April 22, 2024

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Traveling Around the World

A Complete Guide to Singapore Changi Airport

If you’re the type of person to arrive at an airport with just minutes to spare, consider changing this habit when flying out of Singapore’s Changi Airport. Ranked by Travel + Leisure readers as the best airport in the world, a position it has upheld in T+L’s World’s Best Awards since 2012, it’s the kind of airport where you’d secretly wish for a flight delay. Why? Because there’s always something else to see at Changi, between its art installations, butterfly gardens, or lounging around the rooftop swimming pool. 


Whether you’re stopping over for two hours or 12, read on for the best places to eat, shop, and relax in Singapore’s showstopping airport. 


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The Art and Architecture

Spread out over four terminals arranged like a ‘U’, Singapore’s Changi Airport is one of Asia’s largest aviation hubs. In 2019, before the pandemic vastly reduced air travel to and around Asia, it saw more than 68 million passengers pass through its gates, and it’s on its way to reaching similar numbers in the coming years. 


The jewel in the airport’s crown is aptly named the Jewel, a bagel-shaped complex of glass and steel that opened in 2019. Designed by Boston-based Safdie Architects, the space is home to the world’s tallest indoor waterfall, the Rain Vortex, which sees almost 10.000 gallons of water per minute fall from a round hole in the glass ceiling. Circling around it is the Shiseido Forest Valley, a terraced tropical garden with more than 900 trees and 60,000 shrubs spread out between elevated walking trails and balcony-like seating nooks. While the gardens are pretty at any time of the day (note, the waterfall only starts flowing after 11 a.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. on weekends), they’re especially spellbinding after dark, when light installations by Tokyo-based art collective TeamLab illuminate the trees and a light-and-sound show sets the waterfall aglow at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. 


But the Jewel isn’t Changi’s only artful feature. Scattered throughout the terminals, you’ll find a fascinating collection of art and installations by creatives from around the globe. Terminal 1 is home to “Kinetic Rain,” a mesmerizing moving installation of 1,216 bronze droplets suspended from the ceiling, while French artist Cédric Le Borgne’s “Les Oiseaux” (the Birds) seemingly fly around the Terminal 2 arrival hall. Near the check-in desks in Terminal 3, you’ll find “Daisy,” a propeller-like installation by German artist Christian Moeller, which determines its movements based on passersby.  


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The Greenery and Wildlife

From Jewel’s sprawling tropical gardens to the living, plant-covered walls greeting you upon arrival in Terminal 2, Changi might just be one of the world’s greenest airports. There are gardens aplenty: on the rooftop of Terminal 1, an outdoor cactus garden is home to more than 100 species of cacti and arid plants, while the elevated walkways at the nearby Discovery Garden will let you get up close with vertical gardens of tropical plants. A sunflower patch is draped over Terminal 2’s rooftop park, while the whimsical Enchanted Garden inside makes you feel like you’ve tumbled down Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole. 


The gardens come to life in Terminal 3, where travelers will find a water lily–dotted koi pond and the world’s first airport butterfly garden, home to more than 1,000 tropical butterflies from around 40 different species. The two-level garden feels like a slice of rainforest jungle and includes a cave-like tunnel and 20-foot waterfall, around which butterflies flutter between colorful flowers. At its heart, a glass ‘Emergence Cage’ gives insight into the lifecycle, from pupa to adult, of these kaleidoscopic creatures. 


For safaris of a different kind, hop on a short taxi or bus ride to the Jurassic Mile, a kilometer-long jogging and cycling trail near the airport entrance that’s dotted with giant eggs and life-sized dinosaur sculptures that seem to have escaped from Jurassic Park. Among them are raptors, a tyrannosaurus, and a brachiosaurus rising almost 16 feet into the sky. 


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The Food

As a multicultural melting pot of Chinese, Indian, Malay, and Western influences, Singapore is arguably one of the greatest food cities in the world. It’s no surprise, then, that its airport is an excellent place to eat. From a quick pre-flight bite to a multi-course sit-down meal, Changi Airport has a restaurant for every occasion. 


Singapore Food Street, in the transit area of Terminal 3, will sate your hawker food craving. Designed like a slice of 1960s Singapore with candy-colored townhouses, old-timey hawker stands, and tables spilling out on the faux sidewalk, this restaurant hub has outposts of some of Singapore’s most iconic eateries. Seek out the peppery bak kut teh pork rib soup by Rong Cheng; Ah Huat’s ultra-comforting chicken rice; and bark chor mee pork noodles by Tai Wah, which has been making the dish since the 1930s. 


With more than 100 bars and restaurants spread out over its seven floors, the Jewel is another great spot for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Here, you’ll find outposts of some of Asia’s most beloved restaurant chains, with highlights including Taiwanese mainstay Din Tai Fung for its soup-filled xiao long bao dumplings; Hong Kong’s Michelin-starred roast duck specialist Kam’s Roast; and herbal hot pots by homegrown Beauty In The Pot. If you’re in the mood for sushi, Osaka-based Sushiro hits the spot, while Singaporean chef Violet Oon’s eponymous restaurant dishes up Peranakan-style classics such as beef rendang and chili-tossed prawns. 


For a literal breath of fresh air, head to Terminal 2, where the breezy Hub & Spoke area is a lovely and little-visited spot to lounge in the sun. Home to a cafe serving classic kaya toast breakfasts, nasi lemak, and traditional kopi, this pocket of green makes it easy to forget you’re still in the middle of one of Asia’s largest airports. 


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The Things You’d Never Expect to Find at an Airport

If you’ve got an hour or two to kill between flights, catching a movie is always a good idea. Changi Airport has its own full-fledged movie theater in Terminal 3, complete with plush cinema chairs and an ever-changing schedule of the latest Hollywood blockbusters and international indie flicks. Best of all? It’s completely free and open 24 hours a day. 


There’s plenty to do for active types, too. At the new Climb@T3, in the basement of Terminal 3, you’ll find a rock climbing and bouldering wall rising 24 feet in the air. Thrill-seeking travelers can rent climbing shoes and other necessary gear, and sign up for guided climbing workshops or unguided sessions for seasoned climbers. For a more playful workout, seek out the Bouncing Net and Walking Net on the Jewel’s jungle-fringed top floor. Suspended up to 80 feet above the ground, this jumble of monkey bridges, trampolines, slides, and hammock-like nooks delivers endless fun for children — and those who are young at heart.  


Don’t forget to pack your swimming gear: for around $17 per person, you gain access to the lounger-lined rooftop swimming pool of the Aerotel Airport Transit Hotel in Terminal 1, which has a Jacuzzi tub, a pool bar, and shower facilities for a post-plunge refresh. 



The Shopping

With more than 300 boutiques and flagship stores operating under its roof, Changi gives many malls a run for their money. Many homegrown brands have an outpost here, with highlights including Charles & Keith for sleek womenswear, HOOGA for Singapore-meets-Scandinavian home decor, and Asian Artistry for jewelry with Peranakan, Chinese, and Indian influences. At Jewel, you’ll find shops by most big-brand retailers — including Southeast Asia’s largest Nike store that stocks the brand’s full sports and lifestyle collections. 


Shop for snackable suitcase-stuffers at Bengawan Solo, which specializes in Singaporean kueh sweets and other confectionery; or stop by Irvins for dangerously addictive fish skin crisps flavored with salted egg. Lim Chee Guan, which has been in business since 1938, is a top spot to pick up bak kwa, charcoal-roasted and dried meats beloved by Singaporeans.