Even for a no-frills or expert backpacker, there can be times where you get a little tiresome of the same old hum drum business at the airport. The same old cafeteria style menu options with the exorbitant markup graciously added, the laundry list of rules that you might feel are constantly changing which inevitably causes pangs each time you approach the security cue. There's also the maddening maze that is the general nature of most international airports.
It seems that in a massive effort to offset these frustrations that many airports have gone the extra lengths to create distractions or top shelf amenities to supply travellers with a little something to look forward to. We figured it best to compile a list of 25 shockingly great offerings at airports around the world from therapy dogs to a full-on planetarium, this list oughta put a little pep in your step on your next trip to a new airport.
Just when you thought that you had seen and done it all...
25 A Charging/Cycling Station in Indianapolis International
Feeling a bit drained? Whether it's your cell phone, laptop or your energy levels have hit a new low, feel free to swing over to Concourse B in Indianapolis International Airport to recharge your batteries. Literally.
Human powered kiosks by WeWatt means you can plonk down, plug in your device and get your heart-rate up all in one go!
For any more active travellers it can simply be a way to blow off some steam before your flight and boost circulation which can be amiss when sitting on any longer duration flights. If you're a social media superstar, get ready to sweat it out before you can send out those Snaps.
24 Indie House Movie Theatres
We are all fairly acquainted with the in-flight movie. It is honestly one of my favourite parts of travelling because I forever assimilate any new movies I've seen for the first time to that particular plane ride.
But what happens when you're stuck in a long layover and you forgot to upload all your favourite programs to your thumb drive? Well if you're at Minneapolis St Paul International or Portland International airports, you are in luck because these airports boast full cinemas!
The movies you can screen will be unique to their locations and are meant to showcase local talent. If you're looking for a blockbuster, you can visit Singapore's Changi airport, or for a 3D or 6D IMAX experience there's Hong Kong International or Delhi's Indira Ghandi Airports respectively.
23 A Michelin Star Rating in Stuttgart Airport
When thinking ahead to your travel day and how you might keep yourself nourished at the airport, you're hardly expecting gourmet standards. From soggy iceberg salads to rock-bottom pizza, most people plan a meal ahead of their flight where possible. That being said, if you're flying through Stuttgart Airport, you might just hold off on that rushed morning meal at home since the airport boasts Restaurant Top Air - a Michelin certified restaurant.
It definitely isn't a budget friendly option but for all you travelling foodies out there, you are guaranteed to be well-fed (and well-serviced) prior to take-off.
22 A Planetarium at Haneda Tokyo
Look at the stars, look how they shine for you - in Tokyo's Haneda Airport! The PLANETARIUM Starry Cafe is divided into two environments, a bright cafe where you can enjoy your meal normally and a dome-shaped theatre where you can observe up to 40 million stars during various 3-15 minute looped programs. Cost of entry is 520 Yen (less than 5 US Dollars) and you can even purchase a space-themed dessert or dish like the Starry Churro Sundae.
Once you have entered this captivating yet unbelievably calming space, you are welcome to stay for as long as you like! Talk about the Big Bang for your buck (I had to).
21 An Aquarium at Vancouver International
When people use the saying 'many moons ago', they aren't usually referring to their experience at the in-airport 1,800 litre aquarium in Vancouver which holds 100 moon jellyfish!
In part of a two tank exhibition, the larger 114,000 litre aquarium is also equipped with an outdoor creek. These underwater installations come in part of a total renovation of YVR in 2007 that aimed to bring the beauty of BC's outdoors to its visitors throughout the entire airport.
In addition to the jellyfish in the small tank, you can also gaze at a variety of Canadian-native underwater fauna, including wolf eels, sea stars, sea urchins and more than 20 different species of fish.
The grande total of creatures is over 5,000.
20 Smaug the Dragon at its Wellington Home
As many of us have come to know and love Lord of the Rings, it is in Wellington's Airport arrivals lounge where they pay an unexpected tribute to Tolkien for all to see.
It took about 4 months and 40 Weta Workshop staff members to craft the dragon that blinks and breathes smoke from his nostrils.
Smaug is almost the exact size (75%) of the original model at 4.25m (13.9 ft) from his nose to the back of his head, 2.92m (9.58 ft) high and 2.50m (8.2 ft) wide. The Wellington airport also boats a larger than life Gollum in the food court as well as a Gandalf atop an Eagle. A mystical myriad indeed!
19 A 4 story Slide in Singapore Changi Airport
This one seems like it would be a great way to leave the stress behind, as in 4 stories behind as you whizz down Terminal 3's GIANT indoor slide in the Changi Airport.
At 12 meters high it is Singapore's tallest slide and available via a self-serve gate. Visitors are entitled to one free ride for every $10 spent in the airport which could get dizzying after a while. It's largely meant for children so you have to be under 2 meters tall but also taller than 1.3 meters (because #safety). If you're taller (or just too embarrassed to go down a slide intended for children, we got you! Changi has plenty of fun for older people too so please read on...
18 A Butterfly garden (Also in Changi Singapore)
The Changi Airport in Singapore definitely has lots to offer and lots of nature at that!
Boasting a whopping 9 indoor and outdoor gardens you can have your pick from the cactus garden, sunflower garden, crystal garden, sculpture tree garden, orchid garden, water lily garden, piazza garden, enchanted garden, peach garden and perhaps most beloved the butterfly garden. where you can interact with real deal butterflies!
The butterfly garden features a grotto waterfall and is home to some 40 different species of butterflies including the national butterfly. With over 1000 butterflies, you will see them delicately feasting on honey covered pineapple and Gerbera flowers. An in-airport paradise!
17 An Airfield Golf Course in Bangkok
When you're on a long-distance journey it's all par for the course - especially if you're visiting Don Muang Airport! Nestled between two runways you can take a load off and swing a few clubs for a measly 1450 baht (less than 45 US Dollars) at the world's first 18 hole in-airport golf course. Your ball won't be the only thing taking off as you will bear witness to the uncanny ambience of planes doing plane things all around you!
While nothing will seem usual in this setting, perhaps the strangest aspect is the protocol of passing through the metal detector on your way to the green.
16 A Spa-like Sauna with Nordic Roots
Finnair knows what you need and considering its nordic routes, you can bet they think that what you need is a good old fashioned sauna. With 3 lounges located in the Helsinki Airport, the premium lounge features a traditional Finnish sauna.
If you are still doubting how integral a good sauna sesh is to the people of Finland, please consider that there are a whopping 3.5 million saunas in Finland with a population of just 5.5 million (as of 2017).
After leaving the sauna and entering into the premium lounge it could be easy to get confused and think that you are in a spa given the natural focused decor, healthy meal and snack options on offer and a relaxation zone that features curtained-off recliners for a restorative nap.
15 A PIG to make you smile at San Fran
If you were willing to bet where in the world you might find a live Pig in an airport, you would be right if you guessed San Francisco.
LiLou isn't just your run of the mill Pig however, she is a therapy pig who is there to provide support to any anxiety-ridden travellers!
She is hypoallergenic since she doesn't shed like most other animals and can extract a smile from most anyone with her curly tail and painted hooves. With a once a month appearance at SFO, she's garnered quite the following on Instagram at 18.2 thousand followers making her a positive influence(r) both on and offline.
14 Bottled Niagara Falls Water in Toronto Pearson Airport
Every year thousands of tourists gather to marvel at the majestic beauty of the Niagara Falls. If you're flying through Toronto and don't quite have the time to make it to Niagara, don't fret! You can still take a piece of the falls with you since they are selling Niagara Falls bottled water at Pearson International Airport.
That's right, this water is "captured" from the Falls themselves and placed into bottles for your dust-collection, sorry, I mean souvenir collection at home. How can you guarantee that this is really from the Falls and not just filled up with tap water by the manufacturer's intern? You absolutely can't. But it makes for a kitschy gift if you're willing to take the risk.
13 Lap Shaped Pillows at Tokyo's Narita
Feeling a little uneasy? Looking for a soft place to rest your weary head?
Look no further than Tokyo's Narita Airport where you can purchase a pillow that is meant to resemble a lady's lap.
Otherwise known as a hizamakura, the lap pillow is made of polyurethane and adorned with realistic details like clothing and realistic feet with separated toes, it has been accurately measured to realistically represent the lap of a 5'4" woman. They retail for 6,900 Yen (about $64 US) and can be purchased from the duty free shop where popularity has increased making it quite a rare commodity to which we say - indeed!
12 A ‘Recombobulation’ Area in Milwaukee Mitchell Airport
Recombobulation is a fake word invented by Barry Bateman, former Airport director of General Mitchell International Airport, who felt it could bring a smile to airport visitors faces. Barry came to understand that passengers can feel a bit discombobulated (a real word) after going through airport security check points. He decided to put the sign up to lighten the mood a bit, providing a place to tie up shoes and put away personal items after the stress of checking in.
The recombobulation zones have now become a staple to the airport with 3 distinct areas that feature amenities like nursing chairs for new mothers and play areas for children.
11 Used Horse Shoes? - Louisville Airport
In the Louisville Airport in Kentucky one can purchase (used!) horseshoes as souvenirs. A tip of the hat to the old Kentucky Derby which happens annually in May, one can purchase a mud covered horse shoe which was (presumably) worn during the race and is an international symbol for good luck.
They aren't very expensive so $5 for eternal good luck (even if it's covered in dirt) seems like a pretty decent deal. Just make sure if you're bringing it back for someone that you like as a souvenir, you explain your decision to give them a filthy, dirt covered present.
10 A Green (Edible) Oasis at Chicago O'Hare
Aeroponic isn't a cute play on words created to describe a garden in the airport, but rather describes the process of cultivation without a particular growing medium aside from water. The plants are placed in an enclosed space and roots are sprayed with a mister or atomizer using nutrient enriched water which disease free cultivation.
Chicago O'hare was the first airport to feature an Aeroponic garden and it includes 26 towers stacked high with greens and garden herbs. The cool part about this garden is it is conjoined with a cafe where you can taste the garden's creations in a salad or you can just kick back and admire with your packed lunch.
9 Nature Conservation Areas At Zurich Airport
74 hectares of Flughafen Zürich AG are dedicated to the nature conservation area Klotener Riet. As a former marsh landscape, this area surrounding the airport is protected in an effort to house rare, and in some cases, threatened flora and fauna.
The airport is quite conscious about its ecological footprint on the whole and has taken numerous measures to monitor its impact. While you won't be able to trudge through the conservation area, it is possible to hike along 17km of the nature trails surrounding the grounds that can provide fresh air to those needing a change.
The trail is ranked at an easy level and offers breathtaking views of farms and fields as well as rest stops along the way.
8 A World Record Achieving Bear at Anchorage International
Yes, you read that correctly. There is a bear within the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in Alaska that has achieved the world record of being the largest human-hunted bear. It's size was recorded by the width and height of its skull versus the total height and weight of the bear itself. Standing at about 10 feet tall it was taxidermied and has been prominently displayed in the airport since it's falling in 1997.
The bear stands is just 1 of 3 bears you can find on display in the airport. The display is meant to remind tourists to exercise caution when out in the Alaskan wild.
7 A Live Airport Concert is only fitting for the world's live music capital
Austin is well-known as a hub for live music thanks to festivals like South By Southwest but did you know that you can attend a live concert right in Austin-Bergstrom International Airport?
Located in the Barbara Jordan Terminal, you can catch daily live performances. And guess what?! If you are loving the vibe of the performance you can relive them on the dedicated Spotify ABIA playlist. Being the Live Musical Capital of the world, this venue proves great for musicians as well because they can garner new international fans from their very hometown.
Grab some bbq and cozy up for some free tunes during your next long layover through Austin-Bergstrom.
6 A Free Surf Lesson! - Munich surprises us again
If we told you there was an airport that had free surfing lessons on tap, I'd be willing to put a lot of money on it that German airports aren't going to be your top of mind guess. Once again, we are blown away by Munich Airport.
Not only does it feature a Hawaiian style wave pool, but also hosts a monthly surfing championship right there in the Airport.
Open daily from 3pm until 8:15pm you can try your hand at cruising the waves absolutely free of charge including public use of all the equipment! Twice a day instructors are on hand to provide you with the best possible experience one could have surfing in an airport.
5 A Relaxing Stroll Through A Rainforest at KL
Just when you thought that it couldn't get much cooler, there is an actual indoor rainforest at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. To find the forest you will have to play a bit of hide and seek to locate the notoriously low-key yellow chain curtain entrance in the Satellite Building. Once you make your way inside you will see a long winding boardwalk trail leading to a beautiful waterfall.
If you're sensitive to humidity it may not be an ideal environment to relax, but for everyone else you will be overcome with serenity as you take in flora that is native to Malaysia's jungle.
The airport design of the forest is meant to emulate "Forest in the Airport, Airport in the Forest" and is part of a cooperative effort together with Forest Research Institute of Malaysia.
4 A Litter of Therapy Dogs
A full staff of dogs can be found in LAX Los Angeles - 72 in fact! These furry friends are intended to alleviate any pre-flight anxiety for passengers and flight staff alike.
Dogs range in all sizes and breeds and can be found roaming various terminals sporting red vests that say 'pet me!' in big white lettering.
It's all part of the PUP (Pets Un-stressing Passengers) Program. This program kicked off in 2013 and has created quite a following as the pups now come with their own collector cards which are regularly shared with their fans at LAX as they collect smiles in return.
3 Solid Gold Bar Souvenirs in Dubai #nbd
Ya know, in case you have the spare room in your suitcase and $3,000 you don't know what to do with. Yes, at Dubai International Airport you can purchase solid bars of gold at the duty free in denominations of 18, 22, and 24 Carat gold.
This may be a practical grab and go situation for Sultans, Jewellery Makers, and/ or any of the other millionaires that Dubai sees on a regular basis. But regular folk, it might be considered a bit of an extravagant keepsake.
That said, Dubai's International Airport is the world's biggest airport retailer with sales of 1.82 million in 2016 alone so maybe these gold bars are going like hot cakes!
2 A Micro Brewery at Munich
Aside from Schnitzel, Sausages, Sauerkraut what could possibly be left for Germans to claim in the gastronomy department? You guessed it! With festivals like Oktoberfest and their ever-famous purity rule, Germans take their crafting very seriously. So maybe, it's not crazy surprising that in Munich's International Airport you can find not just a bier garden, but a full service micro brewery.
Airbräu was first opened in 1999 and was seen as a truly innovative novelty but is now considered a pillar of this airport. With 8 freshly brewed options on tap at 2.75 euro each, it can be worth a pit stop to your gate. What could be a more authentically Bavarian experience than that?
1 Free Books! - Estonia Tallinn Airport
Have you finished the book you brought with you on holiday? If you are in Estonia's Tallinn Airport, it's no problem at all because you can swap it out for a brand new read.
Known as the 'trust library' the idea is to take a book and leave a book, or, simply return it once you're done with it. Also encouraged are for readers to leave little notes within the pages for the next traveller to uncover.
It could be your favourite travel quote or a list of countries that the book has visited along with you, either way it will come as fun surprise to the next reader! If you get sleepy while reading, Tallinn is also ranked 3rd in Europe for the best airport to sleep in, so feel free to sneak in some shut-eye before take-off too.
References: CNN, YVR.ca, Finnair.com, TripAdvisor