How to See Singapore On A Layover
If you told me I was going to have a 12 hour layover on a flight, I might have laughed at you and refused to go. Yet while planning a recent trip to Thailand, I scrolled through flights hunting for the longest layover possible at Singapore's Changi Airport, and practically squealed with excitement when I found one 12 hours in length. Changi Airport is one of the highest rated layover airports in the world, not only for the multitude of activities going down in the terminals, but for the ability to quickly and conveniently exit the airport and head downtown to explore.
If you find yourself on a layover at Changi at least 5 hours long, I strongly recommend making the effort to do a bit of city exploration. For those wanting to see all the major tourist sights without the hassle of coordinating logistics and transportation, Changi Airport offers free 2.5 hour city bus tours. You'll be part of a large tour group held to a pre-determined time schedule, but if that fails to turn you off, it's an easy way to see the sights. You can view the tour schedule and eligibility requirements here.
For those desiring a bit more freedom, you can head downtown on your own several ways:
- Taxi - will run you $20-30 from Changi and take about 20 minutes
- Public Bus - details here
- Train - my preferred method for its ease and value (see #3 below for tips and view the station map here)
Regardless of your mode of transportation, check out my list of recommended tips and must-see tourist destinations below to get the most out of your stop over at Changi (and use my Google Map to guide the way).
1. Store Your Bags
Even if you've already checked the bulkiest of your luggage, chances are your carry-ons might weigh you down on your impending excursion, so ditch them! All 3 terminals at Changi have 24 hour "Left Luggage" counters where you can store bags for $4-12 USD depending on the size. For each terminal location, see here.
2. Change Money to SGD
Although the majority of restaurants and attractions in Singapore accept most major credit cards, the electric train system, or Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), does NOT. In fact, the ticket machines for the MRT only accept $2 and $5 Singapore Dollar (SGD) bills. To minimize the hassle, change your currency for SGD before leaving the terminal and ask for some smaller bills.
3. Take the MRT Downtown
With small SGD bills now in hand, follow the airport's "Trains to the City" signs to make your way to the MRT station in the basement of Terminal 2. At the ticket machine, you'll want to purchase a "Standard Ticket" and select your destination station. Ticket price depends on the length of your journey, with most destinations running you $2-3 SGD (about $1.50-2.00 USD). If you're following along my recommended itinerary, continue to step 4 for destination instructions. Otherwise, use the MRT system map to plan your route.
4. Ride the Singapore Flyer
From the Changi MRT station, ride to the Promenade station (see rail map for transfer details) and follow signs for the Singapore Flyer exit. If you've ever seen a photo of Singapore, chances are you've caught a glimpse of the Singapore Flyer. The modern ferris wheel is more of a destination than a singular attraction and is open from 8:30 AM - 10:00 PM. Tickets for a 30 minute ride (1 rotation with 360 degree views of Singapore) will run you about $23 USD for a single rider, with snazzy upgrades like a private dinner for 2 ride, or a champagne "flight" add on. You can check out all of the "experiences" offered here.
5. Explore Gardens by the Bay
From the Singapore Flyer, take a scenic .5 mile walk to Gardens by the Bay. The Gardens by the Bay complex hosts a variety of experiences, including ticketed attractions (Flower Dome / Cloud Forest Conservatories, OCBC Skyway), as well as free ones (Supertree Grove, Dragonfly & Kingfisher Lakes, outdoor gardens, Far East Organization Children's Garden). If limited on time, I recommend at a minimum exploring the Flower Dome and outdoor gardens during the day, or the OCBC Skyway and Supertree Grove in the evening.
6. Visit Marina Bay Sands Hotel
After your encounter with nature at Gardens by the Bay, make your way across the walking bridge to the indoor temple of luxury that is the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Only hotel guests have the privilege of dipping in the Instagram-famous infinity pool, but visitors can soak up the incredible view and snap photos from the hotel's observation deck (if willing to shell out ~$16 USD for the opportunity). Other attractions include the permanent Future World: Where Art Meets Science exhibit and South East Asia's largest water and light show, Wonder Full. If on a budget or in a rush, the impressive hotel lobby is at least worth a walk through.
7. Eat at a Hawker Centre or along Amoy Street
In Singapore, eating is much more of a way of life than a means of sustenance, and its Hawker Centres are a reflection of that culture. Hawker Centres are semi-enclosed buildings with dozens of food stalls, each serving a variety of made-to-order regional and international specialities. The seating is communal and first come, first serve, the scene casual and a bit bustling, and the food delicious. Take a short walk from Marina Bay Sands to snack at the 24 hour Hawker Centre called Lau Pa Sat Festival Market or the even larger Amoy Street Food Centre a few blocks away. If a refined dining experience is more your scene, make your way north to Amoy Street on the edge of Chinatown, once known for its opium-smoking dens during the British Colonial era, but now lined with chic international restaurants, cafes and retail shops.
8. Shop in Chinatown
Singapore's Chinatown is an eclectic, bustling neighborhood of markets, temples, shops, restaurants, and street stalls. The heart of the activity is in Kreta Ayer, where traditional trade shops, hawker food and specialty stores are aplenty. Continue on foot from Amoy Street, making your way to Pagoda and Smith Street to make the most of the street vendor action before stopping at a hawker stall for snacking round 2.
9. Get Drinks at Long Bar at Raffles Hotel
After stocking up on snacks and gifts in Chinatown, head to the iconic Raffles Hotel to rest your legs and unwind at the Long Bar (either via the MRT from the Chinatown station to the City Hall station or by taxi). If the thought of a $16 USD cocktail doesn't make you wince, try the infamous Singapore Sling, the unofficial national cocktail invented by a Long Bar bartender in 1915. UPDATED NOTE: Long Bar is currently under restoration and will not reopen until 2018 but the legendary Singapore Sling is still available at the hotel's Bar & Billiard Room.
10. Take the Train to Changi
Now that you've hopefully jam packed your layover with binge eating, sight seeing and excessive shopping, take another MRT back to Changi from the City Hall station outside Raffles Hotel. Give yourself at least 30 minutes to get to the airport and another 60-90 minutes to get re-checked in and through security for your flight. If short on time, splurge for a $20-30 taxi and the added peace of mind.
I hope this list and the map below provide a helpful guide to planning a layover adventure in Singapore. I'd love to get your questions or comments, or hear about YOUR layover experience in Singapore so comment below or shoot me a note!