Colonial buildings along the riverside in Singapore

Civic District

It’s hard to imagine that when the Civic District was first built, its domes, colonnades and and gleaming white walls looked out over primary jungle.

That was back in the heady days of colonial expansion, when St Andrew’s Cathedral and the Supreme Court were by far the grandest edifices Singapore had ever seen. Did the architects imagine that one day all this neoclassical splendor would be dwarfed by buildings hundreds of times as tall, like the White House beneath the alien spaceship in Independence Day? We’d guess not — and it’s still kind of a head-spinner today.

It may not be the biggest kid in town any more, but down on the ground the Civic District still feels wonderfully grand. Hooked in a bend of the Singapore River, its Romanesque porticos, verdigrised domes and pilastered buildings reflect the tropical sun, gleaming white and magnolia against deep blue skies and skinny palm trees. At its heart, the Cathedral, City Hall and Old Supreme Court Building look out over the Padang (Malay for “field”), which has been the site of cricket and rugby matches, parades, events and concerts since the late 19th century — and continues today.

Everywhere you look are remnants of British colonial rule, repurposed for a bright, independent and thriving Singapore. It’s grandiose, to be sure, but it’s far from staid — the Civic District knows how to party, and it’s packed with fantastic bars and restaurants. Grab a Singapore Sling at grandaddy of them all, the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel, and you know you’ve arrived in Singapore.