Colonial District Walking Tour, Singapore

Colonial District Walking Tour (Self Guided), Singapore

Singapore was first established as a trading post in Southeast Asia by the British India Company in 1819. Its strong colonial heritage has left a number of European style buildings lining the banks of the Singapore River in the heart of the city center. This self guided tour leads you through Singapore's Colonial District, taking in some of the most famous landmarks in the city along the way.
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Colonial District Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Colonial District Walking Tour
Guide Location: Singapore » Singapore (See other walking tours in Singapore)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.7 Km or 1.1 Miles
Author: vickyc
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Fullerton Hotel
  • Cavenagh Bridge
  • Asian Civilisations Museum
  • Raffles' Landing Site
  • Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall
  • Arts House (The Old Parliament Building)
  • National Gallery Singapore
  • Saint Andrew's Cathedral
  • Raffles Hotel Historical Building
Fullerton Hotel

1) Fullerton Hotel

The Fullerton Hotel Singapore is a historic hotel set at the mouth of the Singapore River amid the financial and arts district, within a walking distance to the National Gallery and minutes away from the city's main shopping belt. For nearly a century this building has overlooked Fullerton Square, an important commerce area and the core of major local business activity which played a pivotal role in Singapore’s rich history. Originally known as the Fullerton Building, it had among founding tenants the General Post Office, The Exchange, Singapore Club (now Singapore Town Club), the Marine Department, and the Import and Export Department (later the Ministry of Trade and Industry). The building was named after Robert Fullerton, the first Governor of the Straits Settlements (1826–1829), and was meant to display the authority and might of the British Colonial rule with the befitting grandeur and class.

Opened on 27 June 1928, it was the biggest structure in Singapore at the time. Designed to utilize natural ventilation, it had four internal air-wells to cool the interiors. At some point, there was also a lighthouse placed on top of it, called the Fullerton Light, built to replace the Fort Canning Light decommissioned in 1979 for being gradually blocked by high-rising construction in Singapore.

In the course of the 1998-2000 restoration project, the Fullerton was transformed into a stunning 400-room heritage hotel. During its redevelopment, this grand Neo-Classical landmark had most of its special architectural features retained. Among them the General Post Office gallery area on the ground floor with bays that corresponded with the building's towering two-story fluted Doric colonnades on the facade and high-ceiling verandas, the lofty portico over the main entrance with trophy designs and the Royal Coat of Arms, as well as the Straits Club Billiard Room – kept but without original wood paneling. The Shanghai plaster panels adorning the exterior have been restored as well. As for the lighthouse, it has been converted to the Lighthouse Restaurant to keep in line with the modern style of the hotel.

In December 2015 the Fullerton Hotel was gazetted as Singapore's 71st National Monument.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Cavenagh Bridge

2) Cavenagh Bridge

Spanning the Singapore River with elegant suspension struts between the Empress Place and Fullerton Building (currently Hotel), Cavenagh Bridge is one of the witnesses of Singapore's eventful history. This is the only bridge to have survived intact in its original form since construction in 1869, when it replaced its rudimentary pedestrian predecessor.

Initially known as Edinburgh Bridge, called so to commemorate the visit by Duke of Edinburgh, it was eventually renamed in honor of Major General William Cavenagh, the last India-appointed Governor of the Straits Settlements. The bridge itself was built in Glasgow and then shipped to Singapore in sections where it was assembled by Indian convict laborers. In 1910, when the nearby Anderson Bridge was completed, the Cavenagh was to be demolished, but, fortunately, that decision was scrapped in favor of converting it to a foot bridge. Presently, as long as the pedestrians who cross it weight not more than 152kg or 336lbs individually – which is the technical restriction – they are welcome to pass!

Why You Should Visit:
A historic bridge right next to the Fullerton Hotel. Apart from the lovely views up and down the river and the historical significance, which is a big draw to the Cavenagh, there is an undeniably cute bronze family of cats – a cat and two kittens – to be found at the end of the bridge, near the hotel. On the opposite side there are bronzes of the children leaping into the water so tempting to follow their suit.

More photo opportunities of sculptures depicting life back in the days of yore are readily available on the south side.
Asian Civilisations Museum

3) Asian Civilisations Museum

The robust former Empress Place Building, located at the mouth of the Singapore River, is one of the city's architectural treasures – elegantly proportioned and symmetrically laid out, adorned with many decorative features, such as exquisite plaster mouldings, architraves, and cornices. Completed in 1867 and named after Queen Victoria, it still wears the original Neoclassical Palladian exterior, despite having undergone a series of renovations and extensions, featuring same Roman Doric facade for the principal storey with pitched clay tile roofs, arcaded verandahs and timber-louvered French windows that used to keep the interior cool and well ventilated in Singapore’s tropical climate before air-conditioners were installed and which caught the attention of many migrants sailing into Singapore harbor over the years.

Today, this white two-storey edifice houses the Asian Civilisations Museum that ambitiously tries to pull together the various threads of Asian civilizations, from the Middle East to China, thus helping to better understand and appreciate all the different cultures that went into making Singaporeans what they are – a cosmopolitan nation.

Informative and well-presented, with special exhibits not often seen in public, this museum has a few highlights worth mentioning, starting with the Hindu-Buddhist gallery and its beautifully-lit displays featuring 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 found in 1998. All in all, the recovered cargo comprises more than 60,000 well-preserved pieces, including gold and silver items 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”, serving traditional Chinese cuisine in a contemporary waterfront setting, plus a cafe, called “Privé ACM”, where you can relax at the alfresco area, enjoying view of the Singapore River and the city's business district skyline. The museum shop carries souvenirs and a wide range of books on Asian art.

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 plan 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
Raffles' Landing Site

4) Raffles' Landing Site

The statue of Singapore's founder, Sir Stamford Raffles, reportedly marks the spot on the northern bank of the Singapore River where the general set foot on the island the very first time on 29 January 1819. Back then it was just an unwelcoming swampland and tiger-infested jungle, while today the area serves as the Civic Precinct accommodating government buildings, a concert hall, galleries, and museums.

For someone who had spent a very limited time on the island (his longest tenure in Singapore was only eight months), Raffles had an extraordinary influence over its development. His name shows everywhere throughout the city, yet his impact extends way beyond the purely civic commemoration. The streets you walk in the heart of Singapore still largely follow the original layout drawn by Raffles. The ethnic districts, such as 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 – is attributed to Sir Raffles, too. But more importantly, Singapore’s very existence – as one of the world’s greatest seaports – is a direct consequence of Sir Raffles’ vision.

Recognizing the island’s potential as a post to counter the Dutch power in the region, Raffles immediately struck a deal with Abdul Rahman, chieftain of Singapore and subordinate of the Sultan of Johor, to set up a British trading station here. Understanding that the sultan’s loyalties to the Dutch – who were furious at the British incursion into what they perceived their territory – would make the final approval of his deal impossible, Raffles approached the sultan’s brother, Hussein, addressing him as His Highness the Sultan, and concluded a second treaty with both him and the chieftain. Thus, the Union Jack rose over Singapore and sealed its future as the British trading post.

Years on, thanks to its duty-free stance and strategic geographic position at the gateway to the South China Sea, Singapore experienced a meteoric expansion, seeing Chinese, Indian and European migrants coming in search of work and commercial success. By 1860 the city's population had reached 80,000. By the end of the 19th century, with the opening of the Suez Canal and the advent of the steamship, Singapore’s position as the regional hub of international trade had been consolidated.
Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall

5) Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall

The Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall is a complex of two buildings and a clock tower joined together by a common corridor, located in the civic district of Singapore. On 6 February 1919, which marked the centenary of Singapore's founding, a statue of Stamford Raffles by T. Woolner was moved from the Padang to the front of the memorial hall. The statue was complimented with a new semicircular colonnade and a pool.

In the lead-up to World War II, the memorial hall was used as a hospital for victims of bombing raids by the Japanese forces during the Battle of Singapore before their successful occupation of the colony. During the occupation, the buildings themselves escaped major physical damage, although the colonnade was destroyed, and Raffles's statue moved to the National Museum. After liberation, the hall also served as the venue for Japanese war crime trials.

In 1954, the memorial hall underwent renovations by Swan & Maclaren, and on 21 November, it was the venue where the People's Action Party was founded. The town hall was also internally restructured to allow air-conditioning and soundproofing to be added, and was eventually converted to the Victoria Theatre. In 1979, the memorial hall was renovated again to accommodate the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO), upon which it was renamed the Victoria Concert Hall.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Arts House (The Old Parliament Building)

6) Arts House (The Old Parliament Building)

Sitting right beside Raffles' landing point and statue is the Arts House (formerly Old Parliament House), a multi-disciplinary arts venue which today hosts exhibitions, concerts and other similar functions. Built in 1827, this is the oldest surviving government building and perhaps the oldest surviving building at all in Singapore. From 1965 to 1999 it served as the seat of Singaporean Parliament until the latter moved to a new adjacent location.

In the course of nearly 200 years, this building has played an active role on Singapore's first, political and then artistic scene. Designed by architect George Drumgoole Coleman as a Neo-Palladian mansion for private use, it was then made a public property, and was first used as a courthouse and other government offices, including the Land Office. In 1839, a new single-storey annex was built on an adjacent plot of land, forming what is now the Former Attorney General's Chambers which was later incorporated into the Parliament House.

Throughout history, this building has undergone several major extensions including those in 1873-1875 and 1901, during which it was extended towards the Singapore River and lost the original Coleman's design. In 1909, two courtrooms were reconstructed and a residence for the Attorney General was added, seeing the architectural style transform from Neo-Palladian to the more Victorian. The building was again refurbished in 1953-1954 to make way for the new Legislative Assembly of Singapore.

As of 26 March 2004, it has been a heritage center for artists, writers and ideas, supporting and presenting programs and festivals aimed at developing and promoting creativity in Singapore. For this purpose, the old building was restored and its furnishings and design, including Tuscan style-columns and cornices, carefully preserved.

Why You Should Visit:
Interactive gallery enabling visitors to immerse in the arts scene of Singapore, to see the latest works of local artists, and to learn about Singapore development over the last 50+ years.
Great selfie opportunity in the chair of the first Prime Minister of Singapore is a bonus.

During the day the place is open and free, and usually not busy – you can virtually have it all to yourself (and a security guard). Takes only a few minutes to look round.

Opening Hours:
Mon - Sun: 10:00 am - 10:00 pm
National Gallery Singapore

7) National Gallery Singapore

The National Gallery Singapore is an art museum that oversees the world’s largest public collection of Singaporean and Southeast Asian art, consisting of over 8,000 artworks. It aims to provide an understanding and appreciation of art and culture through a variety of media, focusing on Singapore's culture and heritage and its relationship with other Asian cultures and the world.

The Gallery consists of two national monuments, the former Supreme Court Building and City Hall, and has a combined floor area of 64,000 square metres (690,000 sq ft), making it the largest visual arts venue and largest museum in Singapore. A total cost of S$532 million has gone into National Gallery Singapore’s development.

Consisting of modern and contemporary art, National Gallery Singapore focuses on displaying Singapore and Southeast Asian art from the 19th century to present day. It is home to two permanent galleries: the DBS Singapore Gallery and the UOB Southeast Asia Gallery. Through its collection, the Gallery will present the development of Singaporean and regional cultures – telling the story of their social, economic and political histories.

The Gallery mainly draws from Singapore’s National Collection, the world's largest public collection of modern and contemporary Southeast Asian art. The National Collection started with an original bequest of 93 works made to the National Museum in 1976, by the well-known cinema magnate and art patron, Dato Loke Wan Tho. Through careful nurturing over the years, this collection has grown significantly to approximately 8,000 pieces in 2010. The National Heritage Board is presently the custodian of this collection. National Gallery Singapore will feature works by major Singaporean artists such as Georgette Chen, Chen Chong Swee, Chen Wen Hsi, Cheong Soo Pieng and Liu Kang. The collection now spans from early-20th-century naturalistic paintings to contemporary video installations. The collection also holds pieces from Southeast Asian artists of international standing, such as Affandi (Indonesia), Latiff Mohidin (Malaysia), Le Pho (Vietnam), Montien Boonma (Thailand) and Fernando Cueto Amorsolo (Philippines).
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Saint Andrew's Cathedral

8) Saint Andrew's Cathedral

The largest cathedral in Singapore, Saint Andrew's is an impressive Neo-Gothic piece of architecture, renowned for its Madras chunam finish. Originally, this land between Hill Street and North Bridge Road was allocated for the siting of an Anglican church by Sir Stamford Raffles in his Town Plan of 1822. The construction, however, didn't start until funds were raised by the community in 1835. The church was named Saint Andrew after the patron saint of Scotland in honor of the Scottish community who had donated to the building fund.

The initial church was designed in Neo-Classical style by George Drumgoole Coleman. After complaints that it resembled a "Town Hall, a College or an Assembly Room", a spire was added in 1842. That spire, however, was built without a lightning conductor and the church suffered two lightning strikes in 1845 and 1849. It was then declared unsafe and even haunted by unhappy spirits, and eventually closed in 1852. Three years later the church was demolished.

The construction of a second church was initiated by the then Governor of the Straits Settlements William Butterworth, and its designing was entrusted to Colonel Ronald MacPherson, the Executive Engineer and Superintendent of convicts whose labor was commonly used in early Singapore. MacPherson built a Gothic Revival cathedral, reportedly out of inspiration by Netley Abbey, a ruined 13th century church in Hampshire, England. The piers of Saint Andrew's nave closely resemble the surviving piers at Netley.

Three stained glass windows located at the apse are dedicated to three figures in Singapore's early colonial history, namely: Sir Stamford Raffles, at the center; John Crawfurd, the first major Resident of Singapore, on the left; and Major General William Butterworth on the right. Three objects in the cathedral symbolize its affiliation with the Anglican Communion in England and its allegiance to the worldwide See of Canterbury. These include the Canterbury Stone with a bronze replica of the Canterbury Cross sent from Canterbury Cathedral in 1936, the Coventry Cross made from three silver-plated iron nails from the ruins of the 14th century Coventry Cathedral destroyed by bombing during World War Two, and the Coronation Carpet used in the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster Abbey.

During the Japanese invasion, Saint Andrew's served as an emergency hospital. Since 1973, it has been a monument of national importance in Singapore.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Raffles Hotel Historical Building

9) Raffles Hotel Historical Building

The Raffles Hotel is a historical building, symbol of Singapore and one of its principal sights. This colonial-style luxury hotel was established by Armenian hoteliers, the Sarkies Brothers, on 1 December 1887, and was named after British statesman Sir Stamford Raffles, founder of the city.

Over the decades, the hotel's hallowed halls have played host to the rich and famous from all over the world, seeing among guests the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Somerset Maugham, Elizabeth Taylor and Karl Lagerfield. It also made mark in the local society, being the address where the last tiger of Singapore was killed. The hotel's Long Bar is the birthplace of the iconic national cocktail, the Singapore Sling, and the lobby is the place to countdown into the New Year with its gala ball.

Back in the day, the hotel pioneered numerous state-of-the-art (for the time) features, such as powered ceiling fans and electric lights. Over the years it continued to expand with the addition of wings, a veranda, a ballroom, a bar, a billiards room, as well as other buildings and spaces. At the start of the Japanese occupation of Singapore on February 15, 1942, it is said that the Japanese soldiers encountered the guests in Raffles Hotel dancing one final waltz, while the staff buried the hotel silver—including the silver beef trolley—in the Palm Court. Under the Japanese, Raffles Hotel was renamed Syonan Ryokan, but was reclaimed by the British in 1945.

In 1987, a century after it first opened, Raffles Hotel was declared a National Monument by the Singapore government.

In 1989 and 2017, the hotel underwent extensive renovations during which it was restored to the grand style of its 1915 heyday with significant changes being made. All guest rooms were converted to suites. The Long Bar, a favorite spot of celebrities such as Somerset Maugham, was relocated from the lobby to a new adjoining shopping arcade. The rooms were refurbished and soundproofed, the number of suites increased, and the new technology incorporated. Its various food and beverage outlets were revamped, and the Writer's Bar – formerly in a corner of the lobby – was given its own space. The former Jubilee Theatre was transformed into a ballroom.

Presently, the Raffles Hotel shopping arcade houses 40 specialty boutiques and most of the hotel's restaurants. There is also a beautiful tropical garden on the site.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

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