Changing of the guards at the Istana

The Istana

What we say: 3.5 stars

If you’ve ever walked all the way east along Orchard Road, you may have wondered what the deal was with the gated driveway with armed guards just before you reach Plaza Singapura Mall. This is the entrance to The Istana – the official residence and office of Singapore’s prime minister – and is off-limits to the public save for five Istana Open House days per year.

Since you can’t see anything beyond the long driveway, most passersby don’t give The Istana a second glance. However, on the first Sunday of the month (except July and August), a large crowd gathers outside the gate to watch the changing of the guards ceremony.

Pomp and circumstance, Singapore-style.

The changing of the guards has been a Singapore tradition since 1969 and, as you might expect of a former British colony, is modelled after the ceremony at Buckingham Palace. The guards who stand watch at the Istana are from the Singapore Armed Forces Military Police Command and watch over the palace for one month. The ceremony marks the arrival of their replacements who begin their silent march down Orchard Road toward the Istana at 17:45.

The changing of the guards ceremony starts around 18:00 when the new guards arrive at the Istana’s grand white gate. A military band keeps the beat and the sight of 36 white-coated soldiers twirling their rifles in synch is an impressive sight to behold – it’s definitely worth delaying your shopping trip by 15 minutes for. The relieved guards then march back down Orchard Road accompanied by the band, and the whole procession is finished by 18:30.

This is a rare chance to witness the pomp and circumstance of Singapore’s powerful military (national service is mandatory for all male citizens) and should not be missed if your visit times with the monthly ceremony.

The Istana will be open to the public on August 7, 2011, for the celebration of Singapore’s National Day. The remaining changing of the guards ceremonies for 2011 will be September 4, October 2, November 6, and December 4.

Last updated: 15th November, 2014

About the author:
Tanya Procyshyn is a Singapore-based freelance writer and photographer. With a passion for unusual destinations, she has camped alongside Komodo dragons and shook hands with soldiers in North Korea. She blogs at
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