The layover: stuck in an airport for hours on end with nothing to do but watch the planes taking off or plonk yourself in a lacklustre café and drown your sorrows on overpriced beer. But it doesn’t have to be this way. While some airports remain a hotbed of bored travellers and broken travel dreams, the more forward thinking travel hubs have evolved into hi-tech entertainment complexes where soggy sandwiches and cramped seating have been replaced by upmarket restaurants, state-of-the-art spas and plush sleeping pods. At every one of these nine favourites, your layover will fly by:
Singapore Changi Airport
In 2017, Singapore’s Changi Airport won World’s Best Airport for the fourth year running at the World Airport Awards; and well deserved it was too. More akin to a vast entertainment complex than an airport, Changi is stuffed full of things to do. To start, follow the Nature Trail with a wander through the Sunflower Garden, the Cactus Garden and the Orchid Garden, all of which can be easily accessed via the Skytrain. If that’s not enough, walk among 1,000 butterflies at the Butterfly Garden, or admire the Enchanted Garden, where the flowers are made of glass. After all that nature perhaps take a dip in the rooftop pool, shop in over 300 shops, catch the latest movie for free in the 24-hour cinema or whizz down the four-storey slide at speeds of up to 6m/s. You’d think that would be all, but no; 2019 will see the launch of Jewel Changi Airport, an amusement park featuring mazes, slides, walkable sky nets and a rain vortex waterfall.
San Francisco International Airport
San Francisco brings a taste of the city to the airport, with a number of restaurants and cafés from the city having opened branches here. Examples include Perry’s, which serves hearty American fare, the Plant Café, which offers organic meals and fresh smoothies, and Vino Volo, where dishes are perfectly matched to local Californian wines. It’s not just the food outlets that have migrated from city though: browse the trinkets at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art souvenir shop, or ogle the fish at the aquarium, partnered with San Francisco’s Steinhart Aquarium. Once you’ve ticked all that off your to-do list, try the Aviation Museum, which features a reconstruction of the airport lobby as it would have been in 1930.
Hong Kong International Airport
Hong Kong International Airport’s Terminal 1 is the third largest airport terminal in the world, measuring a whopping 570,000 square metres. Housed between here and Terminal 2 you’ll find plenty to see and do: there’s an IMAX cinema, two simulation golf courses, a Dream Come True Education Park for children, and an Aviation Discovery Centre, telling the story of flight through the ages. As you make your way through the terminals, look out for the Bruce Lee tribute exhibition plus the various sculptures and optical illusions dotted about. Alternatively, while away the hours on the sports simulators or PlayStations at one of the airport’s free ‘game poles’.
Dubai International Airport
Dubai International Airport boasts the world’s largest duty free shop, 5,388 square metres of luxury watches, high-end perfumes, rare liqueurs and gold bars. Yes, that’s right; if you’ve ever wanted to add to your gold bar collection, this is the place. Perhaps you’re feeling a little more active? Head for the swimming pool, sauna and Jacuzzi at the G-Force Health Club, chill out in the Zen Garden or pamper yourself in the spa. Round off your stay with a tipple at the Moët and Chandon Bar or put your head down for a power nap in one of the sleeping pods at the Snoozecube.
Beer fans rejoice; Munich Airport doesn’t shy away from the German love of beer. Many eateries offer beer on tap, and there’s even a Bavarian tavern with a beer garden and on-site brewery. Come November and December and you can treat yourself to yet more tasty treats at the Christmas Market, a veritable winter wonderland selling spiced wine and bratwurst and featuring an ice skating rink. Overindulged? Wear it all off at the Fit & Fly Spa, with its 17-metre pool, gym, sauna and massage treatment rooms.
Vancouver International Airport
With its modern maritime vibe and indigenous art, Vancouver International is a vibrant place. Not content with simply offering a wide choice of eating and drinking establishments, including a revolving sushi bar and a wine bar with an open fire, Vancouver Airport also boasts four spas, numerous shops, and a 114,000 litre aquarium filled with local marine life. With floor-to-ceiling views over the runway, the ocean and the distant mountains, some travellers love this airport so much they’ve even got married here.
Amsterdam Schiphol Airport
Amsterdam Schiphol Airport leaves no Dutch stereotype unturned, with clogs, chocolates and tulips at seemingly every turn. If you don’t have time to venture into Amsterdam itself, try the free Rijksmuseum Schiphol Airport, showcasing a selection of the masterpieces from the larger branch of the Rijksmuseum in the city centre. But if you prefer to just relax, try the Meditation Centre, offering device-free peace and quiet 24 hours a day, or splash out on caviar and a glass of fizz at the Bubbles Seafood & Wine Bar. With so much to see and do, you’ll only wish your layover was longer.
Incheon International Airport
South Korea’s largest airport, located in Seoul, nabbed the title of Best Airport in the World in 2012. Less airport and more entertainment centre or museum, if you’re in transit here you can make use of the golf course (a five-minute, free shuttle bus ride away), spa, casino, movie zone and indoor gardens, or take a look around the Museum of Korean Culture. There’s even a skating rink. Don’t miss the Korean Cultural Street on the fourth floor, a mocked up alley of traditional Korean architecture, and regularly used for cultural processions, traditional harp performances and Korean handicraft classes.
Samui International Airport
If you like your airports a little more natural, then you’ll love Samui International Airport in Koh Samui, Thailand. One of the most picturesque airports in the world, stylish Samui is mostly outside, its canopies and open-air lounges designed to blend in with its surrounding trees and flowers. Connecting the island with the rest of Asia, the airport is filled with light and colour and makes a lovely spot to chill out at before flying on.