Traditional boat on the Singapore River near Clarke Quay

A guide to the Singapore River

Stop for a visit to Singapore and the first thing you’ll notice – after the skyscrapers and warm, humid air – is that there’s a lot of water. Rivers, harbors and canals are the lifeblood of this city, bringing trade, tourism, and tranquility to its many green and quiet spaces. At the heart of it all, snaking its way west to east from the Kim Seng Bridge the Singapore Strait, is the Singapore River. Now lined with vibrant shopping districts and dazzling sky scrapers organized around three main quays, this two-mile stretch of fresh water has been indelibly linked to Singapore’s history and livelihood from its days as a remote fishing village to the internationally recognizable metropolis it is today. Read on to find out more about:

  • It's history
  • Robertson Quay
  • Clarke Quay
  • Boat Quay
  • The Marina
  • Things to do


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The history of the Singapore River dates back many centuries to when the ‘Lion City’ was a small fishing village inhabited at various points by traveling (or invading) fisherman from China, Malaysia, India, Java and other neighboring countries. It wasn’t until Sir Stamford Raffles arrived in 1819 that serious development began, and it grew into a large city with a well-connected trading port. The first quay was built in 1823 and large warehouses were built all along the Singapore River to house goods and merchandise being imported and exported by sea. Other industries – such as finance – thrived on this success, but it took its toll on the waterways. Pollution and congestion became so bad that in 1977 the Prime Minister launched an ambitious ten-year clean-up project. Hotels, green spaces and sewerage were installed, and most of the trade was moved out to Keppel Harbor to make way for the tide of tourism now flooding into the city. Nowadays, The Singapore River forms the backbone of social and commercial life in the city, with vibrant districts and glamorous promenades culminating in the spectacular vista of Marina Bay.

Robertson Quay

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The most laid-back of Singapore’s three quays, Robertson Quay is the furthest from the Bay and usually has a bit more room to move. There’s plenty to explore here – be sure to stop at the famously colorful Alkaff Bridge – shaped to look like a traditional light boat called a tongkang and painted in bright colors and patterns – and walk across the Jiak Kim Bridge right on the bend of the river. This area is also known for its food and beverage options, and you’ll find excellent examples of tacos, charcoal-roasted meat and Korean barbeque. Or trek all the way up the river to the Alexandra Canal, where you’ll find some excellent walking trails and picnic spots.

Clarke Quay

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Further along the river between the Coleman and Read Bridges is Clarke Quay, named for the 19th Century Governor Sir Andrew Clarke. Once lined with warehouses and jetties, this area now forms the city’s main shopping and eating district, with the super-sized Clarke Quay Central shopping center and dozens of restaurants and cafes. There’s plenty to explore during the day – across the river is the photogenic Old Hill Street Police Station and behind that is the historic Fort Canning Park and the National Museum of Singapore – but it’s in the evening that this area comes really comes alive, as people flock here to enjoy warm evenings of music, clubbing and outdoor dining.

Boat Quay

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The oldest of Singapore River’s quays, Boat Quay is the closest to the river mouth and marks the place where Sir Stamford Raffles first landed on the river banks. As a result, there are many historic buildings and landmarks in this area, including the Old Parliament Building, Victoria Concert Hall, the Asian Civilizations Museum, the Dalhousie Obelisk (marking the Marquis of Dalhousie’s visit to the city in 1850) and the statue of Sir Raffles himself. Take a leisurely stroll along the wide promenade and be sure to walk across the river’s oldest pedestrian crossing, the Cavenagh Suspension Bridge.

The Marina

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Where the mouth of the Singapore River meets the sea, the stunning Marina Bay marks the place where the prince Sang Nila Utama was washed ashore and saw a strange creature he identified as a lion, thus giving the city its name of ‘Singa Pura’, or Lion City. It’s probably the most visited – and photographed – area of Singapore, starting from Merlion Square, where the regal and emblematic statue gazes out towards the iconic skyline features of the ArtScience Museum, the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and the Gardens by the Bay. It’s a spectacular place to watch the sun rise or set over the Singapore Strait, or simply just to wander around and soak up the atmosphere.

Things to do

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Fortunately, the weather and daylight hours are pretty consistent throughout the year in Singapore, so it doesn’t really matter when you go. It’s always going to be humid, so undoubtedly the best way to experience the river is on it, where fresh breezes and water spray will cool you down. River Cruises in traditional bumboats will take you gently around the quays and the Marina for perfect waterfront pictures, or for something more adventurous try a Duck Tour in an amphibious vehicle. If you prefer two wheels, there are some great bike tours that take in all the river’s major attractions, or you could just hire a bike and do your own exploring. If you need some family fun, try a Puzzle Hunt in Fort Canning, or if you need a rest and fancy some ‘high’ life, grab a drink at the Ce La Vi SkyBar in the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, where you can look back and marvel over the entire length of the river and out to the sea.

Cruise around Singapore with Go City

Whether you prefer your views from rooftop bars, traditional boats or riverside restaurants, there’s always something to see on the Singapore River. Be sure to have your Go City Explorer or All-Inclusive Pass handy, so you’ll save on all your favorite attractions as you go!

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