I flew via Singapore and had long layovers there both times I went to Indonesia and also on my way to Australia. That’s six long flight layovers in Singapore; you could almost say I’m an expert on the matter. I’m usually not a fan of layovers, but if there’s one place where I didn’t mind having multiple 12-hour layovers, it was Singapore Changi Airport! In this ultimate Singapore layover guide I’ve put together all my knowledge from my numerous long layovers in Singapore to help you maximise your brief stay in this beautiful city, read on to find out everything you need to know!
- 1 Organising your long layover in Singapore
- 2 What to do on your Singapore layover option 1 – Marina Bay
- 3 What to do during your long layover in Singapore option 2 – Chinatown & Little India
- 4 What to do on your Singapore layover option 3 – free guided tour organised by Changi Airport
- 5 Where to eat during a Singapore layover
Organising your long layover in Singapore
Before I jump straight into the best things to do I want to cover the technicalities of doing a long layover in Singapore, covering all the basics like where do you leave your suitcase, how do you get into the city centre and so on. My main tip is to do all your research and book entry tickets for places beforehand. If you have a limited amount of time you don’t want to be spending that time Google-ing what to do or queuing to get tickets for places.
Can I leave my luggage at Singapore Changi Airport?
Yes. If you’re flying carry on only understandably you don’t want to take your bags with for 12 hours around Singapore. All terminals have baggage storage available 24 hours a day. At Terminal 4 it’s one small tiny room with only two people working there so be ready to wait for a bit if there’s a queue (I don’t know what the other terminals are like, they might be bigger and quicker). Prices vary depending on suitcase size, I paid 10 Singaporean Dollars (SGD) for the whole day for my carry-on trolley. One thing to note is that they won’t take computers or other valuables so if like me you’re travelling with your laptop be ready to carry it around for the next 12 hours.
How do I get from Singapore Changi Airport to the city centre?
The two easiest ways to get from Singapore Changi Airport to the city centre of Singapore are either by taxi or with the MRT train service. The MRT costs around 2 SGD versus the 20 SGD of a taxi, however it can take up to an hour whilst the taxi will get you there in 15 minutes. Even if you have a long layover in Singapore, I would personally recommend getting a taxi as you don’t want to waste 2 hours out of your 12 hours in Singapore in the MRT just trying to get into the city centre and back. Once you’re in centre of Singapore however the MRT is the best way to get around, it’s quick, efficient and covers all the different areas of the city centre. A taxi instead is quite likely to get stuck in traffic and waste you lots of time. So to recap; I recommend getting a taxi from Changi Airport into Singapore, and then using the MRT to get around central Singapore.
Do I need a visa to leave the airport in Singapore?
It depends on where you’re from but most nationalities can enter Singapore without a visa. You just fill in a landing card on arrival, they stamp your passport and you’re good to leave the airport and explore Singapore. Check the official Singapore immigration website to find out what the visa requirements for you are.
What is the currency in Singapore?
In Singapore they use Singaporean Dollars (SGD). The exchange rate at the time I was visiting for the first time (December 2017) was very convenient, 1 SGD was 0.60 GBP. Check here for the latest exchange rate. Pretty much everywhere I went in Singapore (bars, restaurants, museums, taxis etc) accepted card. Personally since my bank doesn’t charge me extra for transactions abroad and I was only spending 12 hours in Singapore I didn’t want to end up with spare Singaporean Dollar notes and coins, so I just paid everything by card. If you want to have cash there are exchange kiosks in the airport, but the rate is never particularly convenient, so you are better off either taking out cash in the airport or changing when you arrive in the city centre.
What to do on your Singapore layover option 1 – Marina Bay
So finally, we are done with technicalities and are ready to jump in the meat of this article: what are the best things to do in Singapore if you are only visiting for a 12-hour flight layover? I’ve been lucky enough to have more than one long layover in Singapore, which allowed me to see different parts of the city on different occasions. I grouped the various activities that you can do around Singapore in 12 hours geographically, so that you can limit how much travelling around Singapore you have to do. However public transport in Singapore is extremely efficient, so if there is something from option 2 you would rather see instead of an activity listed here feel free to mix and match the itineraries.
Check out the view from the Sands SkyPark Observation Deck
I started my day at the viewing platform on top of Marina Bay Sands, also known as the Sands SkyPark Observation Deck. The view from up there is really stunning and it’s also surprising how varied it is. On one side you can admire the colourful nature of Gardens by the Bay with all the green trees and blue of the sea next to it, whilst on the other there are all the tall skyscrapers of the city. There is also a coffee shop on the viewing deck if you feel like having a drink while enjoying the view. I struggled a little to find how to get to the top since my taxi had dropped me off on the other side of the hotel, it’s easier to find if you head straight for Tower 3. The price to access the observation deck is 23 SGD, which is a bit expensive considering it’s just for the view. I was there on a Tuesday morning and there was no queue, however it’s always better to buy a ticket online if you can and save yourself some time on the day.
Visit Gardens by the Bay
Gardens by the Bay are possibly the most recognisable attraction in Singapore. We have all seen photos of the big metal trees at night lit up with purple lights. Since I was spending such a brief amount of time in Singapore, this was definitely at the top of my list of places to see. After seeing the view from the SkyPark Observation I went back inside Marina Bay Sands to find a way to get to Gardens by the Bay. The road between the two is very trafficked and it didn’t look like I could cross it walking. Inside Marina Bay instead there is an indoors-pedestrian bridge that will get you across. You might have to walk around inside a bit to find the right door but all the staff is really friendly and were happy to give me directions when I asked. Access to the gardens is free and you can walk around almost everywhere, but you do have to pay for some of the attractions inside.
The Supertree Grove
The Supertree Grove, as the name implies, is the main attraction with the big colourful trees. It’s a very recognisable landmark so even if you don’t have Google maps or another map way to get around you can easily see them from other parts of Gardens by the Bay and walk towards them. It’s free to walk around them however if you want to access the walkway halfway up the height of the trees you have to pay an entry fee.
The OCBC Skyway
When you get to the Supertree Grove you will notice that there is a walkway path that connects some of the trees. I didn’t pre-book a ticket for this as I didn’t think I would have time for it or that it was particularly exciting, however when I got there and saw how big the trees were I knew I just had to see the view from up there. I bought a ticket for 8 SGD from the kiosk just under the trees but then had to wait 15 minutes or so since the wind had picked up and they momentarily closed the skyway. It doesn’t take long to walk along the walkway since it is only 128 metres long, however everybody takes their time taking photos along the way.
Conservatory Cloud Forest & Flower Dome
The conservatories in Gardens by the Bay are one of the main attractions of this area of Singapore. Similarly to the OCBC Skyway I hadn’t pre-booked a ticket for these either, as I wasn’t sure I would have time to visit them. When it got to around 5pm and I realised I still had some time I decided I couldn’t miss the highest indoor waterfall in Singapore. By then Gardens by the Bay started getting more crowded and I had to wait approximately 15-minutes in the queue of the ticket kiosk. If you know you want to visit the conservatories it’s once again easier to book online if you can. Entry prices are 12 SGD to one conservatory or 20 SGD for two. I only visited the Cloud Forest as I didn’t have much time and it’s the one I found more interesting. If you’re looking for more information on these attractions, check out this Gardens by the Bay guide.
Visit the ArtScience Museum
After spending so much time walking around Gardens by the Bay in the boiling Singaporean heat (it was only 26°C really but it felt like a lot more) the ArtScience Museum with its cool air-conditioning was my favourite part of Singapore. Not just because of the air-con, it is seriously awesome. There are different exhibitions within the museum, I only visited the Future World exhibition, as I didn’t think I had enough time to see them all and I was more interested in science than the natural history exhibition. Like most of the other places I visited the ArtScience Museum was also relatively empty and without queues, however I still recommend buying a ticket online beforehand to avoid the queues. Tickets to a single exhibition are 17 SGD or 28 SGD for a double exhibition ticket.
The Future World exhibition definitely deserves a visit. Everything is interactive and there are stations all throughout where you can play educational games. My favourite was the aquarium, where they gave you a sheet of paper with the outline of a fish drawn on it for you to colour in. Once you were happy with your fish you could scan it and it would appear on the wall swimming around with the fish drawn by other people. The part that blew my mind was that the wall was somehow sensitive to touch and if you touched your fish it would react like a real fish in an aquarium when you tap the glass and swim away.
What to do during your long layover in Singapore option 2 – Chinatown & Little India
On my second long layover in Singapore, having already seen all the main attractions around Marina Bay Sands, I decided I wanted to venture out of the airport anyway but see a different part of this city. If you don’t spend hours inside the ArtScience Museum like I did, you might actually be able to cover both options in the same 12-hour layover.
As you may have guessed from the name, this is centre of the Indian community in Singapore. It’s especially famous for the colourful temples and houses that you can find here. In a brief period of time you can visit three beautiful temples; Sri Veeramakaliamman (good luck asking for directions!), Sri Srinivasa Perumal and the Temple of a Thousand Lights. An iconic Little India spot is the colourful house of Tan Teng Niah, which as you may imagine from the name is actually a relic of the Chinese colonisation of Singapore but you have to thank the Indian community for its bright colours and building upkeep.
Continuing on the streak of original names, Chinatown is the main Chinese hub in Singapore. It’s fairly close to Little India and is a very interesting area of Singapore to explore. Composed by a maze of narrow streets in Chinatown you will find all sorts of street food stalls, souvenir shops, indie boutiques, trendy wine bars and much more. If the Singaporean heat is becoming a bit too much you can also take refuge in one of the big malls dotted around Chinatown, there’s nothing like a bit of shopping and aircon to cool you down!
Walk along Clarke Quay to the Esplanade Bridge
Clarke Quay is a historical riverside quay, which has now become a popular area with lots of bars, restaurants and clubs. If you have a layover in Singapore in the evening it’s the perfect area to go to experience the Singapore nightlife. If your layover is during the day I still recommend going for a walk along Clarke Quay, it’s a very pretty area and there are lots of cool places to eat. Plus day drinking isn’t frowned upon when you’re flying so I’d say you’re allowed a cheeky pint even in the middle of the day. From Clarke Quay you walk along the Esplanade Bridge until you reach the famous Merlion statue, from here there’s a pretty good view of Marina Bay Sands and the ArtScience Museum from across the bay.
Koon Seng Road
Koon Seng Road is a bit further out compared to the other locations on this guide, but is a very unique spot and worth a visit. Here you won’t find the tall skyscrapers typical of Singapore, but cute little colourful houses that were built in the 1920s. Admittedly there isn’t much to do here other than take photos of the houses, but if you’re looking to add a pop of colour to your Instagram, this is the perfect place to do so! It was my last stop of the day since it’s on the way towards the airport, you can either take the MRT there and then a taxi to the airport from there or even just ask your taxi driver to drive through it and stop quickly for photos. It’s a nice little stop you can do to finish your long layover in Singapore.
What to do on your Singapore layover option 3 – free guided tour organised by Changi Airport
You’ve read that right, Changi Airport organises free guided tours of Singapore if you have a layover that is at least 5.5 hours. Now you’re probably wondering, why the hell am I only telling you this now? Because personally I prefer to have the freedom to do my own thing, even if it means paying a little bit more for it, than being ushered around on a tour without time to stop and enjoy it. Also the tours only last 2.5 hours, if like me you have a 12-hour layover you will want to spend longer in Singapore.
If you have a shorter layover in Singapore and are interested in the free tour, here are the essential things you should know. To be eligible for the free tour you have to have a layover of at least 5.5 hours and less than 24 hours, and your flight schedule has to fit with their tour timing slot requirements. The tours are booked on a first-come-first-serve basis and they only accept walk-in registrations. There are two types of tours; the Heritage Tour that takes you to the Colonial District, the CBD, the Merlion Park, Little India, Kampong Glam and the Malay Heritage Centre, which runs five times a day, and the City Sights Tour that only runs twice a day in the late afternoon / evening and takes you to the Singapore Flyer, the Esplanade, Marina Bay Sands, Gardens by the Bay, the Merlion Park and the Marina Bay Financial Centre. For more details about the free city tours from Singapore airport click here.
Where to eat during a Singapore layover
You always hear about how expensive Singapore is, however if you know where to go there are lots of affordable meal options. Especially since every time I’ve been there on a layover I’ve always been around the main tourist highlights I figured the prices there would have a pretty big tourist premium. In Gardens by the Bay there’s an area called Satay by the Bay (too clever a pun to ignore it if you ask me) and it had the best chicken satay I’ve eaten in a long time. It’s not one restaurant but a big food court area like the ones you might find in malls so there are lots of choices for everyone.
Another excellent place to eat I can recommend in Singapore is Hawker Chan, also known as the world’s cheapest Michelin starred restaurant. This is a small diner where you order at the counter, take a seat and when your number buzzes go back to the counter to pick up your tray and food. Here you can try the famous chicken rice dish that earned chef Chan Hon Meng a Michelin star back when we only had a street food stall. We had a meal for two for less than 10 GBP. If you only have 12 hours or less in Singapore I think these are much better options than sitting down at a restaurant, waiting to order, waiting to be served etc and wasting a couple hours of your layover. (Hawker Chan always has a huge queue though so if you want to avoid the crowds go at an odd meal time eg. well before or after lunch time, we were there at 3:30pm and only waited 15 minutes)
Have you done a layover in Singapore before? How did you find it? Let me know in the comments below! I updated this Singapore layover guide to include more activities that I did on my other Singapore layovers, if there are other cool things you recommend doing in Singapore in 12 hours let me know, I’d love to include them! Singapore is definitely one of the best cities to do a long layover in, I hope you will find this guide useful in planning your own long layover in Singapore. If you have an overnight layover in Singapore check out this guide to doing a night layover in Singapore or if you would rather sleep in a hotel this guide to the coolest rooftop pool hotels in Singapore. If you can’t get enough of Singapore and want to spend longer there, check out these 100+ awesome things to do in Singapore.