– This post was written by Neesha Kanga –
Singapore’s uniqueness lies between its localized past and the globalized future. This tiny maritime island-nation has only known independence for less than 60 years, yet is considered one of the most advanced nations on Earth. The most famous landmarks in Singapore will walk you through the country’s complex history.
Singapore’s infrastructure has become a matter of national identity; with one of the strongest currencies and some of the highest amounts of skyscrapers per capita in the world, these outward-facing successes are designed to take the country “from Third World to First World in one lifetime”, as it’s first prime minister once said.
With this brief history in mind, it’s time to explore some of the most icnoic landmarks and historical sites in Singapore, from the oldest convents and revered war memorials to downright surreal hotels and parks.
Modern Landmarks in Singapore
1. The most famous landmark in Singapore: Merlion Park
Location: Merlion Park, in front of Fullerton Hotel and overlooking Marina Bay
The Marina Sands Bay and Supertree Grove may be plastered all over the ‘gram when it comes to Singapore landmarks, the humble, old Merlion Park 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 depicts the mythical Merlion, a creature with the head of a lion and the body of a fish. According to legend, 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, inspiring him to found the city of Temasek (the old Malay word for ‘lake town’), which would eventually become Singapura – Lion City.
Here’s where the tale gets a bit fishy – what about the ‘mer’ part of Merlion? That part came later in 1964 when British ichthyologist (lovers of all things fish) and designer Alec Fraser-Brunner made the sculpture for the Singapore Tourism Board. They 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 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 located within Gardens by the Bay was designed to be a living work of art that integrates technology and greenery.
There are 18 “Supertrees” in total, and each one unique in height and design, with some reaching up to 50 meters. You can take an elevator up these tremendous tree trunks to walk across suspended bridges that twist around the towering skeletal structures.
Functional as well as surreal, the Supertrees 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 energy for the entire park. 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 iconic landmark 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 Instagram 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 towards the Singapore Strait and the tips of the lotus-shaped ArtScience Museum.
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 on a cocktail creation.
4. The most photogenic Singapore landmark: Cloud Forest
Location: Gardens by the Bay
Just a stone’s throw away from the extraordinary Supertree Grove at Gardens by the Bay 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 conservatory covered in colorful shrubbery that’s surrounded by beams of cascading water. Singapore loves toying with ideas of futuristic urban forests, and this innovative wonder is the latest addition to places like the Flower Dome, Floral Fantasy, and Jewel at Changi Airport.
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 efficient and sustainable.
5. An up-and-coming landmark in Singapore: Henderson Waves
Location: Henderson Road, Singapore
Singapore loves to go big. This is a country that doesn’t do anything halfway, 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 emerging from the cityscape, made entirely 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.
6. The most thrilling Singapore landmark: Sentosa Island
Location: 8 Sentosa Gateway, Singapore
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 an aquarium.
All this in 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.
Historical Sites in Singapore
7. The most solemn 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 in a battle 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”.
The Kranji War Memorial is a dedicated to the bloody conflicts during this tumultuous period, specifically the battle at the Kranji River, resulting 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.
8. A landmark from Singapore’s colonial past: Raffles Landing Site and Raffles Hotel
Location: Near the Asian Civilisations Museum
The man whose name is plastered across roads, hotels, and statues is 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.
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 transport you to the bygone era of tropical, 19th-century luxury. Authors like Somerset Maugham loved spending time at the hotel’s Long Bar – which where the Singapore Sling was invented.
Once you’ve finished your cocktail, head over to the nearby Asian Civilisations Museum to learn more about how the Singaporean people have reclaimed their colonial past (and its corresponding architecture) with over 200 years of art and artifacts representing trade, faith, and design in Asia.
9. One of the oldest landmarks 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 historic riverside quay amid a backdrop of skyscrapers. The facades have been painted with a spectrum of colors that look even better on a Singapore river cruise or 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.
10. Love history, food, and drinks? CHIJMES is the Singapore landmark for you!
Location: 30 Victoria Street, Singapore
In it’s former life as an imposing colonial-era convent, a former girls school, and an orphanage, 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.
Cultural Landmarks in Singapore
11. Lau Pa Sat
Location: 18 Raffles Quay, Singapore
Bring your appetite with you on a trip to Lau Pa Sat, a historical site in Singapore and cultural landmark for nearly 150 years. Featuring dishes inspired by both local and international cuisines, the market at Lau Pa Sat has been bringing locals and tourists together for generations.
Offering anything from traditional Chinese flavors to modern American pizza, there’s something to suit every palette at Lau Pa Sat. With so many items to choose from, you can come hungry and browse the diverse selection, or consult their handy food dictionary to help you hone in on your tastebuds.
12. National Museum of Singapore
Location: 1 St Andrew’s Rd, #01 – 01, Singapore
In a multifaceted place like Singapore, getting acquainted with this beautifully complex nation at the National Gallery Singapore, is a must-see historical site.
Located inside the city’s two most historic buildings – the Supreme Court and City Hall – the National Gallery Singapore hosts the world’s most extensive Asian and Southeast Asian art collection.
Explore hundreds of years (and over 8,000 artifacts) of Singaporean history and culture with a multilingual audio guide and child-friendly activities as you tour the museum.
13. Singapore Botanic Gardens
Location: 1 Cluny Rd, Singapore
The Singapore Botanic Gardens hold a special place in the city’s heart. As Singapore’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, the gardens hold a wealth of cultural value – including a special garden designed just for children.
In this tropical paradise, rare plants flourish under the watchful eye of passionate botanists. Delicate orchid displays, a ginger garden, as well as themed gardens by scent, healing properties, and seeds are accessible to tour with a guide or explore on your own.
14. Sultan Mosque
Location: 3 Muscat St, Singapore
Although the mosque is an active place of worship – meaning visiting hours are limited – swing by the Sultan Mosque and you won’t regret seeing this historical and cultural landmark in Singapore.
Founded in 1824, the Sultan Mosque opened to worshippers two years later and currently serves up to 5,000 people for prayers. Its board of trustees represents six ethnic groups from across Southeast Asia and India and was declared a preserved historical structure in 1975.
Not only does the Sultan Mosque provide a space for spiritual rituals, but it also houses an education center to inform visitors about the Islamic faith and lifestyle.
15. Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
Location: 288 South Bridge Rd, Singapore
With nearly one-third of Singapore’s population identifying as Buddhist, adding a tour of the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple to your list of cultural landmarks in Singapore is a must.
As a result of China’s strong influence on Singaporean culture, it’s no surprise that Buddhism is practiced here and the architecture of most Buddhist temples follows the traditional Chinese form.
Constructed in 2007 with Tang-influenced design, you can tour the multileveled temple and attached museum for free. Learn about the life and transformation of Buddha as you view a relic from Buddha himself – a tooth.
With so much to offer, the city of Singapore and the historic and modern landmarks contained within this island-nation are sure to impress. From modern marvels and lush gardens, to sacred temples and historic landmarks, there’s plenty of things to do and explore in The Lion City.