The Singapore River – and the many bridges that stitch the two concrete riverbanks together – is brimming with history.
This three kilometre-long trek starts 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 have you ever wondered about its history?
Each bridge along the Singapore River has a rich story – all of which when pieced together, will sing the songs of Singapore’s past. So gear up and put your trekking shoes on as we take you a trip down memory lane!
1. Kim Seng Bridge
Just outside Great World City lies Kim Seng Bridge. First built in 1862 by Chinese merchant and philanthropist Tan Kim Seng, this is the most-westerly viaduct along the Singapore River. Tan was a prominent figure in the Chinese community back in the 1800s who also owned many properties in this district.
In 1857, he donated $13,000 to a waterworks project that brought in freshwater to the neighbourhood, but this money was squandered away by a government engineer. To commemorate his generous gift, the British colonial government then built the Tan Kim Seng Fountain at Fullerton Square in 1882. The fountain has since been moved several times and now stands in Esplanade Park.
2. Jiak Kim Bridge
Not too far downstream, Jiak Kim bridge is one of the newest additions to the historic river. It was built in 1999, named after Tan Jiak Kim, grandson of Tan Kim Seng (see above).
Tan Jiak Kim was the longest-serving Chinese member of Singapore’s Legislative Council. He 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 overpass is located just outside the old Zouk location – once a popular spot for young clubbers until it was relocated to Clarke Quay.
3. Robertson Bridge
Further down, you’ll see a similar-looking structure known as Robertson Bridge. This pedestrian overpass was built in 1998, serving 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. Along the promenade on Robertson Quay, you will find restaurants, cafes and watering holes (for a detailed look at Robertson Quay, see here).
4. Pulau Saigon Bridge
Before the Singapore River was widened and deepened for urbanisation, trade and flood management, there was a tiny island called Pulau Saigon. The land around the island was reclaimed and 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, linking Havelock Road to Merbau Road, through the island. It was demolished in 1986 to make way for construction of the Central Expressway. In 1997, it was rebuilt under the same name, taking on an entirely new look from the original and is located upstream at Saiboo Street.
5. Alkaff Bridge
Named after the Alkaffs, a prominent Arabian family in Singapore long before its independence, this colourful bridge was completed in 1999. 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 overpass 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, it allows pedestrians to cross between Robertson Quay and Havelock Road. Pictures of the bridge pre-paint job have been lost to history!
6. 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 viaduct runs through, was also named after him.
When the 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 structure.
7. Ord Bridge
Constructed in 1886, this is one of the oldest structures in Singapore. It was named after Sir Henry St. George Ord, the first governor of the Straits Settlements. It was also called Toddy or Ordnance Bridge (only a coincidence) due to its proximity to ordnance and liquor shops.
Its metallic style can be said to be a symbol of the height of the British Industrial Revolution. To some Singaporean men, this structure 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.
8. Read Bridge
Perhaps, the most popular one of all is the Read Bridge, situated in the heart of Clarke Quay. Completed in 1889, this was named after William Henry Macleod Read, a prominent resident in Singapore and Consul to the Netherlands in the 1800s.
This icon also has other names given by locals like Malacca Bridge, Green Bridge and more commonly: 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.
9. Coleman Bridge
In 1840, this was a brick passageway 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 however not well constructed – leading to its early demise 20 years later when it was replaced with an iron structure which stood for a century. It was finally demolished in 1986 and replaced with a concrete version, and remains one of the more admired crossings in Singapore.
Several features of the old bridge such as the lampposts and iron railings were incorporated into the present-day design for its historical significance. The underpass here features murals of Sang Nila Utama – the Srivijayan Prince who founded the Kingdom of Singapura in 1299.
10. Elgin Bridge
Dating back to 1819 – the year Sir Stamford Raffles step foot, this is one of the oldest bridges in Singapore. When it was constructed, it was the only bridge to cross the 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 overpass was built in its place, 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.
11. Cavenagh Bridge
As the only suspension bridge and one of Singapore’s oldest, this iconic crossing 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 others, 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, 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 structure from overloading due to increasing traffic in the early 1900s.
12. Anderson Bridge
When Cavenagh Bridge faced more traffic due to industrialization and increased use of vehicles, Anderson Bridge was built 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 here, to warn of the consequences of breaking the law. In 2008, Anderson Bridge became part of the Singapore Grand Prix’s Marina Bay Street Circuit.
13. 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 to catch the sights. On special occasions like National Day, this place offers unmatched views of the fireworks.
When it was completed, it obstructed the view of the Merlion from Marina Bay, prompting the need to relocate 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.
14. Jubilee Bridge
The newest one 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 the day of the late Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s state funeral.
The bridge was built to provide better pedestrian access from the previous narrow walkways. It also formed part of an eight kilometre commemorative walkway called Jubilee Walk during the SG50 festivities. It is mostly used by tourists to catch the Marina Bay panorama.
By Joshua Tan, September 2019 / Updated by Derrick Tan, July 2021