A walk down memory lane
This 3km long trek starts just outside Great World City shopping centre along Kim Seng Promenade, and follows the meanders of the Singapore River.
Chances are, you’ve crossed more than a few of these bridges before, but locals, expats and tourists alike rarely stop to think about each bridge’s history.
Each bridge along what was regarded as “Singapore’s backbone” has a rich story – all of which when pieced together, will tell a tale of Singapore’s past.
Pro tip: If you’re making this trek in the day, sunscreen and a bottle of water will go a long way!
Just outside Great World City lies Kim Seng Bridge.
First built in 1862 by Chinese merchant and philanthropist Tan Kim Seng, this bridge is the most-westerly along the Singapore River. He was a prominent figure in the Chinese community back in the 1800s and held many properties in this district.
In 1857, he donated $13,000 for a waterworks project to bring in freshwater to the neighbourhood but this money was squandered away by the Government Engineer. Out of shame and also to commemorate his generous gift, the British colonial government built Tan Kim Seng Fountain in Fullerton Square in 1882.
The fountain has since been moved several times and now stands in Esplanade Park.
NEXT: Jiak Kim Bridge →
Not too far from Kim Seng Bridge, Jiak Kim bridge is one of the newest additions to the historic river and was built in 1999, named for Tan Jiak Kim, grandson of Tan Kim Seng (see previous).
Tan Jiak Kim was the longest-serving Chinese member of Singapore’s Legislative Council and had donated $12,000 to the Straits and Federated Malay States Government Medical School in 1905, now known as Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine in the National University of Singapore.
This pedestrian bridge is located just outside Zouk, and was a popular spot for young clubbers to drink cheap alcohol purchased from nearby Concorde Shopping Centre until the recent ban on alcohol consumption in public space after 10:30 p.m.
NEXT: Robertson Bridge →
Further down, you’ll see a similar-looking bridge known as Robertson Bridge.
This pedestrian bridge was built in 1998 and serves as a river crossing from Havelock Road to the Robertson Quay enclave. It was named after Dr. J Murray Robertson, a municipal councillor in Singapore’s colonial days.
The bridge is held up by two arches that converge at the apexes, in contrast to the single arch of Jiak Kim Bridge.
Along the promenade on the Robertson Quay side of the bridge, you will find restaurants, cafes and watering holes. (For a detailed look at Robertson Quay, see our dedicated A Day Out post here!)
NEXT: Pulau Saigon Bridge →
Before the Singapore River was widened and deepened for urbanization, trade and flood management, there was a tiny island called Pulau Saigon. The land around the island was reclaimed and thus the island now forms part of the mainland. Looking at modern maps, it is most likely that River Place condominium now sits on where the island once was.
The original bridge was built in 1890 and linked Havelock Road to Merbau Road, through the island.
It was demolished in 1986 for being too old and to make way for construction of the Central Expressway.
In 1997, it was rebuilt under the same name but looks completely different from the original and is located upstream at Saiboo Street.
NEXT: Alkaff Bridge →
Named after the Alkaffs, a prominent Arabian family, Singapore this colourful bridge was completed in 1999.
However, it didn’t get its colours until 2004, when Filipino artist Pacita Abad and a team of rope specialist painted the bridge in 55 different colours. Today, the bridge is also known as the Singapore Art Bridge for its dazzling colours.
It is shaped like a tongkang – a light boat commonly used to transport goods up and down the Singapore River back in the day.
Today, this bridge allows pedestrians to cross between Robertson Quay and Havelock Road. Pictures of the bridge pre-paint job have been lost to history!
NEXT: Clemenceau Bridge →
Clemenceau Bridge was built in 1940 and was named in honour of then French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, who visited Singapore in 1920. Clemenceau Avenue, through which the bridge runs through, was also named after him.
When Pulau Saigon Bridge was torn down to make way for the Central Expressway in the 1990s, Clemenceau Bridge was rebuilt into a road bridge above the tunnel.
If you’re trekking through the banks of the river in bright daylight, you’ll catch the waters of the river shimmering and reflecting right onto the ceiling under the bridge.
NEXT: Ord Bridge →
Constructed in 1886, this bridge is one of the oldest in Singapore.
It was named after Sir Henry St. George Ord, the first governor of the Straits Settlements. It was also called Ordnance Bridge (only a coincidence) or Toddy Bridge due to its proximity to ordnance and liquor shops around the vicinity.
Its metallic style can be said to be a symbol of the height of the British Industrial Revolution.
To some Singaporean men, this bridge is referred to as the O.R.D. Bridge – or “Operationally Ready Date” – the final day of the two-year mandatory military service all Singaporean men have to complete.
NEXT: Read Bridge →
Perhaps, the most popular bridge of all is the Read Bridge, situated in the heart of Clarke Quay.
Completed in 1889, this bridge was named after William Henry Macleod Read, a prominent resident in Singapore and Consul to the Netherlands in the 1800s.
This bridge also has a bunch of other names given by locals such as Malacca Bridge, Green Bridge and most commonly heard today: THE Bridge.
In the past, people gathered here to hear stories told by Teochew raconteurs.
And until the recent public drinking restrictions, this was the ‘it’ spot for party animals to drink up on less-expensive booze purchased from the nearby 7-11.
NEXT: Coleman Bridge →
In 1840, this was a brick bridge joining Old Bridge Road and Hill Street and had nine arches. It was named after and designed by Irish-born and Singapore’s first architect, George Drumgoole Coleman.
Later, it was replaced by a timber bridge but was not well constructed – leading to its early demise 20 years later when it was replaced with an iron bridge which stood for a century. It was finally demolished in 1986 and replaced with a final concrete version and remains one of the more admired bridges in Singapore.
Several features of the old iron bridge such as the lamp posts and iron railing were incorporated into the present-day design for its historical significance.
The underpass under the bridge features murals of Sang Nila Utama – the Srivijayan prince who founded the Kingdom of Singapura in 1299.
NEXT: Elgin Bridge →
Dating back as early as 1819 – the year Sir Stamford Raffles step foot here, this is one of the oldest bridges in Singapore.
When it was constructed, it was the only bridge to cross the Singapore River, linking the Chinese on the south bank and the Indians on the north bank.
It was replaced with a wooden drawbridge in 1822 and was affectionately called Monkey bridge as it was narrow and required monkey-like agility to cross amidst the crowds.
In 1862, an iron bridge was built in its place and was named after James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin and Governor-General of India.
Today’s final concrete version was completed in 1929 and features cast-iron lamps created by Italian sculptor, Cavaliere Rudolfo Nolli.
NEXT: Cavenagh Bridge →
As the only suspension bridge and one of Singapore’s oldest bridges, this iconic bridge was opened in 1870 to mark Singapore’s status as a crown colony of the Straits Settlements.
Originally called Edinburgh Bridge, it was renamed to Cavenagh Bridge after Major General William Orfeur Cavenagh, the last Governor of the Straits Settlements.
But unlike many other bridges, it has remained largely unchanged since it was first completed.
The bridge was built to provide a more convenient form of crossing the river. On both sides of the bridge, you will see a police notice: “THE USE OF THIS BRIDGE IS PROHIBITED TO ANY VEHICLE OF WHICH THE LADEN WEIGHT EXCEEDS 3 CWT. AND TO ALL CATTLE AND HORSES” – which prevented the bridge from overloading due to increasing traffic in the early 1900s.
NEXT: Anderson Bridge →
When Cavenagh Bridge faced more traffic due to industrialization and the increased used of vehicular transport, Anderson Bridge was built nearby to redirect road traffic.
It is regarded as one of the most beautiful bridges in Singapore due to its intricate plaster and metalwork.
It was named after the Governor of the Straits Settlements and High Commissioner for the Federated Malay States, Sir John Anderson.
During the Japanese Occupation, severed heads of criminals were hung from the bridge, to warn citizens of the consequence of breaking the law (ouch!).
In 2008, Anderson Bridge became part of the Singapore Grand Prix’s Marina Bay Street Circuit.
NEXT: Esplanade Bridge →
Named for the durian-shaped Esplanade, this bridge was opened in 1997 to provide a quick way for vehicles to cross between Marina Bay and the financial district of Raffles Place and Shenton Way.
It offers spectacular views of Marina Bay and is a popular place for tourist and locals alike to catch the sights. On special occasions like National Day, this bridge offers unmatched views of the fireworks.
When the bridge was completed, it obstructed the view of the Merlion from Marina Bay, prompting the need to relocated the national symbol to the front of the bridge.
Like the Anderson Bridge, the Esplanade Bridge is also part of the Marina Bay Street Circuit.
NEXT: Jubilee Bridge →
The newest bridge of all was opened in 2015 to mark Singapore’s 50th anniversary. It was scheduled to be open in August as part of the SG50 celebrations but was moved forward to March 29 – the day of the late Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s state funeral.
The bridge was built to provide better pedestrian access as the Esplanade Bridge beside it had narrow walkways. It also formed part of an 8km commemorative walkway called Jubilee Walk during the SG50 festivities.
It is mostly used by tourists to catch the Marina Bay panorama.
NEXT: Kim Seng Bridge →
By Joshua Tan / Updated September 2019
More on The Finder:
A Day Out: 10 Reasons Why Fellow Expats Love Singapore’s Robertson Quay
A Day Out: 9 Things To Do In Clarke Quay, Singapore
A Day Out: An Incredible Nature Walk At The Southern Ridges In Singapore