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I spent 8 hours at Singapore’s famous airport, which features luxuries like a pool, a movie theater, and a butterfly garden. I didn’t want to leave.

A selfie of the author at the Changi pool in terminal 1 Aerotel.

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  • Singapore’s Changi Airport was named the world’s best by Skytrax from 2013 to 2020.
  • The airport is a major hub for Singapore Airlines and features luxuries like a pool and a movie theater.
  • I spent eight hours exploring everything the airport has the offer, and it still wasn’t enough time.
Singapore’s Changi Airport is probably the best place to spend a long layover.Singapore's Changi Airport.

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Boasting four huge terminals with endless shopping, food, and entertainment, the airport was named the world’s best by Skytrax for eight years in a row from 2013 to 2020.Singapore's Changi International Airport.

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Source: Skytrax, The best 20 airports in the world for 2020 according to expert reviewers

Despite losing its crown to Qatar’s Hamad International Airport in 2021, Changi still welcomed over 32 million passengers in 2022 and is planning a fifth terminal to open in the mid-2030s.Singapore's Changi International Airport.

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Source: Skytrax, Straits Times, The top 20 best airports in the world according to passengers

After hearing the hype about Changi, I decided to spend eight hours inside exploring everything it has to offer. Here’s what it was like.Singapore's Changi International Airport.

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When I arrived, I could immediately see the vast difference between this airport and the dozens of others I’ve visited.Curbside entrance to terminal 3 at Singapore's Changi International Airport.Curbside entrance to terminal 3 at Singapore’s Changi International Airport.

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Instead of just having a regular departures floor, there was also a huge “underground carnival” in the basement of terminals 2 and 3, and I was instantly eager to explore.Entrance to the "underground carnival" from Changi's terminal 3 check-in lobby.Entrance to the “underground carnival” from Changi’s terminal 3 check-in lobby.

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What I found was essentially a huge fun zone that had way more than I was expecting.One of the restaurants in Changi's "underground carnival" in terminal 3.One of the restaurants in Changi’s “underground carnival” in terminal 3.

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There was a playground for kids, which included a slide…The playground with a slide at Changi's "underground carnival" at terminal 3.The playground with a slide at Changi’s “underground carnival” at terminal 3.

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…as well as several restaurants and giant shops. The stores were incredible, with everything from groceries and clothes to suitcases and kitchen supplies.One of the shops in Changi's "underground carnival" in terminal 3.All types of different produce were available, and I saw a lot of people here doing their grocery shopping.

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According to an employee I spoke with, this carnival is popular for locals who come for dinner or shopping and was especially busy during the pandemic when travel wasn’t an option.Inside Changi's "underground carnival" in terminal 3.There was pretty decor, like chairs and a fountain.

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After forcing myself not to buy any of the cool knickknacks, I headed back to the check-in lobby at terminal 3. The space was pretty normal compared to other airports, though it definitely felt cleaner and more open.Changi's terminal 3 check-in lobby.Changi’s terminal 3 check-in lobby.

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There were huge windows creating natural light and beautiful green plants lined across the back wall.Changi's terminal 3 check-in lobby with green plants on wall.

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According to Changi’s associate communications director Lay Ling Toh, 99% of the plants and trees are real and are maintained by a team of horticulturalists.A view of Changi's Jewel complex connected to terminal 1.A view of Changi’s Jewel complex connected to terminal 1.

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While the landside area was impressive in itself, most of the fun within Singapore’s famous airport is located in the transit area.Inside terminal 3 of Singapore's Changi International Airport.

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Because Changi is a major hub for Singapore Airlines and its subsidiary, Scoot, the space is important for keeping connecting travelers entertained for hours between flights.Inside Singapore's Changi International Airport.Inside Singapore’s Changi International Airport.

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The transit area spans across all four terminals, with 1, 2, and 3 connected via an airside train, while the 4th can be accessed by an airside bus. The unique activities and extravagant shops are mostly located in terminals 1 and 3.The Skytrain to terminal 3 from terminal 2.The Skytrain to terminal 3 from terminal 1.

Inside Singapore’s Changi International Airport.

Unfortunately for locals or tourists who just want to visit the airport for fun, only passengers who intend to travel can access the transit area, unless they’re an employee or have another authorized reason to be there.A sign at Changi that says only ticketed passengers are allowed in the transit area.A sign at Changi that says only passengers that plan to travel are allowed in the transit area, including those who have a boarding pass. This is likely to discourage people from buying a cheap fare just to have fun in the transit area for the day.

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When accessing the transit area, I noticed there was no security line, but Toh explained that security takes place at the gate. Travelers just need to scan their passport and boarding pass to enter.Me holding a passport and boarding pass.Although I was given special permission to enter Changi airport without a boarding pass, I did have to clear passport control on my flight home a few days later. I thought the process was quick and simple.

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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
 

Once inside, I was immediately taken away by the sheer size of the terminal. All of the beautiful lights and stores impressed me, especially Louis Vuitton — one of three in Changi.The Louis Vuitton store at Singapore's Changi International Airport.

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But, that was not the only luxury brand available. Travelers can also enjoy stores like Gucci…One of two Gucci stores inside Changi airport.

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…and Prada. Toh explained the prices are duty-free and have to be cheaper than, or on par with, other comparable stores in Singapore.One of two Prada stores at Changi airport.

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After exploring a few of the stores and imagining myself with a luxury bag worth twice my rent, I visited a few other shops that were more within budget.Inside the Louis Vuitton store at Changi's terminal 3.Inside the Louis Vuitton store at Changi’s terminal 3.

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I was particularly impressed with TWG Tea, which is a popular Singaporean tea shop. I bought one of my favorite types of tea — French earl grey — for $30 to take home.TWG Tea store at Changi airport terminal 1.

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I also dipped into Singapore Airlines’ new SilverKris business class lounge for about 30 minutes, which has food, loungers, and drinks. The carrier also has other lounges for first and economy passengers in terminal 3.Dumplings served at the Singapore Airlines' SilverKris business class lounge at terminal 3 in Changi airport.I had a light bite to eat at the lounge.

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Fortunately, travelers transiting through Changi don’t need lounge access to be entertained.The escalator to Singapore Airlines' SilverKris lounge at Changi's terminal 3.The escalator to Singapore Airlines’ SilverKris lounge.

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For those wanting to enjoy Changi’s natural side, travelers can visit the koi pond, which has a nice view of the ramp…Koi fish in Changi's terminal 3.

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…or walk around the butterfly garden, which has 1,000 butterflies living inside representing some 47 species.The butterfly garden at Changi's terminal 3.The entrance to the butterfly garden on the lower level has facts and information displayed on the wall.

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During my visit, I was impressed at how big the space was. There were two floors with a beautiful waterfall as the backdrop.The butterfly garden in Changi's terminal 3 with flowers and plants.

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On the lower level, there was fruit laid out and travelers could get up close to the dozens of butterflies feasting away.Butterflies eating pineapple in Changi's terminal 3.

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There was also an enclosed habitat for metamorphosis, and I could see hundreds of chrysalises waiting to hatch.The habitat in the Changi airport butterfly garden with dozens of chrysalises.The habitat in the Changi airport butterfly garden with dozens of chrysalises.

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Another unique perk of Changi airport is its movie theater, which is 100% free.The entrance to the movie theater at Changi's terminal 3.

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The theater is located near the butterfly garden’s upstairs entrance and passengers can simply walk in — no ticket needed.The escalator entrance to get to the movie theater.The escalator entrance to get to the movie theater, as well as the butterfly garden, the Ambassador transit hotel, and the Ambassador lounge.

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The movies rotate on a 24/7 schedule and the lineup changes seasonally. Right now, movies like Fantastic Beasts, Doctor Strange, and Frozen II are playing.The screen at Changi's free movie theater showing the movies and times each day.The screen at Changi’s free movie theater showing the movies and times each day.

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After watching about 40 minutes of Disney’s Encanto, I headed to the train to take me to terminal 1.Inside the movie theater with Encanto playing on the screen.Inside the movie theater with Encanto playing on the screen.

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Along the way, I saw some of Changi’s unique tech, including a workout bike that can charge a cell phone…The power cycle in Changi's terminal 3, which is a stationary bike that chargers cell phones.

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…and the air vents that point down. Toh told Insider that it saves energy because it only cools the space where people are instead of all the way to the high ceiling.The air vents at Changi airport pointing down.The air vents lined the walls of the terminals.

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Like terminal 3, terminal 1 was ginormous. More designer stores lined the walkways, and the carpeted floors masked the noise of trolley wheels and roller bags.People walking through Changi's terminal 1.

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It took about 10 minutes to walk the entire length of the terminal as I made my way to my next stop — the pool.Changi's terminal 1 Louis Vuitton store.Along the way, I passed one of Changi’s other Louis Vuitton stores.

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Yes, Changi airport has a pool available to travelers. It is located inside the Aerotel, which is an airside transit hotel — but more on that later.Changi airport's airside pool at the Aerotel in terminal 1.

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The pool opens at noon for transit passengers and costs S$23 ($18) per person. Hotel guests can access the space earlier.The shaded sitting area adjacent to the pool at Changi's terminal 1.The shaded sitting area adjacent to the pool.

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Walking outside, I was immediately shocked at the size of the pool and all of the amenities available.A selfie of the author with the pool in the background.

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There was a long bar with beer, wine, spirits, and other non-alcoholic drinks…The bar at the Changi airport's terminal 1 pool.

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…plenty of chairs for tanning…The pool area at Changi's terminal 1 with cabana and chairs.

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…other unique seating for relaxing and chatting…Unique nest-like seating options at Changi's terminal 1 pool.

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…a separate jacuzzi attached to the pool…The pool jacuzzi at Changi's terminal 1.

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…and a pretty garden space with a nice view of the ramp.The garden next to the Changi terminal 1 pool.

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As it was a beautiful day in Singapore, I ordered a cocktail and took my time enjoying the pool. The water was cool and refreshing and I loved the ambiance of the music and decor.A selfie of the author at the Changi pool in terminal 1 Aerotel.

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After about an hour, I took advantage of the showers and quickly explored the Aerotel.The Aerotel lobby at Changi airport.The Aerotel lobby at Changi airport.

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The space has dozens of rooms that can be booked in hourly blocks, with a minimum of six hours…The beds in the double room, which has an ensuite bathroom.The beds in the double room, which has an ensuite bathroom and a view of the ramp.

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…and come with one meal included, which is served in an on-site dining room. There is also a gym available to guests.The gym at the Aerotel. The dining room is located below.The gym at the Aerotel. The dining room is located below, but I could not take photographs as it was full of guests.

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I thought the rooms, many of which include ensuite bathrooms, were cozy and private. The price starts around $115 for a single room for six hours and is a perfect way to grab some sleep on a long layover.The bathroom inside the Aerotel double room.The ensuite bathroom inside the double room. Single rooms have shared toilets and showers, according to Aerotel’s website.

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The airport also has several other sleep options, including the Ambassador Transit Hotel in terminals 2 and 3…The Ambassador transit hotel at Changi's terminal 3.The Ambassador transit hotel at Changi’s terminal 3.

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…and the designated free-to-use “sleep zones,” which have lay flat loungers and pods. These make long layovers — and even multi-hour delays and overnight cancellations — more bearable.The snooze area at Changi airport.

Changi Airport Group

Source: Changi Airport Group

After exploring the hotel, I was ready to eat and knew I wanted to enjoy Changi’s famous Singapore Food Street.Singapore food street sign.The “street” is located on the second floor of terminal 3 near the Louis Vuitton store.

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The “street” is not actually outside the airport but is a line of over a dozen booths inside terminal 3 serving traditional dishes from places like Singapore, Vietnam, and China.The row of food vendors at Singapore food street in Changi's terminal 3.

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Passengers can self-order from kiosks using a credit card or Singaporean dollars — you cannot pay in USD or other paper currency.The kiosk where I ordered food at the Singapore food street at Changi terminal 3.All of the restaurants and their menus were loaded into the kiosk.

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I ordered a feast of Asian meals, which I shared with a colleague, including soup dumplings, laksa, skewers, noodles, and chicken with rice.The feast of food I ordered from different shops in the Singapore food street.My favorite dishes were the laksa (bottom left bowl) and the soup dumplings (middle bottom).

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All of the food was amazing and easily exceeded my expectations for airport food.A selfie of the author with a soup dumpling in chopsticks.

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For Americans who want a taste of home, there’s also a Burger King and a Subway within the row of restaurants.The Subway on Singapore food street at Changi's terminal 3.

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While all of the fun activities I experienced before my flight are restricted to ticketed passengers, Changi also boasts an amazing retail and entertainment complex completely separate from its four terminals.Inside Changi airport's Jewel complex.Inside Changi airport’s Jewel complex.

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Known as Jewel, the facility is connected to the airport via walkways from terminals 1, 2, and 3, and by bus from terminal 4.The walkway to Jewel at Changi airport.The walkway to Jewel from terminal 3.

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Inside is a plethora of beautiful trees and flowers that surround dozens of stores, shops, restaurants, and a giant waterfall centerpiece.A restaurant inside Jewel at Changi airport.A restaurant inside Jewel at Changi airport.

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The rain vortex, which stands seven stories high, is the world’s tallest indoor waterfall and has become the symbol of Changi’s innovation and beauty.The rain vortex in Jewel with the monorail riding past.The airtrain that connects terminals 2 and 3 runs through Jewel with a great view of the rain vortex.

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During my visit, I enjoyed several of the activities in the complex’s Canopy Park, like a hedge maze, the ropes course, and a topiary walk.The animals in Canopy Park (pictured) are made from coconut hairs.The animals in Canopy Park are made from coconut hairs.

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These must be paid for, but guests can easily get tickets online, from a booth, or at a kiosk.The ticket kiosks for Jewel activities.

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While some of the activities were kiddish, I still thought it was fun — and a good way to entertain children before a long flight.A view of the Jewel hedge maze from above.A view of the Jewel hedge maze from above.

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I thought Jewel was very enjoyable and makes for a great day trip for tourists exploring Singapore. Surprisingly enough, the place actually used to be a parking lot and cost $1.2 billion to build.A view from the ground floor at Jewel with the rain vortex off.A view from the ground floor at Jewel with the rain vortex off.

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But, I will note that the space is not a terminal, and you won’t board your flight from Jewel. But, some airlines do offer early check-in here that travelers can take advantage of.The Starbucks and the early check-in at Jewel.The Starbucks and the early check-in at Jewel.

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After a long, entertainment-filled day of exploring Changi airport, I found I wasn’t ready to leave.View of Changi's terminal 3 from Singapore food street.View of Changi’s terminal 3 from Singapore food street.

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I felt I could have spent so many more hours at the pool and the movie theater, or taken more time to appreciate the beautiful butterflies and koi fish.My cocktail and towel at the Aerotel pool.My cocktail and towel at the Aerotel pool.

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The airport is an experience in itself, and I hope my local New York airports eventually adopt some of the same luxuries hidden within the walls of Changi.A selfie of the author in the butterfly garden.

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Read the original article on Business Insider