Of all of the “I love Changi airport” stories I’ve heard in the past week my favourite comes from my friend Gary. Despite the fact that he lives in Singapore, he confessed “I love Changi so much I checked into the Crowne Plaza when I landed once because I didn’t want to leave the airport.”
While Gary is an extreme case, especially as his home is less than half an hour away, he wasn’t the only one to sing Changi’s praises when I caught up with friends over dinner in Singapore. “Best airport in the world!” seasoned travellers Thomas and Bruce declared. “I once went from wheels down to being in a taxi in 11 minutes!” David insists. And although the idea of getting off a plane, through immigration, and getting in a cab in that time sounds unlikely, David was adamant Changi is just that good.
You may be wondering why I’ve been talking to friends about Changi so much over the past seven days. It goes beyond just being travel geeks, and is down to the fact that I have just jetted to Singapore to spend some time really getting to know the airport. Yes, it’s one of those travel writer things that friends laugh about, “You’re flying to Singapore just to see the airport?”. But when the airport’s this good, I’m grabbing my passport.
Mind you, it’s not just me and my mates who rave about it. Changi has taken 440 “Best Airport” awards since it opened in 1981, including Business Traveller’s “Best Airport in the World” for 26 years in a row. In fact, it’s so much fun that some locals just go to the airport to have dinner, do some shopping or hang out, even if they’re not flying anywhere (strange, and sounds like a Kath and Kim episode, but true).
For those who have yet to fly through Singapore, and for those who haven’t been for a while, here’s my list of Top Ten Things To Do at Changi Airport.
Get a nature fix in the Butterfly Garden, Sunflower Garden and more (T1, T2, T3)
There’s nothing like a little burst of nature in between flights to shake off that cabin air. At Changi they really embrace Singapore’s whole Garden City image with five themed gardens throughout the terminals. My personal favourite is the Butterfly Garden (T3) where the sight of around a thousand butterflies and the sound of a waterfall can really lift your spirits.
There’s also the Cactus Garden (T1) which has an open air bar and on some nights even has live music (just make sure you do as the man on the sign suggests and don’t be tempted to touch any of these plants). The Sunflower Garden (T2) is another chance to step into the fresh air and be a plane spotter amongst the flowers.
Then there are two indoor gardens, the Enchanted Garden (T2) which features sensors that trigger bird sounds as you wander around and the Orchid Garden (T2) with rare and seasonal orchids surrounding a Koi pond.
And don’t worry if you land in one terminal and want to see things in another one. The Skytrain makes it easy to zip between terminals and runs every few minutes. Just double check when you have to be back at your departure gate, buffer in enough time to return, and go explore.
Visit the Kinetic Rain Sculpture (T1)
Beautiful and hypnotic, the Kinetic Rain sculpture is a piece of installation art featuring 1,216 bronze droplets that transform themselves into 16 different patterns and shapes. The sculpture was commissioned to take the place of the fountains that were originally found in the departure hall of Terminal 1, and have become the backdrop for many a Changi happy snap.
You can get a taste for Kinetic Rain in this little video:
Ride the Giant Slide (T3)
The “world’s tallest slide inside an airport” isn’t the sort of thing you come across every day. When I first saw the 12 metre (that’s four storeys!) high slide in T3 I really wasn’t sure how I’d go. It looked rather intense, but in the name of research I put on my brave face and got into position.
What happened next was an adrenalin rush with (hopefully) muffled squeals as I flew down, down, around, around and had an absolute ball doing it. To ride the slide you just have to spend $10 at the airport. Easy done. Especially when you consider how much fun it is to go…
Shopping at Changi (T1, T2, T3)
It can be a cruel thing to have a short connection in Singapore, especially when there’s more than 350 shops to check out. You have your designer stretches of the terminal with Prada, Burberry, Tiffany & Co, and so many more lined up in a row. Then there’s the high street fashion options, electronics, gifts and of course all of the cosmetics and fragrances.
Not only do DFS have all the major brands covered, and the sort of wine and spirit selection that has eyes light up, they also have cocktail bar stations in the terminals. The clinking of ice in a cocktail shaker in the middle of an airport was enough to turn my head, and I noticed other travellers were equally happy to sample a Grey Goose concoction or two.
Before I flew out of Sydney international airport I did a price check on a range of duty free items I like to buy. Everything on my list including Mac and SKII was cheaper at Changi, with the exception of Veuve Clicquot which is where Sydney had a slight edge (I know I know, a very girlie list!)
I’m told Changi airport has people going around department stores in Singapore to make sure they have the cheapest prices at the airport. They’re so confident they have a price guarantee, where if you find an item cheaper in the city they’ll pay you twice the price difference.
This is also the only airport I’ve found where you don’t even have to be flying to shop GST free. People on the land side can also get 7% off their purchases. Actually, all of those locals going shopping at the airport is starting to make sense.
Have a Free Massage at the Airport (T1, T2, T3)
Oh the joy of a massage after a flight. Or before one. Or in between. Oh, okay, I love a massage pretty much any old time.
At Changi you can find free foot massage machines around the airport, and even some magic, full body massage chairs in T3. Now I’ve been in a few massage chairs in my time and usually I can take them or leave them. But the one I tried at Changi was absolute heaven. To the point that I almost put one on my credit card afterwards (yes, there is a store selling them nearby, and they do offer shipping to various countries).
If you prefer a person to do your massage, you can also find plenty of those options around the terminals, though you do have to pay for that service. Or you can have fish massage your feet. Or rather, tickle as they nibble your feet. The “doctor fish” pedicure can be found in T1.
But back to those free massage chairs. To find the full body ones, head to the Hard Rock Cafe in T3. They’re just around the corner from there. The only downside is the people who decide to sleep in them.
When I went back for a second massage (don’t judge me, it was 8 hours later!) there was a guy snoring loudly in one, which made the chair have to work all the harder to stop me tensing up. Apparently that happens quite a bit and personally I find that really selfish, especially when so many people want a massage and when Changi actually has designated rest areas and sleeping zones with comfy chairs made for just that thing. Or of course if you really want a good sleep you can…
Spend the Night in a Changi Airport Hotel (T1, T2, T3)
I’ll admit I haven’t slept in a lot of airport hotels, but the Crowne Plaza at Changi Airport is my number one with a bullet. It has gorgeous rooms, including a big bath, strong shower and super comfortable bed. There are runway view rooms for the plane spotters and big and small kids to enjoy, or you can do as I did and get a room looking over their pool for an oasis feel.
The rooms are quiet – I heard a gentle sound in the distance a few times which I then realised was a plane (and considering a plane takes off or lands at Changi Airport every 100 seconds, that’s saying something). Breakfast was delicious, with a range of Asian and Western options and where I had fun creating my own little Yum Cha of a morning, and the pool is just beautiful and is the only one in Singapore to have palm trees inside the swimming area.
The Crowne Plaza is found on the land side of T3, but if you are between flights and want to stay on the air side (that’s the side you fly in and out of, on the plane’s side of immigration) you can also get a room in one of the Ambassador Transit Hotels. These are a more simple affair, but offer the chance to sleep in a real bed and have a shower, and you can book for just six hours or more. Mind you, these are very popular so you want to book at least a couple weeks ahead.
You can also check out the full list of Changi Airport Hotels on Booking.com for more ideas.
Take a Swim in the Airport Pool (T1)
While you have to be a guest at the Crowne Plaza to look up at the air control tower as you float in their pool, there is another one you can try inside the airport.
The pool in T1 costs $13 to use, and includes a free (non alcoholic) drink at the bar. Transit Hotel guests get in for free, and even if you forgot to pack your swimmers in your carry on just sitting by the pool with a drink can be soothing in itself.
Changi Experiences (T1, T2, T3)
A relative newcomer to Changi Airport, the Social Tree (T1) is a nine metre tall interactive installation, with eight touch screen photo booths that allow you to take and share your own photo or video on the big screen and share with friends and family back home through email or social media. You can even save a copy of your image in the tree to reopen the next time you’re at Changi.
Gamers can play free Xbox and Playstation 3 games in the Xperience Zone (T2) while movie fans can take a seat in one of the free cinemas (T2, T3) and relax with a recent release.
Eat up! (T1, T2, T3)
One of the things I love about Singaporeans is how much they love their food. And with around 120 places to eat and drink in Changi, the biggest problem is deciding what to have.
A couple that I tried and loved are Pappa Mia (T1, land side) and the Peach Garden Noodle House (T1, air side), and there were plenty of others that I wish I had a chance to try. I’m already salivating over some of the things I’ll have the next time I fly through Singapore.
Take a free tour of Singapore
If you have five hours or more between flights you can take advantage of a free tour that Changi Airport provides of the city. You can’t book before you arrive at the airport, so if you want to do this one head for one of the City Tour stands and sign up as soon as you arrive. If you need a hand finding them, just ask the friendly folks at the Information Desks.
The tour is a great introduction to the city if you haven’t been before. Our guide was funny and informative, and you get the chance to get out at the Merlion to take some pictures at one of the most photographed spots in Singapore. Sit back, check out the sights and relax knowing they’ll get you back in time to catch your flight and make it to your next destination.
Yes, there’s an awful lot to do at Changi Airport. Which may be why Singapore Airlines lets you check in 48 hours before your flight. What a great idea… get rid of your checked luggage and go on an airport adventure before your flight.
You can also find out more about things to in the nearby Changi Village.
And want to check out the best place on a Singapore Airlines A380? Here’s my Suites Class review
Or if you have an early morning flight out of Changi here are my picks for the best hotels close to Changi.