After going on a free walking tour of Joo Chiat last year, Ms Lisa Chua was hooked. "I go there to eat about once a week but I wanted to learn more about the place," says the heritage buff and polytechnic lecturer, who lives in Yishun.
The tour was organised by Jane's Walk, a global movement started in Toronto in 2007 to honour Jane Jacobs, a Canadian-American urban design activist, who died in 2006.
Ms Jacobs championed walking as a way to get to know a city and Jane's Walk encourages volunteers from more than 100 cities around the world to organise free public tours based on neighbourhoods or issues they feel passionate about. They take place every year on the weekend closest to May 4, Ms Jacobs' birthday, and aim to introduce people to aspects of various neighbourhoods which they may not have been aware of.
On the tour of Joo Chiat, Ms Chua, 44, learnt about conservation buildings in the area and the people who live and work there.
She enjoyed herself so much that she has signed up for three Jane's Walk tours this year, around the Fullerton Hotel, Tiong Bahru and Botanic Gardens- Bukit Brown areas.
She says: "I just see these areas as they are, places where I go to eat or shop. Tours give you a lot more insights into them. You can read about these places but they don't come alive as much as when you hear people tell you stories about them."
About 250 people are expected to attend the 11 Jane's Walk tours this year, most of which take place today, tomorrow and on Sunday. The numbers are a jump from about 100 people who went on four walks around Joo Chiat, Changi Village, Bukit Brown and Victoria Street last year. Of the 11 walks, which include trails to Chinatown and Opium Hill, eight are fully booked.
Ms Mai Tatoy, 44, and Ms Yvette Tey, 26, the organisers of Jane's Walk here, were pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming response. "We thought we'd have done well if we just organised six walks this year, but so many people wanted to be involved," says Ms Tatoy.
Each tour can accommodate 20 to 30 people but up to three times as many participants wanted to sign up, so the organisers have had to turn people away.
Ms Tey says: "The popularity of the walks makes you realise how passionate people are about Singapore's heritage. I think people like going on these tours with friends, hoping to learn more about Singapore and their neighbourhoods and ask questions about its future."
Ms Tatoy says that they are planning themed walks for next year, including Art-Deco architecture, black-and-white houses, and a dog-friendly walk. "I can only see it getting bigger," she says.
Jane's Walk is the latest of free volunteer-led tours around Singapore, most of which sprang up within the past two years.
There are at least six such walking tours, which are often organised by civic and community groups, including My Queenstown, Tiong Bahru Heritage Group and All Things Bukit Brown.