The best cheap flights can often mean incorporating a layover somewhere on the way to your destination, but this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Choosing the right city to touch down in, combined with a bit of pre-planning can transform your stopovers from a time-wasting chore to an exciting part of your trip. Not to mention the difference it makes being in an incredible airport if you’re trying to survive a delayed flight.
Generally speaking, if you’re not planning to leave the airport, visas won’t be an issue, but as arrangements around immigration, luggage transfers and boarding passes can differ depending on your layover and final destination, it’s important to double check the specifics with your flight operator either beforehand, or when you first check in. If you are planning to get out of the airport and explore you can use free online tools to establish whether you’re going to need a visa before you book.
Best places to spend a short layover
Changi International Airport, Singapore
Regularly topping the list of the world’s best airports, if you are offered a stop at Singapore’s Changi International Airport, you should take it. There’s no time to worry about how to survive a layover in this multi award-winning space, which has a dizzying amount to offer, from its five gardens (which include a live butterfly garden), to its incredible Balinese-themed rooftop swimming pool. Add to that a 40-foot slide, waterfalls, art exhibitions and technology-filled entertainment areas and you’ll find the only problem with this airport is having to leave.
Munich International Airport, Germany
A layover at Munich International airport is a beer-lover’s dream. A few hours here can be spent in a Bavarian-style tavern, which has its own on-site brewery beer garden and live music. There’s also relaxation areas with free wifi, tea and coffee, mini golf, seasonal ice-skating and a lovely central courtyard connecting the terminals.
Kuala Lumpur International Airport
It may not be the biggest or the newest airport, but there’s a tropical charm that makes Kuala Lumpur International perfect for a short layover. A central rainforest-inspired garden dominates the terminal, ensuring you feel like you’re already somewhere beautifully exotic and there are plenty of places to relax. Dedicated areas include private spaces for quiet rest and a whole level aimed at children.
Vancouver International Airport, Vancouver, Canada
While it’s super comfortable chairs (complete with head and foot rest), private TV stations, First Nation art, mini forest and relaxing central “creek” are all amazing, undoubtedly the best thing about a short layover in Vancover is the airport’s impressive on-site aquarium. It’s 114,000 litre central tank is home to around five thousand marine animals and can be found in the international terminal, while a separate jellyfish aquarium can be found on the fourth floor.
Hong Kong International Airport
Hong Kong International takes entertaining travellers on a layover to a whole new level. This futuristic airport features the world’s first airport IMAX cinema, a 24 hour outdoor nine-hole golf course, an iSports simulator, Michelin-starred restaurants and an Aviation Discover Centre. For those who want to relax, there’s also plenty of attractive lounges and ample charging stations.
Best places to spend a longer layover
Kotoka International airport, Accra, Ghana
The city centre location of Ghana’s Kotoka Airport makes it the perfect destination for a layover. Those with only a few hours can easily grab some traditional Ghanian food, such as banku in the nearby restaurant-packed district of Osu, catch some live music, or visit the city’s famous Mazola Market. With a little more time you can head to Accra’s bustling and beautiful Labadi Beach, just 6km from the airport, or longer stopover will allow you to see even more of what Ghana has to offer and to explore it’s often harrowing history. A three-hour journey by car will take you to the Cape Coast, Ghana’s former capital city, home to its most famous former slave castle. From there you can travel inland to Kakum National Park, a vast protected rainforest with a beautiful campy walkway, home to wildlife including monkeys and forest elephants.
Tokyo Haneda International Airport, Japan
Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport has plenty to offer travellers, from hair salons to an oxygen bar, but its proximity to the city centre that makes it ideal for longer layovers. Less than 30 minutes from downtown Tokyo, it’s worth hoping on a monorail to explore, whatever time of day it is. From the famous early morning tuna auction at Tsukiji, to the late night Karaoke bars there’s always something going on, even if you’re just marvelling at Tokyo’s incredible cityscape.
Keflavík International Airport, Iceland
While this recently-renovated Icelandic airport is a pleasant place to spend time, it is its location that makes it special. In just half an hour you can be relaxing at the famous Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa where you can soak in the naturally warm waters surrounded by a black lava-filled landscape. If you’ve only got a few hours until you need to be back at the airport, you can take advantage of a shuttle bus that runs directly there. It’s a breath-taking area to explore if you have a little longer and Reykjavík is less than an hour away.
San Francisco International Airport, USA
A layover in San Francisco can mean hanging around the airport to take advantage of the XpressSpa, yoga and relaxation rooms, kids areas or on site Aviation Museum and library. Alternatively, you can hop on a train to explore the city centre just 25 minutes away. Take in the Golden Gate bridge, ride on a historic streetcar and if you’ve got time, travel by boat for a tour around the infamous Alcatraz.