Although Singapore is known to have been inhabited prior to the arrival of the British in 1819, and the discovery of pre-colonial artefacts have suggested that Singapore was an important trading port as early as the 14th century, nothing remains above ground of previous eras.

Singapore’s visible legacy therefore commences with the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles, and the waterfront statue of the founder at his presumed arrival site, affords a thought-provoking view over the mix of colonial and modern architecture.

The town plan of 1822, inaugurated by Raffles, established the administrative centre and beyond its fringes, separate settlement areas were earmarked for European, Chinese, Malay, Arab and Indian communities, which set the pattern of the evolving multicultural scene whose thriving ambiences and architectural nuances can be found in Chinatown, Kampong Glam, Little India, Arab Street, Gaylang and Katong.

Among the many fine buildings in Singapore are the earliest religious structures of the various ethnic groups, including the Armenian Church of St. Gregory, St. Andrews Cathedral, the Fuk Tak Chi Chinese Temple, the Sultan Mosque and the Hindu Sri Mariamman Temple.  

Other important faith sites in Singapore are the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum, the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, Chijmes Convent, Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple and Kong Meng San Phor Kark Dee Monastery.

The oldest surviving colonial building is the Old Parliament House, which having undergone modification, is now an Arts Centre. Many other colonial buildings similarly also combine appreciation of their splendid architecture with superb insights into the legacy of Singapore and the wider backcloth on which the country's cultural tepestry is woven.

Of these, the Raffles Institution building is now the National Museum, the Empress Place Building, houses the insightful Asian Civilisations Museum, while the Old Tao Nan School hosts the Peranakan Museum, the former Istana Kampong Glam (Sultan’s Palace) preserves the Malay culture in the Malay Heritage Centre, and the former St. Joseph’s Institution is now home to Singapore Art Museum, all of which will impart a great cultural depth and understanding of Singapore to any visitor.

Other famous buildings of the colonial era are the Istana Presidents Palace, the glorious Raffles Hotel, Fullerton Hotel, City Hall, the Central Fire Station and its Civil Defence Hertitage Gallery, Cavenagh Bridge and the distinctive Victorian style of the octagonal Telok Ayer Market formed from Glaswegian cast iron.

More recently, the Japanese invasion during the Second World War was a traumatic time for the population of Singapore, characterised by harsh rule, hardship and mass executions. The War Memorial Park and its focal monument were erected to remember the victims. Changi Museum is dedicated to the history of the war in Singapore and also houses a simple but poignant chapel.