6 Top Airports for International Layovers

Nov 18, 2014

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Inevitably, you will have to have a layover while flying at some point. TPG International Correspondent Lori Zaino offers up some international airports around the world with world-class features and amenities (and a quick excursion to the city center, time permitting) so you can maximize your layover. For layovers in in North America, check out our recent post here

If I’m stuck with a long layover, I would almost prefer it to be in an international city (if given the option) so I can explore a new place. Throwing down a Facebook status like “Just spending the day in Dubai” is seemingly more exotic than say, “Just spending the day in Detroit”. So, if you  have a layover, and have a choice–pick one of the below international airports, as they have some of the best and most comfortable features for you to spend your time in, or great access to a new city for exploring.

1. Amsterdam Airport Schipol, Netherlands (AMS)

The Nine Streets are a great area to explore
The Nine Streets are a great area to explore

Schipol, a hub for KLM Airlines, is located just about 10 miles Southwest of Amsterdam, making it ideal for getting to the city center during a layover. However, it is the fourth busiest airport in Europe, so make sure you leave yourself enough time to get there and back. The airport itself is fresh, new and clean and offers free WiFi for all passengers. Bookworms can visit the airport library, which offers a collection of over 1,200 books that are translated into 29 languages, plus e-books and music which can be downloaded to a laptop or mobile device for free. Note: Unfortunately, the library is currently closed for renovations, but will hopefully re-open soon.

If you feel like tossing around some money, head to the Holland Casino for blackjack or slot machines (between Gates E and F behind customs). If you need a good night’s sleep, a nap or even just a shower (15 Euros/$18.66), the Hotel Mercure, located behind the customs area in Lounge 3 provides all three. Beware, as renovations are going on through May 2015, you may not get the silence you want for a restful nap. (The Yotel also offers day and night rate, but is closed indefinitely for renovations). You can meditate at the Meditation Center, which also provides church services (ask about the location as it has been moved around due to renovations). There are also a few places around the area with comfy chairs for relaxing as well as several charging ports and the occasional massage chair. If you have KLM Crowne Lounge access, you can also relax and have a shower there. 

Attention all you points, mileage and airplane junkies out there, it is possible to get married at the Amsterdam aiport–and even during a long layover, if you desire.

Travel to the City Center: Store your bags in one of the many luggage lockers located throughout Schipol (Departure Lounges 1, 2 and 3, the Departure Lounge at Pier D, Arrival Hall 3 and the Baggage Basement Square at level 1) starting at 6 Euros/$7.50. Trains run to Centraal Station every 15 minutes and the trip is under 20 minutes (4 Euro/$5 each way).

Nearby Attraction: Once you get to Centraal Station, exit and walk straight ahead through Dam Square. Rent-a-Bike NL offers tours and bike rental so you can explore the city on wheels. If you are short on time, steer clear of the seedy Red Light District and instead bike over towards the trendy Nine Streets area, filled with quaint cafes and cool boutiques and artisan shops (the Anne Frank House is also located around here). Minimum layover time required, 5+ hours.

2. Singapore Changi Airport (SIN)

Singapore's tallest slide.
Singapore’s tallest slide found in T3 of SIN.

Singapore Airport  is hub to Singapore Airlines, SilkAir, AirAsia, Tigerair, Jetstar Asia Airways, and Valuair. It currently has three terminals with a fourth scheduled to open in 2017. Although Changi is just about 11 miles away from the city center, you may not even want to leave considering the amount of activities the airport offers.

The Changi Aviation gallery provides interactive models and activities showcasing the history of aviation in Singapore (T3, free). All three terminals offer a playground for kids ages one to twelve (not to be confused with the forest-themed playground also for children in T1). If you have enough time to kill, catch a flick at one of the two movie theatres (T2 & 3). Kids and adults can enjoy arcade games in Zone X in the basement of T2.

If you want to get some fresh air, visit the Cactus Garden (T1), Butterfly Garden (T3), Enchanted Garden, Orchid Gardens, Koi Pond and Sunflower Garden (T2). Indulge in the fitness or spa services at the Ambassador Transit hotel (located in all three terminals) or even take a dive in the Balinese-themed swimming pool (shower facilities, a towel and a complimentary non-alcoholic drink from the bar for about $11, Departure Lounge East Level 3). 

The airport also features baby changing and care rooms (several in all three terminals), nap rooms at the Rainforest Lounge (T3) & The Haven (T3) and music lounges and prayer rooms in all three terminals.

Finally, Singpore’s largest slide is located in T3 at 12 meters tall. Yes, adults can go to town on it, too. Save your receipts, because for every $10 you spend at Changi Airport in a single receipt, you can redeem one ride on the slide.

Travel to the City Center: Store your luggage at EasyBagy starting at just a few dollars (locations in all 3 Terminals). Bus number 36 goes to the city center and costs about $1.60 each way, leaving from all three terminals.

Nearby Attraction: The Singapore Airport runs free two-hour tours of the city that show you several highlights for those who have four hours or more between the start of the tour and their next flight. Make sure to register for the tour at least one hour before it starts. More info on the tours can be found here. Minimum layover time required, 5.5+ hours. 

3. Dubai International Airport (DXB)

Head to the Burj K for some amazing views of Dubai
Head to the Burj Khalifa  for some amazing views of Dubai. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

At just three miles south of the city center, this airport, an Emirates and Flydubai hub is perfect for a layover. DXB’s Terminal 3 is the largest building in the world by floor space. The airport is ideal for business travelers, as it features the Connect Business Centre in the Sheikh Rashid Terminal, which is open 24-hours a day, providing conference rooms, high speed internet, business software and work stations. In the same terminal, you will find the G-Force Health Club also open 24 hours a day  that is equipped with a swimming pool, shower facilities, saunas, jacuzzis, steam rooms and massage rooms. Quiet rooms and prayer rooms are also available for those searching for some solitude. The Airport Hotel are properties within the airport offering rates for hours or full nights in T1 & 3.

DXB is also a shopper’s paradise, featuring the world’s largest duty-free shop at 58,000-square-feet. You can buy pretty much anything in this airport–even bars of pure gold. You can also enter Dubai’s famous rafflesPurchase a ticket to win cars, motorcycles, or even one million dollars.

Travel to the City Center: As a US or Canadian citizen, you get a free 30 day visa upon arrival, so this makes it easy for you to head out and explore. Store your luggage in the Emirates Terminal 3 Arrival area starting at about $7 for 12 hours per bag. Get on the metro from Arrivals T1 or T3 and take the red line into the city center (fare depends on where you get off, between $1-$2 each way).

Nearby Attraction: Hop off the metro at the Burj Khalifa station. It’s about a 1o minute walk to the famous Burj Khalifa building. Reserve tickets ahead of time to take the elevator to the top for panoramic views of Dubai. The Dubai Mall & Fountain is also nearby if you have extra time. It’s accessible from both Terminal 1 and Terminal 3 (if you’re arriving via Emirates). Minimum layover time required, 5.5+hours.

4. Hong Kong International Airport (HKG)

Visit one of Hong Kong's markets during your layover. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Visit one of Hong Kong’s markets during your layover. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Hong Kong Airport, primary hub for Cathay Pacific, Dragonair, Hong Kong Airlines and Hong Kong Express Airways, is the 11th busiest airport worldwide (by passenger traffic) and the world’s busiest airport for cargo traffic. Terminal 1 is all about culture, offering the following art, photography and historical exhibitions:

  • Eight optical illusion art pieces with local Hong Kong themes including Cantonese opera, dragon and lion dances, Tsim Sha Tsui Clock Tower, dragon boat, the Goldfish Market and Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees (Departure Level T1)
  • Charm of Tao Photography: 35 photos which depict the various aspects of the Tai O fishing village (Cabin A, Departures Level, T1)
  • Shark Mystique: two giant synthetic shark-shaped sand sculptures, educational panels and a TV screen on display until March 27, 2015 (Hall B, Arrivals Level T1)
  • Hong Kong’s Postal History:  a model of the old postal service building and history/facts (Cabin K Departures Level, T1)
  • A tribute to Bruce Lee’s achievements and his contribution to film, kung fu and pop culture (Gate 62, Departures Level, T1)
  • Childhood Memories Exhibit: 20 sets of toys selected from local museum collections including land transport, aircraft, robots and dolls (Gate 31, Departures Level T1)
  • Cantonese Opera Exhibit:  17 valuable opera costumes and props are on display to illustrate the art of traditional Cantonese Opera (Gate 22, Departures Level, T1)

Terminal 2 is all about entertainment. Head to the Dream Come True Education Park, where children can dress up, act out plays and enjoy other interactive facilities (Level 6, T2), or the Aviation Discovery Center featuring aviation themed exhibits and graphics with attractions including flight simulators and a Cockpit model (Level 6, T2). Catch a flick in the IMAX Theatre: with the largest IMAX screen in Hong Kong (Level 6, T2) or head to the Sky City Nine Eagles Golf Course, a nine-hole golf course especially for passenger use (adjacent to T2).

The airport, more specifically T1, is home to enough designer shops to keep you entertained for days, such as Dior, Gucci, Chanel, Balenciaga, Bottega Venetta, Givenchy, Juicy, Valentino, Zegna, Prada and many more. If you need to spend the night, the Regal Airport Hotel is connected to T1 by an air conditioned bridge.

Travel to the City Center: Store your bags in Level 3 of T2 for about $1.50 per hour or $18 per day. Take the express train, which run every 10 minutes to Kowloon Station or Hong Kong Central station (a 24 minute ride costing about $13 one way).

Nearby Attraction: Get off the train at Kowloon and wander your way over to whichever street market strikes your fancy: the ladies market, the Jade Market, the goldfish market, flower market–there is something for everyone. Then hop on the Star Ferry and cross over the harbour, stopping at the Cat market for antiques before catching the train back to the airport from Central station. Minimum Layover Required, 5.5+ hours.

5. Seoul International Airport (ICN)

Visit the Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul. Photo by Lori Zaino.
Visit the Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul. Photo by Lori Zaino.

Incheon International Airport is the main hub for Asiana Airline, Korean Air and Jeju Air, and although it’s a good distance away from the city center (30 miles) there is so much to do in the airport, you may not want to leave. ICN prides itself on efficiency, and airport authorities claim that it takes much less time to get through security and customs in their airport than in others around the world. Besides offering what we may consider the best possible amenity–free WiFi, they also offer an observation deck to watch the planes taking off and landing, and cactus, flower, water, pine tree and rock gardens (1F Passenger Terminal), not to mention free concerts daily throughout the airport. Walk through the Korean Culture Street, which features traditional buildings and architecture (Public Area, 4F) or visit the Traditional Crafts Gallery (4F Transfer Lounge).

For a shower, sauna or massage, visit Spa on Air, which also includes napping rooms (B1, East Side).If you’re traveling with children, take them to one of the seven play areas located throughout the airport. To get some of that energy out, visit the Sky 72 Golf Club, or the Skating Rink. Catch a movie at the theatre or try your luck at the Casino (located in the Hyatt Regency Hotel, just two minutes away from the airport by free shuttle bus.

Travel to the City Center: Baggage storage is provided by Korean Express Parcel Service (west side of the Passenger Terminal, starting at $2.50). There are a variety of buses heading to different places in the city. If you stop and ask at the yellow booth before you exit and explain where you are going, they will tell you exactly which number bus to take. The buses usually take about an hour and 20 minutes up to two hours, so make sure to give yourself plenty of time.

Nearby Attraction: To visit the grand Gyeongbokgung Palace (which also houses the National Museum of Korea), take the airport bus 6011 in front of Bus Station B, and get off at  Palace (Bus arrives every 25 to 30 minutes and ride is about one hour and 30 minutes) Take bus 6011 at the bus station across from where you got off to return to Incheon International Airport. Minimum layover required, 8+ hours.

6. Munich Airport (MUC)

Enjoy the Christmas market at Munich Airport
Enjoy the Christmas market at Munich Airport

This airport is a secondary hub for Lufthansa and is located about 17 miles away from the city center. This is a TPG top pick because the airport actually created a stopover guide which you can read in detail about every possible airport amenity or activity you could ever want to do during your layover in Munich, including options for sightseeing outside the airport categorized by how many hours you have for a layover. It also offers a metro transport map and coupons/vouchers for airport restaurants and other activities. (Germany is always so on top of things, right?). In case you don’t have time to read the whole guide, we’ll give you a quick summary of the best stuff.

Kids have the option to play in several areas located throughout all the terminals. Kinderland (Level 04, public area) also offers arts and crafts, giant soft LEGO blocks, a children’s cinema and game consoles, and the best part is–kids can be supervised here for up to five hours for 3 Euros ($3.75) an hour. This means you can head to the Chi-Mas Institute (T2) for a massage in peace or some solo shopping time at one of the 150 shops the airport features. WiFi is free for only the first 30 minutes, so if you need to do something important online, get it done right away unless you prefer to pay for a longer internet session.

If you need a quick shower, you can do so for 15 Euros/$19 (includes fresh towels, soap and shampoo) in T2, level 3. Book a “napcab” a small sleeping area that also comes with a work desk (T2, levels 4 and 5) starting at 30 Euros ($37). If you’d rather have some family fun together, visit the 18 hole mini golf course (Visitors Park) or the iPilot flight simulator of a Boeing 737NG (T2, leavel 3). The Kempinski hotel is a good option if you need to spend the night as its located directly inside the airport.

The best time to be stuck at the Munich Airport is during “advent” season to visit the Winter Market in the MAC Forum at the airport. Starting November 22 and going until December 29, 2014, visitors can enjoy 40 market stalls selling gifts,seasonal foods and drinks, 300 real Christmas trees, an ice skating rink, bands and entertainers, a large and small ice slide in the Airbräu beer garden, entertaining movies every Monday, contests, visits from St.Nicolas and more. 

Travel to the City Center: Store your bags at the Service Center located in the MAC Forum Level 3, or Terminal 2, level 3 (from 3-8 Euros/$3.75-$10 per bag per day). Take the S-Bahn Train S1 and S8, run every 10 minutes will get you to the city center in about 35-45 minutes. Fares are 10-11 Euros/$12.50-$13.70 one way.

Nearby Attraction: Instead of heading all the way into Munich center, if you are short on time, hop off the S-bahn 1 train at  Oberschleißheim. This quaint city has three castles, a beautiful park, a museum and plenty of spots to eat traditional German fare. Minimum layover for Oberschleißheim, 4.5+ hours, for Munich City Center, 6.5+ hours.

Keep in mind that during an international layover, you may need extra time to deal with things like passport control or added security, so if you plan on leaving the airport, make sure you have plenty of time to get back stress free. The minimum layover times I have included below are simply suggestions, and may vary depending on circumstances.

TPG Tip: When traveling abroad, make sure you have a credit card with no foreign transaction fees, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or The Platinum Card from American Express.

Related Posts:

Tips for Exploring Frankfurt Airport on a Layover

Destination of the Week: Singapore

Destination of the Week: Dubai

What interesting features have you discovered at the airport during a long layover?

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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