10 Airports Where Getting Stuck Is Actually Fun

Photo: iStock. Design: Erik Mace for Yahoo Travel

By Mary Holland

Unless you’re enjoying the first-class lounge, you probably want to minimize how much of your precious vacation time is spent at the airport. Cramped and uncomfortable seating, harsh lighting, soggy salads, endless hours of staring at the departure screen — layovers are anything but fun. But with so many exotic destinations requiring connecting flights, they’re nearly impossible to avoid.

The good news is that a long layover doesn’t have to feel like a death sentence. Many airports have introduced entertaining and innovative features that can turn airport downtime into hours well spent, thanks to zen gardens, rooftop pools, museums, world-class shopping, and even ice-skating rinks. Read on for 10 of the best airports to spend a long layover in — and get your holiday enjoyment started before you even arrive at your destination.

Changi Airport, Singapore


Photo: Courtesy of Changi Airport

Spending hours on a cramped airplane can make you crave some time in the outdoors, and if you’re flying into Changi Airport in Singapore, you’re in luck. Changi is home to no less than five lush gardens — rooftop, sunflower, orchid, cactus, and even a butterfly garden, which contains 1,000 real, live butterflies. If you find yourself in Terminal 1, head up to the Balinese-style rooftop swimming pool, where you can take a dip and soak up some sun before catching your connecting flight. For travelers with more than six hours to kill, Changi also offers free tours into the spectacular city of Singapore.

Best airline to book with: Cathay Pacific

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Haneda Airport, Tokyo


Photo: Courtesy of Haneda Airport

Haneda was rated one of the world’s most punctual airports by CNN — watch the impeccably timed planes fly in and out (and you can get some fresh air) from the outdoor observation deck. Grab a bowl of ramen or platter of sushi, browse the free Internet in one of the many comfortable seating areas, or take a visit to the high-tech restrooms, which have heated toilet seats (so you can scratch that off your bucket list). If you want to rest your weary eyes for a few hours, snag a room at First Cabin Haneda, a fancy capsule hotel located in Terminal 2. Each private cabin has a bed, electrical outlets, a towel, and loungewear. There’s also a communal bath (which is a lot less creepy than it sounds), shower booths, and a high-end lounge. If you’re lucky enough to be flying business or first class with Cathay Pacific, don’t miss the incredible Tokyo Haneda lounge (pictured); it’s so luxurious, you just might forget you’re in an airport.

Best airlines to book with: Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines

Heathrow Airport, London


Photo: Courtesy of Heathrow Airport

Shopping during a layover can be a stressful experience. Heathrow’s Terminal Five makes it easier with its complimentary personal-shopping service and lounge (pictured). With 48 hours advance notice, you can book a trained shopping assistant to help you find exactly what you’re looking for. They can even arrange to transfer you to another terminal if there’s a shop you really want to see. Foodies can choose from 105 restaurants, including Gordon Ramsay’s Plane Food (bookings are recommended), Wagamama, and Heston Blumenthal’s The Perfectionists’ Cafe. Heathrow is also the only airport in the world that provides passengers with onboard picnics from a host of restaurants that will pack up a meal for you to take on the next leg of your journey. If you’re traveling business class (lucky you!), be sure to check out Virgin’s incredible Heathrow Clubhouse or BA’s Concorde Lounge.

Best airlines to book with: British Airways, Virgin Airways

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Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam


Photo: Geoff Moore/REX Shutterstock

Schiphol has long been one of Europe’s most successful and innovative airports. View prominent works by famous Dutch artists at the Rijksmuseum at Amsterdam Schiphol, or curl up with a good book at the airport library. There’s also a meditation center, Rituals Spa, Yotel Hotel (where you can book a room or take a shower), and a host of Dutch souvenir stores where you can stock up on cheese, stroopwafels, clogs, and enough Delft Houses to build your own miniature Dutch village. Traveling with kids? The free Babycare Lounge has specially designed cabins where parents can care for their little ones in peace and quiet. But perhaps the best feature at Schiphol is that there’s only one terminal, so no matter where you’re flying, you’ll have access to everything.

Best airline to book with: KLM

Hong Kong International Airport


Photo: Courtesy of Hong Kong Airport

Built on an artificial island with incredible views of the city, Hong Kong Airport is impressive both outside and in. It boasts an Aviation Discovery Center (essentially an entertainment center for air-travel enthusiasts) and a rooftop SkyDeck, where you can spend your time planespotting and marveling at the runway. If you’re looking for something a little more chill, catch a flick at the 350-seat IMAX theater, the largest in Hong Kong. The shopping at Hong Kong Airport is also extraordinary; visit the SkyPlaza and SkyMart shopping centers, located in two different terminals, where you’ll find virtually everything you need — and, more than likely, a few things you don’t.

Best airlines to book with: Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, Qantas

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Zurich Airport, Switzerland


Photo: Courtesy of Zurich Airport

The good people of Switzerland know that after a long-haul flight, all you need is a bit of the great outdoors. At Zurich Airport, even the trains that transport you between terminals play the faint sound of Alpine cows. For those who actually want to get outside, you can rent bicycles and inline skates to explore the surrounding area, which has a range of gorgeous nature trails. Afterward, freshen up before your next flight with the Transit Hotel’s shower service (which comes with a towel and body-care products), or check in for a quick nap. The airport also has a fitness center and hair salon (just in case you forget to get a trim before your trip). If your layover is four hours or longer, a train will get you into Zurich in just 12 minutes, so you can kick-start your holiday and spend otherwise wasted time drinking hot chocolate and eating cheese in Switzerland’s largest city.

Best airline to book with: Swiss Air

Incheon International Airport, Korea


Photo: via Pinterest

The longer your layover at South Korea’s Incheon Airport, the better. In addition to a cultural museum, and a Korean Cultural Street where visitors can experience Korean architecture, the airport also hosts year-round cultural performances. Listen to music, watch actor reenactments of Korea’s royal family, and try on traditional Korean clothes — all without leaving the airport. If you’re in need of some nature, Incheon also has a number of gardens (rock, cactus, pine tree), as well as an outdoor garden. Visitors can also take in the views from the observation deck, catch a movie at the 240-seat theater, or just spend the whole day at the Ice Forest — a real, fully operational skating rink.

Best airlines to book with: Korean Air, Asiana Airlines

Munich Airport, Germany


Photo: Courtesy of Munich Airport

Count on the Germans to open the world’s only airport brewery. At Munich Airport, you can enjoy a freshly brewed beer and a traditional Bavarian-style sausage in the largest covered beer garden in Europe, which even has a live band during the summer months. If you’re a real beer lover, take a brewery tour and try a beer tasting — all while waiting for your next flight. Those in need of some physical activity can stop by the Visitors Park and play a round of golf at the 18-hole mini-golf course. If you just want some downtime, there are recreation areas divided into relaxation and work zones. Grab a couch and drift off in the calming area, which uses special lighting effects and plants to create a tranquil environment.

Best airline to book with: Lufthansa

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Dubai International Airport, United Arab Emirates


Photo: Courtesy of Dubai International Airport

Dubai recently surpassed Heathrow as the world’s busiest airport, flying to 260 destinations on six continents. Much like the city of Dubai, one of the airport’s biggest draws is its unbelievable shopping. With 5,400 square meters of duty-free shopping space, it’s one of the largest duty-free retailers in the world. You’ll find everything from perfume to jewelry to electronics in this shoppers’ paradise. You can also catch up on sleep in one of the SnoozeCubes, take a dip in the swimming pool at the Dubai International Hotel (located in the airport), spend some quiet time in one of the zen gardens (pictured), or, you know, just casually stock up on gold (yes, really!).

Best airline to book with: Emirates

San Francisco International Airport


Photo: Courtesy of San Francisco International Airport

The Golden Gate City takes the prize for the most culturally rich airport in North America. Stop and enjoy the art at the SFO Museum, which showcases a variety of frequently changing exhibitions. Keep the sophisticated theme going with a glass (or three) of Napa wine at one of the airport’s wine bars (which include SF Uncork’d and Vino Volo), or pick up some last-minute souvenirs at the SFMOMA store. If you’re feeling tense after a long flight, make your way to the free yoga studio and spend your layover untangling yourself with a little downward-facing dog. There are also a number of XpresSpas offering everything from manicures to massages. Think of your time at SFO as a holiday within a holiday.

Best airlines to book with: American Airlines, Delta, United

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