But layovers are one of those necessary evils of air travel, and many airports realize this. The ones that get it have invested in providing travelers all the creature comfort amenities to occupy their time – art exhibits, resting zones, comfortable chairs, etc. – and many of them are free, too. In fact, some airports do such a good job, you may actually wish for a delay so you can stay even longer (and these are also the airports that, year after year, get voted “the best” in surveys).
If we have to do a Tom Hanks and get stuck at an airport, here are our favorite hubs to get lost in.
If an airport could be a self-enclosed city, Changi would be the ideal model. Voted the world’s best airport by many travel publications for, like, every year, Singapore’s busy hub houses an insane number of amenities: swimming pools; gardens; rest areas; art installations; entertainment centers where you can catch a movie or play a video game; private lounges (many that are opened to the public); and –Singaporean’s favorite activities – loads of shops and restaurants. The airport also offers free Wi-Fi for those transiting (although, during our last visit, it was pokey), and its new website has been much improved to help guide you through this massive facility. It’s also one of the friendliest airports we’ve experienced. (Note: Avoid landing when the airport closes, especially if it involves clearing immigration and re-checking into another terminal; you won’t be able to enjoy the airport until it reopens.)
Befitting a city with a rich cultural heritage, Schiphol in Amsterdam houses an annex of the city’s famous Rijksmuseum, where you’ll find plenty of art by Dutch masters on exhibit – for free. Next door, the airport has a library where those in transit can browse books or download free digital content about the country’s music, history, and culture. Unfortunately, due to airport security renovations, both facilities are temporarily closed until end of 2015. In the meantime, gambling enthusiasts can check into the airport’s casino before a flight, take advantage of the unlimited free Wi-Fi, or check into the connected Yotel hotel if you need to stay overnight – all without leaving the aiport.
One of Asia’s top airports, Hong Kong International’s Terminal 2 has plenty of amenities to keep transit passengers busy. These include an IMAX theater that plays the latest blockbusters, two learning centers – one for kids and another for aviation buffs, and a golf simulator to practice your swings. There’s also a real golf course for playing the full nine holes, but it requires leaving the airport.
Like Hong Kong, Incheon has a golf course and movie theater to help you pass the time between flights. There’s also a cultural center where you can learn about Korean heritage and arts and crafts. You’ll find planespotters congregated at the Airstar Terrace observation deck, while the Ice Forest indoor ice skating rink lets you practice your triple axle. Being that this is high-tech Seoul, there’s free Wi-Fi throughout.
Naturally, the airport serving Germany’s Bavarian region has its own brewery, Airbräu Beergarden, where transit passengers can learn about German beer making and sample everything from a weissbier to pilsners and dark double bocks; it’s even designed to mimic an outdoor experience. If you find yourself at the airport during the summers, slip into a bathing suit and hit the 5-foot waves at Surf & Style, a manmade indoor pool (ends on August 23 in 2015). For aviation geeks and kids, the airport offers 50-minute tours on how the airport operates. There’s also an outdoor park and an observation terrace.
If you want to take in fresh Swiss air and enjoy some physical activity, Zürich Airport will rent you bikes, inline skates, or walking poles for exploring the natural area surrounding the airport. If sleep is what you’re after, there’s an attached transit hotel connected, which offers sleeping rooms, day beds, and showers.
Being that you’re in Silicon Valley, why not pitch a few of your ideas for a new startup? San Francisco International has a dedicated area in the International Terminal called #Converge@flySFO. The concept is a space that allows passengers to exchange “exchange ideas about technology, start-ups, the shared economy, disruption, travel, politics, and ways to change the world,” according to the airport. No appointments are necessary, and every visitor puts up a topic that he/she would like to discuss; there’s also free Wi-Fi and power outlets, and who knows, you might bump into the next Mark Zuckerberg. If you don’t want to talk business, the airport offers plenty of artwork and farm-to-table eateries to enjoy. Unfortunately, the airport’s terminals aren’t connected, so it isn’t possible to move around without having to leave the secured areas.
The Vancouver Airport Authority initiated a program, called the YVR Art Foundation, to promote the art, artists, and traditions from the First Nations of British Columbia, which comprises of the many aboriginal groups in this Canadian province. Throughout the airport, you will find sculptures and other artwork from the people whose ancestors first settled in this part of North America. After your cultural experience, space out for a while inside the airport’s aquarium.
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