Fort Canning Park

A worthy half day distraction.

What we say: 3.5 stars

Fort Canning, once a sought after vantage point over Singapore and rumoured to be the resting place of the spirits of ancient Malay kings, sits close to the centre of Singapore city, easy walking distance from the Quays to the south and Orchard Road to the north. It makes for a very worthwhile excursion for those weary of shopping malls and museums.

It's a long way to the top.

It’s a long way to the top.

It is believed that previous to the arrival of the British there was a settlement on the hill, with local Malays considering the jungle-covered hill sacred and forbidding access — they in fact referred to it as Bukit Larangan (Forbidden Hill). That didn’t put the Brits off though and Raffles had a substantial amount of the hill cleared and built a bungalow on the slopes, giving himself some of the best views in town.

Not as secure as it once was.

Not as secure as it once was.

Following Raffles’ death, his bungalow became the residence of the colonial governor, was named Government House and the hill Government Hill. In the mid-19th century Government House was demolished to make way for the construction of the fortress, barracks, hospital and gunpowder magazines, which were in turn renamed Fort Canning (after the Governor-General of India). The construction, between 1859 and 1861, required the levelling of the top of the hill and included the gate and adjoining wall — which is all that remains standing today of the initial construction.

From within the gate.

From within the gate.

A later addition to Fort Canning was the Battle Box — a reinforced concrete bunker that was constructed almost 30 feet under the surface and was designed to withstand a direct hit from a bomb. The fort remained in use right through to World War II — it was in the Battle Box that the decision was made to surrender to the Japanese and the Japanese made handy use of the fort once they had taken the city. After the war the British handed it to the Singaporean military in 1963. (The Battle Box itself was closed for renovation on our last visit in mid-2014.)

Scenic and near-deserted.

Scenic and near-deserted.

Today little remains of Fort Canning the fort, but Fort Canning the hill is still going strong. The main gate and some wall on each side remain, along with the Battle Box, but the real attractions today are the lush gardens and shady walks visitors can enjoy. Back in the day Raffles had established large spice gardens on the hill and while they are long gone, a small and interesting replica stands on the southwest side of the hill.

The purported resting spot of the remains of the last pre-colonial ruler of Singapore.

The purported resting spot of the remains of the last pre-colonial ruler of Singapore.

On the same side of the hill lies Fort Canning Park, which is a popular venue for live performances and open-air events. Be sure to take a look at the walls here (if you enter via the Gothic Gate from the spice gardens, turn right) which are covered with some very interesting 19th century tombstones.

Memories of the deceased.

Memories of the deceased.

While the park can get busy with events and performances, much of the time, especially on weekdays, the hill is sleepy and quiet. If you’re walking here, Fort Canning makes for an excellent break between the National Museum to the north and Chettiar Temple to the south (and The Quays beyond). While you could easily spend a full day relaxing in the park, allow at least two to three hours to wander the various trails. A number of walking trail PDFs can be downloaded from the official site.

Last updated: 15th November, 2014

About the author:
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton and he spends most of his time in Bali, Indonesia.
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