The Istana

Get a glimpse inside

What we say: 3 stars

The Istana (palace in Malay) is the official residence of Singapore’s president, located at the very end of Singapore’s bustling Orchard Road behind a large white gate flanked by sentries. The building was completed in 1869 and originally served to house the governors in the British colonial government.

Arrive as early as possible to beat the long queues.

Arrive as early as possible to beat the long queues.

An independent Singaporean government moved into the Istana in 1959; today, its six function rooms are used by senior politicians to host ceremonies and receive foreign guests. Most days people can only peek at the building behind its imposing gates, or witness the changing of the guards if they’re there on the right Sunday.

But the Istana opens its gates five times a year, giving travellers an opportunity to tour its sprawling, 40 hectare grounds — it’s definitely worth doing if you’re in Singapore on the right day.

The lush greenery that is part of the Istana - right in central Singapore!

The lush greenery that is part of the 40 hectares of the Istana – right in central Singapore!

Open house occurs around Chinese New Year, Deepavali, Hari Raya Puasa, Labour Day and National Day. If you’re here at the right time — check the official website for dates – head here early as the entrance queue gets long fast. Bring your passport to use as ID and be prepared for security checks.

What’s there to see? Begin with the variety of flora and fauna in the beautifully manicured gardens and ponds. The landscaping is carefully done by senior curators at the National Parks Board and you will find native Asian species such as rubber and coconut trees, spice trees such as nutmeg and cloves, and a Japanese garden with pine trees. Grass carp, koi, waterhens and turtles swim in the ponds.

Performances in line with the occasion at the time are put on, and educational activity booths set up by various organisations, such as Singapore museums, are on display. Kids are very much welcome and will enjoy running around the large grounds and the craft activities, such as making badges from old stamps.

There's lots of entertainment at each Open House.  Here, museums have set up booths with activities for kids.

There’s got to be a cucumber sandwich and some tea in there somewhere.

The Istana building itself can be toured for a fee of $2, which lets you see the function rooms and view gifts presented to the president and prime minister by heads of foreign delegations. Photography is not allowed, which makes an even more compelling reason to visit it. The building still serves as the working office of the President and Prime Minister, so there are understandable security concerns.

The Main Building of the Istana

Ladies and gentlemen: The Istana.

You’ll also get to see Singapore’s president and first lady in the flesh. Their appearance won’t be scheduled, but on our visit, they came out to greet people at 11:00. You may get a handshake or if even a photo. Hint: a baby in tow may help with your chances on this front.

If you're lucky like I was, you'll catch a glimpse of the President and the First Lady

Catch a glimpse of President Tony Tan and First Lady Mary Tan.

More details
Orchard Rd
Opening Hours: During open days only, 08:30-18:00
How to get there: Near Dhoby Ghaut MRT station
Last updated: 14th November, 2014

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The Istana
Orchard Rd
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