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- Singapore's Changi International Airport was named the world's best airport from 2013 to 2020.
- While the airport lost its crown in 2021, it still houses plenty of activities to pass the time.
- Here are the 10 coolest things I found on my recent trip that made me not want to leave.
Singapore's Changi International Airport is considered one of the best in the world.
From 2013 to 2020, the airport won Skytrax's annual awards, though it lost the title to Doha's Hamad International Airport in 2021 and 2022.
The top 20 best airports in the world according to passengers
Nevertheless, there is a lot to discover within the walls of Changi's transit area, which welcomed over 32 million people in 2022.
Source: The Straits Times
Here are the 10 coolest things I found on my recent trip — and many of them are completely free or don't require a business-class ticket.
1. Changi airport is basically a giant high-end mall.
Of course, Changi is first and foremost an airport, but that doesn't mean people can't get their shopping done on a long layover. Travelers will find a plethora of luxury brands lining the long terminal corridors, like Louis Vuitton…
…and Prada. Other designer stores like Swarovski, Tiffany & Co, and Dior can also be explored, and there are several of each within the three main terminals.
According to Changi spokesperson Lay Ling Toh, the shops are duty-free. But the merchandise must be sold cheaper than, or the same price as, other comparable stores throughout Singapore.
I managed to beat the temptation of a designer bag and opted for French Earl Grey tea at TWG Tea — a popular Singaporean tea shop — for $30.
Toh told Insider that shopping at Changi is so popular that during the pandemic, the airport set up an experience for locals seeking the thrill of travel by allowing some to bring empty suitcases and shop in the transit area.
Non-travelers can still use the iShopChangi app by adding merchandise to their cart and providing a Singaporean address. The items will be delivered within 2-4 work days, according to the airport.
Source: Changi Airport
2. Travelers don't have to clear security to enter the terminals.
One of the most shocking differences I noticed during my time at Changi was that security took place at each individual gate — not after check-in.
I flew on the world's longest flight in business class and thought the 18-hour trip from Singapore to New York was nearly flawless
Instead of a standard security queue with hundreds of travelers in snaking lines, passengers only needed to scan their passport and boarding pass to enter the transit area.
From there, travelers can walk the concourse, eat the food, and enjoy the shops before their luggage and person are scanned at the gate. I liked this much better because security was limited to just the people on my flight.
However, it is important to note that this doesn't mean anyone can enter the secured area. Signage indicated only those with the intent to travel can enter, likely to deter people from booking a cheap flight just to enjoy the airport.
3. Finding a place to sleep during long layovers, delays, cancellations, or overnights is much easier at Changi than at most other airports.
Source: Changi Airport
Changi is all about a comfortable layover — regardless if it's two or 24 hours. So, the airport has made an effort to offer plenty of low- and high-budget sleep options — so travelers never have to leave the airport.
Source: Changi Airport
On the cheapest end of the spectrum are the free "snooze lounges," which are scattered throughout the airport and have lie-flat loungers, armchairs, pod seating, and couches.
Source: Changi Airport
Meanwhile, Priority Pass cardholders can access the Ambassador Transit Lounges in terminals 2 and 3 for free, and then pay a fee to use the nap room, which starts at $90 for six hours.
Source: Harilela Hospitality
Granted, both the lounge rooms and sleep zones are first-come, first-served, so there is no guarantee any will be available. But I loved that there were these options when I'm used to bumming it on the cold floor in most US airports.
Not all travelers are willing to fight for a bed just to save a few bucks, though, so Changi has transit hotels that do not require anyone to leave the secured area or clear customs. These include the Aerotel in terminal 1…
…and the Ambassador Transit Hotels in terminals 2 and 3. These rooms start at $160 for one person for six hours.
Source: Harilela Hospitality
Meanwhile, a single room at Aerotel costs $115 in mid-April, while a double room costs $167. Both come with one free meal served in the on-site dining area.
For passengers traveling on a first-class ticket with Singapore Airlines — which has its hub at Changi — the carrier has designated bedrooms in its exclusive premium lounge. These cannot be accessed by anyone else.
4. If you want to skip sleep and have fun, there are plenty of interesting things to do for free.
Changi is famous for its entertainment, and I made sure to try as many activities as possible during my visit, like watching a movie at the free theater in terminal 3. The films play 24/7 and rotate seasonally —no ticket needed.
Right now, passengers can see Venom, Curella, Encanto, Frozen II, Fantastic Beasts, and Doctor Strange.
I enjoyed watching Encanto and was impressed with the comfort and tranquility of the space.
If you're looking for a more natural experience, the upper entrance to the butterfly garden is right around the corner from the theater.
Inside, there are thousands of butterflies that represent some 47 species. I was able to get up close while they feasted on fruit...
…and saw hundreds of chrysalises getting ready to hatch. These were protected inside an enclosed habitat dedicated to metamorphosis.
There are several other free things to do inside Changi, including the koi pond…
…and the power bike, which can charge smartphones while peddling.
5. You can take a dip in the pool between flights.
One of the most interesting things about Changi is its swimming pool, which is located at the Aerotel in terminal 1. Travelers can take the elevator using touchless buttons to access it.
The pool is free for hotel guests, but regular travelers can pay 23 Singapore dollars (around $18) to enter after 12:00 p.m. The stay comes with a towel, and drinks can be ordered from the bar.
There are also plenty of seating areas and a garden that overlooks the ramp…
…as well as showers and a gym.
I spent about an hour by the pool on a warm, sunny day, and it was the most relaxed I've ever been at an airport.
6. Travelers can experience Singapore's famous street food without leaving the airport.
Singapore is well-known for its street cuisine, which was further popularized by movies like Crazy Rich Asians.
Unfortunately for layover passengers, it would be difficult to travel into the city to enjoy a proper market, but Changi has one on-site called Singapore Food Street.
Located on the second level of terminal 3 near Louis Vuitton, the "street" houses over a dozen vendors who specialize in specific dishes, like Singaporean, Chinese, and Vietnamese.
To get food, I had to order from the designated kiosks and pay with a card or Singaporean dollars — no foreign paper currency is accepted.
The meals were delicious, and I was blown away by the high standard of airport food. Granted, I'm sure it wasn't nearly as authentic as a real Singaporean street market, but it was still a fun experience.
However, for Americans looking for a taste of home, there was a Subway and a Burger King located on either end of the food street. Other Western restaurants are also located throughout Changi.
7. There is a hidden playground under terminals 2 and 3.
If you have enough time to leave the transit area, you could spend some time in the underground carnival. Here, there are a plethora of activities, like a playground with a slide…
…as well as restaurants and shopping.
The stores were giant with so many random items, including everything from cookware and suitcases…
…to fresh produce and candy. One employee I spoke with said the shops and restaurants are popular with locals, especially during the pandemic.
8. There is a secret space under Changi where food is cheaper.
Located outside the transit area and in the basement of terminal 1, passengers can enjoy the Staff Canteen, which offers Asian meals for just a few bucks.
This space is typically full of employees, but travelers can reap the benefits if they're willing to make the long trek. Insider's Deputy London Bureau Chief Kieran Corcoran enjoyed a meal for about $2.50 on a recent trip through Changi.
9. You can ride a monorail right next to the world's tallest indoor waterfall.
Changi's most prized attraction is located within Jewel, a completely separate building that houses dozens of shops, restaurants, and entertainment.
Jewel can be accessed via airtrain from terminals 1, 2, and 3, walkways, or a bus from terminal 4. You do not have to be a ticketed passenger to enter.
The centerpiece of Jewel is the rain vortex that stands seven stories high with cascading water falling from the ceiling.
The waterfall is a symbol of Changi's beauty and innovation, and guests can get a better look from unique spots inside Jewel. You can pay to stand on the bridge that looks down on the vortex…
…or use the free monorail that rides right past it as is connects terminals 2 and 3. The airtrain even slows down to ensure travelers get a good look.
Also inside Jewel, which was once a parking lot that was repurposed for $1.2 billion, is a great selection of paid-for activities, like a hedge maze…
…and a topiary walk through the Canopy Park. According to Toh, all of the animals are made out of coconut hairs.
The tickets can be booked online, at a kiosk inside Jewel, or at an in-person counter. I thought the activities were pretty kid-centered, but a fun way to pass the time or entertain the little ones.
For those not interested in the activities, Jewel is a beautiful place to just walk around. Passengers on some airlines can even check-in early here, though the plane will board from the main terminals.
10. 99% of Changi's greenery — including inside Jewel — is real.
From the moment travelers enter Changi's lobby or step off their aircraft, they will be overwhelmed by the greenery lining the terminals.
Trees, bushes, and flowers are plastered everywhere, and I was surprised to learn that most of the plants are 100% real.
Toh explained the greenery is maintained by a team of horticulturalists, meaning almost every single leaf or blade of grass is cared for by a human.
I loved the dedication to beauty and nature, which truly embodies Singapore's culture.