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Singapore: The Colonial downtown

North of the old mouth of the Singapore River is what might be termed Singapore’s Colonial District, peppered with venerable reminders of British rule set back from the vast lawn that is the Padang.

The island that is now Singapore has had a very turbulent history prior to it becoming a British colony in 1819. It was, as it is today, an important port and was fought over and conquered by many influential sultanates and tribal powers. In 1818, Sir Stamford Raffles was appointed as the Lieutenant Governor of the British colony at Bencoolen. He was determined that Great Britain should replace the Netherlands as the dominant power in the. He soon recognized as many had before, the potential of Singapore as a port. The island flourished and grew at an incredible rate as a Crown colony.

World War II saw Singapore captured by the Japanese in 1942 and it remained in their control until 1945. The Japanese invaders were extremely harsh on the local inhabitants and life was hard.

After the War, the British ceded more independent powers to the Malay and Singaporean colonies and self-rule was established. There was a movement for the creation of a Malaysian federation consisting of Malaysia, Sarawak, Sabah and Singapore, and in 1963 this merger was realised. Almost immediately there was unrest which boiled over into sedition and violence. Finally, in 1965 Singapore was expelled from the federation and the Republic of Singapore was born. The rest is history.

Today, Singapore is a thriving and dynamic country. After a couple of days exploring some of the outer areas of the city, we decided to head into the downtown area.


We decided the best way to explore downtown Singapore was on foot, but this comes with a warning! Located just about on the equator, Singapore is hot and very humid all year round. Just take a few steps and you are soon drenched in sweat. So, the order of the day is to drink lots of water and move slowly!

The downtown area is dominated by the towering skyscrapers of the financial district, but in their shadow, on the opposite bank of the Singapore River, are several buildings from Singapore’s colonial past. Today, these are used for government buildings and museums. Unfortunately, we did not have time to explore the museums, so we continued onward. There is also a splendid cathedral. We followed the Singapore River down to the bay, passing by some large reflective silver balls, which were a little incongruous in the setting of the colonial buildings. A short while later we reached the mouth of the river, where the famous symbol of Singapore, the Merlion –  a mythical creature with a lion’s head and the body of a fish, shoots water into the bay.

Singapore Cathedral - Singapore
Singapore Cathedral
The centre of Singapore's government
The centre of Singapore's government
Sir Stamford Raffles - Singapore
Sir Stamford Raffles
The famous Fullerton Hotel in Singapore
The famous Fullerton Hotel

Planning your visit to Singapore

Reaching Singapore by air is straightforward: the island is one of the main air hubs of Southeast Asia and is often a stopover on one of the world’s busiest long-haul routes, between Europe and Australasia, so fares can be much more competitive than you might expect. There are also budget flights linking the country with the rest of Southeast Asia, with southeastern Chinese cities including Hong Kong, with India and with many cities in Australia.

Travelling to Singapore by land or sea might seem more interesting than flying, but the range of places you can do this from is surprisingly limited. At least there’s a plethora of buses from Peninsular Malaysia, no major town which is more than 12 hours from Singapore.

The Malaysian rail network is inefficient and actually slower than the buses. Schedules change frequently, but in general, there are a few services daily from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore’s Woodlands station, complemented by a couple more from Kelantan state in Malaysia’s northeast.

No long-distance international ferry services sail to Singapore at all.

Getting around Singapore

The best way to get around Singapore is via its Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) subway system. This underground network has lines that stretch across the entire city. However, once you’re in the desired neighbourhood, walking is your best option. MRT also operates bus routes that can get you just about anywhere on the island.

The best time to visit Singapore

Although Singapore is a year-round destination, the best time to visit Singapore is from December to June. The months of February to April fall within Singapore’s dry season and is typically when the country has the least amount of rain, the lowest humidity, and the most sunshine. Singapore has fairly consistent weather and welcoming enough for travellers all year round for sightseeing. However, if you wish to avoid any crowds flocking the places, the best time to visit Singapore is from July to November.

Monsoons prevail from December to March in Singapore, with December recording the highest rainfall. The weather is generally windy, cloudy with low sunshine and humid. There are chances of thunderstorms during these months.

Where to stay?


During our last stay in Singapore, we stayed at the Llyods Inn. Our stay was quite short but we found to staff welcoming and the facilities were great. The decor was clutter-free and the design contemporary, with industrial-chic concrete walls and muted pallets and plenty of white – which Karen loved – yet it was also very comfortable. There is a roof terrace, modern garden deck and dipping pool surrounded by greenery. 

Located off Killiney Road in a quiet residential area, Lloyd’s Inn is a short walk to the heart of Orchard Road. Somerset MRT Station, 313@Somerset, Orchard Gateway and Orchard Central shopping malls are within a 10-minute walk away.


A couple of years back we stayed in the Wanderlust Hotel, which is housed in a historic 1920s Art Deco building (very cool!) At that time each of the rooms was individually decorated in quirk ways. Since then the hotel has been sold and bought and been remodelled so we can’t really comment on what the rooms look like now but the pictures look good!

What we can say is the hotel is located in a fabulous position to access the MRT. It is also in heart of Little India and all that it has to offer (did I mention we love Indian food). For these two reasons alone we would recommend the Wanderlust Hotel.


We have not stayed in The Scarlet Singapore yet but it is on our shortlist for a future trip!

This luxury boutique hotel can be found in the heart of Singapore’s Chinatown (we also like Chinese food!). The hotel is one of the oldest conservation buildings in Singapore and comprises a row of 13 1868 shops and a 1924 Art Deco building (see why we are interested in this). The exteriors are historic the interiors are bang up to date. If you want to use Chinatown as your base in Singapore this is a great place to stay. Scarlet Hotel is less than a 10-minute walk from Chinatown and Tanjong Pagar MRT Stations.

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