Next year will mark 200 years since Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles landed in Singapore – an anniversary that will be celebrated throughout the year, writes Esme Fox
On January 29 1819, Raffles landed in Singapore, and quickly signed a treaty with local rulers establishing it as a British trading post, and an important link between India and China. Although he left just nine days later, turning control over to the East India Company, Raffles returned in 1822 and set about creating an ambitious town plan. He knew that the key to Singapore’s success was to create communal harmony and build different cultural districts for the merchants and traders. Today, Singapore still has areas dedicated to different cultures, including Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam. A melting pot of cuisines, traditions and languages, Singapore’s multi-ethnic society makes it one of Asia’s most intriguing destinations.
With its superb and diverse food, world-leading cocktail scene and dedication to green space (such as the Supertrees at the 250-acre Gardens by the Bay), Singapore is becoming an increasingly popular city break destination, particularly as its airport continues to expand (the Jewel Terminal at Changi Airport is set to open next year).
The bicentennial celebrations will kick off at the end of January with the i Light Singapore festival. It will focus on the theme ‘Bridges of Time’ and feature commemorative light installations set up across Marina Bay, the Singapore River and Civic District. In February, Singapore will go all out for Chinese New Year, ushering in the Year of the Pig with the River Hongbao festival, complete with fireworks, street performers and handcrafted lanterns.
Throughout the year, there will also be several exhibitions held at some of the country’s most prominent museums, including the National Museum of Singapore and the National Gallery of Singapore. During January and February, the Asian Civilisations Museum will hold a special exhibition entitled Raffles in Southeast Asia, exploring Raffles’ journey to Singapore. Being the only museum in the region devoted to exploring its artistic heritage, it’s well worth a visit, even if your trip doesn’t coincide with this commemorative exhibit. In March, the Singapore Heritage Festival will take place, celebrating the country’s multicultural legacy through a combination of guided tours, open-house events, films and exhibitions.
The historic Fort Canning Centre, which once served as the Headquarters of the Far East Command Centre and British Army Barracks, will also be opening a new attraction next year, tracing the stories of Singapore’s early settlers and communities. Visit during June to September to experience the new commemorative historical trails, featuring projections at historic spots such as Telok Ayer Street and the Fort Gate.
On August 9, one of the key commemorative events will take place during the National Day parade, and later in the month, visitors can look forward to the Singapore Night Festival. During the event, interactive installations and performances will be set up across the Bras Basah heritage precinct. The projections on the façade of the Singapore Art Museum and the National Museum of Singapore are set to be two of the top highlights.
The legendary Raffles Hotel is also set to reopen in time for the bicentennial events of 2019, after an extensive renovation. Having first opened in 1887 with only 10 rooms, the new refurbishment will restore the celebrated Long Bar, home of the Singapore Sling cocktail, to its original location.
Besides these commemorative events and celebrations, Singapore offers travellers a slew of attractions, which are great to experience at any time of year. From the famous Singapore Zoo; and the impressive Gardens by the Bay, home to 50-metre vertical tree gardens; to the fantastical Sentosa Island, complete with rides, activities and beaches; and even Michelin-starred street food, this small country packs a punch.