The Singapore River has played many roles over the last couple of hundred years. It was the centre of trade and commerce during colonial times, but these days the focus is on tourism and nightlife. Downtown Singapore is home to some of the city’s top tourist attractions and is easily explored on foot, whether it’s a relaxing walk by the river or a stroll around the grand colonial buildings.
Here are some of the highlights of downtown Singapore, from laid-back Robertson Quay to the futuristic Supertree skyline of Gardens by the Bay.
Robertson Quay is as far upriver as you need to go if you’re walking around downtown Singapore. It’s a far greener section of the Singapore River than the quays further down and there are some nice bars and restaurants to check out.
A short walk along the river from Robertson Quay, Clarke Quay is a great place to hang out. Clarke Quay’s many bars and restaurants come alive at night but the drinks aren’t cheap. Read Bridge used to be a popular place to drink on the cheap but Singapore’s new liquor law (you can’t drink in public between 10.30 pm and 7 am in public spaces these days) has diminished its appeal.
Further reading: If you’re looking for a good budget hotel in downtown Singapore you should check out Fragrance Hotel – Riverside. It’s located in Clarke Quay and is a short walk away from all of the river action. There’s also a rooftop pool and an excellent included breakfast. Check out Gia’s review of Fragrance Hotel – Riverside over at Mismatched Passports.
This is one of my favourite sections of downtown Singapore. Old shop houses converted into lively bars and restaurants line one side of the river. The other side, known as the Civic District, features colonial era buildings including the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall and the Asian Civilization Museum. There’s also the Fullerton Hotel, which used to house Singapore’s post office (among other things). Massive skyscrapers tower over all of that history, making for an awesome contrast.
From the Asian Civilization Museum you can continue to wander past British colonial buildings including the old Supreme Court (now the National Gallery of Singapore) and St Andrew’s Cathedral. You’ll eventually end up at Chijmes a collection of bars and restaurant housed inside an old convent. It’s a unique place to eat and drink in Singapore. The iconic Raffles Hotel is also nearby. Steeped in colonial grandeur and history; Raffles Hotel was apparently where the last wild tiger in Singapore was shot.
Further reading: Learn more about Stamford Raffles, the founder of colonial Singapore
If you’re looking for a bit of shade on a hot day in Singapore you could head to Fort Canning Park. Traces of WW2 history abound, including canons and tunnels. Just below the park you’ll find some more colonial buildings — many of which have been converted into museums and galleries.
Marina Bay is one of Singapore’s most iconic tourist spots. The Merlion statue is the symbol of Singapore — the half fish half lion is pretty weird and isn’t that interesting but the views nearby make it a must-see. This area is a good place to go at any time of the day or night, and if you want to see some truly incredible views you should head up to the Marina Bay Sands rooftop bar or the Skypark (it’ll cost you though).
Gardens by the Bay looks like it was designed as a set for a science fiction movie. It is, in my opinion, the best tourist attraction in Singapore. There’s so much to explore, from the massive Avatar-esque Supertrees to the Cloud Forest Dome, featuring the world’s tallest indoor waterfall. Stick around for the surreal Supertree light show which starts at 7.45 pm and 8.45 pm every night. I’m not sure if Gardens by the Bay is really considered part of downtown Singapore but I’m including it anyway as it’s close and I think everyone who visits Singapore should see it!
There’s a lot to see in this part of Singapore. You could probably see all of this in one day but if you’re short on time you might need to pick and choose where to visit. You definitely shouldn’t miss the walk between Clarke Quay and Marina Bay (via Boat Quay) and Gardens by the Bay. There are so many museums in this area and you probably won’t want to visit them all — I’ve only been to the Asian Civilization Museum and it’s interesting, especially if you’re travels will take you to some other countries in the region.
Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam are also nearby. I already wrote a post about them so I didn’t include them here, but if you only have one or two days in Singapore you can easily visit them while exploring near the river (Clarke Quay and Chinatown MRT stations are a very short distance apart and you can easily walk to Kampong Glam from Chjimes/Raffles Hotel).