The modern metropolis of Singapore didn't transform overnight. Long before Orchard Road and Marina Bay Sands gained global renown, Singapore was a fishing village turned trading port. Following the route along the Singapore River is very much like tracing the history of developing Singapore. Once the lifeline of colonial-Singapore, the Singapore River was the heart of a booming trade and commerce industry in Asia in the 1800s. It offered people from all over the region an opportunity to chase the "Singapore Dream".
Follow us on a journey through Singapore's success story by walking along the river banks and visiting some of the important landmarks that shaped its history. Look beyond the monuments and you'll notice that much of Singapore's colonial history remains in the facade and architecture in the area.
At the mouth of the Singapore River lies the majestic Merlion statue. The Merlion is a half-lion, half-fish creature that has become the very icon of Singapore, achieving international renown. Folklore suggests that this creature came rising out of the sea to save the natives who once lived on the island against a terrible storm. This symbol now represents the humble fishing village that transformed into the metropolis you see today.
Boat Quay played a significant part of Singapore's history as a trading port. The quay was the busiest section of the entire port of Singapore, accounting for three-quarters of the trade that took place there during its peak. Today, the many shophouses have been replaced by great eateries and bars with live music frequented by locals and tourists.
Raffles Landing Site
This is the site where Sir Stamford Raffles was said to have landed in 1819, and where Singapore's history unfolded. One can hardly talk about Singapore's colonial history without mentioning 'Raffles' - the one responsible for founding Singapore. He was a British statesman, a Lieutenant-Governor of British Java and the Governor-General of Bencoolen. In the location where he landed stands a statue of him as a tribute to his contributions.
Old Parliament House (The Arts House)
The Old Parliament was built in 1827 and is the oldest government building in Singapore. It was later refurbished as an arts venue in 1999 and it is now known as The Arts House. Here you can find regular exhibitions, workshops, and contests being held. While you're at it, you can stop by Timbre (located on the ground floor, overlooking the river) for great food and a pint of beer.
New Parliament House
The new Parliament House is in the adjacent building. When the old Parliament House became too small for the growing numbers of members of parliament, the new Parliament House was established. The first ever elected President of Singapore, former President Ong Teng Cheong designed the prism-like top of the new building. If politics is in your wheelhouse, you can even drop by for a listen when parliament is in session. Just remember to bring along your passport!
Old Hill Street Police Station
Approaching the building, you can spot the 927 rainbow colored windows from afar. Built in 1934, the Old Hill Street Police Station served as the first jail in Singapore. Despite being a government building, it was considered to be a modern skyscraper back in the days. In 1998, the building that was once a jail was transformed into a comfortable office space for ministry use. Today, it is home to the Ministry of Communications and Information and the Ministry of Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.
Historically, the Singapore River was the center for trade and commerce in the region. Clarke Quay served as the holding site for many warehouses. Because of its popularity, the river section at Clarke Quay was packed with bumboats, which contributed to the pollution of the river. This instigated the major clean-up project undertaken by the government. Today, the area is well-known for its nightlife and clubs. The ever-popular Zouk can also be found at Clark Quay.
There are many bridges that link up the banks along the winding river, but the Read Bridge receives the most foot traffic. The bridge connects the ever-exuberant cluster of nightclubs and restaurants to the nearest mall and public transportation and is, therefore, a common meeting point for young people. Named after William Henry Macleod Read, a prominent socio-political figure and merchant, Read Bridge was originally built in 1889 to replace an earlier structure, Merchant Bridge, which was too low for tongkangs (traditional riverboats) to pass underneath. These tongkang rowers would gather at Read Bridge to listen to Teochew storytellers.
Easily noticeable even from afar is the brightly-colored Alkaff Bridge (also known as the Singapore Art Bridge). The 55-meter long bridge is most commonly known for its unique design. However, the name comes from Alkaff Quay, a warehouse complex owned by the wealthy Yemeni family, Alkaff. It goes to show the cultural-diversity that Singapore embraced even before "globalization" was coined. The painter of the bridge, Pacita Abad was a Philippine-born artist most well known for her vibrant, colorful abstract work. The painter was said to have sacrificed a great deal completing this final work of art before she passed away in the same year that she completed it.
Robertson Quay tells a similar tale of that of Clarke Quay. As one of the three largest wharfs along the river, Robertson Quay also played a significant part in establishing Singapore as a trade port as well. Predominantly lined with boatyards and warehouses, it served the needs of the trading industry. Interestingly, the warehouses were built in an architectural style that was a blend of both European and Chinese. Today, it has been redeveloped into a modern neighborhood that houses many eateries and even art galleries.
If the bustle of Clarke Quay isn't your cup of tea, you can opt to spend a peaceful evening at Robertson Quay instead. Enjoy a delightful meal with your family at one of the many restaurants and cafes or share a drink (or two) with friends at any one of the bars. A tranquil walk along the Singapore River will be the perfect way to end the evening.
You can stroll along the Singapore River from Four Points Singapore to all the places of interest along the river. Or you may like to take a boat ride from the jetty just outside the hotel's bar, The Best Brew. Do approach our Concierge for any assistance you need or query.