When booking a flight, some travelers opt to choose those that stop in between the journey. Having a quick stop in one of the best airports for layovers can be fun, relaxing, or a real adventure!
But which airports have the best or most unique amenities and nearby attractions? Where can you enjoy a layover? Whether you want an airport with indoor waterfalls, gardens, aquariums, luxury lounges, authentic eateries, or rooftop swimming pools overlooking beautiful landscapes, there are plenty of fine airports out there – both in the US and abroad.
Some of these airports have come up with exciting ways to make layovers fun. From creating prime retail sites to thoughtful art galleries, the ingenuity of some of these airports’ amenities is bound to keep travelers on a layover entertained.
When you have a deliberate (or accidental) layover or a stopover, you not only get to stretch and unwind in between your trip, but you could also save some money while doing it.
Table of Contents
- How do I plan for a long layover?
- Best Airports and Cities for Layovers Around the World
- 1. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (Atlanta, Georgia, USA)
- 2. Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
- 3. Dubai International Airport (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
- 4. Munich International Airport (Munich, Germany)
- 5. Los Angeles International Airport (Los Angeles, California, USA)
- 6. Hong Kong International Airport (Chek Lap Kok, Hong Kong)
- 7. San Francisco International Airport (San Francisco, California, USA)
- 8. Keflavk International Airport/Reykjavik (Reykjavik, Iceland)
- 9. Austin-Bergstrom International (Austin, Texas, USA)
- 10. Dublin Airport (Dublin, Ireland)
- 11. Afonso Pena/Curitiba International Airport (Curitiba, Brazil)
- 12. Kansai International Airport (Osaka, Japan)
- 13. Sydney Airport (Sydney, Australia)
- 14. Hamad International Airport (Doha, Qatar)
- 15. Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport (Bloomington, Minnesota, USA)
- 16. Vancouver International Airport (Richmond, British Columbia, Canada)
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- Is a 3-hour layover enough time to leave the airport?
- Can you leave airports during layovers?
How do I plan for a long layover?
Plan to make a new friend. Find a bar with food, free Wi-Fi, and a cold drink to keep you going strong. Use your travel hacking skills to grab a travel credit card before your adventure that features Priority Pass lounge access so you can get away from the crowded terminals.
You won’t have to arm wrestle a stranger to charge your electronic devices in a lounge, and the bar will be far less crowded!
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Best Airports and Cities for Layovers Around the World
1. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (Atlanta, Georgia, USA)
Encompassing six concourses and an expansive main terminal stretching across 130 acres and over 180 gates, is the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Being the world’s 2nd busiest passenger airport, Hartsfield-Jackson is one of the best places to be if you have a layover.
As you wait to connect to your next flight, take a train to explore the massive expanse of terrain between departure zones. If you don’t want the train adventure and fancy an airconditioned hike, then you can stroll through the tunnels connecting the different terminals.
Those underground passages are rarely congested and are ideal places to take an adventurous walk if not a ride. This US travel hub is also home to a shopping paradise that features over 200 retailers and concessions.
Also, it has amazing food courts with numerous seating areas near electrical outlets where you can charge your electronic devices as you eat. And, while eating, you frequently have the opportunity to enjoy some live music.
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2. Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
Connecting several European cities is the vast Amsterdam Airport, Schiphol, just a twenty-minute train ride from downtown Amsterdam. At this international Airport, you can view a mini-art gallery and masterpieces by Dutch artists such as Van Gogh displayed at the city’s legendary Rijksmuseum.
This awesome airport also provides bean bags to lounge in while you wait and exercise bicycles that charge your phone as you pedal. Travelers can also grab stroopwafels and cheese from its duty-free shops as they relax in posh couches, bean bags, and many other resting areas.
This sophisticated airport has an indoor park where travelers enjoy birds chirping and a viewing terrace for aviation lovers. Also, they can pedal exercise bikes near electric outlets, where one can charge a tablet, laptop, or smartphone.
Your stay here doesn’t have to be boring. You can have fun and win a few euros in the Holland Casino located just opposite the cultural spectrum in departure hall two, between gates F and E.
Another unique feature of this airport is that it has a place for couples to create memorable moments. It has a unique spot for exchanging vows with the help of the airport’s in-terminal wedding planning service. It’s like European Vegas!
For those looking to explore the city but aren’t interested in the train, bus services to and from the city are available via Airport Express and the Taxi Bruno van Amsterdam Company.
You’ll get a great ride with Amsterdam’s public transport or cabs, and you’ll be in town in no time at all, just know the cabs are much more expensive.
Like what you are hearing? Check out these best things to do in Amsterdam.
3. Dubai International Airport (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Located in the United Arab Emirates, this is one of the busiest airports in the Middle East…and it is simply incredible. It hosts travelers from across the globe and boasts a sprawling, majestic corner of the world.
This airport hosts numerous attractions and entertainment spots to help you relax and tranquilize in between flights.
Thanks to its fancy in-airport hotel health club and luxe shopping malls, Dubai International Airport features well among the best airports for layovers.
Its shopping stalls have brilliant collections of souvenir items including beauty products, solid gold jewelry, watches for every person and occasion, decorative items, books, liquor (several alcohol laws in Dubai have recently been relaxed!), and much more.
Check into one of the food courts, featuring notable names including Starbucks, McDonald’s, and Round Table Pizza, as well as some amazing in-house restaurants, such as Tranzeet DXB and Cadiz – Ahlan Lounge. The airport also has free WiFi internet, allowing you a connection from anywhere inside the airport zone.
If your layover is longer, you can spare some time to go for a camel or a dune buggy ride which are both easily accessible from the airport – just be sure you’ve booked in advance.
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4. Munich International Airport (Munich, Germany)
Munich Airport is an architectural masterpiece with glass galore, metal beams, and sweeping sails. This is the second busiest airport in Germany after Frankfurt and has top-class amenities that make layovers a tantalizing prospect.
At Munich Airport, you can indulge in some of the German delicacies like Weisswurst and Bratwurst sausages. You can also guzzle some mouthwatering German beer. If your journey happens to be in late September, you’ll get to enjoy Oktoberfest in the city.
From November through the end of December, the traditional German Christmas festivities outside the terminal are the perfect romantic getaway. There’s also, an ice-skating rink experience and a carousel for kids that will keep your stay here an unforgettable one.
While here, you may also consider shopping for German products and souvenirs at the alfresco stalls. Munich Airport is a perfect spot for an extended layover in Germany.
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5. Los Angeles International Airport (Los Angeles, California, USA)
Next on our list of best airports for layovers is the Los Angeles International Airport. This is the fifteenth-busiest passenger airport in the world as US travelers from east and west along with fliers from Central and South America, and the Pacific all converge here in the home of showbiz.
LAX is one of those airports with unique experiences as you get the very real chance to meet some celebrities while on a layover, especially if you find yourself in the lounge.
There are tons of places to enjoy refreshments at LAX. I’d grab some sandwiches and burgers at the Encounter restaurant in the main terminal if I were you.
This is also a perfect place to get some Hollywood-themed souvenirs from the duty-free shops, or just commit a shopping-montage level of retail therapy. LAX terminals are also known for their creative flair where you can enjoy viewing permanent public art and rotating exhibitions.
And if you feel tired from a long flight, you can have a massage during the layover at either XspresSpa or Be Relax Spa.
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6. Hong Kong International Airport (Chek Lap Kok, Hong Kong)
For better or worse, you’ll find the fantastic mirrors at Hong Kong International Airport showing you how make-up and clothing colors match up with each other on your significant other!
Looking for an adult libation? According to Vetere, the champagne bar at Cathay Pacific offers a pre-flight drink break.
Hong Kong Disneyland is on the same island as the airport.
Need I say anymore? Disneyland.
From the terminal, you can get to the main entrances of Hong Kong Disneyland in about 30 minutes via the MTR subway. There’s also a little storage area where you can store your valuables while traveling up and down rollercoasters.
Disneyland. At the airport. DISNEYLAND!
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7. San Francisco International Airport (San Francisco, California, USA)
There’s free WiFi, many charging points, as well as paid luggage storage, showers, and a children’s area with loaner mats. Right next to the airport is the SFO Aviation Museum and Library for the kids to explore.
The amiable canine Wag Brigade freely roams around the airport terminals, welcoming guests with sniffs and snuffles, but LiLou, the Therapy Pig, goes the extra mile by cheering up children in the nearby Children’s Health Lodge in her spare time.
Plus, she’s a real ham for all the attention! Funny, eh?…I’ll get my coat.
Remember of course that you are in San Francisco, which is one of the most stunning and tourist-friendly cities on the West Coast, filled with amazing sights, incredible attractions, and memories in the making.
Get out there and explore!
Either after a 10-hour flight from Europe, or exploring the city all morning, there is no better time or place for lunch from one of SFO’s 72 eateries and a refreshing shower!
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8. Keflavk International Airport/Reykjavik (Reykjavik, Iceland)
Iceland has been a stopping point for transatlantic flights to and from Europe for over half a century. The best parts of the airport are probably the amazing restaurants and bars and the in-airport spa. Who doesn’t need a refresh and regather after a long flight? It’s near the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal health spa facility that serves tourists and is believed to harbor rejuvenating qualities.
You’ll have plenty of time to see most of the natural wonders of Iceland when you have four hours on your hands – partly because Iceland is pretty small.
If you’re thinking of making an excursion, the airport purportedly offers luggage lockers so you can make the best use of your time without worrying about your bags.
Another one of the best parts about Keflavik International Airport/Reykjavk is the cheap flight deals to Iceland, especially if you are factoring it in as a layover.
For example, if you’re flying JFK in New York to LHR in London, you might find you can save a mint on your airfare if you opt for a layover in Iceland. That’s almost like being paid to take an extra vacation! See what I mean about saving money?
With regard to Iceland itself, it’s best to go not in summer, but in winter when it’s totally worth braving the cold to see everything white, bright, and sparkling under snow, ice, and frost!
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9. Austin-Bergstrom International (Austin, Texas, USA)
Every Friday, the JD Band performs at Austin Airport, always taking the edge off for fliers and always to huge rounds of applause. The bohemian bolthole of Austin is home to over 2,000 musicians and performers contributing to the ever-growing live music and street theater scene.
When waiting for a flight at the airport, fliers get live entertainment while they grab some food and drinks. Enjoy free live music and quality eats at Saxon Pub, Annie’s Café, Bar Tacodeli, Haymaker, and Hut.
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10. Dublin Airport (Dublin, Ireland)
Dublin Airport has a number of items to keep travelers busy while they wait for their flights on a layover. It features the award-winning bar, An Púcán. Balcony TV is a room where one can watch live TV or live streams of events; and best of all, the airport has a spa.
Dublin Airport is ranked #3 by Skytrax’s best airports in Europe for customer service. Given that Ryanair is based in Ireland, if you can get a very cheap flight into Dublin via one of your favorite airlines from your home country, flights to the rest of Europe are also incredibly cheap when flying with Ryanair.
Popular airlines that fly into Dublin are Aer Lingus, Ryanair, EasyJet, Norwegian Air, and United Airlines.
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11. Afonso Pena/Curitiba International Airport (Curitiba, Brazil)
One of the best airports for layovers in South America is Afonso Pena International Airport in Curitiba, Brazil. It’s ranked #7 in Skytrax’s best airports in the world overall, and they know a thing or two about airports.
It has plenty of amenities to keep passengers busy while they wait for their next flight, and has one of the coolest interiors of any airport on Earth. It includes free Wi-Fi, a beautifully landscaped garden with a waterfall and pond, a casino, a wax museum, an art gallery, and best of all – there is no additional layover charge.
The best airlines to fly into Curitiba, Brazil is:
- Delta Airlines
- American Airlines
- United Airlines
- Gol Transportes Aereos
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12. Kansai International Airport (Osaka, Japan)
One of the best airports for layovers in Asia is Kansai International Airport in Osaka, Japan. It features spectacular architecture and in keeping with all things related to transport in Japan, it is extremely efficient. It’s ranked #5 by Skytrax’s best airports in the world overall.
I said “spectacular architecture”; that hardly does it justice, because KIX is the first ocean airport in the world! Built on a landfill island in Osaka Bay, Japan, it was opened in 1994. This engineering masterpiece was built on an artificial man-made island, with several 4,000-meter runways. The terminal is 1.7 kilometers long and was designed by the world-famous architect Renzo Piano.
You can tell chic was at the forefront of this spotless airport’s design. Chic and ensuring travelers have a blast. There are some fantastic duty-free shopping options here, including several fantastic Japanese souvenir shops, not to mention the Sky Museum and a rooftop park for kids to go nuts in.
There are many restaurants serving international fare or quintessentially Japanese cuisine, in quintessentially Japanese fashion. There’s even a restaurant where you can sample different in-flight meals before you get on the plane!
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13. Sydney Airport (Sydney, Australia)
Depending on which travel magazines or blogs you read, or if you have a particular concern about which airports can slap the name “BEST” to their amenities, you’ll likely see Sydney Airport pop up a few times.
Hardly surprising then that the best airport for layovers in Oceania is Sydney Airport which is one of the top-ranked airports in the world for customer service.
Sydney Airport offers plenty of activities to keep people occupied for hours. Sydney Airport is also highly ranked among the best airports in the world with the best transit hotel rooms. Sydney Airport also ranks highly among the best airports for in-house dining options.
If you are looking for other things to do at the airport, then you can check out Sydney Airport’s free exhibits which are located throughout the airport. With all of these facilities, visitors to Sydney Airport will undoubtedly have a pleasant stay.
Then, of course, there is the city of Sydney, which is one of the most sensational towns to spend a few hours in, and waiting for you, right outside the terminal!
The best airlines for traveling to and through Sydney Airport are Emirates Airlines and Qantas Airways.
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14. Hamad International Airport (Doha, Qatar)
The Hamad International Airport in Doha has some of the world’s wildest aviation artwork and sleek metallic architecture that make you feel like your plane landed at a sci-fi spacedock.
Doha is a great location for leisure travelers who don’t mind connecting to Qatar Airways, especially if you fly business class and first class. If you do, visit the Al Mourjan business club at the airport, which offers rest areas and a bar.
Free-of-charge business clubs are also available in Doha, as well as some world-class restaurants and insane retail opportunities, not to mention a 23-foot bronze teddy bear with its head smushed into a desk lamp…or vice versa.
Doha is a great location for leisure travelers who don’t mind connecting to Qatar Airways’ business class and first-class passengers. If you fly first class, visit the Al Mourjan business club at the airport, which offers rest areas and a bar.
The ultra-modern Oryx Airport Hotel offers spacious swimming pools and a fitness center and superb service for the weary traveler.
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15. Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport (Bloomington, Minnesota, USA)
It frequently shows up as one of the top 3 airports in the US in numerous publications, and “its plane to see why.” No, I’m not proud of that one, I shoulda stuck with ham jokes.
The airport is served by a single bus line, which stops at all of the terminals. Another bus service allows easy access to the Twin Cities, as well as the excellent light rail. Both are extremely cheap.
There is a 1.5-mile walk between the entrance and exit via an MSP airport walking path that goes through the terminal and provides a great chance to enjoy the outdoors and some of the nearby attractions such as Historic Fort Snelling, or the Mall of America, the LARGEST shopping mall in the US, which is just minutes away!
For a day trip, take the Blue Line light rail into downtown Minneapolis to enjoy some art at the Walker Arts Center, some amazing cuisine, and some of that delicious Minnesota beer!
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16. Vancouver International Airport (Richmond, British Columbia, Canada)
Vancouver International Airport is located in the Richmond neighborhood and serves as a hub for Air Canada and WestJet Airlines.
It is frequently ranked the best airport in North America and the best airport in the world for its restaurants and the best airport in the world for its cleanliness.
Is that an indicator of just how amazing this place is? This airport also has great security, baggage claim, lounges, and incredible shopping facilities for passengers.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is a 3-hour layover enough time to leave the airport?
Yes, depending on the airport. A layover at a large, deliberately planned, well-designed hub, like Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL), may give you more time to explore the surrounding area of the airport.
On the other hand, if your layover is in London Heathrow (LHR), you will definitely need more than an hour. Although Heathrow is home to some of the best airport restaurants around and amazing duty-free retail areas, the layout stinks, and my British editor agrees.
*He’s right, it’s not great*.
Originally little more than a grass strip the Royal Air Force used to scramble Hawker Hurricanes from, Heathrow’s grid of concrete runways were planned out expertly in the late 1940s, but no one anticipated how busy Heathrow would become, and certainly didn’t think about where the terminals might need to go.
Resultingly the terminals of this vast airport are huge and spaced out in a uniquely awkward fashion that invariably involves a ton of walking. It’ll easily take you an hour to deplane and get through passport control.
Then, if you wanted to actually explore London instead of the terminals, good luck; the cool bits of London aren’t exactly close!
However, even at ATL, it’s better to avoid spending too much time walking around before looking for your connecting flight; baggage-retrieval can take a long time, and even there, some walking after that.
If you’re ever unsure if you have time, check out a navigation app to calculate things like walk time or the length of public transport journeys to locations you’re interested in. Either that or plan for a longer layover! Woohoo!
Can you leave airports during layovers?
Yes, you can leave airports during layovers. Just be sure to follow all airport safety rules and consider your checked-bag departure policies.