Honolulu Airport Layover Sightseeing

honolulu airport layover sightseeing

After a long flight across the Pacific, you may well be keen to stretch your legs and soak in the sun on a layover in Honolulu. If you find yourself with a layover of over five hours at Honolulu Airport (HNL), it would certainly be worthwhile to hop in a taxi to explore Hawaii’s most developed island, before hopefully continuing on somewhere else in the country! Given that the airport is located so close to the famous Waikiki Beach, a visit here is always popular. Otherwise, consider peering beneath the sea at the Waikiki Aquarium, or getting some exercise and a bird’s eye view of the island on a hike up the stunning Diamond Head. Check out our guide below for information on what to do and how to do it!

Airport Overview

If you find yourself with less than a four-hour layover in Honolulu, you might be wise to stay put at HNL. Given that there are no on-site baggage storage facilities at the airport, this short period may be more hassle than it is worth. Instead, sit back and relax in this retro-looking airport and perhaps step outside into a nicely manicured garden around the airport perimeter. That will at least give you a little breath of that warm tropical Hawaiian air! Activities may be sparse, but a few minor improvements are being made to make a layover slightly more enjoyable. For more information on the airport itself, check out our Honolulu Airport Guide.

Sightseeing Options

Below are a few essential sights.

Kuhio and Waikiki Beaches

waikiki beach surfboards

After landing in Honolulu after an inevitably long flight, the perfect way to decompress between legs may be on the sandy shores of Kuhio or Waikiki Beach. Located adjacent to each other, each has change rooms and pleasant strips of restaurants on the shoreline making both beaches excellent places to refresh yourself with a swim and a snack. Surfing lessons, surfboard and boogie board rentals are readily available, for those who wish to do more than just dip. With a bit of extra time, you might also wish to walk back into the famous beachfront neighbourhoods for a bit of sand-free exploring. Kalakaua Avenue happens to have some of Honolulu’s best shopping, for those craving a bit of retail therapy!

Time Required: For a meal and a swim on the beach, we would recommend budgeting roughly an hour and a half. Of course, more or less time can be spent here with a slightly adapted schedule. This does not include transportation time.

How to Get There: Check out this Google Map for details on public and private transit options, and the associated time required.

Diamond Head

diamond head view

For those who need a bit of fitness between long haul Pacific flights, a hike up Diamond Head Crater  may be the perfect Honolulu layover activity. This coastal crater sits among Hawaii’s most recognized landmarks, and is famous for its sensational hiking trails. Tracks lead you through the forest and along the coast, highlighting a number of historically significant spots on the way. The entire trail is 0.8 miles, and grows increasingly difficult as you near the summit. While the hike is often hot and sweaty, the view of the Waikiki from the top is completely magical.

Time Required: For average hikers, the round trip hike takes approximately 2 hours. If you plan to take breaks for a picnic or photography, consider adding on a little extra time. This does not include transportation time.

How to Get There: Check out this Google Map for details on public and private transit options, and the associated time required.

Waikiki Aquarium and the Honolulu Zoo

A visit to the Waikiki Aquarium gives visitors with a chance to peek below the ocean surface, without strapping on your scuba or snorkeling gear. The aquarium is home to over 3500 organisms that live in the tropical Pacific, and it is located on the shoreline of a living reef. Next to the Aquarium, you’ll find the Honolulu Zoo. It too makes an effort to profile local species, and is currently home to over 900 tropical animals. Highlights include the Komodo Dragons, the orangutans and the elephants. Both the aquarium and the zoo are within walking distance of Waikiki Beach.

Time Required: We would recommend an hour at the aquarium – more if you wish to move at a slower pace or include a trip to the zoo as well. This does not include transport time.

How to Get There: Check out this Google Map for details on public and private transit options, and the associated time required.

Transportation

HNL is located six miles from central Honolulu and 10 miles from Waikiki. Public and private transport options make reaching these destinations both easy and efficient – though taxis are by far the quickest option.

Public transit options include:

  • Bus (Median of Second Level Roadway): A number of bus lines connect the airport to the City and County of Honolulu, and depart roughly every 30 minutes. For rates and schedules: Honolulu Bus Service

Private transit options include:

  • SpeediShuttle (Adjacent Baggage Claims in all terminals): A door-to-door shared shuttle service that takes travellers to their chosen locations throughout the city. Pick-up occurs within 20 minutes of checking in with the Shuttle Attendant.
  • Car Rental (Baggage Claim): Six companies organize car rentals in the Baggage Claim area, and provide a shuttle service to the parking lots.
  • Taxis (All Terminals outside Baggage Claim): AMPCO Express taxis await passengers at the central median outside baggage claim areas at all terminals.

Before You Go: Layover Tips

Now that you are motivated and excited for your mini layover vacation, just make sure to check a few final logistical concerns off your list before you fully commit.

  • Do you need to organize a visa to leave the airport? Requirements change frequently and for each nationality, so be sure to seek out current details on the availability, cost and procedures of obtaining a transit visa.
  • When is your next flight’s check-in time? Make sure you double check with your airline exactly when you need to be at the airport – and plan your layover accordingly.
  • What are security wait times like at the airport? Some airports are notorious for long security wait-times, so be sure to do a bit of research in advance and factor that into your overall time-budget.
  • What’s happening with your luggage? When you check in to your first flight, be sure to confirm whether your luggage is checked through or needs to be picked up between your connecting flights. Visit our Honolulu Airport Guide for information about luggage storage.

Other Useful Resources

Finally, here are a few handy resources to help you plan your layover even more thoroughly:

buy a lounge pass