The Istana Singapore Open House Guide : 16 Must do activities - - Singapore Lifestyle Portal

The Istana Singapore Open House Guide : 16 Must do activities

Have you visited The Istana?

About The Istana

The Istana Singapore is the private office of the President and Prime Minister of Singapore. On a normal day, access to the Istana is strictly for government officials working there. However, for a few selected days in a year, it is open to everyone for viewing during public holidays. Therefore, a trip down to The Istana Open House is one that is often pencilled into Singaporeans and visitors calendar when it is open.

The Open House dates can be found here
Limited Access
This year marks the 150 years anniversary of The Istana. If there is ever a good time to visit, it will be during the anniversary year!

There are several significant buildings to see, gardens to explore and activities to do at the Istana.  Visitors are limited to a certain route (as shown on the map) but there are still plenty to do within this zone.

Check out this video or read the article to find out what you can do at the Istana

Top 16 Activities in Istana

Significant Landmarks

1) Main Gate
Singapore Coat of Arms

The first thing you will see at the Istana is the main gate, Here you would catch a glimpse of the Golden Coat of Arms.
Guard at Main Gate
If you are lucky, you might witness a change of ceremonial guards. There is an official changing of ceremonial guards on a bigger scale modelled after the format from Buckingham Palace on a separate date. That is done on the 1st Sunday of every month at 545pm (except July and August)

The guards are Singapore's version of Buckingham Palace guards. They are supposed to stand still no matter what. So technically, you could go next to them to take a selfie.
Change of Guards

2) Center Gate
Center Gate
Walk further inwards and you will reach the Center Gate. This gate seemingly popped out of now where. It probably marks the entrance to the Istana before the ground was expanded.
Center gate
3) The Istana Main Building

The Main building Istana
The main thing you could do here is to take a guided tour in the Istana. There are tours available with limited capacity every half hour. Alternatively, you can opt for a self-tour on your own.

You will get a chance to explore the first floor of the Istana. Inside, you would see the State Room, Banquet Room and Reception Room. In addition, you could inspect the gifts presented to the President and Prime Minister from all over the world.

The Istana interior tour is a paid activity. Singaporeans and PR pay $2 for self-tour while foreigners pay $4 (Guided tours are $4 for Singaporeans and PR adults and $10 for others) It's worth a visit to see the world gifts on display and to walk the grounds where powerful men and women had graced.  No photos are allowed within, so the only chance for you to see how it looks is to take the tour.
Go for a tour

If you have time to spare, look out for the change of guards at the entrance of the Istana Main Building Entrance.
Change of Guards at Istana

The Istana is about an 800m hike from the Main Gate. It would be best to be in comfortable clothes when visiting. 

The Istana

4) Sri Temasek
Sri Temasek

Built-in 1869, Sri Temasek is the designated Prime Minister's official residence since 1965. It is a typical 19th-century bungalow. Access to Sri Temasek is restricted, but you could still admire it from afar. It had not been used as a residence despite its status, but mainly use for official functions.
Sri Temasek @ The Istana

5) Military Guard Room
Military Guard Room

The Military Guard Room is situated after the Centre Gate. Built-in early 1900s, it is used by the ceremonial guard when they are not performing sentry duties. There are two mini cannons guarding the entrance.
Cannons at Military Guard Room

6) The Villa

The Villa was built in 1908 and designed in the popular black-and-white bungalow style of that period. It was used to accommodate visitors in the past. Its guests include Premier Deng Xiaoping of the People's Republic of China and Prime Minister Ellio Trudeau of Canada.

7) Stadium Benches
Bench -Stadium

Along the fairway next to the path to the Istana are a few wooden structures.

These benches are works of arts that serve a dual purpose. For resting and playing!

Gardens & Lakes
View of the City from the Garden

Step into The Istana and you would realise how Singapore got the enduring nickname - The Garden City. Nestled in a prime district surrounded by skyscrapers and mall, this vast piece of green space is an oasis in this urban jungle.

Nestled within The Istana are Gardens and Ponds for you to wander and explore. Here is a closer look at them.
Which way to go?

8) Gun Terrace Garden

Right before reaching the main building is the Gun Terrace. There is a Japanese 105mm cannon located in the Garden, thus the name. We are not too sure if it is sufficient as an anti-aircraft deterrent but the cannon is there to mark as a symbol of liberation of Singapore after the Japanese Occupation.
Gun Terrace Istana

The Cannon has a panoramic view of the Istana grounds and the city skyline beyond. It's a big change from how it looks like 150 years ago...

9) Front Lawn
Front Lawn Istana

The Front Lawn of the Istana is another vast green space for visitors to enjoy. There is a water fountain in the middle of the field. You could have a picnic here, take photos or simply relax.

During the time when we were there, we saw a talented artist working on a drawing of the Istana, a yoga practitioner and babies crawling on the grass patch. It's a pleasant place to just hang out and chill.
The Front Lawn

10)  Queen Victoria Garden (Lily Pond Garden)
Lily Pond

Down the slope will be a path to the Queen Victoria Garden. There used to be a statue of Queen Victoria in the gardens but has since been removed. This tranquil spot is now known as the Lily Pond Garden. If you need to meditate, this would be a beautiful spot to unwind.

11)  Japanese Garden
Japanese Garden

Located further down the road and near the Center Gate will be the Japanese Garden. It's a quaint little spot that is made to resemble a mini Japanese Garden with a bridge and Japanese Willow plants.

12) Orchid and Spice Garden

Close to the Japanese Garden is the Orchid Garden. These tall plants makes a perfect selfie spot. Nearby is the spice garden where 30 different species of spices and herbs are grown.

13) Swan Lake

Near the entrance is the Swan Lake. Spot the 2 swans that called it home there.

14) Special Performances and activities on Open House

During open house events, there are activities plan throughout the day. From performances to exhibitions, there are plenty to do throughout the day.

Journey to Space @ Istana

15) Have a picnic on the golf course
Golf Course @ Istana
Do you know that the Istana grounds is part of a 9-hole golf course?
The expansive space is a favourite stomping ground for picnics during Open House.
Golf Course during Open House

16) Meet the President

Copyright Source: Istana 
President Halimah Yacob will walk the ground during Open House. If you are lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the President during your visit.


150 Year Anniversary

2019 is the year where the Istana celebrates its 150 years existence. It is the perfect time to visit The Istana to get acquainted with history. You could also get souvenirs such as limited edition Istana LEGO or special edition medallions.


For security reasons, the following are not allowed at The Istana
  1. Pointed and sharp objects (e.g. knives of any size, forks)
  2. Flammable items (e.g. lighters)
  3. Canned food and drinks
Do note that activities such as wheeled sports, littering, smoking and alcoholic drinks are not allowed at the Istana. Pets, with the exception of guide dogs, are not allowed. As there are no storage facilities, visitors may get turned away. 

Be There Early

The best time to be at the Open House would be in the morning when it opens its doors. If you intend to go on a later time, do prepare to wait. We had seen queues snaking all the way to Plaza Singapura during the mid-day.

Open House Dates
The Open House dates are as follow for 2019

  • Hari Raya Puasa (Actual Day)5 June 2019
  • National Day28 July 2019
  • Istana 150 Commemorative Event 6 October 2019
  • Deepavali 27 October 2019

Getting there

The closest carparks are Plaza Singapura, Macdonald's House and Concorde Shopping Mall.
You can also reach the Istana via MRT. The closest MRT would be Dhoby Ghaut, a 5 minutes walk away.

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