When you spend as much time in airports as I do, airports can become destinations in and of themselves. Even though an encounter with TSA can be hell and other travelers can send me from zen to needing anger management classes in the time it takes to get through the security line, there’s an increasingly pleasant outlook on the other side. Check out the airport’s website in advance to see what amenities they offer. You might be surprised at these some of the services, like these 5 things to do at the airport during your layover:
1. Get a Spa Treatment
You just spent however many hours crammed in to coach feeling like a sardine in a tin can. Wouldn’t a relaxing massage or some pampering feel incredible after that?
While the coveted lounges available only to first and business class passengers do often have spa facilities, you don’t have to travel like a rockstar to enjoy a much needed between flights spa treatment. Many airports these days have express spas located right on the concourse that offer massage and beauty treatments in as little as 15 minutes. Treatments can leave your body and mind feeling refreshed and energized.
XpresSpa has over 50 locations in the US and Europe.
2. Eat a Gourmet Meal
Airplane food, if you even get a meal these days, is awful. I’ve had inedible meals I could barely even identify, let alone (gulp) have the courage to actually consume on Alitalia and Turkish Airlines recently. Thankfully I didn’t have to go hungry on those long flights since I’d used my layovers to enjoy a meal before boarding my flight.
Airports have some excellent restaurant options beyond the typical Sbarro Pizza and McDonald’s these days. You can find excellent sit down meals at top airport restaurants like Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen in DFW and IAH, Rick Bayless’ Tortas Frontera in ORD and Anthony’s in SEA.
I fangirl over Gordon Ramsay and have been to several of his top restaurants, but I can even get a dose of him when I’m flying from London Heathrow’s Terminal 5 at Gordon Ramsay Plane Food. If you’re short on time or want to eat on the plane, you can make your seatmates jealous with a gourmet 3-course meal packed into a conveniently sized lunchbox.
3. Go Wine Tasting
Our adventures almost always include wine, so are you really surprised we track down the airport wine bar? Vino Volo, with 28 North America locations, is an excellent choice. They have free wifi, USB charging ports to charge up your devices before your flight, and knowledgeable wait staff that can make pairing recommendations to go along with their small plates. You can order wines by the glass or by a tasting flight.
If you’ve ever tried to sleep in an airport, then you know it’s practically impossible. I just attempted to sleep in Istanbul Atatürk Airport when my flight layover over there for 9 hours and I arrived at 3am. Once I finally found a gate with available benches to stretch out across, I got exactly one hour of sleep before airport personnel came round waking all of us up and kicking us out.
If only Istanbul had the micro-hotels that are popping up in airports.
Loosely based on the Japanese capsule hotels, these little cabins can be rented by the hour and allow weary travelers to get a bit of privacy, stretch out and rest without ever leaving the terminal. Some of them even have toilets and showers in them. You can find them by various names like Yotel, Napcabs or Sleepbox in airports around the world.
5. Leave the Airport
We never pass up the opportunity to explore a new place and long layovers provide the perfect opportunity for a mini vacation. We’ve explored San Juan on a long layover on the way home from Antigua and know we definitely want to see more of Puerto Rico. My first visit to London was a long layover and I did the Hop On Hop Off Bus to take in the main attractions, which was enough to have us returning to London many more times. And we saw the highlights of Istanbul like the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Grand Bazaar on a long layover.
If you have six hours or more, you have enough time to get out and explore a bit. Airports even encourage it and a handful now offer free tours to visitors on a layover:
- Singapore Changi Airport offers free 2.5 hour tours departing six times daily from terminals 2 and 3. Just head to the free tour booth with your passport and boarding pass to sign up. You can choose from a Heritage tour during the daytime to see top sights and have a bit of free time to explore Merlion Park and Gardens or take in the night lights on a City Sights tour in the evening.
- Tokyo Narita Airport offers a free guide-led and self-guided option, though transportation costs are at your own expense. Just head to the reception desk in the Arrivals Hall to sign-up. On the guide-led tour you can see Narita or Sibayama, which are both less than 15 minutes from the airport, or the rural town of Tako located less than 30 minutes from the airport. The self-guided option only allows you to visit Shisui Premium Outlets or the AEON Mall, but you do get some vouchers.
- Seoul Incheon Airport offers seven different free tour options ranging in length from 1 – 5 hours and even a self-guided option. Just head to the Transit Tours desk to sign up. Options include seeing a variety of sights from the royal palaces to the modern port.
- The Qatar Tourism Authority offers free city tours to transit travelers with layovers over five hours when traveling through Doha. Just head to the Doha City Tour desk. The English-speaking guide leads travelers to the city’s most famous sights, including the Arab market and Katara Cultural Village.
- You’ll need a long layover in Istanbul since the shortest tour offered is six hours, but TourIstanbul offers three different free tours daily that cover the city’s main sights like the Blue Mosque. Just head to the Hotels Desk in the International Arrivals Hall to sign-up.
- If you have a layover of two hours or more at Salt Lake International Airport, you can take the free shuttle to Temple Square to stretch your legs and explore. Just head to the Information Desk in Terminal 1 or 2 to get the shuttle brochure. The shuttle departs every 30 minutes in the summer and every hour the rest of the year. There isn’t a luggage hold or lockers though, so you’ll have to bring all your carry-on luggage with you.