Learning about a place or a time past doesn’t have to be confined to museums. Whether you’re a tourist or just a curious local looking to find out more about Singapore, we have five DIY heritage trails up to experience the untold stories behind the streets and landmarks around the island. Plus, it makes for a great trip down nostalgia lane for those who have been here for decades!
Little India Trail
No. of stops: 40 Distance: 4.9km
Ask any Singaporean about the one place they commonly associate with Little India, and chances are the answer is Tekka Market. But then, not many would know about its Chinese origins (Tekka translates to “zhujiao“), nor about the fact that Sir Stamford Raffles never intended for the area to be designated for the Indian community.
These are just some of the things that can be learnt about the 200-year-old precinct, with the National Heritage Board’s newest heritage trail featuring 40 heritage sites and 18 informative markers. From the many places of worships in the neighbourhood to historical sites experienced by our forefather, go try out the three bite-size thematic routes available, taking you to places such as the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial, Little India Arcade, Former Kandang Kerbau Hospital, Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, and even the Former Racecourse. And when you get a little peckish, you know that a splendid cup of masala chai or some piping-hot prata can be found all around you.
Find out more about the Little India trail here.
No. of stops: 40 Distance: 9.6km
Did you know that this 60-year-old estate was named after Queen Elizabeth II to mark her coronation? Or that the town was first created to tackle the overcrowding woes in Chinatown? Today, Queenstown houses over 70,000 people in some 11,000 flats. In this heritage trail, find out about the evolution of Singapore’s first satellite estate, the evolution of public housing through personal stories of long-time residents, and visit the iconic landmarks that has defined the Queenstown skyline over the years.
It’s a lengthy one, so be sure to wear comfy shoes – start from Queenstown MRT station and head down from Tanglin Road all the way to Portsdown Road, or opt for one of five smaller trails based on location clusters. Visit everything from the 129-year-old Shuang Long Shan Wu Shu Ancestral Hall, the Japanese-influenced Ridout Tea Garden, and the iconic Black and White Bungalows, to Tiong Ghee Temple, Alexandra Hospital, as well as the Former Archipelago Brewery Company.
Find out more about the Queenstown trail here.
No. of stops: 14 Distance: 1.6km
From massive sugar cane plantations to quaint shops filled with sweet and savoury delights, Balestier’s history extends from tigers in the woods to the 1911 Chinese Revolution. Coffee here was, and is still brewed in the traditional way, served with freshly baked loafs and flaky confectionary. Ah, it’s also home to some of Singapore’s best chicken rice and bak kut teh, as many of you will know.
This trail is relatively short but spans a history nearly 180 years, as it bears witness to a rich heritage and long period of development from trading port to modern city-state. Look out for 1920s Art Deco shophouses, the iconic Goh Chor Tua Pek Kong Temple, pre-war terrace houses, Balestier Market, The Senior Police Officer’s Mess, Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall, and more.
Find out more about the Balestier trail here.
Jalan Besar Trail
No. of stops: 14 Distance: 1.2km
Remember New World Amusement Park and its gaudy lineup of performers? Back when live entertainment was the only form of recreation available, people from all walks of life would head down to see exciting attractions such as stripteases, cabaret girls, opera shows, and even boxing matches. Yes, that actually happened in Singapore.
The Jalan Besar trail is a tale of two former swamplands – where shophouses, temples, and churches now exist used to lay land overgrown by mangrove trees and nipah palms. Chase the stories of the cultures and communities that burst forth from the muddy basin of Singapore’s longest waterway, the Kallang River, and trace the urban redevelopment of a floodplain that once existed on the bank of the Rochor River. Some places to see include the famous Jalan Besar Stadium, terrace houses along Petain Road, the Central Sikh temple, the original New World gate, and Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital.
Find out more about the Jalan Besar trail here.
Bukit Timah Trail
No. of stops: 20 Distance: 8.2km
Mention Bukit Timah and several things come to mind: large and luxurious homes, traffic jams from parents fetching their kids to and from school in the mornings and evenings. Rewind back a few decades and those images include weekend races at the former Singapore Turf Club, and train trips from the Bukit Timah Railway Station.
From historical wartime sites and lush greenery to iconic fixtures and buildings, this trail unpacks the rich story of Bukit Timah, starting from the Old Ford factory museum where you’ll relive the war history, pass the once-bustling Beauty World Centre and Bukit Timah Plaza, Bukit Brown Cemetery and the Swiss School. Other sites include the Hoon San Temple and Adam Centre, before you end up at the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
Find out more about the Bukit Timah trail here.
No. of stops: 14 Distance: 19.2km
Did you know that what we know as Tampines today was first recorded in an 1828 map as R.Tampenus? It’s since grown from a rural locale to an award-winning residential town over two centuries, and the NHB’s three thematic trails will take you to explore the town’s unique history and cultural heritage.
Start early in the morning with the’ Tampines Town Trail’, and traverse the newly opened Our Tampines Hub, see the World Habitat Award Commemorative Sculpture, Tampines Central Park, and end at the Tampines Round Market and Food Centre (most stalls only open until around 3pm). With the ‘Green Spaces Trail’, grab a bike a ride past the numerous parks and green spaces, including a disused quarry, former kampongs, and Lorong Halus. Finally, those interested in religious sites can embark on the ‘Religious Institutions Trail’, bringing you to places like the Tampines Temple Cluster, Masjid Darul Ghufran, Tampines Chinese Temple, and the Catholic Church of the Holy Trinity.
Find out more about the Tampines trail here.
Top Image: Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, courtesy of National Heritage Board.