The Istana

Visiting The Istana has been on my 'to do' list ever since I first arrived here, but it is only open to the public on certain public holidays and it always seems as if I only remember this when I've just missed yet another opportunity to visit!  We weren't going away this Chinese New Year just gone (yes I'm a little behind) so had two days of holiday (as well as the weekend) to fill, with what I hoped would be something fun, different but not too expensive, to ensure that we made the most of this time off and also to make the most of having my husband around.  He seems to be on a one man tour of South East Asia at the moment with his work commitments so actually having him around occasionally is lovely.  Even if I do then forget he is probably shattered from all his travelling and would probably much rather just stay at home when I want to be out doing something.

When we were considering things to do over the weekend yet again The Istana slipped my mind.  Fortunately though my husband remembered and made the suggestion.  We checked the website and established it was open on the Tuesday of the Chinese New Year weekend.  So that pretty much decided our plans for the Tuesday of the holiday.

On the Tuesday morning I did wonder whether we should go early to avoid queues but in the end we left mid morning.  On the way to the bus stop we bumped into our former neighbours who were also doing the exact same thing (small world).  When we arrived I could not believe how long the queue was to get in (clearly it is a very popular thing to do) as it stretched past Plaza Singapura on Orchard Road.  Even when we got close to the gates we still had quite a queue ahead as the queueing system meant we were snaking back and forth for the final part.  However despite that it did move quickly and we weren't actually waiting too long, after we'd paid and been through the security checks (which was probably the most chaotic part) we were in.  I did notice they also had an express route for families with young children to lessen their queueing time which I thought was a pretty good idea.  I don't know if they do that all the time though or if this was just because the queues were very long at that time.

Queue waiting to get in to The Istana

The Istana is on Orchard Road so in a prime spot right in the heart of the city.  It was originally built by the British, on land that had previously been a nutmeg plantation belonging to Charles Prinsep, to house the Governors and when it was completed in 1869 was known as the Government House.  When Singapore became self-governing in 1959 the building was handed over to the Singapore Government and became known as The Istana (palace in Malay).  

Usually when you walk by it on Orchard Road you can see nothing more than the entrance gates and the guards so I guessed and had heard that there was a lot of ground attached.  It is only when you enter that you realise just how much space and grounds there actually are, in fact it occupies over forty hectares of land.  The grass undulates away from you and the drive way stretches on for what seems a very long way, you certainly can't see the house until you've walked quite a way up the drive.  There is a mini golf course (you obviously can't use that), ponds, lakes and just masses of open space for people to enjoy the grounds or have a picnic, which is what most of the visitors seemed to be doing and making the most of when we went.  Thankfully there were drink stalls inside, as well as a band playing and, on our visit, some snakes for children (and adults) to get up close to if they wanted.   Being in the Istana also affords you some views of the Singapore skyline from a different view point and although you are in the heart of the city the grounds are so vast that day to day noise just melts away.  

It cost us a $1 entry, Singaporeans and Permanent Residents (PR's) can get in for free, and the money raised goes to charity.  So it is not an expensive day out and for something a little different to enjoy on one of the open days was well worth it.  In addition once you are inside the grounds you can pay a further $2 to enter the actual house as well to view a few of the rooms.  We decided not to do this on this occasion.  The grounds themselves were more than enough to keep us busy that day but perhaps we'll get back there again on another holiday to have a look inside too.

Presented to the then Governor of Singapore, Sir Cecil Smith by the Chinese community  in Singapore in 1889 in recognition of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee year (celebrated in 1897).


  1. Nice! I'd really wanted to go to the Istana for a long time too, for the changing of the guards, but could never coordinate it with our schedules (off traveling too much haha) so I left Sing without seeing any part of the Istana!

    1. That's a shame, if you ever find yourself back here at the right time though you should definitely go and take a look.

  2. now I get to peek inside without queuing up. I haven't been to the Istana yet (a bit shameful huh?)

    1. Haha no not really, I think when you live/grow up somewhere and something like that is on your doorstep you take it for granted a bit that you'll go at some stage. I know a lot of places near where I grew up that are real tourist pulls but that I've never been too even though they were on my doorstep and I've had ample chances to go.


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