Layovers are the worst. Right? You’re all packed and ready to start having the vacation you’ve so carefully planned out. You’ve already made it through one airport’s pre-boarding routine. You’ve even dealt with the ear-popping air pressure of one takeoff and landing, just to wait for the next round to begin. To make it even harder, every minute spent in layover is one of the final minutes between you and your ultimate destination. But killing time in an airport doesn’t always have to be a drag.
The most modernized airports have spent a lot of time and money making their pre-flight experience worth the wait. With meditation and massage rooms, free Wi-Fi, multi-level malls, and much more, some airports go above and beyond to ensure that the time you need to fill within them doesn’t go to waste. You won’t feel stuck in limbo with relaxing activities and amenities at your fingertips.
We’ve rounded up 21 layover locations that you will actually be happy to visit. We know they’re the best options because these are the specific airports that air cabin staff actually enjoy spending time in. Who better to ask about airport luxury than pilots and flight attendants themselves? Trust these international experts to give you the real lowdown on an airport’s cleanliness, accessibility, comfort and most importantly, interest factor.
We swear that some travellers even rework their trip itineraries to spend time in an exotic layover space. If this doesn’t sound like something you would ever do, read on and see if these 21 must-see airports can change your mind.
21 Bangkok Suvarnabhumi, Thailand
This airport offers treats for each and every one of your senses – great antidotes to the stifling experience of sitting through flights. Whether you’re after some sweet Thai treats or a massage/spa treatment, Bangkok Suvarnabhumi has you covered.
“What I love most about BKK is that you can get to-go pad thai and mango sticky rice on either side of security, which is helpful if you have a long layover,”
says Annie Kingston, a flight attendant with Emirates airlines. “You can even buy beautiful Thai orchids on the way out that are properly packaged so that they can survive your upcoming flight and be enjoyed at your next destination.” There’s even a bookstore with a wide range of English titles, which can be hard to come by at other far-East airports. Grab a book, a snack, and a pedicure while you wait for your connecting flight.
20 Innsbruck Airport, Austria
“Innsbruck Kranebitten Airport in Austria is my favourite airport,” pilot Rob Kooyman tells The Telegraph. “The views of the Alps on most days are just amazing.”
Nestled in a stunning alpine mountain range, this airport is one of Austria’s largest, handling lots of international traffic between the western world and further European destinations. That makes it a popular layover spot for many trips heading from North America to countries like Italy, Poland, or the Balkans.
Innesbruck offers plenty of ways to pass the time, including airport tours. Dedicated airport guides take globetrotters like you through the airport’s most scenic spaces and shopping spots, sharing historical facts about the region along the way. If you have time to step outside the airport, the town hosts Sound of Music sing-along tours, too! #TheHillsAreAlive
19 Miami International Airport, USA
If you’re taking a long-haul trip that involves a layover, you’re probably going to be subjected to airplane food somewhere along the way. A layover at the extra-artsy Miami International Airport can serve as a great culinary pit stop. It has well-known restaurants and bistros with real, Latin Miami flavour.
“Whenever I pass through MIA, I make certain to stop at La Carreta and order one of my all-time favorite meals, vaca frita,”
says American Airlines flight attendant Christy Kurzeia. “Vaca frita is this perfectly salty, garlicky, oily shredded beef that is somehow pan fried until the edges become wonderfully crispy-chewy, and is topped with sautéed onions. My mouth waters just thinking about it” Even if your layover isn’t long enough for a full meal, hit up MIA’s Café Versailles for a cup of authentic Cuban coffee. It’ll definitely give you the strength you need to make it through that next flight.
18 Seattle Tacoma Airport, USA
Sea-Tac Airport is the epitome of comfort and cool. Seattle is known for its uniquely laidback energy, music scene, and iconic coffee (Starbucks was born here!) – so you know you’re in for a good time in this layover location.
Grab yourself an iced latte and enjoy the view through the airport’s floor-to-ceiling windows. There’s usually live music in the main terrace, so keep an ear out for up and coming Seattle indie bands. The Fleet Foxes, Macklemore, and Jimi Hendrix all got their start in Seattle, so you never know.
“The art exhibitions that pop up between the main terminal and the A gates are always beautiful,” adds SkyWest employee Zohar Gewing-Derechinsky. “As far as operations go, Seattle is usually a good bet for avoiding weather delays and cancellations, compared to other major international hubs — it’s quick, reliable, clean, and safe.”
17 Wellington International Airport, New Zealand
It’s one New Zealand airport to rule them all! If hobbits flew first class, they’d choose the earthy luxury of Wellington International Airport to gear up for every journey. An architectural marvel, this airport features a lounge called The Rock, pictured above. It’s encased in a mosaic of geometric wooden panels designed to relax and inspire waiting passengers.
Of course we can’t list this airport without mentioning its insanely detailed Lord of The Rings décor! Find Gollum fishing above the food court, stone dwarves standing guard at customs, and sleeping giants in the entryway.
Consider yourself lucky to have a layover here anytime in the next five years, while Wellington is using an extravagant $250 million expansion budget to add even more luxury lounge spaces and passenger perks to its main terminal.
16 Ilulissat Airport, Greenland
Sometimes when you’re in for a layover, you’re less interested in exciting activity options than some good old peace and quiet. A layover in the right space can offer you a peaceful moment to reflect and prepare for adventures to come. Ilulissat Airport in Greenland is perfect for just that.
Flying into this airport is a pleasure all on its own, with views of truly breathtaking pure white glaciers and icebergs sprinkled across the Nordic landscape. Once you land, you’ll find a clean, quaint airport, designed to offer you clear views of the natural beauty surrounding it.
“Because of its location north of the Arctic Circle, it is one of the most peaceful places that I have ever been to,” says Stratajet pilot Jonny Nicol.“You can’t help but be captured by the serenity of the place.”
15 Helsinki Airport, Finland
International travel is just inherently stressful. Helsinki Airport has chic spaces designed to help you find your zen in the hustle and bustle of it all. And we know how cramped it can get on flights that can last hours and hours.
Give yourself space to relax in the airport’s open-concept yoga studio. It’s equipped with mats and built against a window with a stellar view of departing planes.
Yogis hold free, open classes here during the airports high-traffic times. But even if yoga isn’t your thing, you’ll definitely feel its benefits in this chilled out scenic spot. “It is nice to stretch, breathe, and separate yourself from people in between legs sometimes,” says Jordan Bishop from American Airlines. “The whole terminal is just very open with high ceilings, a lot of sunlight, and a layout that allows you to forget for a second that you’re in an airport at all.”
14 Great Barrier Reef Airport, Australia
Who could pass up an opportunity to see the Great Barrier Reef? Flying into the Great Barrier Reef Airport on Hamilton Island, even for a brief layover, gives you access to the spectacular ocean landscape surrounding it.
There’s no other way to see the entire reef all at once with your own eyes. From above, you’ll get to appreciate the scope and depth of this natural wonder. From within the airport, you get a closer view of the scene and service from Australia’s top notch hospitality staff.
“The approach to Hamilton takes you across beautiful island beaches and turquoise ocean vistas…and the airport is next to a marina,” Quantas Airline captain Al Crawford tells The Telegraph. “The surroundings, along with the demeanour of the staff, make you feel more relaxed as soon as you arrive. It makes you never want to leave!”
13 Dubai International Airport, UAE
Since it opened in 1960, Dubai International Airport has evolved to become the most used airport in the entire world. Spending a layover here, you could witness thousands of passengers arriving and departing from the mega indulgent city of Dubai – likely including some major celebrities. In recent months this airport has welcomed JLo, the Kardashians, Will Smith and his family, and countless more high-flyers. Best celeb spotting zones are the Zen Gardens (complete with fish ponds) or the VIP lounges accessible to business and first class passengers.
If you feel like escaping from it all, terminal one has your best option: ‘Snoozecubes.’ They’re available to rent by the hour and feature one comfortable bed, a touchscreen TV, and completely soundproof walls.
If those don’t float your boat, try a jacuzzi, sauna, or steamroom just steps away from your arrival gate. This airport is the perfect place for a little bit of luxe before your next takeoff.
12 Tokyo International Airport Haneda, Japan
Tokyo’s Haneda Airport has come a long way! Haneda is a historic town located on Tokyo Bay. Back before 1930, old-fashioned aviators used the beaches of the bay as landing strips. Today the airport built on this site is one of the world’s busiest and best ranked. In 2018, it was voted the World's Cleanest Airport by prestigious travel organization Skytrax.
If you have a trip with a layover in Japan, aim to land yourself in Haneda Airport for the full five-star travel experience.
It has sleek, high-tech information kiosks to help you navigate between terminals, and award-winning staff that will ensure your time in Haneda is perfectly pleasant. It also contains replicas of great Japanese landmarks, so you can witness marvels like Nihonbashi bridge without actually venturing outside the airport’s walls. This is the place to experience clean, polite, and culturally vibrant Japanese culture on a short timeline.
11 Istanbul International Airport, Turkey
Sip a world-famous Turkish coffee from bespoke Mediterranean china at the Istanbul International Airport, a top choice for anyone whose travels take them through the Middle East.
Istanbul has been an international meeting place and stopping point for centuries. Now this airport accommodates a diverse array of travellers from the far reaches of the globe, every single day. Rich and colourful Turkish culture has changed with the times while keeping its own unique authentic vibe, and it’s all accessible through the gates of this airport. Think turquoise trinkets, hot falafel, and more.
One last benefit to stopping here: despite being a hotspot of history and culture, this airport is being demolished in an unnamed upcoming year to make way for the Istanbul New Airport, a bigger option designed to accommodate Istanbul’s rapidly growing tourist population.
10 O’Hare International Airport, USA
You might find yourself with a layover at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport when you fly between North American hubs like New York and LA or Toronto and Miami. A short stop or a long rest are both fun and productive options here.
Instead of trying to sleep away your in-transit hours, why not get a workout in? There’s a fully equipped gym across from terminals 1, 2, and 3 where you can burn off the calories from your in-flight meal.
Then take a swim or head to the airport spa for a facial. You’ll have earned it! There’s also a farmer’s market in terminal 3 where you can stock up on fresh fruit and veg for your next flight. Above it all stands a 72-foot tall brachiosaurus skeleton, a nod to the awe-inspiring dinosaur exhibit at Chicago’s nearby Field Museum. Take it all in at Chicago O’Hare.
9 Zurich International Airport, Switzerland
Zurich Airport cracks the top ten by being notoriously eco-friendly. It is one of few modern airports to adopt an environmentalist mandate, seeking to reduce its ecological impact as much as it can (with passengers’ help!).
International airports are rarely quiet, but airport officials in Zurich take noise pollution seriously. They charge fees for aircraft noise that exceeds the standard amount of sound produced by planes of specific categories. They also collect and reuse all water used for aircraft de-icing, and employ a system that makes their toilets flush rainwater.
Zurich Airport has also channelled some resources into managing what the airport calls “passenger flows.” With a stop here, you can expect to encounter no stress or obstacles between your corresponding gates. We’re certain you’ll enjoy the peace, quiet, and fresh air this airport has to offer.
8 Hong Kong International Airport, Hong Kong
Speedy customs, a friendly atmosphere, and above-and-beyond entertainment options put Hong Kong International Airport on our list.
With a nine-hole golf course, shopping mall, and IMAX theatre (!) it’s easy to see how this airport attracts millions of passengers.
So many travellers stop here that you could easily find yourself sharing dim sum and a movie with a truly international crowd. Don’t worry about any language barriers, though. There are English translations on every sign, and friendly multi-lingual staff eager to help you make your connection. “Getting through the check-in process, security, and customs took me less than 30 to 45 minutes (during peak travel season), which is saying a lot about how important it is for them to get customers to their final destination stress-free.“ says Rachel Mayse from United Airlines. “They answered any questions about gates, departure, security, or concerns with a smile on their faces.”
7 Incheon International Airport, South Korea
K-Pop superstardom and international fashion appeal make South Korea a modern dream destination. But what if you’re only touching down in Seoul between flights? For the best and most quintessentially Korean range of shops, you’ll be lucky to have a layover at South Korea’s Incheon Airport.
“If I ever need to pick up a gift for a special occasion or feel like treating myself to something new, I can rest assured that I won’t have to look very far,” says Hawaiian Airlines Flight Attendant Heather Sanchez.
Fashion lovers can peruse high-end retailers like Miu Miu, Prada, and Givenchy. It’s a great opportunity to see this season’s designer styles all showcased under one roof. Look out for purchases to feature in your upcoming holiday’s Snap stories. There’s also plenty of adorable shots to capture within Incheon's terminals. Hello Kitty Café, anyone? Cuteness overload!
6 Vancouver International Airport, Canada
Since hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics, Vancouver’s already top-notch infrastructure has endured an even bigger quality boost. The fast and clean public transportation, lively local art scene, and environmental greatness all seep into the Vancouver International Airport, your gateway to Australia and Asia from Canada’s side of the Pacific. Because the airport expects many of its occupants to be passengers waiting between connecting flights, it offers plenty of space for leisure.
Vancouver Airport has multiple aquarium exhibits, for example. You can also dive into Canadian cultural exhibitions that take place among the totem poles and sculptures made by Canadian First Nations artists.
Catch a glimpse of the mountains while reclining in the pure West Coast atmosphere of van-city. We’re talking Green Bean Café smoothies, Sweet Maple Lounge chairs, and safe, reliable Canadian service.
5 Hamad International Airport, Qatar
As Qatar prepares to host the World Cup in 2022, its Hamad International Airport just gets more and more luxurious. It’s located in Doha, the capital city of Qatar, and already accommodates 30 million passengers annually.
Hamad International Airport was voted the Best Airport in the Middle East by Skytrax in 2018. Like Zurich Airport this site is blissfully quiet, but not for noise pollution reasons. Hamad has a silent air policy, meaning no flight announcements echo throughout the space – airline staff communicate by earpiece without disturbing passengers. The only thing broadcast through the airport are the daily Islamic calls to prayer. Check out the adjacent mosque for inspiring architecture and meditation.
The elite Al Mourjan lounge measures 10,000 square meters and includes some incredible water features. There are also showers, sleeping booths, a games area equipped with X-boxes, and a futuristic indoor train that will help you glide effortlessly to your next gate.
4 Long Beach Airport, USA
Long Beach airport makes our top five for being literally open-air. You can wait for your flight under the wide blue sky of Los Angeles. This makes a nice break for anyone subjected to breathing stifled airplane air for hours at a time. “This small airport has always left a huge impact on me,” says Leah Cravenho, a flight attendant from JetBlue.
“At this airport, you can literally wait for your flight outside, while still being past the security checkpoint. There is even a wine bar with fire pits where you can sit and wait for your flight.”
As if that wasn’t cool enough, Long Beach Airport funnels dozens of celebrities through its gates on the regular. Pass the time by celebrity spotting and witnessing Hollywood paparazzi firsthand. Book a trip with a Long Beach layover during the next festival season and let Coachella come to you.
3 Heathrow Airport, UK
One of the best parts about layovers is the chance to get a taste of somewhere new on the way to your chosen destination. It’s like a little bonus visit! If there's one airport that gives you the feeling of its city without you having to venture into the outside world, it’s London’s Heathrow.
“LHR has a wonderful variety of shops for those last-minute, must-have purchases,” says Delta flight attendant Melinda Zengin. “My fave store is Boots — they have their own cosmetics line! I also must stop by Pret A Manger.”
Whether you stay for 15 minutes or 8 hours, you’ll feel like you’ve experienced London on your way to wherever you’re actually headed. Friendly British airport staff, traditional UK food, and even a view of those red double-decker buses can satisfy every Anglophile. Think Jamie Oliver’s own restaurant, a Harrods clothing outlet, a Harry Potter souvenir shop, and more.
2 Munich Airport, Germany
Lucky for you, this airport is a fantastic place to spend a few hours getting acquainted with German culture.
“It is literally the gateway to the world with connecting flights all over Europe, Asia, and Africa,” says Sonya Payne from Jet Blue. “There are tons of food and shopping options to help pass the time.”
Munich Airport has got 150 diverse shops and boutiques throughout 43,000 square meters of indoor mall space, along with an event venue that hosts a range of extreme sport exhibitions from surfing to cycling and beyond. It offers private nap cabins for you to fight jetlag, but don’t you feel like you’d be missing out if you used them?
1 Singapore Changi Airport, Singapore
Singapore Changi International Airport is really untouchable at our number one spot. It has won more than 500 "World's Best Airport" awards since it opened, including Skytrax’s best airport ranking for the past five years. Anyone who’s been lucky enough to pass through knows exactly why.
The airport's exclusive amenities include multiple pools, a movie theatre, a butterfly garden, and a roller coaster. That’s right. A roller coaster. The airport itself runs like a well-oiled machine, with the promise that your bags will be ready on the baggage carousel within 15 minutes of your plane’s landing. They also have two movie theatres playing movies back-to-back, 24/7.
Friendly greeters (18 at each terminal!) will help you make sure you don’t miss a thing during your layover at Changi. From the art gallery to the waterfall bar, a layover here is never a pit stop on the way to your next adventure – it’s an adventure all its own.
Sources: The Telegraph, Refinery29, The Independent