In March 2019 Singapore Changi was crowned the best airport in the world for the seventh year in a row. That was just before Jewel Changi Airport opened. After previewing this architectural marvel I can’t see how any other airport is going to take this title in the foreseeable future.
Jewel Changi is a mixed use development that sits inside the U-shape of the terminal buildings, making use of this previously underutilised space. Singapore have become masters of making use of limited space, and this is an example that is on display as soon as you arrive.
I’ve been following the progress of this development since it began construction in December 2014. In addition to this travel blog I also write about infrastructure in Asia. When the preview week was announced I scheduled my travels to visit.
I planned my trip to be able to visit the Jewel before my flight out. As you can see on the illustration there are three entrances to the Jewel. Seeing it was my first visit and I had time on my hands, I figured I should enter via the main entrance at Terminal 1.
Ever since I saw the first render of this building I’ve tried to contain my expectations. It looked other-worldly on paper, but often renders don’t match reality. When I turned the corner and saw the dome for the first time I gasped a little. It’s every bit as good as it promised.
The centrepiece of the Jewel is the waterfall that falls from the ceiling of the dome. Officially known as the HSBC Rain Vortex, at 40 metres high it’s the world’s tallest indoor waterfall.
I spent the first hour of my visit just wandering around looking for the best viewing points. I thought the waterfall might only be turned on intermittently, but it’s on 24 hours a day. So if you have a horrible overnight connection you can at least admire this beautiful creation.
On the east side is the Shiseido Forest Valley East Trail. What a great way to stretch your legs between long flights by having a walk up this “hill” along this “stream”.
At some view points it looks like a dense jungle. The place was crowded and yet I got this photo with no people in it.
I imagined this is what life on Mars will be like, with colonising humans living under geodesic domes. Or maybe this will be the future city living. Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, stated that air conditioning was one of the most important inventions, so this climate-controlled paradise is a logical progression for the Singapore wonder-state.
there is so much greenery in here that went beyond the resources of the average gardening shop. There are over 2,000 trees and palms, and over 100,000 shrubs that were imported over three years. If you want to see more gardens like this, also check out the Gardens by the Bay at Marina Bay.
As well as the flora being meticulously thought out, the climate inside the dome would have had to be considered. It can’t be freezing cold like so many shopping malls are. Instead it felt like a cool breeze after a morning rain in a tropical rainforest. Comfortable without being humid.
At the top there is a canopy bridge giving another overview of this indoor forest.
A view of the control tower is a little reminder that you are at the airport. The dome couldn’t be built higher than the tower, so that was a consideration in the design.
At the top level there are various activities to appeal for kids (and big kids). These Sky Nets look like a good place to let your kids run loose after being on a 14 hour flight.
There is also a mirror maze, a hedge maze, and other various activities for children. Here are the “Foggy Bowls”, which seems to be some sort of trap to lure Instagrammers.
The official Changi website has a guide to Instagram-worthy locations at Jewel Changi Airport, so it’s no surprise that this is so Instagram-friendly.
As it was preview week when I went it’s not possible to judge what is a normal crowd yet. During the preview week 500,000 free tickets were issued for visitors, with a three hour time frame for each visit. With a population of over 5.5 million, that’s about a 1/10th of the population of Singapore. Expect more crowds for the rest of the year while curious Singaporeans come and visit their new crown jewel.
Despite the crowds there’s always a way to find room for a selfie.
Food and shopping at Jewel
The forest valley looks so big that it’s hard to believe there is enough space for a mall. The site plan by Safdie Architects gives you an idea of how the space is used.
The mall section forms a ring around the dome, so you eventually end where you started.
The Jewel functions as a stand alone mall that non-travellers would come to visit. Apart from a few signs pointing to the airport there is is no hint that it is part of the airport.
I didn’t think much of the shopping, though I am the wrong person to ask in that regard. One thing that grabbed my attention was this currency exchange machine that offered proper exchange rates. I saw a similar exchange machine at an airport in the UK by a company-I-won’t-name that is famous for terrible exchange rates.
Where the Jewel excels is in the food department. Not surprising given that Singapore is famous for its food. Even at the airport the food is better than any airport I’ve ever been to.
My flight was at 15.30 so I figured I would have lunch here and make a day of it. I was impressed by the diversity of food options here, with so many choices beyond what you would expect at a mall. Starting with the cheapest there are Singaporean kopi tiams serving the classic local breakfast of kaya toast and half-boiled eggs with kopi.
There is a Tim Ho Wan, who seems to be everywhere now.
A Michelin award-winning ramen bar from Japan.
Putien Duotou Clam is a restaurant serving Fujian-style clams, and they were doing a roaring trade when I walked by later.
American-style breakfast by Eggs’n Things from Hawaii.
And Muji not only has a store here, they also have a restaurant to go wth it.
The Michelin-starred Kam’s Roast looked tempting to me.
But I didn’t fancy waiting in line. I’ll be back.
I was actually hoping to try Shake Shack as I’ve never had it, but it was not open during the preview week.
Instead I opted for Tsuta, the Michelin ramen. My palate is too blunted to be able to discern what makes a dish Michelin Star worthy. To paraphrase an old saying, “I don’t know much about ramen, but I know what I like”, and this ramen was great.
I had no intention of getting an ice cream today (something I say to myself every day) until I saw the Black Hawaii ice cream at Aloha Poke. I would never have thought to mix carbon and coconut water, so I’m glad someone else did.
There are plenty of cafes here as well if you just want to pop over for a coffee between flights. I’ll be checking out Coffee@Works on my next stopover.
Starbucks is also here with a Starbucks Reserve store.
And if you are looking for a beer between flights head up to the top for the Tiger Street Lab.
How to see Jewel Changi from the airside
Jewel Changi is located on the landside of the airport so it’s open to the public. If you are just transiting through Changi you will need to clear immigration to view it in all its glory. While that would normally be a hassle for most airports, Singapore has an efficient immigration experience so you can get out fairly easily. My best ever immigration experience was at Changi, and even on a busy hour of the day I’ve never waited more than 30 minutes to get my passport stamped. I couldn’t find average queue times so if anyone knows let me know.
I saw signs in the terminal saying that you should have 5 hours between flights to visit Jewel.
Getting back into the airport is even easier as immigration is now done by scanning your passport, and security is done at each individual gate before the flight boards. It’s no wonder this airport is considered the best in the world.
I ended up spending 2.5 hours inside Jewel, and I could have spend longer just walking around. I think 3 hours between flights would be ok, and at 2 hours you would have enough time to sneak out for a cheeky selfie at the rain vortex. I’m wondering in the future if there are going to be flight delays with passengers going missing in the Jewel. There are no announcements in the Jewel so the onus is on you to get back to your flight in time.
The main entrance is at Terminal 1, with special pedestrian bridges from Terminal 2 and Terminal 3. Terminal 4 passengers can get a shuttle bus or go via Terminal 2.
If you’re pressed for time another option is to get the skytrain between Terminals 2 and 3. This passes through the Jewel enclosure with no way of getting out, so it remains as a secured airside space. Imagine if you didn’t know Jewel exists and you were transiting between terminals and you saw this view. This would make you want to stop in the city next time, which is surely the point of spending 1.7 billion SGD. Here I am writing an unsponsored blog post telling you to go and see this place, so it’s already working.
There are two skytrains, so get the skytrain from Gate E T2 to Gate B T3, not the skytrain from Gate F T2 to Gate A T3. My only concern about this is that it becomes too popular, and passengers that are in urgent transit might be stuck in a crowd of people wanting to see the Jewel.
How to see Jewel Changi from the landside
If you’re already in Singapore then you can visit Jewel like you are going to a regular mall. Indeed, I’ve already read about Singaporeans heading out to Changi just to have Shake Shack for lunch. At the Changi MRT station just follow the signs to Jewel.
If you are getting a flight then give yourself a few hours beforehand to explore. At Jewel there is an early check in service available for select airlines (mostly full-service legacy airlines, plus Singapore low cost airline Scoot).
If your airline is not participating in this service then there is also a baggage storage area, so no need to hump your bags around.
Where to stay
If you are staying in Singapore for longer than a day then you should of course be staying in central Singapore. Here is my guide on where to stay in Singapore. If you are just transiting then you could stay at the Yotel Air, located within the Jewel. They also rent short term rooms, so you could have a wander around and a rest between long connections.
And if you are doing it on the cheap, Changi is a good airport to sleep at.
Jewel Changi far exceed my expectations. It is like being in a movie set, and Jewel architect Moshe Safdie said he drew inspiration from the film Avatar. Too bad it wasn’t ready in time when Crazy Rich Asians came out, but no doubt this is going to feature in many movies and commercials in the future.
Being based in Southeast Asia I already consider what airport to fly through if given a choice of connections, and Singapore was already a favourite for me.
The airport and Jewel are owned by the government of Singapore, and being a hub in a competitive region it makes sense to build something that will keep their leading hub status.
Another beneficiary of this will be Singapore Airlines (also majority owned by the Singapore government investment and holding company Temasek Holdings). SIA already offer an enticing stopover package, so having this attraction to lure visitors away from Middle Eastern and other Southeast Asian hubs is smart.
Hopefully other big hubs like Bangkok and Dubai will look on in envy and decide to make their airports a beautiful place to travel to. For now though Singapore will remain as the world’s best airport.