Whether you’re anxious to get a vacation or business trip started or eager to return home after time away, a lengthy layover usually represents nothing more than a time-consuming roadblock between you and your desired destination.
But extended layovers are sometimes unavoidable or a necessary evil to reap significant savings from an inconvenient itinerary. If you find yourself grounded at one of these airports, their free or cheap attractions might help you love your next long layover — or at least loathe it a little less.
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol
Andre Arriaza, co-founder of the food tour company Barcelona Eat Local, is impressed by this airport’s attractions, including a free in-airport library (which is currently closed due to rebuilding).
“The airport also has a park where travelers can go outside for some fresh air and relax on the lounge chairs and bean bags with a drink in hand, or charge their electronic devices using the special exercise bikes,” said Arriaza.
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport
As a former travel agent who went on to invent a line of travel-related products for kids, Grainne Kelly has experienced more than her share of long layovers. One of her favorite stops is Austin, Texas, which showcases local musicians performing free shows for ticketed passengers.
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“Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is true to Austin’s live music-loving spirit,” said Kelly. “The airport features venues in both the east and west concourses with more than a dozen live concerts held each week. Ticketed passengers can get a front row seat for performances of everything from western swing to vintage jazz.”
Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport
ROAM Fitness opened its first location at BWI in the spring of 2017, making it the only gym past security checkpoints at any U.S. airport, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The 1,175-square-foot facility provides complimentary clothing to members, as well as footwear loans, space for stretching, cardio gear, free weights and other fitness equipment. It also has towel service and private showers members can reserve to freshen up before their flights. ROAM offers daily, monthly and annual membership passes, with the 24-hour pass priced at $25.
Chicago O’Hare International Airport
Jema Patterson, who operates the travel site Half the Clothes, loves the yoga room, shopping and dining options at O’Hare Airport, where restaurants get terminal-to-table produce from right there in the airport.
“Almost every pilot and flight attendant who spends a few hours there knows the ‘secret’ of the aeroponic garden — a lovely, bright space to pass a few hours next to towers of vegetables being grown for airport restaurants,” Patterson said.
Ticketed passengers can check out the garden and a display describing some of the environmental benefits of aeroponic gardening.
Denver International Airport
Denver International Airport’s dining options ranked first in the U.S. in overall quality on RewardExpert’s 2017 Airport Dining Scorecard. Notable eateries include Root Down, which won a top award for best chef-driven local or regional restaurant from Airport Revenue News in 2016.
Root Down, which emphasizes field-to-fork cuisine and has an array of vegetarian and gluten-free choices, offers unique menu options such as cranberry-chipotle buffalo wings. This non-traditional take on hot wings features locally sourced duck wings accompanied by scallions, salted cucumber and house ranch for $12.
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Dubai International Airport
For those who want to disconnect during a long layover, this airport boasts Zen gardens to explore as well as SnoozeCubes, which are available for a rental fee of $21 an hour. Dubai International also boasts free and unlimited WiFi, and 35,400 square meters of duty-free shopping.
Additionally, Emirates makes it easy to explore the city during a layover when you sign up for the airline’s stopover package. Emirates’ three-night stopover on arrival packages start at $45 per person, per night sharing.
This German airport is home to Lufthansa’s first-class terminal, which boasts premium perks such as a cigar lounge, a wining and dining area, and a superbly stocked bar. The terminal is only open to passengers (and one guest also on the flight) with first-class flights departing that day on Lufthansa or Swiss International Airlines, or HON Circle loyalty program members with any same-day departing flight on Lufthansa, Swiss or Austrian Airlines.
For the rest of us, the Frankfurt Airport offers free pod-like “Silent Chairs” designed to reduce ambient noise and two free yoga rooms. For flyers looking for something less Zen, the airport features Gaming World, which offers free access to interactive games, computer-assisted games and gaming pedestals.
The Munich airport in Germany offers several ways to get a peek behind the scenes during long layovers. Outside, you can get a free look at takeoffs and landings at Visitors Park. The airport also offers free admission to an interactive exhibition that gives people a glimpse at the airport's inner workings.
For those who want to get even more technical, the airport offers ticketed tours that examine aspects of airport operations, such as the on-site fire department. Inside, travelers will find an observation deck that offers a free overview of airport operations.
If aviation isn't your thing, you can take a ticketed tour (which includes a tasting) of Airbräu, a microbrewery located at the airport. Airbräu also frequently features free live music shows.
TAV Istanbul Atatürk Airport
This Turkish airport was the site of a deadly terrorist attack in June 2016. But frequent flyer Kevin Mejia, who once spent part of a stop there snoozing in one of the chairs by his gate, considers it one of the best airports for a long layover.
"I really enjoyed my long layover in Istanbul," he said. "Depending on the length of your layover, Turkish Airlines offers a free tour of Istanbul called TourIstanbul." The tour is open to any Turkish Airlines passenger with a layover of six to 24 hours.
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The Istanbul airport is also home to a unique duty-free shop called the Old Bazaar. Modeled after the historic Grand Bazaar that occupies dozens of streets in the city, the airport’s version of the bazaar offers many of the same specialty goods — often at attractive prices.
A number of airports around the world offer personal shopping services, including London's Heathrow Airport. But one thing that makes Heathrow’s shopping service stand out is the personal shopping lounges available in some terminals. Travelers facing a long layover can book the complimentary service online at least 48 hours before they travel.
Krista Lamp, a public relations representative for a firm that works with Heathrow, said the airport’s personal shopping lounge lets passengers “browse, try and purchase a specially edited selection of products” in a private consultation suite.
“The lounge itself matches the variety and quality of London’s most iconic shopping districts and gives passengers unique access to over 140 brands and 400 outlets across Heathrow, curated into one space,” Lamp added.
Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport
This airport is home to the See 18 Film Screening Room, which features free round-the-clock showings of short films and documentaries by filmmakers from the region. Travelers with something more active in mind can hop on the light rail for a short ride to Mall of America, or take a trek down the airport’s 1.4-mile Start! Walking path.
Seoul Incheon International Airport
At this airport in South Korea, you'll find an ice skating rink where skates are available for rent (for less than $4 for adults), as well as a movie theater. And if you want to keep your kids and wallet happy, check out the various play areas.
It’s also easy to leave for a short sightseeing session, said Patrick Smith, an airline pilot and travel writer who operates the site Ask the Pilot.
“If you’re feeling energetic, a tour desk arranges free excursions to Incheon city,” Smith said. “If you’re headed into Seoul, the airport’s high-speed rail connection will have you downtown in under an hour.”
Singapore Changi Airport
Many frequent flyers — including Taryn White, who created the travel site The Trip Wish List — consider this the best airport in the world for long layovers. The airport’s website even offers suggestions based on how much time travelers have between flights.
“Singapore’s Changi Airport is a destination in and of itself," said White. "In fact, many of its citizens visit the airport to socialize and use its venues."
She points to various attractions, including free 24-hour movie theaters, a swimming pool, indoor gardens, video game stations and the world’s tallest slide in an airport.
“The airport also has great shopping,” White said. “Travelers can reserve its Aerotel [Airport Transit Hotel] for hours at a time. And the airport offers free city tours, which I recently took after a long layover from Thailand.”
Vancouver International Airport
Want to experience Canada's natural beauty? There’s no need to even leave the terminal — this airport brings the outdoors to you with two satellite Vancouver Aquarium Marine Exhibits. In the international terminal, you'll find more than 5,000 creatures, including eels, sea stars and anemones.
If you're more of an art lover, you'll find plenty of it here. The airport features British Columbia art and architecture throughout the airport.
This Swiss airport capitalizes on its country’s attractions and assets by offering travelers access to the outdoors, even if they're just passing through for a few hours.
“Zurich Airport in Switzerland now includes sports equipment rentals such as bicycles, inline skates and adjustable Nordic walking poles,” said Kelly. For a small fee (starting at roughly $10), you can rent equipment for four hours or a full day.