Of all the airports in all the cities in all the world, Changi Airport in Singapore gives probably the best approximation of what it’s like to be inside the city where it’s located. It’s a city in miniature, without ever leaving the “international zone” of airport safety.
If you’ve only got a 5-hour layover, it’s not quite enough time to leave the airport, but way too much time to just sit around doing Sudoko. Take a stroll around the terminal and uncover the experiences that make Changi the world’s most comfortable airport.
Swim on the rooftop
What’s the opposite of stale air conditioning and cramped seating on an airplane? Swimming in the calm, temperate waters of a crystal blue rooftop swimming pool, of course! And you can do just that in Terminal 1 at Singapore Changi Airport.
Head for the Terminal 1 Transit Hotel near the D gates on Level 3. The swimming pool, locker rooms and fitness center have a separate entrance, so you don’t need to be a hotel guest to use the facilities. And although the pool is outdoors, it is secluded enough from the airport and the runway that it feels like your own private paradise, miles away from the bustle of the airport.
Watch a butterfly hatch
Singapore City is home to an expansive rainforest zoo, where wildlife roams freely and birds soar. Inside Changi Airport, experience a glimpse of this at the Terminal 3 butterfly garden.
Step outside the airport’s doors into an enclosed butterfly habitat surrounded by greenery, where over a thousand winged creatures float around you. A separate hatching perch gives visitors a chance to see new creatures emerge from their cocoons too.
Stop to smell the flowers
The butterfly garden isn’t Changi Airport’s only outdoor spot for enjoying natural habitats. The airport’s other quiet, peaceful gardens are also great places to rejuvenate with meditation or yoga while you’re surrounded by green and calm.
Check out the bright sunflower garden (Terminal 2) or the cactus garden (Terminal 1) and breathe in the moist, tropical air. Back inside the airport, visit the water lily garden (Terminal 1), orchid garden (Terminal 2) and the “Enchanted Garden” (Terminal 2), with its stained glass sculptures that seem to be straight out of Alice in Wonderland.
Experience street food
You might think that “street food inside an airport” is an oxymoron, but then you’ve probably never been to Changi Airport. Among the many eateries, including an airport outpost of the famous Raffles Hotel Long Bar, you’ll find a unique little food court made up of tasty Singaporean snack foods.
Singapore Food Street in Terminal 3 is designed like a 1960s neighborhood of street vendors, with each featuring typical street food dishes found throughout the country. Fried carrot cake (made of scrambled eggs, radish and sometime molasses), kaya toast (regular bread with a delicious mango and butter spread), laksa (a fish curry with vermicelli noodles and coconut milk) and, of course, satay (a turmeric-marinated meat stick served with spicy peanut sauce) are just the beginning.
Grab a re-loadable food card with some cash on it, and try out several different “hawkers” as you make your way through the drool-inducing smells and smoke.
Take an art break
Throughout the terminals, you can stop to see several art installations, sculptures and objects that represent Singapore’s history of the thriving Asian contemporary art scene. Stop in to take a selfie with a piece, or just experience the vastness of it while you wait.
There are also opportunities to make your own art, like in the woodblock rubbing stations in each terminal. Hold a piece of paper over the carved, wooden blocks and rub a crayon against it to watch the design below appear on your paper. This was a popular form of Singaporean art in the 60s, and still delights children and adults today.
Experience Singapore from the terminals
All in all, there’s way more to Singapore Changi Airport than generic duty free and expensive shopping. Experience just a taste of Singapore itself in the two or three hours before you take off, and whet your appetite for a more complete trip to the island city-state … next time!
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