Sleeping in Airports

Honolulu Airport Layover Sightseeing

This article includes links to our travel partners at Tripadvisor, where you can read traveller reviews, book tours and plan your visit to Honolulu.

Honolulu Airport Layover Sightseeing
Photo Credit: CharlotteRaboff / Shutterstock

After a long flight across the Pacific, you may 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), hopping in a taxi to explore Hawaii’s most developed island would certainly be worthwhile! The airport offers luggage storage (Terminal 2, Baggage Claim, Carousel 18), making exploring outside the airport even easier. Given that the airport is close to the famous Waikiki Beach, visiting 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 have less than a five-hour layover in Honolulu, stay put at HNL. Instead, sit back and relax in this retro-looking airport, get a haircut at the airport salon or step outside into a nicely manicured garden around the airport perimeter. That will give you a little breath of that warm tropical Hawaiian air! Activities may be sparse, but a few minor improvements have been made to make a layover slightly more enjoyable. For more information on the airport, check out our Honolulu Airport Guide.

Honolulu Sightseeing Attractions

Below are a few of the top things to do in Waikiki:

Kuhio and Waikiki Beaches

Honolulu Waikiki Beach
Photo Credit: mdlart / Shutterstock

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 and surfboard and boogie board rentals are readily available for those who wish to do more than dip. With some extra time, you should also walk back into the famous beachfront neighbourhoods for sand-free exploring. Kalakaua Avenue has some of Honolulu’s best shopping for those craving a bit of retail therapy!

  • Time Required: We recommend budgeting roughly an hour and a half for a meal and a swim on the beach. 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 required time.
  • Plan Your Visit: Visit Tripadvisor for more information about visiting Kuhio Beach or Waikiki Beach, to book a tour or read traveller reviews.

Diamond Head

Honolulu Diamond Head
Photo Credit: Donna McSherry

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 several historically significant spots. 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 entirely magical.

  • Time Required: The round-trip hike takes approximately two hours for average hikers. Consider adding extra time if you plan to take breaks for a picnic or photography. 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 required time.
  • Plan Your Visit: Visit Tripadvisor for more information about visiting Diamond Head, book a tour or read traveller reviews.

Waikiki Aquarium and the Honolulu Zoo

Visiting the Waikiki Aquarium allows visitors to peek below the ocean surface without strapping on their scuba or snorkelling gear. The aquarium is home to over 3,500 organisms that live in the tropical Pacific and 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 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 required time.
  • Plan Your Visit: Visit Tripadvisor for more information about visiting the Waikiki Aquarium and Honolulu Zoo, to book a tour or read traveller reviews.

Airport Transportation

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

Public transit options include:

  • Bus (Median of Second Level Roadway): Several 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 about your mini layover vacation 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? 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 extended security wait times, so 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, 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: