British statesman Sir Stamford Raffles – the city’s founder, affectionately remembered as the "Father of Singapore" – originally landed on the north bank of the Singapore River. To this day, many central government buildings and the bulk of the island’s historic attractions can be found in this same area, the splendid civic district.
With a rich history spanning more than a century, the Victoria Theatre was the early home to the Singapore Symphonic Orchestra. Upon its completion in 2002, the Esplanade became the orchestra’s venue of choice, and that of many other performers. Currently, the theatre is closed for renovation, scheduled to re-open in 2013. Visitors can still admire the majestic statue of Sir Stamford Raffles though, just opposite this proud old lady.
Just behind the Asian Civilization Museum (ACM), one of the finest museums Singapore has to offer, you’ll find the Old Parliament House, also a monument to Singapore’s colonial past. From the days of Singapore’s founding until the 1980s, the building housed Parliamentary Debate. In the 1980s, space constraints finally became too severe, and Parliament moved to a new building, constructed just behind the old. Since 2004, Old Parliament House has enjoyed a new life as an Art House.
The Old Supreme Court, Old Parliament House, Victoria Theatre and the nearby Singapore Cricket Club are the last architectural reminders of Singapore’s colonial past – though apart from the Singapor Cricket Club, the buildings no longer serve their original purposes.
These venerable structures provide a stark contrast with the surrounding cityscape and the skyscrapers of the central business district on the other side of the Singapore River, and this alone makes the area a must for city visitors.
Walking along towards the Padang (a vast open space used for cricket games) you’ll arrive at the old City Hall. Originally built for political affairs, today it is undergoing a major transformation. Along with the Old Supreme Court building, it will re-open in 2015 as the home of the National Art Gallery of Singapore.
A bit further on, you’ll arrive at the St. Andrew Cathedral, the largest cathedral in the city. Further up on Stamford Road, just opposite the popular Raffles City Shopping Mall, is the legendary Raffles Hotel. Well worth a visit, this grand old establishment – immortalized in the novels of literary greats Rudyard Kipling and Somerset Maugham – is especially well suited for a relaxing break. Enjoy its gracious heritage courtyard, or perhaps the Long Bar, home of the famous Singapore Sling.
A short walk along Victoria Street brings you to the National Museum of Singapore. Though it is the city’s oldest museum, today it boasts a chic glass and metal extension – a marvel of modern architecture.
One of the island’s largest and most important universities lies just opposite: the Singapore Management University, or SMU, occupying several impressive buildings, with underground facilities and study areas.
Just behind is Fort Canning Park, a small hilly area offering a lovely overview of Orchard Road. Right in the centre of the civic district, it features the hilltop Fort Canning Hotel and the Fort Canning Centre, a fantastic venue for outdoor performances and full-moon picnics.
At the base of the hill, on Hill Street, is the Central Fire Station, a special favorite of visiting children. The beautiful red-and-white Edwardian-style building houses a small museum, featuring a marvelous collection of antique fire engines and equipment. Admission to both the gallery and the 30-metre fire tower is free, though the station is closed on Mondays.
Back towards the Singapore River along Hill Street stands one of Singapore’s largest government buildings, the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, or MICA. It’s otherwise known as the Old Hill Street Police Station, and attracts attention primarily for its multi-colored windows; it is also home to the Singapore Kindness Movement.
Set aside some time to explore this charming area of Singapore.