With United’s recent devaluation, I have been doing a ton of flight searching to burn my small cache of United Mileage Plus miles. Mainly looking to maximize my miles by booking “around the world” trips from the US to Asia, by way of Europe, I have looked everywhere and have tried routing every which way that I could think of. But seeing as to how everyone else was doing the same thing, most of the convenient connection flights from Europe to Asia (and vice versa), have been sucked up dry. I mean, bone dry. There’s nothing left for those of us that have specific dates that we need to travel on.
Because of that, I have been looking at connections that were not so convenient. We’re talking up to 24 hours in some cases, which got me thinking. If I’m gonna spend this much time at an airport, let’s look at some airports that are commuter friendly and have some of the best ways to keep me entertained during a long layover. So through my research, I was able to compile this list of some of the best airports for a long layover. From free movies to free city tours, here’s my list of the best airports for a long layover (in no particular order).
Disclaimer: This list does not include any South American, African or Oceanic airports. Because I was only looking at US-Europe-Asia routes, I only included these airports. I’m sure there are plenty of great airports in those other regions so please share them with me in the comments below.
Turkish Airlines has great award availability to Europe and has a great business class product. Because of that, chances are you’re gonna end up in Istanbul if you’re using your United miles. And lucky for us, Turkish Airlines has a great CIP lounge and a very exclusive Arrivals lounge (if you get there early enough). The CIP lounge is open from 0500 to 0100 hours and the Arrivals lounge is open from 0500 to 1230 hours. If you’re not traveling in business class, don’t worry. IST is huge and there’s plenty to see and do here. Additionally, Turkish Airlines offers a free city tour to passengers connecting on Turkish Airlines flights. The tour is only free if you have a layover of six hours or more. There are three tour times available, 0900 to 1500, 1200 to 1800 and 0900 to 1800. No pre-booking is required and the tours (including lunch) are completely free. Just step off the plane and show up to the tour desk before the scheduled departure time. Only caveat is that you have to apply for a visa on arrival. It’s about $20 and pretty quick. More information can be found here.
Though I don’t really like to connect through LHR because of the increased taxes and fees, it’s actually a great place to kill a few hours. LHR is a shopper and foodie’s dream. It’s basically one gigantic shopping mall. Every store and every brand is represented here from the small cell phone kiosk to the 11,000 square foot Harrods. LHR is also home to over 105 restaurants and a gallery showcasing sculptures and art exhibits by emerging British artists. The Sofitel London is also attached to T5 via a walkway and has access to a spa, fitness center and 45 meeting rooms.
Schiphol Amsterdam Airport
This is one of the best airports to have a long layover. AMS is the only airport to have an attached museum (Rijksmusuem Amsterdam) displaying works of art by Dutch masters such as Jan Steen and Ferdinand Bol and a public library with literature available in 29 languages. AMS boasts free WiFi throughout the entire airport so you can stay connected and be productive. If rest and relaxation is your goal, there are multiple spas and a device-free, “Silence Centre” to help you recharge. Want to leave the airport for some fresh Dutch air? No problem. AMS has a four hour “floating bus” tour available for 39 Euros. It’s a bus tour of the city that doubles as a boat tour. The bus actually goes into the river to provide you with excellent views of the city. More information can be found here.
Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport
CDG is an absolute mess to transit. Be grateful for your long layover because you’re gonna need it. Pack your walking shoes and plenty of patience. Expect long lines through security and passport control and airport employees that move without purpose. Do you remember that movie, The Terminal, with Tom Hanks where he was trapped inside an airport terminal for years? Well, it was based on a true story where a man was trapped inside CDG for 17 years. I hope you guys packed some extra underwear.
BKK is kind of chaotic also so allow for extra time to go through the terminals. If you are traveling Thai Airways first class, then enjoy the Royal Orchid Spa and the Royal First lounges. Business class passengers can enjoy complimentary services also. With spa services and food so great, you’re gonna wish you had more time here. Not traveling first class? No problem. There are two city tours offered for transit passengers. The short tour is five hours long and the much longer tour is 12 hours long. The short tour includes a tour of the city and a boat trip along the rivers and canals. The longer tour adds on time for shopping, a massage and nighttime festivities including visits to the bars and cabarets. More information about the tours can be found here.
Hong Kong International
HKG offers plenty of food options and entertainment. There’s a nine-hole regulation golf course, IMAX theater, Aviation Discovery Center, Education Park for the kiddies, iSports car racing and basketball simulator and numerous Michelin rated restaurants to satisfy the biggest of appetites. Passengers wanting to explore the city have two options, a five hour tour and a eight hour tour. The five hour tour departs at 1000 and includes a vegetarian lunch. The eight hour tour departs at 1030 and includes a dim sum lunch. More information on the city tours can be found here.
Okay, this is probably one of the coolest options available for transit passengers. ICN offers a tour that leaves the airport via bus ride to the DMZ (demilitarized zone border between North and South Korea) and back in six hours. You can actually get off, take a quick picture and then board the bus back to ICN for about $100. There’s also a shorter tour blah blah blah. . . Did I mention you could go to the DMZ??? How exciting is that?? More information about the city tours can be found here. But if the DMZ is not your thing, you can hang out at the airport and enjoy the attached movie theater, ice skating rink, or 18 hole putting green. There’s also the Korean gardens and the observation deck with amazing outdoor views of the airport.
Hands down, the best airport for a long layover. SIN offers a free movie theater, butterfly garden, rooftop pool, free WiFi, entertainment and rest areas, and two free city tours. There’s a two hour, “Heritage” day tour for passengers with morning connections and a two hour, “City Lights” night tour for passengers with night connections. The tours are free with departures leaving the airport at 0900, 1130, 1430, 1600 and 1830 (night tour). No need to pre-book. Just get off the plane and walk over to the tour reservations desk to sign up. More information about SIN can be found here and information about the free tours can be found here.
San Francisco International Airport
Has a 150 square foot yoga room. Need I say more? Oh, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art store and Airport Museum.
Vancouver International Airport
It’s a little pricey to fly into but YVR is one great airport. For long layovers, it’s one of the best places to stroll through and enjoy all the beautiful displays of artwork. There are several self guided tours to explore the airport and see the artwork and architecture. Enjoy the Supernatural World, the Spirit of Haida Gwaii and other exhibits from native artists such as Bill Reid and Joe David. And if fish are your fancy, the Vancouver Aquarium has several displays at YVR including a 30,000 gallon tank teeming with more than 5,000 sea creatures and tanks featuring jellyfish.