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A layover doesn’t have to be just a frustrating annoyance on your travel itinerary – in fact, sometimes it can be an opportunity to enjoy the local flavor as well as a wide range of amenities from wine bars and massage therapy to nail salons and yoga rooms. Instead of killing time working out word puzzles or reading through magazines, why not dine on gourmet dishes created by celeb chefs or take a mini-excursion into the city? A layover isn’t just a necessary evil, it really can be fun, especially at these 15 airports.
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If you’re stuck at Tokyo-Haneda International Airport, you’re in luck, because the airport is roughly 9 miles from downtown Tokyo, just a 13-minute ride by monorail. Riding the elevated track over the water and between the buildings almost feels as if you’re flying. From the downtown terminal, a 10- to 15-minute walk will bring you to the ancient Zojoji temple, constructed in Chinese Tang Dynasty style and a rare example of early Edo-period architecture. From there, climb the Tokyo Tower. Modeled after the Eiffel Tower, but 30 feet higher at 1092 feet, on a clear day you can see Mt. Tsukuba and Mt. Fuji. If you don’t want to leave the airport, consider enjoying a meal in the airport’s planetarium, aptly named Starry Café. An incredible 40 million stars are projected onto the ceiling, making it feel as if you’re in another dimension while dining on noodles and taking in the obscure surroundings.
San Francisco’s international airport has been ranked No. 1 for its unique services and best overall concessions program among major North American airports by Airport Revenue News. It’s also home to the first accredited airport art museum in the world, which displays both temporary exhibits and permanent works of art. It’s easy to stay connected here too, with free Wi-Fi throughout the airport as well as plenty of cellphone charging stations and power outlets. If you have time to check out the sights, consider hopping on BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) for a trip to San Francisco’s downtown financial district. If not, you’ll find a ton of amenities right here, including an aquarium, hair salon and yoga studio, and many of the eateries here are branches of local favorites.
Changi Airport, Singapore
Visitors to Changi Airport are presented with a variety of visual delights, including a butterfly garden and a fairy tale enchanted arena, complete with dazzling lights and massive glass bouquets. You’ll also find free movie theaters, a Balinese-themed rooftop pool and a 40-foot slide. Terminal 2, hosts an entertainment area with things like Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, while those on business can take advantage of iPad-wielding agents, free Internet terminals, plus airport-wide free Wi-Fi, USB ports and power sockets, multiple business centers, lounges and two hotels. If you’ve got at least a five-hour layover, consider signing up for one of the airport’s free two-hour city tours, conducted in English.
Located on the man-made island of Hong Kong Harbour, this airport boasts outposts of Michelin-starred restaurants as well as the Regal Airport Hotel, named World’s Best Airport Hotel for two consecutive years by Skytrax. You’ll find all the work-related facilities you could ever need, along with a ton of extras, such as the outdoor nine-hole regulation golf course, the first airport IMAX theater on the planet, and an iSports simulator for car racing and basketball. If you’ve got some time, the airport also offers the Airport Express, whisking travelers to and from Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. You’ll also have the option to travel via ferry to neighboring Macau, as well as points in the Pearl River Delta within China, to cities like Guangzhou or Shenzhen.
Bright and airy, this Canadian hub offers an atmosphere that helps to counter the stress of traveling by channeling the peaceful and striking surrounding region. It currently houses the world’s largest collection of native art and architecture from North America’s Northwest Coast as well as two aquariums featuring marine life native to the province. At the heart of the international terminal, shop or grab a bite along an indoor creek with running water, plants, logs and intriguing glass-sculpted salmon sprinkled through the streambed.
Culture lovers surely won’t mind being stuck at the Athens International Airport. Soak up the interesting and educational delights at its mini-museum, featuring lots of ancient Greek culture and history with unique artifacts that happened to have been discovered during the construction of the airport in the nearby town of Spata. The airport also offers free site tours Monday through Friday, including a tour of the airport’s main buildings, the Archaeological Museum and the Fire Brigade Station. There are also numerous art displays like the permanent exhibit to Eleftherios Venizelos and the Airport Museum, as well as painting and photography exhibits. Airport services are numerous, including an entertainment area, Internet and e-services, restaurants, shops, massage chairs and a hair salon.
Sea-Tac, halfway between Seattle and Tacoma, is great for business travelers and techies due to its free Wi-Fi access and large number of charging ports and stations. Art is strategically placed throughout the airport with more than 100 pieces from the Port of Seattle’s Art Collection. If you’re sore after a long flight, indulge in a massage or enjoy a moment of silence in the meditation room. Occasionally, live music is hosted by the Experience the City of Music Program too. If you want to travel to downtown Seattle, hop on the Sound Transit Link Light Rail and you can be there in about 35 minutes. When hunger pangs hit enjoy delicious Pacific Northwest seafood, including local oysters and fish tacos.
Incheon International Airport, South Korea
Before a long flight or in-between flights at the Incheon International Airport, stretch your legs on the ice forest skating rink. If you’re exhausted, catch the latest Korean hit film at the movie theater or relax in the deluxe spa and sauna. Get a quick workout in between flights at one of the digital gyms and then freshen up in one of the airports shower rooms. If you’re in serious need of a nap, rent a pod where you can catch a few winks or take advantage of one of the several nap lounges.
If you haven’t been to the Detroit Metro Airport for a while, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. In recent years, the city has invested heavily to upgrade the experience for travelers, with large open spaces, local art, culture and entertainment. The airport makes it easy to navigate between gates with the red tram in the McNamara Terminal, while its mid-concourse water feature is a passenger favorite, drawing throngs of tourists to capture a video or snapshot. The underground light tunnel connecting Concourse A with B and C, featuring moving walkways and LED lights that change colors, is another popular spot. High-end shopping can be found too, with retailers like the Be-Relax Spa, a Porsche Design Store, wine shop Vino Volo and a PGA Tour Shop.
This airport is an American favorite for many, with its bright and cheery open space, great shopping and dining, including venues showcasing dishes by some of the area’s culinary stars. It ranks high for its food in general and the food concourse features iPads at every seat, so customers can order food as well as check email, flight status and browse the Internet. If you’re traveling with kids, this is a good place to be as it also hosts two kids’ play areas with child-scale airplanes and control towers with slides.
Get a great taste of the city at Heathrow, as it features a large Harrods outpost, an art gallery showcasing emerging British artists, and the Heathrow Express, which will take you into Central London in under a half hour. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from right at the airport, including Gordon Ramsay’s Plane Food where you can relax with a cold one and watch the busy chefs do their thing in a glass-enclosed kitchen. Meanwhile, shoppers can delight in finding everything from beauty and books to fashion and accessories. The Be Relax Spa provides a variety of services including massages, facials, aromatherapy, manicures and pedicures – an ideal way to relax during your Heathrow layover.
This is one of the world’s oldest international airports, opened back in 1916 as a military airbase. It’s also one of the most relaxing, hosting a comfy library in its center, complete with overstuffed sofas, tables, chairs you can recline in, multimedia content on iPads, and books in multiple languages. It’s also home to an exhibit from the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, which showcases paintings by Dutch masters like Jan Steen and Ferdinand Bol. Business travelers note their appreciation for the free Wi-Fi, multiple spas, as well as the totally device-free Silence Centre. Getting into Amsterdam from here is easy too, a direct and fast train will take you from just below the airport directly into the heart of the city, Centraal Station, in just 20 minutes.
Munich Airport is a standout for a number of reasons, including the chance to sample some of Germany’s best brews at Airbräu, a traditional tavern with a beer garden shaded by chestnut trees and an onsite brewery as well as live music. This was the first airport brewery in the world that crafts its beers in compliance with the exacting standards of the Purity Decree of 1516. You can also enjoy energizing your legs on the seasonal indoor ice skating rink, or just enjoying great people watching while sipping a pint. The airport also offers individual sleeping pods equipped with iPhone and USB ports. If you have more than three hours to kill, it’s well-worth the taxi ride to check out the renowned Bavarian State Brewery Weihenstephan for a pint, bratwurst and views over the charming town of Freising, one of the oldest settlements in Bavaria.
The Middle East’s aviation hub is a desert oasis that lives up to the glitz and glamour of the city itself, and continues to expand. This airport is impressive, hosting one of the world’s largest duty-free shop, as well as open-air gardens, the 24/7 G-force Gym with a pool, showers and shiatsu massage available. You can even purchase gold bars by the gram at one of the dazzling gold bullion islands or just chill out in one of the open-air palm, pine and fern Zen gardens, complete with refreshing hidden mist machines.
Miami is known for being especially vibrant and colorful, and its aviation hub is no different. The airport is part of Miami’s Art in Public Places program, which focuses on taking local artists’ work out of museums or galleries and placing installations and exhibitions where more residents and visitors can view them. The displays include travel-themed lighted panels, detailed murals, walls and walkways that incorporate coral, seashells and other regional marine life. Miami International Airport is also acclaimed for its concessions program and travelers tend to feel as if they’re in a shopping mall rather than an airport, with the number of high-end shops as well as convenient tech stores. It’s also one of the more interesting airports in the U.S. with its Latin American flair and Cuban restaurants. And, those who just want to relax can indulge in the airport’s Jetsetter Spa, offering massages as well as manicures and pedicures.