The Heritage Trail is a well-marked walking trail with storyboards, markers, and directional signs that link museums around the area and sites of historical interest. This trail takes you through an area rich in cultural heritage, lined with the leading museums in Singapore, as well as colonial-era buildings preserved for generations to come.
Officially known as the Museum Planning Area and centred around the parks and open spaces of Fort Canning, this stretch of museums and gazetted national monuments acts as a 'green bridge' between the Orchard Road shopping district and the Central Business District. Set aside as an 'institutional hub', the biggest museums in Singapore, listed by the National Heritage Board, are located here.
Nearest MRT Stations: City Hall [NS25/EW13], Esplanade [CC3], Bras Basah [CC2], Dhoby Ghaut [NS24/NE6/CC1]
View The Heritage Trail in a larger map
As shown in the map above, the various sites of interest in this area have been arranged into a walking route from Raffles Hotel to St Andrew's Cathedral, which would take around two and a half hours, and from the Singapore Art Museum to the YMCA building, which would take around one and a half hours. Each site of interest is listed below with a brief description of the site's history and significance.
1 Raffles Hotel
Opened in 1899, regal Raffles Hotel has hosted royalty and celebrities, and was featured in the works of Joseph Conrad and Somerset Maugham. The world-famous Singapore Sling was first concocted here, where it is still served, at the Long Bar. The hotel's museum showcases memorabilia returned by former guests from all around the world of their stay at the 'Grand Lady of the Far East'.
Once the home of the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) school and orphanage, CHIJMES now houses art galleries, boutiques and fine restaurants within its courtyards. The lawns, waterfalls, fountains and sunken forecourt give a sense of spatial dynamics rare in Singapore. Its main attraction is the Gothic-style chapel, with its beautiful stained-glass windows. Look out for the 'Gate of Hope', where babies were once abandoned at what is fondly remembered as 'Town Convent'.
3 Cathedral of the Good Shepherd
This Cathedral is Singapore's oldest Catholic church, completed in 1847 and was consecrated a Cathedral in 1897. Currently the seat of the archbishop of Singapore, it shows the influence of two famous London churches - the use of Roman Doric architecture was derived from St Paul's in Covent Garden and the Greek temple-like proportions and belfry from St Martin-in-the-Fields.
4 Singapore Art Museum
For 120 years, this was home of St Joseph's Institution, a missionary school. Today, it houses the national art gallery - the Singapore Art Museum - and is also the nation's premier venue for international art exhibitions and hosts meaningful community outreach programmes. The Museum is the centrepiece of an area housing Singapore’s major performing arts and visual arts institutions.
5 National Museum of Singapore
Once known as the Raffles' Library and Museum, Singapore's first museum and library, this historic building housed well-known natural history collections of Southeast Asia. Today, the National Museum is the grand dame of Singapore's museum scene, featuring exhibits on the history, ethnology and arts of Singapore and surrounding regions. A key architectural highlight is the 16m high and 24m wide Glass Rotunda, a modern interpretation of the old Rotunda Dome in the historic building.
6 Fort Canning Park
This strategic hill in the heart of the city has played a vital role in Singapore's history since ancient times. Archaeological excavations have yielded evidence supporting the existence of the 14th century kingdom and trading centre of Temasek, later named Singapura ('Lion City' in Sanskrit). It was settled and subsequently fortified in the 19th century. Today, it is a park where visitors can explore historic sites and enjoy the lush greenery, and host to a myriad of outdoor events such as World of Music, Arts and Dance.
7 National Archives of Singapore
Formerly the Anglo-Chinese Primary School, the Archives houses the vast collective memory of Singapore, allowing generations of Singaporeans to recapture the past to understand different cultures and explore their common heritage. There is a wealth of resources including wonderful old photographs, oral history tapes, old maps, and documents available for public reference.
8 Peranakan Museum
Once the home of Tao Nan School, established in 1906 as one of the first modern Chinese schools in Singapore, this building now houses the Peranakan Museum, the first museum in the world specialising in Peranakan culture and the newest museum in Singapore. The Peranakans are heirs to a rich heritage handed down from foreign traders who settled in the Straits Settlements in the 15th and 16th centuries and married local women.
9 Armenian Church
The Armenian Church is the oldest surviving Christian church and was the first to be built in Singapore, completed in 1835 and was consecrated in 1836. Singapore's Armenian community has been small but prominent, and the church's interior is in the traditional Armenian style. The church is a neoclassical Palladian work by G D Coleman, Singapore's first qualified architect, and is considered one of his finest.
10 Central Fire Station
Opened in 1909 during the Edwardian period, this is Singapore’s oldest fire station. Improved equipment and an increase in the fire brigade staff led to a substantial decrease in the number and scale of fires in the crowded town area. Today, it houses the Singapore Civil Defence Force, providing coverage for the Central District, as well as the Civil Defence Heritage Gallery which showcases the advances and changes in the realm of fire fighting and civil defence in Singapore.
11 Ministry of Information, Communication and The Arts
Completed in 1934, this six-storey building, once the largest building in Singapore, with its arcades, central courtyards and 911 windows, was designed in the neo-classical style then fashionable in England. Once the base and quarters for policemen, it remained a police station through the Japanese Occupation up to 1980, and now houses the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts.
12 St. Andrew Cathedral
St Andrew's Cathedral is one of the few examples of English Gothic Revival architecture in Singapore. First holding services in 1862, and elevated to the status of a Cathedral in 1870, it is now the seat and mother church of the Anglican Diocese of Singapore. One of the main attractions of the Cathedral is a multi-coloured stained glass window, and the glossy white exterior is the result of using Madras Chunam, a mixture of shell lime, egg white, and sugar.
13 Cathay Building
Opened in 1939, the Cathay Building with its art deco facade was the tallest building in Singapore, and most known for its air-conditioned theatre, then a technological marvel and the first to be built in Singapore. It was home to the British Malaya Broadcasting Corporation until the Japanese invaded Singapore in 1942 when the building was used as the Japanese Propaganda Department Headquarters. Today it houses a mix of retail, food & beverage outlets and an eight-screen cineplex.
14 MacDonald House
Built in 1949 for the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, the building was built in a Neo-Georgian style and clad in light red brickwork of fine detail, the last major building of its kind in downtown Singapore. In 1963, during the Indonesian confrontation in Singapore, a bomb planted in the building by Indonesian terrorists killed several people.
15 Istana Park
Situated directly opposite the Istana, the official residence of the President of Singapore, the park was designed by Ren Matsui, a prominent Japanese landscape architect. It features a unique reflecting pool and the Festival Arch, which stands at a height of four storeys and flies banners and flags during National Day and marks the gateway to the civic district trail, which aims to educate visitors of the rich history of Singapore.
16 Young Men's Christian Association
The Singapore Chapter of the YMCA acquired this site in 1909. During World War Two, the building was used by the Kempeitai, the Japanese Military Police. The interrogation and torture of many innocent civilians took place here. In 1981, the old building was torn down and rebuilt to cater for the Association’s numerous activities.