A brief look into the fascinating Raffles Hotel history, a story that has shaped one of the world’s most famous hotels.
Raffles Hotel Singapore: the very name conjures up images of colonial elegance and timeless luxury.
And despite the growing modernity of Singapore, Raffles Hotel remains one of the city’s most famous landmarks, and is renowned as not only one of the best hotels in Singapore but one of the world’s finest hotels.
A wander along its breezy balconies amid colonial architecture whisks you back to a forgotten era, where international travel and hotel stays were the preserve of the rich and famous.
Here we explore the fascinating story behind the elegant hotel that we see today.
Raffles Singapore History
Raffles began its life on 1stDecember 1887 as a humble bungalow hotel with just 10 rooms. The main building that stands today was opened to great fanfare on 18thNovember 1899.
Boasting Singapore’s only electric lights and fans, the hotel soon became known as the epitome of luxury, and attracted rich and famous guests from around the globe during its heydey, including Somerset Maugham, Noel Coward and Charlie Chaplin.
But it’s not all been plain sailing for Raffles Singapore and the grand dame of hotels has suffered her share of hard times too.
The great depression of the 1930s forced the original Raffles Hotel owners, the Sarkies Brothers, to declare bankruptcy and the company to go into receivership.
World War II saw the famous landmark play host to British colonials sheltering from the Japanese, before it was taken over by the occupying forces. Later the hotel acted as a temporary transit camp for war prisoners being released under the military administration.
Raffles Hotel continued its decline and by the 1970s had become a shabby shadow of its former self, until it was named a national monument in 1987.
The Raffles Hotel we see today is the result of two multi-million dollar restoration efforts: the first between 1989 and 1991, which restored it to its elegant splendour of the 1920s.
The more recent refurbishment, which took place between 2107 and 2019, has taken the level of luxury and elegance to even greater heights.
You can read our full review of Raffles Hotel here.
Fun Raffles Hotel Facts
Here are a few fun facts about Raffles Hotel that you might not know.
Raffles used to be located on the beach
As the Raffles Hotel address suggests (1 Beach Road), when Raffles Hotel first opened it was located on the beach. Everything you see now beyond Beach Road is built on reclaimed land.
Home of the Singapore Sling
Raffles Hotel is famous as the birthplace of the Singapore Sling cocktail. The famous cocktail was created by Raffles bartender Ngiam Tong Boon in 1915.
Raffles Hotel was once called something else
During the Japanese Occupation of Singapore, the Japanese renamed Raffles Hotel Syonan Ryokan, which translates as “Light of the South hotel”. Syonan-to was the name given to Singapore by the Japanese at this time.
Staff buried the silver to avoid it being taken by the Japanese
During World War II, it is rumoured the Raffles Hotel staff bured the silver, including the silver beef trolley in Palm Court, to avoid it being taken by the occupying soldiers.
Raffles boasts many famous former guests
Former famous guests include Liz Taylor, Ava Gardner, Michael Jackson, Rudyard Kipling, John Wayne, Noel Coward, Joseph Conrad, Pablo Neruda, Somerset Maugham and Charlie Chaplin.
The last tiger in Singapore was killed here
The last tiger in Singapore was killed right here in the Bar & Billiard Room in 1902. However, it wasn’t a wild tiger; it had escaped from a nearby performance show on Beach Road.
The Jungle Book was written here
Rudyard Kipling’s classic children’s story The Jungle Book was reportedly written during his stay at Raffles Hotel Singapore.
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