Sentosa has been the go-to holiday destination for generations of Singaporeans since the 1970s. Remember Fantasy Island, Underwater World, and riding the Monorail? Good times wei.
But this island wasn’t always the idyllic getaway we know and love. The “State of Fun” was once known by the name Pulau Blakang Mati ("Death-from-the-back Island" in Malay), a very un-fun name referencing piracy in the area at the time.
Then in the 1600s, the European colonial powers die-die wanted Blakang Mati, thanks to its very strategic location between trading routes connecting East and West. During the British occupation, the island was transformed into a military outpost to defend Keppel Harbour and the shipping straits around Singapore. Many of these military installations remain today.
Today, 50 years since Blakang Mati was renamed "Sentosa", and armed with the National Heritage Board’s latest Sentosa Heritage Trail as a guide, we rediscover the stories that make up this little island with a big history.
Travel to Sentosa via the Singapore Cable Car
Start your Sentosa trip on a high with a trip via the cable car. Show off Insta-stories of Sentosa’s lush jungle and coastline, but be careful not to accidentally drop your phone through the cable car’s windows.
Did you know: The system was officially opened on Feb 15, 1974 by then-Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, Dr Goh Keng Swee – that makes the line 48 years old!
Book a staycay at Oasia Resort Sentosa Former Recreation Ground and Barracks
Oasia Resort has plenty of wellness activities (like a healing spa and sunset yoga) to spoil your better half silly - a couples getaway idea, perhaps?
Did you know: In its past life, this was formally barrack blocks 9 and 10, the home away from home for the British military. The soldiers were segregated by rank and ethnicity, and the recreation ground was the only place where soldiers met as equals competing in football, cricket, and hockey.
Live it up at Capella Singapore Former Officers’ Mess and Quarters
When you really want to wow bae for your anniversary or her birthday, the Capella Singapore is one of the most atas destinations you can pick on Sentosa.
Did you know: It's all spruced up now, but did you know the two main colonial buildings of Capella once served as accommodation for officers of the British military? The location was surrounded by tennis and racquet courts, and officers employed their own domestic workers. The British top brass also hosted Christmas and New Year parties here, and wined, dined and danced the night away to band performances.
Makan at the Mess Hall
Barracks at the Former Parade Ground
The Mess Hall today is a foodie paradise with fancy dining options like Hidemasa by Hide Yamamoto, Quentin’s Bar & Restaurant serving Eurasian food, and classic Parisian café Le Faubourg.
Did you know: In maps dating to the 1890s, these were shown to be soldiers’ blocks with offices, dining halls, stores, and armouries. Try to spot the boot scrapers used by soldiers back then (you can find one in front of 7-Eleven).
Take in the views from atop the Fort Siloso Skywalk
The only preserved coastal fort in Singapore is a treasure trove of World War II memorabilia, such as massive coastal guns as well as the remains of fortified military structures and tunnels. Start your trip via the 11-storey Fort Siloso Skywalk and enjoy the sibeh breathtaking views of Keppel on one side, and Siloso beach on the other.
Did you know: Fort Siloso has just been gazetted as a National Monument? And on Total Defence Day this year (15 Feb) no less! Read more about this former British base here.
Explore the secrets behind Fort Seropong
A short walk from Sentosa Cove Village bus station (use bus B), the summit at Mount Seropong is the highest point on Sentosa – so it offered a vantage point for artillery batteries.
Did you know: If you want to explore its sprawling stone ruins, underground tunnels, and secret reservoirs, you can book a tour of the fort. The tour is hosted by Beyond Expeditions, a local travel agency founded by Scott Tay. (Psst! This isn't on Sentosa, but Beyond Expeditions also has an unusual Mongolian staycation that you should definitely check out.)
Be wowed by these fun Sentosa facts
Click the image to uncover more little-known facts about the "State of Fun" or check out our piece,"Remember These? Fun Sentosa Facts To Celebrate The Island's Golden Jubilee".
Pick a tour, any tour!
Speaking of Sentosa's Golden Jubilee, click the image above to discover over 50 thrilling new experiences and events on the island as part of the celebration, or check out our piece, "Adventures At Home: New Sentosa Tours Offer Wild Encounters And "Time Travel"
Your Insta-walk checklist here:
Selfies with “celebrities” at Madame Tussauds Singapore
Today we can take photos with wax statues of the Avengers and A-list celebrities at Madame Tussauds Singapore, but when this building was opened in the 1890s it served as a military hospital for British soldiers.
It later became the barracks for Japanese troops during the Japanese Occupation. In 1976, this former military hospital housed the Surrender Chambers exhibition, which was moved to Fort Siloso in 2004.
Visit the Imbiah Battery
The 9.2-inch gun battery on Mount Imbiah is the last of its kind left standing on our Little Red Dot. The Imbiah Battery was decommissioned after longer range runs were installed at Fort Connaught in 1936, and it survived development works at Sentosa in the 1970s to this day.
Happening history sia
If you’re interested to explore the rich history of Sentosa, you can follow NHB’s Sentosa Heritage Trail. There are three suggested routes you can take:
- Kampongs and Barracks, 3km: Two hours on foot and with public transport
- Forts 4km: Two hours on foot
- Memories of Sentosa, 2.5km: One hour on foot
This article was first published in Wonderwall.sg.