More often than not, having an airport layover is associated with a negative experience. How many times have you gotten off your flight, sat there wondering what to do in the airport for a few hours, only to be tossed to your next destination? And that’s if your lucky enough to only have one layover! We’ve spent a lot of days traveling through airports, and we’re here to tell you that even a long layover doesn’t have to be lame. In fact, some of the best international airports have become a great place to hang out and enhance your travels. If you play your cards right you can even experience a new city by leaving the airport during a layover! Here’s some of our best layover tips and secrets we’ve learned along the way.
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The Short Layover
Waiting four or five hours may seem like forever when you’re flying, even at some of the best international airports. Unfortunately, it’s just under the amount of time where you could plan on leaving the airport during your layover.
This might be one of the worst feelings ever! We will NEVER forget flying into Sydney and looking out the window over the opera house totally in awe. Only then to immediately board our connecting flight to New Zealand.
On the flip side, there are some airports that are so cool that you might not want to leave. For example, in Singapore the airport is so amazing it’s actually an attraction in itself. Changi Airport is world renowned as one of the best international airports, and an awesome place to spend a long layover.
It’s got a movie theater, swimming pool, immaculate gardens, and so much more! Passing through there for the first time opened up a whole world for us when looking for what to do at the airport.
Airport Layover Club Pass
You can explore the foodcourt, walk through the shops, and try to get a taste of whatever city or country you’re in. Yet, it’s obviously never gonna be the same as stepping outside. So what do you do now?
The airport lounge is the answer folks! If you’re just a normal walk in customer it’s quite expensive to get into the lounges. However, some credit cards like Chase Sapphire cover your entry.
That’s right! It will cost you some annual fees with your credit card. Still, If you know you’re going to be flying a certain amount of times a year that more than pays for itself. Most lounges have free drinks, food buffets, and some are even equipped with showers and beds.
Honestly, once you get in there for the first time it’s hard to go back to the normal airport life. The lounge is really the place to be when looking for what to do at the airport!
Best International Airports For a Layover
After experiencing so many different airports around the world it’s clear that some are nicer than others. It’s also no secret that most of the best international airports are located in the worlds biggest cities.
That means they can be some massive structures that take time to get around. Keep in mind that the gates can often be far from each other when you’re planning out your layover, long or short. Here’s some of the best international airports we’ve experienced around the world!
- Changi Airport (Singapore)
- Dubai International (United Arab Emirates)
- Munich International (Germany)
- Hamad International (Qatar)
- Amsterdam Schiphol (Netherlands)
- Hartsfield-Jackson International (USA)
- Incheon International (South Korea)
The Long Layover
Freedom!! That’s usually our first thought when we are tasked with a long layover. First, lets talk about six hours on a layover. If we’re in a sweet city and dying to explore, six hours is typically the MINIMUM amount of time where we would be willing to leave the airport.
After factoring in time spent passing through customs and re-checking into your flight, you’re looking at about three hours on a good day. This also is very location dependent. Obviously we’re more likely to leave the airport if it’s somewhere we’ve never been as opposed to a destination we know already.
Transit Visa: This is a short term visa that will allow you to explore a country for a few hours, or up to a few days. Check the government website of the country you’re visiting to see if you qualify.
Leaving the Airport During a Layover
Now that you’ve checked the visa requirements and applied for a transit visa if necessary, you’re ready to explore. Before you can do that though there’s other factors to consider such as transportation to and from the city center.
We’re not recommending this for everyone, or even for all places around the world. Yet, if you’re up for the challenge we’ve done some crazy things on a six hour layover. From a beautiful lunch and stroll through the streets of Rome to jumping on a sightseeing tour in Dublin, or just diving in the ocean in the South of Spain!
We do need to stress how important it is to keep your eye on the clock. While six hours seems like a long time while looking for what to do at the airport, if you choose to venture into the real world it will fly by. So if you make the choice to leave be confident you can make it back in time. This goes without saying, but if you miss that flight it’s on you!
It seems that one of the biggest challenges for leaving the airport during a layover is the transportation aspect. Lucky for us, some airports have actually installed city tours for passengers. Even better, many of them are totally free! Be sure to check online before you get to the airport and see if they’re offered by the tourism board.
If you have a few hours to spare why not hop on a bus and take a quick tour of the city? The best part of these tours is that the airport takes on the responsibility for getting you back in time for your flight. This makes it possible to have a stress free and fun afternoon on your long layover.
Plan Out a Long Layover
Okay so maybe you’re not as crazy as us and you don’t feel comfortable leaving the airport during a layover. One way to solve this dilemma is to actually book yourself a longer layover at one of the world’s best international airports.
Sounds wild right!? Think about it though. If you have a 6-7 hour layover why not make it ten and go out to see the destination you’re passing through?
When you see a twenty hour layover option you’d have to think someone is mentally unstable to book it… But you may have never thought of the benefits! With that amount of time, you’d have plenty of hours to explore a whole new city before moving onto your final destination.
Also, many of the best international airports have lockers to store your bags in. Just make sure you check the visa laws before your arrival, and you can soon be immersed in a city you never planned to visit!
Two Part Flights
The two part flight has more benefits than just seeing a new city. Sometimes your long layover could also be a financial saver. Enough about money though. Let’s get down to this airport layover!
By booking a flight into somewhere then onward to your final destination, you have the ability to determine how long you want to stay in each place. This way you aren’t restricted to whatever time the airline has allotted you.
It doesn’t matter if it’s overnight or a few days, you’re on your own schedule. Now you can take as much time as you’d like before continuing on.
Real Life Example
After leaving Spain, we booked a twenty dollar jumper flight on Norwegian Air to the city of Stockholm, Sweden. We then spent two days sightseeing before catching our next leg on Wow Air to Boston.
The direct flight from Malaga, Spain, to the United States would have been well over $1,000 USD each way. Luckily we only spent $450 for flights, hotels, and activities included in our sweet Stockholm airport layover!
Airline Offered Layover
This is a somewhat of a new craze, but we love it! Certain airlines such as Qatar Airways and Iceland Air will offer up to a four day layover with no extra charge or change fee on your ticket.
Not only is it a super smart way for countries to boost their tourism, but it’s a bonus country for you. So if you booked a two week vacation you’ll have the perfect opportunity to spend a week in a new and adventurous place. Then after a few days you can move onto your original destination and see the best of both worlds.
Real Life Example
We have yet to take advantage of this superb offer, but our friend took the layover on her flight from New York to London. After stopping for an airline offered layover in Iceland it’s now one of her favorite places in the world! Again, something she would have never experienced if she didn’t take advantage of the free layover.
The Extended Layover
Until recently we never knew this was possible, and it will change the way long term travelers book flights. When booking a round trip ticket through a single airline sometimes it’s possible to take an extended stay in your layover city without having to pay an additional fee.
It doesn’t matter if you have a short or long layover, all that counts is that you make the most of it. So next time you’re booking a ticket use these helpful tips to not only have a fun layover, but experience a new culture while your at it!
Real Life Example
When searching for a round trip flight from New York to Singapore with Emirates, we called the airline directly (before booking the ticket) and asked to stay for extended time in Europe. When we inquired about Milan, Italy, they said we were allowed up to three months! This method can be especially helpful when booking around the world tickets. Just make sure to check with the airline before buying your flight.
Have any questions on leaving the airport during a layover, or want to share your own experiences flying? Leave us a comment below!
Brigitte & Jake
Where in the world are we? Follow our daily adventures on Instagram @nothingfamiliar!
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Flights: We always find our cheap flight deals using Skyscanner. That’s how we flew from Norway to Poland for under $20 USD, and Thailand to Vietnam for less than $50!
Rental Car: We use Discover Cars for renting vehicles. A quick travel tip is to ask for a discounted weekly rate rather than booking 2-3 days.
Tours: Check out Get Your Guide for thousands of activities around the world. From food tours to skip the line entry passes!
Travel Insurance: Never travel abroad without being covered. We’ve been using SafetyWing for the last few years on the road and they are there when we need them.
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