Singapore's three Quays — Boat, Clarke and Robertson — refer to the area hugging the banks of the Singapore River as it courses through the city centre.
The Singapore River is of great historical importance and its mouth is, supposedly, where Sir Stamford Raffles landed in 1819 before signing the treaty that resulted in the establishment of a British colony. The river flourished as the main artery into Singapore and, in the 1840s, the area now known as Boat Quay was established as the ethnic enclave for the Chinese coolies and traders flooding into the new city. The development continued upriver with Clarke Quay, named for Singapore's second colonial governor, as a spot to moor the trading barges and Robertson Quay for shipyards and godowns (warehouses).
Many of the British East India Company's most valuable products — rubber, tin, rice, spices — were traded and transported right on the Singapore River. Though it was never quite the Chinese pirate-ridden port portrayed in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, the Singapore River of the 19th century was certainly a rough place with squalid living quarters, opium dens and secret society headquarters.
It wasn't until the 1960s that the Singapore River ceased to be a hub of commerce as ships moved to the new high-tech ports outside the city centre. The bumboats disappeared, the shophouses were abandoned, and the city was left with a filthy, lifeless river.
The clean-up of the Singapore River was spearheaded by Lee Kwan Yew, the city-state's first prime minister, and declared a success in 1987. Around this time the dilapidated shophouses of Boat Quay were declared a conservation area and the restoration work began that would eventually convert them into watering holes for expat bankers.
Today, the Quays have become Singapore's biggest entertainment district with endless opportunities for eating, drinking, and dancing the night away. An al fresco drink along the river ranks high on most tourists' to-do lists and, though it's unquestionably overpriced, the sight of the Quays illuminated at night is unforgettable.
Though the Quays rank high for ambience they're low on actual attractions, and one of the few worth its price tag is the boat tour of the Singapore River. There are several points where you can hop onboard and the tour cruises through all three Quays up to the Merlion at the mouth of the river.
The Quays refers to the scenic streets and walkways lining the curving Singapore River from its mouth at Marina Bay to the Jiam Kim pedestrian bridge. The area is served by the Clarke Quay MRT station at its centre with Robertson Quay to the northwest and Boat Quay to the southeast.
Boat Quay is nearest the mouth of the Singapore River and looks across the water to colonial beauties like the Old Parliament. The restaurants and bars that now occupy the historic shophouses have such fantastic views it's possible to look past the high prices and pushy service. Boat Quay is walking distance from the financial centre of Raffles Place and bars like The Penny Back British pub and Archipelago Brewery have become happy hour retreats for bankers and office workers. Nick Leeson, the British broker blamed for the collapse of Barings Bank, was a regular at Harry's Bar. This quay's only places to stay are at the Prince of Wales bar and hostel, which also boasts some of its cheapest pints.
Clarke Quay has been developed as a sort of adult playground with international restaurants, trendy nightclubs, and a reverse-bungee ride. Depending on your tastes, the crayon-box colours and lilypad umbrellas that came with its multimillion dollar makeover are cute or completely absurd. Nevertheless, Clarke Quay remains the place to see and be seen -- expect to go through money fast. A few swish hotels line the river but, if you go a block inland, affordable digs and boutique hostels can be found. The Central, a large shopping mall above Clarke Quay MRT, is the place to go for services like ATMs, internet cafés, a supermarket and public washrooms.
Continuing up the river is Roberston Quay, the mellowest of the Quays and a great place for a family meal or a quiet glass of wine. The culinary offerings are as diverse as the expats who live in the expensive riverside condos and include Italian, Japanese, French and Australian restaurants. Robertson Quay is a favourite for Sunday brunch and, depending on the schedule at the DBS Arts Centre, dinner and a show.
Text and/or map last updated on 30th October, 2013.
Get orientated with a map of Quays, Singapore
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