Have a long layover? You don’t have to feel “stuck at the airport” these days. These mini cities have become much more than merely waiting rooms for departing flights. Here are recommendations for some of the best airports to target if you have plenty of time to spend between connections.
Changi Airport, Singapore (SIN)
Changi comes up with ways to attract visitors even if they are not taking a flight—whether for special haute cuisine programs that fly in the world’s top chefs or a visit to Jewel, a 24-hour complex connected to the arrival hall in Terminal 1. The five-story, jungle-themed recreation and retail destination contains the world’s tallest indoor waterfall: the Rain Vortex, which becomes the backdrop for sound and light shows at night. Bouncy nets and fog bowls create other unusual engagement experiences. The airport also offers an indoor butterfly garden, four-story tube slide, myriad dining options, massage chairs, by-the-day amenity lounges and even a movie theater. Antsy travelers will love the airport hotel with its rooftop pool and gym, or they may choose to take a free four-hour city tour available through the airport or Singapore Airlines.
Dubai International Airport, United Arab Emirates (DXB)
Dubai practically invented the airport-as-destination concept when it launched the first phase of its master plan in 1998 with a multitude of luxury services and the best airport shopping on the planet. Today, it continues to hit new heights with added duty-free designer boutiques, unusual international dining finds and a sizable gold bazaar where the precious metal can be bought by the gram, ounce or kilo. Prices tend to be lower at this airport, reflecting Dubai’s duty-free destination designation and renown as a must-visit shopping stopover. And when you drop from all the browsing, head to the Timeless Spa for delectable treatments—facials, massages, manicures—at rates you only wish you could find in the U.S. Longer layovers may require the airport’s on-site hotel for a private room or suite and gym access. Or consider one of several health clubs available in different terminals, where you can lounge at an indoor pool, immerse in a Jacuzzi, steam room or sauna, and even have your body composition analyzed. For those who simply want a private place to catch a nap, Sleep ’n Fly sleeping pods—smartly designed Scandinavian bunking spaces—can be found in all terminals. The decked-out pods run around $28 for two hours.
John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York City (JFK)
Delays at JFK can be counted upon these days, whether your layover is intentional or not. Those with time to kill can explore some worthy avenues of diversion rather than sit transfixed to the boarding screen. If you are not a premium flyer, consider purchasing a day pass to airline lounges operated by Aer Lingus, Air France, Alaska or American, or opt for the independent Primeclass and Wingtips lounges. As JFK is the sixth-busiest airport in the country (some 61 million passengers swing through annually), some plush privacy can make all the difference in smoothing the travel experience. Terminal 4 now offers Minute Suites—somewhat bare-bones cells, but quiet places to catch rest by the hour, starting at $48, linens and TV access included. More adventurous passengers can head to the TWA Hotel by Terminal 5 and book rooms for a half day or overnight, each option starting at around $300. Once checked in, you can loll the day away watching planes from the rooftop pool, and get your Peloton on at the 24-hour fitness center. Better yet, expend calories trying to stay vertical on skates at the hotel’s Roll-A-Rama runway rink.
Incheon Airport, Seoul, South Korea (ICN)
Clean and orderly, this airport is replete with cultural immersion. Find museums dedicated to traditional crafts of hanji, Dancheong, najeon and folk paintings. Adults and children can sit at a table with brushes and papers and get hands-on lessons in the skills behind these rituals. Ancient Korean relics and artifacts are also on display. Dress up like a noble in grand flowing robes for selfies. Relax and take in a classical concert or traditional music performance happening in various terminals and concourses. Visit a digital recreation of Gyeongbokgung Palace and a life-size version of a traditional 19th-century street, both in Terminal 1. Passengers with plenty of time between flights can also prebook free one- to five-hour round-trip tours into Incheon and Seoul.
Keflavik Airport, Reykjavík, Iceland (KEF)
This airport is a good place to get acquainted with fresh Scandinavian fare such as smoked-salmon open-faced sandwiches, pylsa (Nordic hot dogs) and kleina (fried doughnut twists). But the best thing about KEF is neither the airport nor the food, but the natural beauty right nearby: the Blue Lagoon. This geothermal hotspot is worth a trip to Iceland in itself. Reykjavik Excursions allows for a quick soak and scene. Catch the bus outside the main terminal and allow at least four hours for the total excursion to these warm, milky blue waters. The trip costs around $144 and includes towel, mud mask and beverage. Bring your own bathing suit.
Nashville International Airport, Tennessee (BNA)
The city known for the Grand Ole Opry capitalizes on its country-music fame by bringing free concerts to the airport. Live daily performances between noon and 4 pm featuring up-and-coming singer/songwriters and bands. Find them on stages at the C/D Concourse exit and A/B Rotunda. Hungry travelers will want to get their BBQ fix at such airport concessions as 400 Degrees, Bar-B-Cutie SmokeHouse, Pig Star by Peg Leg Porker and Swett’s. Wash it all down with local craft beers from Tennessee Brew Works.
Schiphol, Amsterdam (AMS)
Schiphol has always put passengers first, starting with the train you can catch below the arrival terminal to be whisked off to Amsterdam’s Central Station in 15 minutes. But if you don’t have time to visit the Rijksmuseum in town, indulge your taste for Dutch masters at the airport. An outpost of the institution is located behind passport control and between piers E and F. Need some green? Airport Park has the trees, loungers and even (prerecorded) birdsong. Get your exercise by peddling away on stationary bikes that will also charge up your digital accessories. Shopping offers cheeses, tulips and chocolates in creative packaging, while those needing some kneading can head to one of the XpresSpa locations.
Vancouver International Airport, Canada (YVR)
A centerpiece of the sky-sweeping international terminal here is a colorful, 30,000-gallon aquarium with a kelp forest and wolf eels and hundreds, if not thousands, of sea urchins and anemones. In terminal four, a smaller tank of Pacific sea nettles keeps watchers mesmerized. With hours to kill, head to the McArthurGlen Designer Outlet Centre—just a five-minute hop on the airport sky train. The outdoor mall features some 80 retailers, including Coach, Calvin Klein, Fossil and Furla, and most of the merchandise can be had at 70-percent off retail. For even longer layovers, a stay at the Fairmont, located inside the international terminal, will banish all ills.