The Civic District is known as the historic birthplace of modern Singapore, as part of a legendary master plan created by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1822. Today, an impressive mix of hubs and landmark buildings can be found in the Civic District on the banks of the Singapore River. Discover the Esplanade Park next by taking the underpass leading into the park.
Civic District Trail 1
Start your journey around the Civic District at the Raffles Landing Site, the location where Raffles was believed to first set foot on the island in 1819. You’ll easily find this historic spot by the Singapore River via the giant white polymarble statue of Raffles which has stood here since 1972.
Next, delve into the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM), the first museum housed in the former Empress Place Building. Look out for the modern pyramid-shaped time capsule which stands nearby in stark contrast amid the colonial architecture and solemn memorials. Sealed in 1990 on the 25th year of Singapore’s independence, the time capsule is scheduled to be opened in 2015.
Then, walk over to the Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall, the complex structure behind the ACM. Connected by an ancient 54-metre clock tower, the buildings reflect the 19th century British Neo-Classical architectural style, popular during the Victorian era. There’s also the Dalhousie Obelisk a stone’s throw away, built in 1850 to mark the arrival of the Marquis of Dalhousie, Governor-General of India, which also serves as a reminder of the benefits of free trade.
Discover the Esplanade Park next by taking the Anderson Bridge, built in 1910 to relieve Cavenagh Bridge of heavy traffic back then. A popular local haunt for families, this seafront promenade now overlooks Singapore’s premier arts complex, the Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, easily recognisable by its “prickly” exterior.
Following the waterfront, you’ll come across the War Memorial Park, where you’ll see the 3.6 metre high marble pagoda dedicated to Major General Lim Bo Seng, the World War II marker and the Cenotaph. A prominent memorial on this trail is the Civilian War Memorial, fondly referred to as the “chopsticks”. Built to honour civilians killed during the Japanese Occupation, the four pillars represent the four major ethnic groups in Singapore.
From the Esplanade Park, cross the Padang to visit grandiose buildings such as the Old Supreme Court Building with its massive Corinthian columns and large dome, or sit on the grand steps of City Hall to watch cricket played on the Padang. Both will soon be transformed into the country's National Art Gallery.
The final stop for the first Civic District Trail is the Arts House – Singapore’s Old Parliament House built in 1827. Now a multi-disciplinary arts venue, learn about the building’s history at the “Corridors of Time” Gallery before you end the day with a host of nightlife activities at the nearby Boat Quay or Clarke Quay areas.
Civic District Trail 2
Explore the cultural heart of the city in this trail that covers various landmarks in the Civic District and some of the country’s most treasured monuments. You’ll begin at the Raffles Hotel, the “Grand Dame of the East” standing at the corner of Beach Road and Bras Basah Road and opened in 1887 by the Sarkies brothers. Having played host to famous writers like Joseph Conrad and Rudyard Kipling, there’s also a Writers’ Bar that pays homage to these literary luminaries.
Cross over to CHIJMES (pronounced as “chimes”), a beautifully restored convent that is now a commercial complex of art galleries, boutiques, fine dining restaurants and bars. Designed and built by famous architect George Drumgold Coleman, the complex possesses the distinct Neo-Classical style that was well-embraced in that era. Right across, at Victoria Street, you’ll also see Singapore’s oldest Roman Catholic Church – the Cathedral of The Good Shepherd.
Next, visit the Singapore Art Museum (SAM), with museum facilities and programmes of international standard. Look out for the glass installation by Filipino glass sculptor Ramon Orlina in the formal chapel (now the museum’s auditorium), which replaced the original stained glass window lost during WWII. A highlight of this Civic District trail is the National Museum of Singapore, located along Stamford Road. Formerly known as the Raffles Library and Museum, you’ll find out all about Singapore’s political and social history here.
Continue down Stamford Road and take the pedestrian underpass to the Fort Canning Park – once known as the “Forbidden Hill” as it was believed to be the sacred burial grounds of ancient Malay Kings. Raffles also had his home on the hill – a wooden bungalow built by George Coleman in 1823. On these grounds, you’ll find tombstones belonging to George Drumgold Coleman, the architect responsible for many outstanding landmarks in this trail, and Sit Jose D’Almeida, one of the earliest merchants appointed as the Portuguese Consul-General to the Straits Settlements.
From Fort Canning Park, walk past the Registry of Marriages to the National Archives of Singapore, first established in 1968 as Anglo-Chinese Primary School. Here, you can find a treasure trove of resources, including old photographs of Singapore, oral history tapes, as well as old maps and documents, all available for public reference.
Prepare to stand in awe of the two oldest churches in Singapore. Just a short walk away, The Armenian Church was built in 1835 and has a serene memorial garden which houses the white gravestones of the pioneer Armenian community, including Miss Agnes Joaquim, after whom Singapore’s national flower Vanda Miss Joaquim is named.
Finally, mark the end of your Civic District trail with the distinctive St Andrew’s Cathedral. Designed in typical English Gothic style by Colonel Ronald MacPherson, visit and admire the grand architecture of the largest cathedral in the country before getting a drink at The Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, well-known for its dome-shaped roofs that resemble the durian fruit.