This historical review of 20 studies since the 1960s examines the influence of urban development on the thermal environment in Singapore, a fast growing tropical island city-state. Past observations are critically assessed with regard to experimental controls and station metadata. Given the availability of historical climate and developmental data spanning almost 50 years, changes in urban heat island (UHI) intensity and spatial coverage can be traced temporally. Rapid urban expansion in Singapore is clearly reflected in spatially and temporally changing air and surface temperature patterns. The nocturnal canopy-layer UHI intensity – measured as the difference between the commercial urban core and undeveloped areas close to primary or secondary rainforests for example – doubled in magnitude between 1965 and 2004. At the same time, the spatial extent of the nocturnal UHI has also expanded with the development of new housing and industrial districts. The influence of the growing city is also reflected in surface temperature. Two satellite images dated 13 years apart demonstrate the encroachment of areas with high surface temperatures into previously cooler areas during daytime corresponding with new public housing estates and low-rise residential areas or facilities being built. The results from our study contribute to the growing body of tropical heat island research. They provide baseline data for future research and urban development in the Singapore context and, more generally, offer important cues for urban planners to make tropical cities more sustainable.