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Fort Canning
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The ultimate guide to Fort Canning Park

The park with something for nature lovers and history buffs alike

Cheryl Sekkappan
Delfina Utomo
Written by
Cheryl Sekkappan
Contributor
Delfina Utomo
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Singapore has a rich and storied history that dates far beyond the time Sir Stamford Raffles set foot on our shores. Fort Canning Park, a bastion of our colonial heritage, is also a great place to catch a glimpse into a time when ancient Malay kings ruled our land.

Visit the nine historical parks today to experience 14th century history, where Malayan princesses bathed in forbidden springs and ancient craftsmen plied their trade for the royal family. Fort Canning Park also saw the passage of British colonisation – Raffles built his residence here and established the first botanic gardens to stimulate agriculture in Singapore and the region. Its wartime history is no less fascinating, with evidence of the hill's time as an artillery fort complete with barracks, officers' quarters and underground bunkers.

Fort Canning Park has moved with the times. It has become a hotspot for various art and cultural events, with refreshed historical gardens for all to enjoy. Augmented reality trails via the BalikSG app and accessibility features make it easier than ever to appreciate the nature and heritage of the park. To help you along with your exploration, we pull together the best attractions of Fort Canning Park. 

RECOMMENDED: The ultimate guide to the Singapore Botanic Gardens

The best historical gardens

Sang Nila Utama Garden
Photograph: Felix Choong/Unsplash

Sang Nila Utama Garden

The Sang Nila Utama Garden is a relatively new addition to Fort Canning Park. Named after the Palembang prince believed to be the first ancient king of Singapore, it's a re-creation of Southeast Asian gardens from the 14th century. Majestic Javanese split gates greet you at the entrance, while statues of frogs, fish and ducks bring back the old fauna of the palace gardens. There's also a calm, reflective pool, where you can contemplate in the manner of ancient royalty.

Pancur Larangan
Photograph: Andrew JK Tan via NParks

Pancur Larangan

Another pre-colonial relic is Pancur Larangan, or Forbidden Spring, where the wife and consorts of the Malay king used to bathe. Apparently, this spring was also the source of clean drinking water for ships docked in the Singapore harbour in the early 19th century. Today, the freshwater brings to mind Bali's holy springs. 

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Jubilee Park
Photograph: NParks

Jubilee Park

No park in Singapore would be complete without a special play area for children. At Fort Canning Park, Jubilee Park is it. Tucked on the western slope of Fort Canning, this playground comes complete with slides, swings, obstacle courses, seesaws, climbing nets and a lookout point. Good luck tearing your kids away from this one. 

Raffles Garden
Photograph: Choo Yut Shing/Flickr

Raffles Garden

Inspired by Sir Stamford Raffles' love of plants, the Raffles Garden features a collection of plant species that the man encountered during his travels through Southeast Asia. The compact garden is easy to explore, with steps leading up on one end to Raffles House, a neoclassical style building that was once the abode of Singapore's founder. Other nearby points of interest are the Flame of the Forest heritage tree, flagstaff and lighthouse – the latter two of which are replicas of the originals that were crucial to ships arriving at the port. 

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Spice Garden
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons

Spice Garden

A keen naturalist, Sir Stamford Raffles (along with Nathaniel Wallich) started a Botanical and Experimental Garden on Government Hill (Fort Canning Hill) in 1822. The garden started out with 125 nutmeg and 450 clove trees, and were the grounds of experimentation for economic crops. Enter through the Gothic Gate and take the meandering paths within the gardens – there is ample signage marking out familiar spices like laksa leaf, cardamom, torch ginger and galangal. Don't miss the archaeological dig and exhibition area where 14th-century artefacts uncovered by researchers are on display. 

Artisan's Garden
Photograph: NParks

Artisan's Garden

It's hard to imagine Singapore in pre-colonial times, but the Artisan's Garden gives us a look into a small slice of it. This is one of Singapore's last archaeological dig sites, where researchers found evidence of an ancient artisans' workshop. Craftsmen would have lived and worked here, plying their trade for the royals on the hill. Visitors can experience the space as it used to be, learn more about the excavations made on Fort Canning, and even attend the occasional archaeology workshop. 

For history buffs

The Battlebox
Photograph: Battlebox

The Battlebox

Immerse yourself in military history at the Battlebox, also known as Fort Canning Bunker. Built in 1936, this was the command centre during the Malayan Campaign and the Battle of Singapore. This is also where Lieutenant-General Arthur E. Percival and the Allied Forces decided to surrender to the Japanese in WWII. Descend almost nine metres underground into the bomb-proof bunker, where there are interactive displays that recreate the morning in 1942 when Singapore fell to invading forces. You can book guided tours from battlebox.com.sg

Keramat Iskandar Shah
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons

Keramat Iskandar Shah

The Keramat Iskandar Shah is a site that is steeped in history. It was once believed to be the final resting place of Sultan Iskandar Shah, the last king of Singapura and the first sultan of the Melaka Sultanate. That's largely thought to be untrue now, but the place's spiritual significance remains especially for the Malay community. Archaeological excavations around the tomb have also turned up treasures from the 14th century, evocative of a bustling trading city even in pre-colonial times. 

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Fort Gate and Fort Wall
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons

Fort Gate and Fort Wall

As you pass through Fort Gate, try to imagine the fortress that used to stand at Fort Canning Hill. This was a low and thick wall that was strong enough to withstand artillery bombardment, with an additional moat around it to deter intruders. What you see today is a mere remnant of what it used to be, but in those days, it was all that stood between Singapore and attacks from the sea. 

Fort Canning Centre
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons

Fort Canning Centre

Fort Canning Centre is temporarily closed but is currently being reimagined as a heritage centre that will take visitors through the history and natural history of Fort Canning through the 14th, 19th and 20th centuries. The building itself has stories held within its walls. It passed through military hands, including the Malaya Command, the British army and the Singapore Armed Forces before enjoying a stint as an arts centre. For now, you can admire its stately neoclassical architecture from the sprawling Fort Canning Green. 

The best photo spot

Spiral staircase
Photograph: John T/Unsplash

Spiral staircase

There are many great photo opportunities at Fort Canning Park, especially for nature lovers. But the spiral staircase is by far the best, and most famous. Many love to perch at the midpoint of the stairs – taken from below, the rim of the staircase forms a perfect round frame for the sky and branches of the tree above. The easiest way to get there is from Dhoby Ghaut MRT Exit A. Head towards the UBS building (former Park Mall) and find the spiral staircase at the entrance to the park on the left. If you're already in the park, there are clear directions to the staircase posted at Battlebox (that's how popular it is).  

Where to eat

  • Restaurants
  • City Hall

The scent of fresh air, aromatic brews, and warm bakes mingle and come together at the seventh, and latest, Tiong Bahru Bakery outlet. The store comes nestled within the tranquil grounds of Fort Canning Park, and offers an idyllic escape to while the day away.

You might spot quirky motifs sprinkled around the space – a lifeguard stand, lifebuoys, and signage reminiscent of swimming pool rule boards. These design elements help pay homage to the location’s history as the former River Valley Swimming Complex.

Inside, an open kitchen provides a peep into the baking process, where fresh, flaky croissants are churned out every two hours. Also on display: a range of Tiong Bahru Bakery’s signature treats, both savoury and sweet. While the usual kouign amann deserves a spot on your tray, be sure to leave some space for the outlet-exclusive creations. Try the sourdough croissant ($4.80), with a crémeux praline filling, best paired with a cup of nutmeg teh halia ($7), a scented ginger tea concoction that will leave the belly feeling warm and satisfied. Or sip on the lesser-seen kvass ($5), a sparkling Eastern European beverage brewed with sourdough yeast.

If you’re hoping to dine closer to nature, head out to the 60-seater outdoor that comes flanked by manicured slopes and trees. Better yet, grab one of its picnic bundles ($22/$31) to enjoy a convenient outdoor meal within the expansive grounds of Fort Canning Hill. Available for breakfast or lunch, each bag comes filled with your choice of savoury sandwich or sweet pastry, alongside a drink.

  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • City Hall

Le Jardin, which means ‘the garden’ in French, is a blooming wonderland nestled within Fort Canning Park. The floral-themed space comes modelled after chic Parisian cafés: grab a seat at the pet-friendly alfresco terrace, under the shade of trees; or head indoors and dine in the company of lush flora and fauna. Even the dining tables act as mini gardens or terrariums, enlivened with fresh greens for a pop of colour.

If the naturalistic inspiration feels familiar, it’s because Le Jardin is opened by the same people behind Cafe de Nicole’s Flower. Their latest outlet follows a smilier florist-in-a-café concept: browse and shop from the buffet of vibrant blooms on display, or tuck into a food and drink menu that looks just as inviting as its interior.

Come by early for brunch plates of croissant waffle ($23.90) and potato rosti ($18.90). Otherwise, heartier servings of lunch and dinner are also available. Ora king salmon ($30) comes perfectly seared with a pink-hued middle, accompanied by cauliflower and yuzu beurre blanc. Forest mushroom tagliatelle ($20) is another apt choice, where pasta comes twirled with cherry tomatoes and broccolini. Wash it down with drinks made with a botanical touch. Floral Cucumber ($9.90) is a refreshing cordial of cucumber juice, green apple, and elderflower; while Chamomile Dream ($9.90) is an elegant number where tart orange juice is balanced with floral chamomile syrup.

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