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.
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.
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.
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.
When I arrived, I could immediately see the vast difference between this airport and the dozens of others I've visited.
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.
What I found was essentially a huge fun zone that had way more than I was expecting.
There was a playground for kids, which included a slide...
...as well as several restaurants and giant shops. The stores were incredible, with everything from groceries and clothes to suitcases and kitchen supplies.
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.
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.
There were huge windows creating natural light and beautiful green plants lined across the back wall.
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.
While the landside area was impressive in itself, most of the fun within Singapore's famous airport is located in the transit area.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
But, that was not the only luxury brand available. Travelers can also enjoy stores like Gucci…
…and Prada. Toh explained the prices are duty-free and have to be cheaper than, or on par with, other comparable stores in Singapore.
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.
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.
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.
Fortunately, travelers transiting through Changi don't need lounge access to be entertained.
For those wanting to enjoy Changi's natural side, travelers can visit the koi pond, which has a nice view of the ramp…
…or walk around the butterfly garden, which has 1,000 butterflies living inside representing some 47 species.
During my visit, I was impressed at how big the space was. There were two floors with a beautiful waterfall as the backdrop.
On the lower level, there was fruit laid out and travelers could get up close to the dozens of butterflies feasting away.
There was also an enclosed habitat for metamorphosis, and I could see hundreds of chrysalises waiting to hatch.
Another unique perk of Changi airport is its movie theater, which is 100% free.
The theater is located near the butterfly garden's upstairs entrance and passengers can simply walk in — no ticket needed.
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.
After watching about 40 minutes of Disney's Encanto, I headed to the train to take me to terminal 1.
Along the way, I saw some of Changi's unique tech, including a workout bike that can charge a cell phone…
…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.
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.
It took about 10 minutes to walk the entire length of the terminal as I made my way to my next stop — the pool.
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.
The pool opens at noon for transit passengers and costs S$23 ($18) per person. Hotel guests can access the space earlier.
Walking outside, I was immediately shocked at the size of the pool and all of the amenities available.
There was a long bar with beer, wine, spirits, and other non-alcoholic drinks...
…plenty of chairs for tanning…
…other unique seating for relaxing and chatting…
…a separate jacuzzi attached to the pool…
…and a pretty garden space with a nice view of the ramp.
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.
After about an hour, I took advantage of the showers and quickly explored the Aerotel.
The space has dozens of rooms that can be booked in hourly blocks, with a minimum of six hours...
…and come with one meal included, which is served in an on-site dining room. There is also a gym available to guests.
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 airport also has several other sleep options, including the Ambassador Transit Hotel in terminals 2 and 3…
…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.
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.
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.
Passengers can self-order from kiosks using a credit card or Singaporean dollars — you cannot pay in USD or other paper currency.
I ordered a feast of Asian meals, which I shared with a colleague, including soup dumplings, laksa, skewers, noodles, and chicken with rice.
All of the food was amazing and easily exceeded my expectations for airport food.
For Americans who want a taste of home, there's also a Burger King and a Subway within the row of restaurants.
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.
Known as Jewel, the facility is connected to the airport via walkways from terminals 1, 2, and 3, and by bus from terminal 4.
Inside is a plethora of beautiful trees and flowers that surround dozens of stores, shops, restaurants, and a giant waterfall centerpiece.
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.
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.
These must be paid for, but guests can easily get tickets online, from a booth, or at a kiosk.
While some of the activities were kiddish, I still thought it was fun — and a good way to entertain children before a long flight.
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.
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.
After a long, entertainment-filled day of exploring Changi airport, I found I wasn't ready to leave.
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.
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.
Read the original article on Business Insider