Singapore is just over 50 years old, but this little country's history goes back far beyond our years of independence, and while rapid modernisation has made this city state a gleaming metropolis, there are still many places you can visit to see and learn about some historically significant events in Singapore.
National Gallery Singapore (Coleman Street)
The former City Hall and Supreme Court stands proudly in the middle of downtown Singapore - this grand old building has seen much within its walls since it was built in 1939, including the inauguration of Singapore’s first President Yusof Bin Ishak and Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. Today it is known as the National Gallery Singapore and houses Singapore's foremost collection of Southeast Asian modern artworks, but much has been done to preserve the original architecture and layout - the former , and if you are lucky enough to know any of the National Gallery staff, you might even have a chance to see the original jail cells used to house prisoners before they were brought up to court, now located inside the entrance of the staff office!
Telok Ayer Street (Chinatown)
Telok Ayer Street in Chinatown is home to several of Singapore's oldest religious buildings - the Thian Hock Keng temple is the oldest Hokkien temple frequented by the Southern Chinese immigrants, Fuk Tak Chi temple for the Hakka and Cantonese, while the Indian Muslim community from Chulia went to Nagore Dargah and Al-Abrah Mosque. Telok Ayer is a Malay translation of Bay Water, and while the street looks fairly inland today, it was once the waterfront and the religious institutions were built for these immigrants to give thanks for their safe arrival after a long sea journey. Today, the religious buildings at Telok Ayer Street remain standing amidst a mishmash of hipster eateries, a true reflection of Singapore's melting pot culture.
Tiong Bahru Estate
Tiong Bahru estate is another old public housing estate, older than Queenstown because it was built pre-HDB - take a closer look at the low pre-war art deco architecture in the short blocks of flats here - you can't find them anywhere else in Singapore today. Tiong Bahru has since become quite the gentrified hipster enclave with independent retail boutiques quaint cafes and posh eateries mixed with some of the best old school hawker food stalls and traditional markets. Take a walk around to see what you can discover for yourself.
Kampong Lorong Buangkok (Yio Chu Kang Road)
Over 80% of Singaporeans live in the tall public housing blocks found all over Singapore today - the old kampongs, a Malay word for village, were demolished to make way for the high-rise blocks that maximised scarce land space. Today, you can find just one remaining Kampong left in Singapore - Kampong Lorong Buangkok lets you take a trip back in time to see a very old side of Singapore that's hard to imagine in such a modern city today. Less than 30 families still live in this charming village made up of old zinc-roofed houses, a nostalgic reminder of Singapore in a less developed time.
Old Ford Factory (Upper Bukit Timah Road)
The Old Ford Factory located along Upper Bukit Timah Road opened to much fanfare as the first Ford car assembly line in Southeast Asia, but its legacy lives on as the place where the British forces of this then-British Colony surrendered Singapore to the Japanese on 15 February 1942. Today, the factory has been transformed into a museum called Memories of Old Ford Factory (MOFF) where visitors can visit the actual room of surrender and learn more about life in Singapore during the Japanese occupation. MOFF reopened after refurbishment in February 2017, 75 years after this fateful day.
Fort Canning Hill is a little oasis of green in downtown Singapore and home to some of its most significant historical moments. Known as Bukit Larangan or the Forbidden Hill back in the day, it was a hill where rulers lived - the old Malay Kings in the 14th century and the British Army’s Headquarters and command centre in their time of colonisation - you can still visit the Battle Box today. Otherwise, just take the time to wander around, if there are no outdoor concerts and events happening as this is one of the most happening event venues in town!
While not your usual tourist area, Queenstown has the honour of being Singapore's first satellite town of public housing built by the Housing Development Board (HDB) of Singapore. It is home to the first incarnations of HDB public housing today - Blocks 45, 48 and 49 along Stirling Road were built in 1960 and are just 7 storeys high, a huge contrast to the nearby Pinnacle@Duxton which was built over 40 years later and towers over its predecessors at 40-storeys tall. There are several self-guided walks that you can take in this area or sign up to be brought around by a local - check out the My Community website for more details.
Reflections at Bukit Chandu (Pasir Panjang)
Also related to World War II is Reflections at Bukit Chandu - a little museum housed in an old black and white colonial bungalow that commemorates the Battle of Pasir Panjang, where 1,400 Malay soldiers defended Singapore against the invading army of 13,000 Japanese. Most of the Singaporean army perished with just one survivor as they were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of the Japanese. This interactive centre is a way for visitors to learn more about Singapore during this tumultuous time.
Looking for a home base to explore Singapore’s historically significant locations?
Hotel ibis Singapore on Bencoolen is the perfect place to start from, close to 3 major MRT stations and with 2 bus stops at the doorsteps of the hotel, you are strategically placed to go all around Singapore.