Gardens by the Bay, Singapore. 

Changi Airport, Singapore


Anyone who has spent time there will confirm that when Singapore decides to build something, it is done with speed, efficiency and sometimes a real flair for design.

From the huge Tampines Mall – a spacious suburban shopping centre with a library overlooking the football stadium, a free cinema, supermarket, dozens of hawker food stalls and service stores, to the towering buildings along Orchard Road, Singapore delivers jaw-dropping architecture and thoughtful design.

Nowhere more so than the spectacular Marina Bay Sands, the three-pillared hotel and dining complex with bars, the ArtScience Museum, shopping and an infinity pool on the top floor where you can take in the sunset with a cocktail, 55 floors above the world.

And at night in the nearby Gardens by the Bay the free Son et Lumière show attracts locals and visitors alike for the colourful lights running up and down the futuristic tree-like structures. It's like being in Avatar

Even those who simply pass through Singapore's Changi Airport will often speak in glowing terms of terminals with wide passageways between excellent shops and eateries, roof gardens, a butterfly garden and entertainment areas. Singapore even manages to make airports interesting.

The incredible interior waterfall at Jewel Singapore.

The incredible interior waterfall at Jewel Singapore.

“But you wouldn't have seen Jewel,” said my sister who has lived in the city-state for years.

It was the morning after we'd had evening drinks at Marina Bay Sands, danced at the Gardens by the Bay light show and enjoyed cold beer and excellent cheap eats at the nearby hawkers’ market.

She'd been right about all those places, a harbourside lunch at Sentosa and on a previous trip had pointed me to the beautiful Atlas Bar – voted one of the 50 best bars in the world – in the Parkview building, which itself looks beamed in from Batman's Gotham.

“When you get home people will ask if you've seen Jewel,” she said. “We have to go there.”

And so we went to Jewel with just the barest description of a mall and garden area at Changi Airport. It didn't sound like my thing but…

The latest addition to this busy airport is breathtaking and one not many tourists will have experienced because the spectacular, ten-storey Jewel Changi complex only opened in 2019.

Canopy Park nets at Jewel Singapore.

Canopy Park nets at Jewel Singapore.

With people getting on aircraft again and many going to or through Singapore, the Jewel is a must-see, if only for the spectacular Rain Vortex indoor waterfall which, surrounded by gardens and bathed in light by day, is the largest indoor waterfall in the world. It is 40 metres high and like liquid architecture falling in a natural extension from the curve of the roof.

Jewel is a destination in itself with floors of retail outlets – over 300 in total – but also a restful garden walk beneath the geometric glass panels on the roof. This is Canopy Park, with a whimsical topiary garden which will delight children – a colourful alligator, elephant, gorillas, an owl and a spectacular peacock made of flowers and greenery – as well suspended nets to climb on, mazes and slides. And, of course, there are small restaurants for those tired from their journey or simply wanting to take in the ambience.

Jewel boasts one of the region's largest indoor gardens and, because it is part of the airport, there are links to the three terminals with early check-in lounges for more than two dozen carriers.

The rooftop gardens at Jewel Singapore

The rooftop gardens at Jewel Singapore.

Although much of Jewel is open to the public free of charge, there's a modest S$5 charge (less than NZ$6) for Canopy Park's slides, topiary walk, the Foggy Bowls where children play in the cool mist and the Petal Garden. There are additional charges for the Hedge and Mirrors Mazes and the Sky Nets, but also cheaper family passes.

Even in the endless parade of Singapore's extraordinary buildings and civic design, Jewel is something special.

Airports are usually places people pass through with varying degrees of frustration, irritation and haste. Jewel Changi Airport has changed that; it makes you want to linger.

In fact, we stood almost speechless for 15 minutes just looking at that astonishing Rain Vortex, thinking how Singapore does things with real flair.


Story by Graham Reid for the Autumn 2023 issue of AA Directions magazine. 

Explore more international travel stories while you're here: 

More from AA Directions

Find out more

Waiheke Island: home away from home

Kathryn Webster discovers unexpected things to do on Waiheke Island. Read the story . . . 

Find out more

Road Trip: Christchurch to Dunedin in a Mustang

Jo Percival takes a colour-filled road trip between Christchurch and Dunedin in a hired Mustang – with a teenager in tow. Read the story . . . 

Find out more

A family escape to Taupō

A family-friendly long weekend, meeting in the middle at Lake Taupō. Read the story . . . 

Find out more

Top Spot: Jennifer Ward-Lealand

Actress, te reo advocate and former New Zealander of the Year, Jennifer Ward-Lealand shares her favourite place to unwind. Read the story . . .