Begin at City Hall MRT Station. Take Exit A, then turn right to follow Exit H along the underground passages of CityLink Mall, until you reach Esplanade’s Basement 1 exit on the right, about 15 minutes away. As you walk, take a look around and you’ll see some interesting art exhibits. Once you reach the Esplanade, take the escalator up to street level.
Esplanade – Theatres by the Bay
Welcome to Singapore’s glitzy, avant-garde performing arts and entertainment centre, the Esplanade. At this prime waterfront location, a Theatre, Art Gallery, Concert Hall and Studios are sheltered under its large pair of metallic-looking domes; ideal for any performance you can imagine. Even if you’re not attending an event here, you can still enjoy the serene ambience of this sprawling complex, at one of its many cafes, bars and restaurants, like Colours By The Bay which fronts the harbour. Or head to the fourth level Roof Garden for great views.
If you’re keen on less formal performances, check out the six outdoor performing spaces: one may have a programme that’ll interest you. And while you’re at this promenade, find a riverside bench and enjoy refreshing sea breezes.
From this promenade, you will have a great view of sampans (bumboats) floating on the harbour, the Merlion Park, Fullerton Hotel and the Central Business District skyline, Singapore’s progressive testament to modern commerce.
Stroll along the river, by the Waterfront Promenade. The underpass beneath Esplanade Bridge leads you to the former Queen Elisabeth Walk, which was once lined with charming Europeans houses. Dotted with quaint posts, it’s today called Esplanade Park (18248), and here you’ll find the following historical landmarks.
- Tan Kim Seng Fountain
One of these is the Victorian cast-iron Tan Kim Seng Fountain. A prosperous merchant, Tan Kim Seng was also one of early Singapore’s benefactors. He made a major donation to the Singapore Water Works to alleviate a problem of his time – an inadequate water supply. In recognition, this fountain was dedicated to his name in 1882. It was restored and reactivated in 1994.
Commemorating those who sacrificed their lives for Singapore during World Wars I and II is the solemn Cenotaph (11753). Its unveiling in 1922 was attended by Louis Mountbatten who, co-incidentally, was later appointed Supreme Commander of the South East Asia Command, and received the surrender of the Japanese in 1945 at City hall just behind you.
- The Indian National Army Monument
This monument is dedicated to the army of Indians formed to fight for India’s liberation from British colonial rule. The army was formed after the fall of Singapore, with Japanese support, and almost a third of them gave their lives as prisoners-of-war for their cause.
- Lim Bo Seng Memorial
This monument on the other hand, marks the valiant struggle of just one brave man. During World War II, Lim Bo Seng was an underground resistance fighter, who when captured, refused to reveal the names of his fellow fighters. Tortured to a cruel death, he was buried with full military honours. Four bronze lions stand in honourable guard to his memory.
When you’re ready to leave this leafy park, head along the embankment, taking the underpass below Anderson Bridge (16995). Named after Sir John Anderson, a Governor of the Straits Settlements, this bridge was constructed in 1910 to cope with the increasing traffic on Cavenagh Bridge, which currently supports only pedestrians. The Stone Plaque on its central divider had its exotic origins delivered from Assoun, Egypt.
Emerging from the underpass, turn right and you’ll reach the Dalhousie Obelisk (29605), dedicated to Marquis Dalhousie, a Governor General of India who visited this island-nation in 1850.
Sir Stamford Raffles
Just steps away, standing regally in front of the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, you will find the statue of Sir Stamford Raffles (21367), Singapore’s revered founder. This original, dark bronze statue was first unveiled at the Padang in 1887, Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Year, and moved here during Singapore’s centenary celebration in 1919.
Raffles’ Landing Site
Head down Empress Place and Old Parliament Lane towards the Singapore River. Can you see Raffles’ Landing Site (20883) along the river bank? This is where it all began; where Sir Stamford raffles arrived on 28 January 1819 with an entourage of 120 Indian assistants and soldiers. Today, the historical spot is marked by a pure-white polymarble statue, erected in 1972.
Just as Raffles sailed on the river, you can too, on a River Cruise or River Taxi. In fact, there’s an embarkation point just feet away, plus many more along the river. You should give this a try if your schedule permits and board a Singapore River Taxi. The ride will give you an interesting perspective of the Singapore River. Each ride costs between S$3 and S$12.
For now, sit on a shady riverside bench and soak in the atmosphere. Glancing towards your right, you’ll see Elgin Bride. Opened in 1926, this bridge linked the Chinese merchants on one bank of the river to the Indian merchants on the other bank. Its sculptured bronze plaques feature a lion standing beside a palm tree. Sang Nila Utama’s legendary beast, perhaps?
From your seat, the lively stretch you can see across the river is Boat Quay (17320). Its old shophouses have been transformed into hip clubs, theme pubs, and tantalizing restaurants that tempt you with every kind of cuisine imaginable, with the added lure of dining under the stars.
It’s also one of Singapore’s most popular late-night party spots, where the throb of dance music and laugher of party-seekers can often be heard into the wee hours. You may want to drop by Boat Quay in the late evening for a romantic riverside dinner, or after a River Cruise.
More information on History of Old Boat Quay
Asian Civilisations Museum
Once you are done, head down to the Asian Civilisations Museum, just by Raffles’s statue. Formerly the Empress Place Building (named after Queen Victoria), it was completed in 1867, and served at different times as a Court House, immigration department, and government offices.
Today, this immense museum gives you a priceless introduction into the world of Asian civilizations, beliefs, and traditions. And with over 1,600 treasured artifacts, set up along four geographical zones and thematic galleries, enhanced by hosts, “talking” computer guides, interactive video, ambient sound and lighting, for a state-of-the-art touch. There’s also a gallery dedicate to the history and people of the Singapore River, where you can easily gain an in-depth understanding of these early immigrants.
Perhaps all that walking has tired you out? Relax and have a drink at one of the cafes here. Enjoy the gentle evening breezes as you people-watch.
When you’re ready to leave, your stroll will take you past life-sized bronze sculptures along different points of the river. Belonging to the “People of the River” series, they truly capture the essence of the lives of its early inhabitants.
In fact, the first ones you come across will probably be on the museum’s stairs, representing coolies, a merchant and colonial trader. Just metres away is a predecessor to the financiers working in today’s skyscrapers around you: A chettiar or money lender.
As you walk on, don’t miss the many other statues along the river bank. You can almost see Singapore growing from a small river settlement to a bustling contemporary city, right before you eyes! Feel free to pose with one of these statues; you’ll capture past and present in one unique snap.
Later, head on over to Cavenagh Bridge, named after Singapore’s last Governor. Constructed in 1868, the bridge proudly wears its original splendour, and is currently open only to foot traffic.
Do you spy a playful family of sculptured Kucinta Cats(river cats) on the corner of the Cavanagh Bridge with Maybank? They’re recognised as one of the smallest breeds around the world. On the other side of the bridge, you’ll glimpse a group of exuberant boys leaping in for a swim, but eternally suspended in the air. Installed in 2000 and called “The First Generation”, they’ve become a favourite photo spot.
The majestic Fullerton Hotel holds regal audience at the left end of the bridge. Its vantage point over the harbour was once the site of a fort, and Federal Reserve of artillery and other offensive weaponry.
Since its 1928 construction as the Fullerton Building, it has had more genial occupations, firsts as the exclusive Club and Chamber of the Commerce, then as the General Post Office and Inland Revenue Authority, playing important economic and trading roles.
Today, this historic building remains a masterpiece of Neo-Classical grandeur and splendour, with graciously appointed interiors. A room here blends all the elegance of old world charm with every modern convenience. Saunter in and treat yourself to a drink at the café. Revel in its ambience; you’ll be glad you did.
Fullerton Waterboard House
On leaving Fullerton Hotel, use the pedestrian crossing at Fullerton Road near Esplanade Bridge. You’ll reach the recently restored Fullerton Waterboard House which currently houses French Restaurant, wine bar and souvenir shop.
Built in 1919, it originally supplied water to ships anchored offshore by waterboats. Circular porthole-like windows once added to the nautical air of this elegant Art Deco gem. Recently renovated, it now has a glass-enclosed lookout deck on top.
Using the flight of stairs to its right, you can head down to a breezy riverside promenade, a great place to rest your weary feet or quench your thirst. But be warned; the aroma wafting from the outdoor satay stall may tempt you to stay for a bite right on the embankment.
Enjoy the sea breeze. Stroll along the promenade, past more cafes, to Merlion Park. Instantly identifiable with Singapore, this water-spouting, half-lion half-fish Merlion brings to mind the legendary lion spotted by Sang Nila Utama. Relocated here from the other side of the Esplanade Bridge above you, it looks out to sea.
A good spot for a photo opportunity: Capture the majestically ornamented Fullerton Hotel against a backdrop of gleaming ultra-modern skyscrapers. Or put your creative photographic skills to good use, and capture your own unique perspective of the Merlion.
Your journey on foot is over. Reward yourself with a little pampering. One Fullerton is a spot where you can unwind with a drink, or have a lunch or dinner against the backdrop of a gorgeous sea view.
Otherwise, simply wander to Fullerton Hotel for a sumptuous meal in an elegant setting, and then adjourn to Boat Quay. Its friendly pubs and pulsating nightspots make it an ideal place to chill out or party the night away.