

The adjacent area along the river has been well arranged and is a great place for river views and a walk, surrounded by lots of pubs and restaurants. As in most cities, public opinion is fiercely divided over high-rise architecture, but so far Singapore has been spared the more eye-soaring modern follies that blight other cities. The UOB itself is well known as a patron of local art and takes pride in displaying its collection at their art gallery, so by going during office hours, you may admire the view and paintings at the same time.

Tip:
Fans of surrealistic master Salvador Dali wouldn't want to miss the sculpture named “Homage to Newton”, a typically bizarre work that feels somewhat out of place in a city not known for its appreciation of the hallucinatory.
The three roads that run southwest from Raffles Place – namely, Cecil Street, Robinson Road, and Shenton Way – are all crammed with more high-rise banks and financial houses.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-6:30pm
7
Boat Quay

7) Boat Quay (must see)

The historic Boat Quay in Singapore, upstream from the mouth of the Singapore River was once the busiest part of the city's old port – a true center of commerce handling three-quarters of all shipping business back in the 1860s. Because the southern part of the river resembles the belly of a carp, which according to Chinese belief is where wealth and prosperity lay, many shop-houses were built in the area, making it quite crowded.

Although maritime trade is no longer Boat Quay's primary role, the shop-houses here remain and now, carefully conserved, accommodate colorful restaurants, bars and shops of various sort. Thus the area's social-economic role has shifted towards tourism seeing the commercial zone enclose the Singapore River. As such, this is an example of successful urban regeneration, given that in the early 1990s the area was derelict.

It is here, in the Boat Quay, that you will find the most atmospheric riverfront restaurants serving all manner of Singaporean delicacies. There are also German, Indian and Korean foods on offer, as well as heaping plates of seafood to choose from; or, if you just want to watch the boats go by with a pint, that is perfect either. On top of that, visitors get a scenic view of the Financial District and the river and, with such a stunning location, it is good to walk along the shore on a nice balmy night, too.

Tip:
Before ordering food in the Boat Quay, just make sure to ask about the price or pre-agree it, as many things here are charged per 100 grams and you may end up paying exorbitant prices at some restaurants! Keep in mind that if you venture just a little further down the road, to one of the more local street food venues, you might get just as richly rewarded for a smaller bill.
8
Raffles' Landing Site

8) Raffles' Landing Site (must see)

The statue of Singapore's founder, Sir Stamford Raffles, reportedly marks the spot where he set foot on the island for the first time, on the northern bank of the Singapore River, which today serves as the Civic Precinct accommodating governmental buildings, a concert hall, galleries, and museums – in all, a very different experience from the Boat Quay on the opposite bank.

For someone who had spent a very limited time in Singapore, Raffles had an extraordinary influence on its development. His name appears everywhere in the city nowadays, but his impact extends way beyond the civic commemoration. The streets you walk in the city center still largely follow the original plans that he drew. The ethnic districts, still evident today, particularly in the case of Little India, were all demarcated by him as well. Even the classic shop-house design – built of brick, with a central courtyard for light, ventilation and water collection – has been attributed to Sir Raffles either. More importantly, Singapore’s very existence as one of the world’s great ports is a direct consequence of Raffles’s vision to set up a British trading post here, thus countering the Dutch power in the region.

Having stepped ashore on the northern bank of the Singapore River in 1819, when the place was just an unwelcoming swampland and a tiger-infested jungle, Raffles recognized the island’s potential and immediately struck a treaty with Abdul Rahman, chieftain of Singapore and subordinate of the Sultan of Johor, to establish a British trading station. The Dutch were furious at this British incursion into what they perceived their territory. Realizing that the sultan’s loyalties to the Dutch would make the final approval of his deal impossible, Raffles approached the sultan’s brother, Hussein, recognized him as His Highness the Sultan, and concluded a second treaty with both him and the chieftain. As a result, the Union Jack was raised and Singapore’s future as a trading post was thus set. With its duty-free stance and strategic position at the gateway to the South China Sea, Singapore experienced a meteoric expansion, as the Chinese, Indians and Europeans arrived in search of work and commercial opportunities. By 1860 the population of Singapore had reached 80,000, the most numerous of them being Southern Chinese immigrants. By the end of the century, the opening of the Suez Canal and the advent of the steamship had consolidated Singapore’s position as the hub of international trade in the region.
9
Asian Civilisations Museum

9) Asian Civilisations Museum (must see)

The robust Empress Place Building, a Neoclassical structure named after Queen Victoria and completed in 1865, houses the Asian Civilizations Museum that ambitiously tries to pull together the various threads of Asian civilizations, from the Middle East through to China, thus helping better understand and appreciate all the different cultures that go into making Singaporeans what they are – a cosmopolitan people.

Informative and well-presented, with special exhibits that are not often seen in public, this museum has a few highlights worth mentioning, starting with the Hindu-Buddhist gallery and its beautifully lit displays that feature a stunning 18th-century Burmese Buddha head and a large bronze drum. The Chinese influences are also well represented, from tomb remains to ceramics over a thousand years old that have been recovered from a shipwreck discovered in 1998. All in all, the recovered cargo comprises more than 60,000 well-preserved items, including gold and silver objects, produced in China during the Tang dynasty.

In the small Malay World section, look out for a spectacular Kelantan Makara, a huge goggle-eyed mongrel creature once used in rituals, while elsewhere you will find exquisite examples of porcelain, textiles, lacquerware, costumes and traditional huge procession statues.

The museum also has a restaurant, called 'Empress', featuring traditional Chinese dishes in a contemporary waterfront setting, and a cafe, called 'Privé ACM', where you can relax at the alfresco area, enjoying the Singapore River view and the city's business district skyline. The museum shop carries souvenirs and a wide range of books on Asian art.

Tip:
You can take one of the free English tours which are very worthwhile, usually beginning in June and running at 11:30am, 1:30pm, and 3pm most days, and if you are planning to go to more than one museum, consider getting a multi-museum pass while you're here.

Opening Hours:
Sat-Thu: 10am-7pm; Fri: 10am-9pm
[English Guided Tours] Mon-Fri: 11:30am / 1:30pm / 3pm; Sat, Sun: 11:30am / 1:30pm
10
Cavenagh Bridge

10) Cavenagh Bridge

Lying between the Empress Place and the Fullerton building, in the heart of Singapore, Cavenagh Bridge is one of the witnesses of the city-state's history. With its elegant suspension struts, it is considered to be the sole bridge on the Singapore river that has survived intact in its original form since construction, when it replaced its more rudimentary pedestrian predecessor.

Initially called the Edinburgh Bridge to commemorate the visit of the Duke of Edinburgh, its name was eventually changed in honor of Major General William Cavenagh who was the last India-appointed Governor of the Straits Settlements. The bridge itself was actually built in Glasgow and then shipped to Singapore in sections for the local assembly by Indian convict laborers in 1869. Later, in 1910, when the nearby Anderson Bridge was completed, it was due for demolition but, fortunately, that decision was changed in favor of converting into a pedestrian-only bridge. Hence, as long as they weight not more than 152 kgs or 336lbs – which is the technical restriction here – people are welcome to cross the bridge as they please!

Aside for the historical significance, which is a big draw here, there is a rather curious (and undeniably cute) family of cats cast in sculpture at the end of the bridge near Fullerton Hotel and if, for any reason, you want to jump into the Singapore river, then just look for the river-diving bronze kids on the opposite bank and follow their suit! More photo opportunities of sculptures depicting life back in the days of yore are readily available on the south bank.
11
Merlion Statue

11) Merlion Statue (must see)

No tour of Singapore is complete without seeing the Merlion and the small park surrounding it that caters well to the tourists visiting the city. An imaginary creature, half fish and half lion, the Merlion has been used as a mascot and national personification of Singapore since 1964. The fish body symbolizes Singapore's humble beginnings as a fishing village back in the day when it was called Temasek, while the lion's head, on the other hand, stems from the old tale about the city's present name “Singapura” which translates from Sanskrit as the "Lion City".

Curiously enough, lions with fishtails can also be found on murals at Ajanta and Mathura in India, as well as on Etruscan coins of the Hellenistic period. Merlions, or ‘heraldic sea-lions’, are an established element of Western heraldry, and have been used on the coat of arms of the cities of Portsmouth and Great Yarmouth in the United Kingdom, as well as the City of Manila and the East India Company.

While being one of Singapore's most kitschy of attractions, sitting near this 9-meter statue, that spouts water from its mouth, does provide commanding views of the Marina Bay area, as well as of the city skyscrapers and the Singapore Flyer (if standing on its right). If you’ve already been to Raffles and got yourself a Singapore sling, well, a trip up the Merlion is the next logical step.

It can get really busy here but people come and go quite quickly so, with a little patience, you're bound to get a good shot of the statue. Better yet, try to enjoy the location more rather than worry about the perfect picture, and this place will definitely hit the spot.
12
Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay

12) Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay (must see)

Art and architecture go hand in hand, as evident in this spiky and endearingly outrageous performing arts center. The structure itself emerged from Singapore’s realization that it needed iconic buildings to keep pace with the competitive international tourist industry – and, as such, can be seen as the Asian rival to the Sydney Opera House, with a fabulous location to support its own unique sense of grandeur. Officially opened in 2002, it has become quite the key emblem of contemporary Singapore; a shining example of its arty, creative side.

The big question is and will always be whether the Esplanade’s theatres bear more resemblance to Durian fruit, the eyes of a fly, or a microphone. Despite its fruity nickname, “The Big Durians”, which is most popular with the locals, the twin glass domes of the complex do not take their design reference from the tropical fruit, but from traditional Asian reed weavings. The spiky metal sunshades reach seven thousand in number, and with their varying angles and geometries, make the roof-line morph and mutate across the building; however, aside from the visual complexity, they have a practical aspect as well, in that they maximize the natural light while shielding the glass roof from heat radiation – an important concern given Singapore's location close to the equator.

Internally, the venue is just as extraordinary. As well as large-capacity twin auditoriums that are visually and acoustically spectacular, there are several decent eating options here to fill one's tummy as well. Also worth looking out for here are the regular free performances and major events outside, especially on weekends, which are advertised either on the theatre’s website or in the monthly what’s-on guide so, on a lark, you may get to pick and choose several performances to see. The Esplanade has many different art-related shops as well, including a vinyl record store, a wind instrument shop and more. As if that's not enough, it houses a branch of the National Library where you can read digital newspapers, scour through the huge selection of music, dance, and art materials, or watch movies in a spectacular setting. To capture a very nice picture of the famed Singapore Merlion, you can go up to the top floor. This is indeed a heavenly refuge if you're an art lover or simply need a break from Singapore's humidity and heat.

Tip:
To capture a very nice picture of the famed Singapore Merlion, you can then go up to the top floor.

Guided Tours:
Mon–Fri: 11am (excl. public holidays)
13
Singapore Flyer

13) Singapore Flyer (must see)

If you want to see all of Singapore, especially the area of the bay, in an unobstructed panoramic way, don't hesitate to get on the Singapore Flyer on a clear day. Standing a lofty 165 meters tall, this monumental Ferris wheel was once the world's tallest until the Las Vegas “High Roller”, opened in 2014, surpassed it by a mere 2.6 m (9 ft). Much like the “High Roller”, the Singapore Flyer spins in slow motion with the journey lasting a half-hour full turn – just enough to see everything and take dozens of photos before being brought back down into a rainforest-covered park. There are 28 cabins in all, each able to carry 28 passengers, but normally when there is no queue, it can be pretty vacant and you can have your privacy. Those acrophobic not need to worry at all, because they will not feel the height when in the capsule and, besides, the ride is made incredibly smooth, so they won't feel the rotation either. The cabins are air-conditioned and with panoramic screens inside providing all the necessary details on the various sights and surroundings.

Various packages are offered for those looking to get high in style, such as the signature Singapore Sling Flight, in which drinks are served for that extra lift.

Tip:
The best time for having a Flyer ride is on weekdays as well as before or just after sunset to see the city at night.

Operating Hours:
Daily: 8:30am-10:30pm (last admission: 10pm)
Ticketing counter operates from 8am to 10pm

Walking Tours in Singapore, Singapore

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Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.3 km
Art Galleries of Singapore Walking Tour

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Travel Distance: 2.0 km
Romantic Singapore Walking Tour

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Souvenir Shopping

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Travel Distance: 5.8 km
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Travel Distance: 4.2 km
Singapore: Chinatown Walking Tour

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Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.4 km

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