Bid adieu to the dreaded layover! Airports worldwide are jumping on a trend that encourages transit passengers to leave the airport and visit the city, spicing dreaded travel days up with a mini vacation. Whether travellers spend a day seeking out a city’s best sights, diving into local cuisine or even just unwinding in luxurious airport facilities, an extended layover is now something to seek out rather than avoid. And, the bonus? Flights with long layovers are often less expensive – allowing for a few extra dollars for mementos or snacks!
The following airports are leaders when it comes to developing quick, accessible and inexpensive opportunities to visit the city, with many other destinations following suit.
1. London Heathrow (LHR): An institution in layovers, the airport itself essentially doubles as a glamorous shopping mall variety of high-end stores and top quality restaurants. Hours (and hundreds of dollars) easily disappear into the duty-free shopping abbess over even the quickest layovers. However, for those interested in soaking in slightly more British culture, Heathrow Express will carry transit passengers into Central London (Paddington Station) in roughly 15 minutes. From there, it is a quick tube ride to Buckingham Palace, Oxford Street or East London, where great architecture, food and shopping awaits!
2. Dubai (DXB): Emirates extends its reputation for stellar service right through to organizing tours for transit passengers. A half-day city tour will highlight the juxtaposition of Arabic history and culture with the growth of a modern metropolis. By booking an extended layover with the airline, it is even possible to venture out into the surrounding deserts for either a cocktail with a view or a thrilling sandboarding adventure. Flying business class with Emirates? Remember that your ticket price includes a private driver that will take you anywhere within a predefined distance of the airport. In Dubai – this means right down town!
3. Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS): Amsterdam is an increasingly common layover destination, and Amsterdam City Tours now offers tailor made tours highlighting Dutch culture and history. Driving along the canals, through the Red Light District, past the Royal Palace and around the Anne Frank House introduces transit passengers to the infamous city over only 3 – 5 hours! This should still leave time for passengers to visit the airport’s Rembrandt-stocked art gallery and the outdoor garden!
4. Seoul Incheon (ICN): The airport offers free transit tours highlighting impressive South Korean culture, history and architecture. With a wide variety of tours depending on the length of your layover (and your preferences), travelers are able to visit Hongik University, Dongdaemun Market, the Incheon Grand Bridge in addition to numerous temples and restaurants. You can review and book tours online through the easy-to-use Incheon website. That said you might not even need to leave the airport to get a taste of Korean culture. With indoor gardens, a Museum of Korean Culture, a spa, golf course and ice skating rink, ICN will easily entertain you for hours. What’s more? Business Traveler has ranked the Duty Free Zone to be the best shopping – for three years running!
5. Singapore Changi (SIN): If you can pry yourself away from the marvels of one of the best airports worldwide (and it will be difficult…) Changi airport and Singapore Airlines collaborate to offer a free two-hour city tour for transit passengers with layovers of over five hours. With opportunities to walk through Merlion Park and a stunning tour of the contrasting facets of China Town, this tour offers insight into this emerging and powerful city. That said if you are unable to attend one of these scheduled tours, a spin through one of the airport’s numerous butterfly-filled open-air gardens is just as fascinating and relaxing.
In addition to these precedents, smaller airports worldwide are falling in line with this trend offering great opportunities to unwind between flights – here are a few emerging highlights!
- At the beginning of 2014, Qatar Airlines began offering free tours of Doha to all transit passengers with a layover between 5 – 12 hours. As one of the world’s fastest growing airlines, travellers will be increasingly likely to spend a few hours in this fascinating city – why not jump on an air-conditioned bus with an English tour guide to learn a bit more!
- Throughout the United States, Salt Lake City and Boston offer both organized city tours and accessible public transit taking you into the heart of the cities for great food and a pleasant walk. JFK and LaGuardia are also located minutes away from Manhattan and Brooklyn, making day trips of New York quick and easy as well. Subways and taxis transport tourists to and from the airport in 20 – 40 minutes, giving you just enough time to see Time Square or wander through the trendy streets of Dumbo with great views of the Manhattan Skyline. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, you can take $30 – 35 taxi at the airport (one way) to Santa Monica to take a stroll along the boardwalk and around Venice.
- While Iceland’s Keflavik airport is an unusual layover destination, this city offers the ultimate relaxation by carrying transit passengers to a geothermal spa 20 minutes from the airport.
With any opportunity to leave the airport, it is important that you confirm check in times and baggage policies with your particular airlines prior to departure. Policies vary greatly between airlines and airports – and these mini-vacations become significantly less enjoyable when you miss your connecting flight!
With this trend taking off, we would love to hear about any readers who have taken mini-vacations around the world, and what the experience would like! Top cities? Horror stories? Helpful tips? Post it all in the comment section below!