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SIngapore river, MBS
Lily Banse/Unsplash

The best heritage trails in Singapore you can explore online

Fun and exploration doesn't have to stop even if you have to stay home

By Delfina Utomo
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We've already seen the slick CBD skyscrapers, iconic landmarks in the city and the pretty pastel-hued shophouses so it's time to get to know Singapore and all its heritage, and the stories she has to offer. There's really plenty of history out there. You can choose to learn all about it sitting still from the history books and you can also get out there, strap on some sturdy walking shoes and live, breathe and learn about Singapore's heritage and past from these walking trails. 

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Orchard Road

This shopping street has history

It's easy to overlook the rich history of Orchard Road as a massive nutmeg plantation. Lined with shopping malls and hotels and with the busy streets that run through Orchard, this precinct is as busy as it gets, but the Orchard Heritage Trail will help you look a little closer at the multicultural legacy that can still be glimpsed today in the historic buildings and neighbourhoods that remain at Orchard Road. Buildings like The Macdonald House and House of Tan Yeok Nee are just some gems in this trail. Best of all, you can go on a self-guided tour via Roots.sg

Singapore River Cruise

Down by Singapore River

Singapore River has served as an artery of international commerce that drew people from all over the region to work, trade and seek their fortunes on this island even before its modern developement. Today the river continues to bustle with life, flowing past modern skyscrapers and historic buildings. The Singapore River Walk by the National Heritage Board traces the development of the river spanning from Collyer Quay to Robertson Quay. On the trail, you will learn about the contributions of the river towards Singapore’s mercantile development through the various communities who lived and worked by the river, as well as the spectacular architecture and social history of the bridges that criss-cross the river facilitating the movement of people and goods across the river at various junctures.

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Fort Canning Park
Photo: Delfina Utomo

Fort Canning Park

Things to do City Hall

Colonial-era relics, the spot where the British surrendered to the Japanese, old quarters that served as the residence of Malay Royalty and of course the lush greenery, Fort Canning Park is as rich in history as it is a great place for picnics. Learn more about the paramount roles this park played in the history of Singapore. Best part? You don't even need to join a tour, the markers around the park are enough to fill you in on the history but if you want to go in-depth on the WWII stuff, sign up for a tour with The Battlebox.

Chinatown
Photo: Lily Banse/Unsplash

Get busy at Chinatown

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It's not just about pretty aesthetics as you explore Chinatown's shophouses and learn about samsui women, rickshaw pullers, the crowded living conditions, the hardworking pioneers who made their living and set up businesses in Chinatown after taking the perilous journey south from China to seek their fortunes in Singapore – Chinatown has plenty offer if you're willing to dig more. Join an official tour with the Chinatown Heritage Centre or stroll around on your own.

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The Learning Forest
Photo: Delfina Utomo

Walk through a 100-year old forest

Things to do Tanglin

Located in the Botanic Gardens, the Learning Forest was designed to integrate with the existing 6-hectare rainforest to form an enlarged forest habitat. Unlike the rest of the Botanic Gardens, the Learning Forest is a little more rustic and sprawling, segmented into different areas like the bamboo garden, an arboretum of wild fruit trees, and wetland ecosystems for curious sorts to explore, discover and like its namesake, to learn about Singapore’s rainforests.

Katong

Get to know the Peranakans

Indigenous to this part of the world, the Peranakans are people of mixed Chinese and Malay heritage, and what a rich history they have. On a trail with City Tours, you'll see this while sauntering through the Spice Gardens to see and smell the aromatic herbs and spices used in their cuisine and standing in awe at the Peranakan Museum to behold their delicate craftsmanship in costumes, embroidery, beadwork, jewellery, porcelain and furniture. Then visit the Peranakan enclave of Katong - Joo Chiat, where shophouses dating back to the 1920s and ’30s are conserved for their colourful and ornate architecture. Don't worry foodies, at the end of the tour, indulge in a sampling of Nonya delicacies, which are influenced by Chinese, Malay and European cooking.

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colonial house

Explore Singapore's black and white bungalows

If you're curious to see how life is living in one of those iconic black and white colonial bungalows, sign up for a tour pronto with the folks at Jane’s Tours where you get to peep a look at some of the residential houses around the island. While you're at it, take a look at a bunch of heritage tours that you'd like to get on, the team also does bespoke tours according to what you want to see. 

10 Traditional Trades of Little India by Psyfool

Teh, saris and a spot of curry at Little India

The best way to see Little India is by foot or a guided walking tour with the Indian Heritage Centre. Discover why flowers play such an important role at a garland store, venture into the famous Tekka wet market and peruse the fresh goods before dropping by a fabric and textile shop to master the art of tying a sari. A trip to Little India is not complete without a visit to Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, one of Singapore’s oldest Hindu temples built by early immigrants in the late 1800s in worship of Kali, the destroyer of evil. And at the end of it all of course, settle down to a hearty meal in Little India. 

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Sultan Mosque
Photograph: Terence Ong

Majestic mosques and the Arab quarters

Before it is the cosy enclave it is today, the bustling streets of Kampong Glam was the residence of Malay sultans and their families. Go on a guided tour on your own with the fact sheet Roots has put together. The trail takes you through the meandering streets of Kampong Glam's conserved area, covering Arab Street, Beach Road, Jalan Sultan and Victoria Street. Start at the Malay Heritage Centre, fand follow the trail thereafter to find out what life used to be like in Kampong Glam, from its culture and communities to its trades and crafts. 

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