Singapore’s uniqueness lies within its reciprocal relationship between its localized past and the globalized future. This tiny maritime island-nation that has only known independence for 55 years is considered one of the most advanced nations on Earth, having both one of the strongest currencies in the world and some of the highest amounts of skyscrapers per capita.
This need to leave behind an enduring legacy has made for some pretty awesome landmarks in Singapore. The country has a tightly-controlled national narrative that transfers smoothly into cookie-cutter perfect parks, skyscrapers, and recreational venues. After all, Singapore was one of the boldest and most successful attempts at post-colonial nation-building in Southeast Asia.
Thus, Singapore’s landmarks and its very infrastructure have become a matter of national identity, as these are the country’s measures of outward successes that are meant to take the country, as its first prime minister said, “from Third World to First World in one lifetime”.
With this brief history in mind, it’s time to explore some of the most famous landmarks in Singapore, from the oldest convents and revered war memorials to downright surreal hotels and parks.
1. The most famous landmark in Singapore: Merlion Park
Location: Merlion Park, in front of Fullerton Hotel and overlooking Marina Bay
Okay sure, there’s the Marina Sands Bay and Supertree Grove that are plastered all over the ‘gram when it comes to Singapore landmarks. But trust us, the humble, old Merlion is the definitive icon of the city and is regarded as the pride of Singapore. This city symbol has been drawing visitors for almost half a century since it was unveiled in 1972 to a starry-eyed nation that would go on to dominate the region’s economy.
The statue is that of the mythical Merlion, a creature with the head of a lion and the body of a fish. The Merlion is rooted in Singapore’s history and mythology. The story goes that once, a prince from the Srivijayan empire (1183-1377) named Sang Nila Utama was sailing across the seas when he discovered a spot of land. He encountered a majestic lion that might have given him the idea to found the city of Temasek (the old Malay word for ‘lake town’), which would eventually become Singapura, aka Lion City.
Here’s where the tale gets a bit fishy – what about the ‘mer’ part of Merlion? Well, that part came later – in 1964 to be specific – when British ichthyologist (lovers of all things fish) and occasional city emblem designer Alec Fraser-Brunner made the sculpture for the Singapore Tourism Board. He added a fabulous fishtail to signify Singapore’s humble origins as a fishing village.
Surrounded by multi-million dollar building projects and cloud-piercing skyscrapers, the Merlion withstands the test of time and is a reminder of the city’s oftentimes forgotten ancient past.
2. A Singapore landmark that puts nature and innovation to work: Supertree Grove
Location: Gardens by the Bay
This famous landmark in Singapore is one of the most photographed places in the country. A billion-dollar mechanized Eden, the Supertree Grove was designed to be a living work of art that integrates technology and greenery.
There are 18 Supertrees in total, and each one is unique and varying in height, with some reaching up to 50 meters. You can take an elevator up these tremendous tree trunks to walk across suspended walkways that twist around the towering skeletal structures.
Functional as well as surreal, the Supertrees actually play an important role in sustainability. Each Supertree mimics the functions of a real tree, with built-in photovoltaic cells that echo photosynthesis which produces the energy the park runs on. The trees also collect water during Singapore’s monsoon season and distribute it through the park’s irrigation system. The water is also channeled through flues for the Gardens by the Bay’s underground biomass boilers. Beautiful and beneficial!
3. The most famous building in Singapore: Marina Bay Sands
Location: 10 Bayfront Avenue, Singapore
No list of landmarks in Singapore would be complete without mentioning Marina Bay Sands. If millions of wanderlust-inspiring pictures on the ‘gram are any indication of popularity, then this 56-story hotel with a ship perched on its roof definitely comes out on top. Housing the world’s largest rooftop infinity pool, 200-meter-high jacuzzis on observation decks, and boasting some of the greatest views in the country, this is the skyscraper Dubai wishes it had.
If you’re not a guest, then entering this colossal Singapore landmark comes with a price tag. It costs 20 SGD to go up to the Sands SkyPark Observation Deck. To be fair, it is one of the best views in town (pollution allowing) and you can get a bird’s-eye view of the Gardens by the Bay (including the Supertree Grove) and see out across the Marina South Pier towards the Singapore Strait.
Pro tip: Not keen on shelling out just for the view? Then consider going up to the rooftop bar for a drink instead. This way, you can access the observation deck for free and spend your money where it’s worth: on your belly.
Now for the highlight of the Marina Bay Sands: the gorgeous infinity pool that stretches across the roofs of three skyscrapers. Unfortunately, if you want to take a dip in this famous landmark in Singapore, we don’t have a cheat code for you. Access to the pool is limited to guests only. But hey, rooms start at around €250 per night, so if you’re feeling fancy, nobody can fault you for treating yourself! You could recover your expenses by eating at all those delicious hawker stalls for the rest of your trip.
4. Gather some social media clout at the Insta-worthy Cloud Forest
Location: Gardens by the Bay
Just a stone’s throw away from the extraordinary Supertree Grove is another marvel of engineering and a venue that’s fast becoming a famous landmark in Singapore: Cloud Forest. With a name that sounds straight out of a Miyazaki movie, this place was set up for success from the very start.
Cloud Forest is a 35-meter-tall vegetation hill covered in colorful shrubbery that’s surrounded by beams of cascading water. Singapore loves toying with ideas of futuristic urban forests, and this innovative conservatory is the latest addition to places like the Flower Dome, Floral Fantasy, and Jewel at Changi Airport. See a theme here? Nature is at the core of all these architectural wonders, and for a country that’s just 721.5 km², these types of multipurpose constructions matter. It’s a place for the country’s growing population to escape to, while also being space efficient and sustainable.
Cloud Forest itself is a sight to behold, with plants from the tropical highlands adorning a man-made ‘mountain’ full of walkways and lush canopies that will bring out your inner hobbit. Throw in some fog and some atmospheric lighting, and you’ve got yourself a day well spent at this Singapore landmark.
5. The most serene landmark in Singapore: Kranji War Memorial
Location: 9 Woodlands Road, Singapore
Let’s step back from flashy forests and splashy skyscrapers for a second, and revisit some of Singapore’s darker history. Singapore was a British stronghold for so long that it was nicknamed the ‘Gibraltar of the East’. In 1942, the Empire of Japan – one of the Axis powers – invaded the Malayan Peninsula. The days of battle that took place over this time became known as the Fall of Singapore. It resulted in the Japanese capture of Singapore and the largest British surrender in history, which Winston Churchill dubbed the “worst disaster in British military history”.
For the British and colonial powers, losing Singapore meant losing most of Southeast Asia – Burma, Ceylon, Malaya, Thailand, Indonesia, etc. For the local population and residents, however, it meant the bloodiest period of war, genocide, and murder that took place under the Japanese Fascist movement.
The Kranji War Memorial is a memorial to the battles fought during this tumultuous period, in which things came to a head at the Kranji River that resulted in a victory for Japan. This intergovernmental graveyard is a poignant place that is dedicated to the men and women from the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Sri Lanka, India, Malaya, the Netherlands, and New Zealand who died defending Singapore and Malaya against the invading Japanese forces. It consists of almost 5,000 military graves, war graves, and a state cemetery, as well as over 850 unmarked graves. The actual number of deaths, however, is said to be far higher.
Located just 22 kilometers outside the city center, this is possibly one of the quietest landmarks in Singapore. Put some time aside to hike around the hills while learning about how World War II affected the East.
6. Historical landmarks in Singapore: Raffles Landing Site and Raffles Hotel
Location: Near the Asian Civilisations Museum
So you’re in Singapore, sipping a Singapore sling at some rooftop garden in a reconstructed shipyard on top of a mall that’s also a vertical rainforest, and you’re wondering, “Who exactly is Stamford Raffles and why are there so many roads named after him?”
The man whose name is plastered across roads, hotels, and statues is actually Sir Stamford Raffles, Lieutenant-Governor of the Dutch East Indies and founder of modern-day Singapore. He is credited with transforming Singapore from an obscure fishing village to a strategic seaport, and is thus commemorated throughout the city.
There are actually two of these famous landmarks in Singapore. The first is a poly-marble statue located at what is believed to be the site where Sir Stamford Raffles landed on January 29, 1819, and the second is the original dark bronze statue sculpted in 1887 for Jubilee Day. The latter is located at the lavish Victoria Memorial Hall at Empress Place.
Just a kilometer from Raffles Landing Site is the iconic Raffles Hotel, perhaps the most famous building in Singapore. This lavish hotel in the Downtown Core district of Singapore will take you back to the bygone era of tropical, colonial luxury. Authors like Somerset Maugham loved spending time at the hotel’s Long Bar – which, by the way, is also where the Singapore Sling was invented. Enjoy a spot of history with a tall drink – cheers to that!
7. An up-and-coming landmark in Singapore: Henderson Waves
Location: Henderson Road, Singapore
“The largest infinity pool, the greenest metropolitan area in Asia, the largest indoor garden, the fanciest airport…” For such a small nation, Singapore sure does love to go big. This is a country that doesn’t do anything half-assed, and Henderson Waves joins a long list of words that end with ‘est’ in Singapore. Henderson Waves has earned the accolade for being the tallest footbridge in Singapore, sitting 36 meters above Mount Faber Park to Telok Blangah Hill Park.
The bridge looks like a living moving structure looming over the cityscape, as if it were a gigantic serpent slithering across the forest canopy. The best part? The bridge is made entirely out of certified sustainable timber sourced from farms in East Malaysia
The walkway is free to access and is popular among joggers, birdwatchers, and families who can take advantage of the walkway’s shaded alcoves. This is quickly becoming a new landmark in Singapore thanks to the panoramic views afforded from the bridge’s unique vantage point. The rich structural and architectural elements of the bridge also make for some pretty sick shots to up your ‘gram game! You’ll be hard-pressed not to find at least 10 photoshoots going on here at any given time.
8. The most thrilling Singapore landmark: Universal Studios Singapore
Location: 8 Sentosa Gateway, Singapore
A place that needs no introduction is Universal Studios Singapore. Southeast Asia’s first and only Universal Studios theme park is a huge draw for visitors from across the globe. It’s also the most famous landmark in Singapore for movie and roller coaster buffs.
Located in Singapore’s designated playground territory, Resorts World Sentosa, Universal Studios Singapore is home to 28 thrilling rides and seven themed zones, as well as a ton of spectacular shows.
Put aside a full day to experience all this cutting-edge park has to offer, and when you’re done, explore the rest of Sentosa Island! It’s home to a cable car, Siloso Beach, Skyline Luge Sentosa, and Fort Siloso, a World War II fortress.
9. Home to some of the oldest buildings in Singapore: Clarke Quay
Location: River Valley Road, Singapore
Colorful is the first word that’ll come to mind when you set eyes upon Clarke Quay. This rustic row of heritage shophouses runs along a historical riverside quay amid a backdrop of skyscrapers. The facades have been painted with a spectrum of colors that look even better at night when the area is fully lit up.
Speaking of lit, Clarke Quay is Singapore’s top epicenter for nightlife. All those cute heritage buildings you see are actually bars, pubs, and nightclubs that take on a life of their own after sundown. During the daytime, however, Clarke Street is a pedestrian mall that is a different experience altogether.
The quay dates back to 1819 and the warehouses you see are where barge lighters would transport goods upstream to be shipped elsewhere. There’s a lot of history here, as well as some of the oldest buildings in Singapore. Consider rounding up the best historical venues in the area and bar hop to each one. Trust us, this strategy works perfectly for this area!
10. Love history, food, and drinks? CHIJMES is the Singapore landmark for you!
Location: 30 Victoria Street, Singapore
An imposing colonial-era convent, a former girls school, and an orphanage for abandoned babies. Someone with a lot of vision looked at the history of the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) and decided to turn it into the latest and hippest landmark in Singapore.
This former Catholic Convent was built in the mid-1800s, making it one of the oldest buildings in Singapore. It features whitewashed Gothic Revival style architecture that goes along perfectly Singapore’s plethora of historical buildings. Today, CHIJMES (the ‘MES’ was added later) offers some of the most atmospheric eating experiences in Singapore.
CHIJMES is a full-fledged art and culture venue that features ethnic cuisine, shops, and a concert venue for musicals, recitals, theatrical performances, and even weddings. There’s always something happening at this famous landmark in Singapore, so make sure to pop your head in and try something off the beaten tourist track.