Hurry Up and Wait: A Layover Guide to 20 of the Busiest Airports on the Planet
Posted by George Hobica on Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Still bellyaching about layovers? You won't get any sympathy from us, especially when connecting through these busy airports in major cities across the globe. There's bound to be more than a barren hangar in a cornfield, so buck up and enjoy the downtime.
Short (1-4 hours): Nap - or just kick back in privacy – with free wireless and DIRECTV at Minute Suites ($34/hr, Concourse B). Fuel up on smart grub and great cocktails at One Flew South (Concourse E).
Long (4 hours or more): Take MARTA to the Arts District Station ($2.50, 25 min) to the High Museum of Art or go on a long walk in Piedmont Park, Atlanta's giant front lawn.
Very long (overnight): Ride the free SkyTrain one stop to SpringHill Suites (from $169), check-in, drop bags. Take MARTA to Midtown ($2.50, 20 min), dinner one block east at Hugh Acheson's very good Empire State South.
More info: Check out Airfare Watchdog's ATL insider guide.
Short (1-4 hours): Walk (10 min from Terminal 3) to the five-star Langham Place hotel for a decent meal and some civilized chill time; to stay behind security lines, buy your way into the serviceable BGS Lounges ($35, Terminals 2 & 3, post-security) and take a load off.
Long (4 hours or more): Do you qualify for the 72-hr visa waiver? Take the Airport Express train ($4, 20-25 min) to Dongzhimen, transfer to the circular Line 2 Subway ($0.30, one trip around, 40 min). Exit at Qianmen for Tian'anmen Square and the Forbidden City; Jishuitan for a stroll around the lakes of Houhai. (Note: Avoid the trains at rush hour.)
Very long (overnight): Splurge on a stay at the Opposite House (from $411, 10 min. walk from Dongzhimen), one of Beijing's best hotels. Have the concierge set up a guided tour of the 798 Art Zone, or grab a cab for craft beers at the popular Great Leap Brewing or the new and noteworthy Slow Boat Brewery.
Short (1-4 hours): The No. 1 Traveller Lounge ($48 Terminal 3, post-security) features the usual lounge amenities, plus spa treatments and beds for an upcharge. More economical are the Servisair lounges ($29, Terminals 1 & 3 post-security). Stuck in Terminal 5? Grab a spot at Gordon Ramsay's Plane Food and grub out on dry-aged steak and chips.
Long (4 hours or more): With less than six hours, leaving the airport can be a risk, but if you're feeling bold, the Heathrow Express ($55 RT, 15 min) takes you to Paddington, where you're an easy walk to the Italian Gardens / Long Water area of Hyde Park. Before heading back, hit the park's lovely Lido Café at the Serpentine.
Very long (overnight): Don't waste a night in London at an airport hotel; check into the Paddington-adjacent Hotel Indigo (from $259) and spend the rest of your day exploring Central London via the Tube. In the morning, you're just a block or two from the Heathrow Express – the first trip back leaves at 5:10am Monday-Saturday, 6:25am Sundays.
More info: Check out Tripadvisor's guide to London.
Short (1-4 hours): It's Japan. Your mission is to eat everything in sight. In Terminal 1, it's sushi at Kyotatsu, katsu (cutlets) and curry at Williams, ramen at Kagetsu Arashi and Japanese Italian food (it's kind of awesome) at Spaghetti Goemon. In Terminal 2, it's takoyaki – octopus pancakes – at Tako-Bon, affordable and fresh sushi at Gansozushi and tonkatsu at Inaba Wako.
Long (4 hours or more): Tokyo may be far away, but the Narita Express (53 minutes to Tokyo Station) is very reliable – not to worry. To see a lot in a short time without worrying about getting lost, ride the Yamanote circular line (1 hour each way) through Central Tokyo. Buy a Suica & N'EX pass at the airport station for $59 – includes round-trip fare and a $15 yen credit for subways and local trains.
Very long (overnight): Take the Narita Express to Tokyo Station. Depending on your budget, check into the Hotel Ryumeikan (from $175) or the Four Seasons Marunouchi (from $500) – both best in class and very close to the trains. From here, the shops and world-class restaurants of Marunouchi, the Imperial Palace grounds, the classic chic of Ginza and the famous Tsukiji Fish Market are all within walking distance.
More info: Check out Tripadvisor's guide to Tokyo.
Short (1-4 hours): Snag samples at Vosges Chocolate (Terminals 1, 3, 5), sip Goose Island beers at the bar – and eat Rick Bayless' special brand of Mexican street food, too – at Tortas Frontera (Terminals 1, 3, 5). For wine in a civilized setting, Beaudevin (Terminal 10 and Bubbles Wine Bar (Terminal 3) do the trick nicely, while beer lovers should hit the Berghoff Café a famed local spot with a solid draft menu.
Long (4 hours or more): If you need to grab some serious down time, you're in luck – walk across the street (from Terminals 1-3) to the Hilton Athletic Club, which offers day passes for $20, featuring access to their full fitness center, pool, sauna, Jacuzzi and relaxation area. Reward yourself for a workout well done with a tub of deliciousness from Garrett Popcorn (Terminals 1 or 3).
Very long (overnight): Check into the Hilton O'Hare (from $199, walk from Terminals 1-3), then ride the CTA Blue Line ($2.25, 25 min) to Logan Square, have dinner across street at Telegraph Wine Bar or Longman and Eagle. A few stops more brings you to Wicker Park (hop off at Damen), a walkable and lively neighborhood with some great hangouts, like Big Star, a cool bar and taco joint in an old gas station one block south.
More info: Check out Airfare Watchdog's ORD insider guide.
Los Angeles (LAX)
Short (1-4 hours): Dig the retro vibe at the iconic Encounter bar and restaurant, located a short walk from all terminals – they serve straight through from 11-9, every day. The new international terminal is a great place to get stuck – try food that LA locals love at 800 Degrees, ink.sack and Umami Burger.
Long (4 hours or more): With the terminals less than four miles from the nearest beach, there's no excuse to not grab a cab and go. If you have time for just one, make it Venice Beach, obviously ($25, 15 min). Start at the pier and walk up the famed boardwalk; snag an outdoor table at Venice Ale House.
Very long (overnight): Forget airport hotels. Take a mini-vacation. Hop a cab ($25, 10-15 min) to Manhattan Beach and check into the charming Shade Hotel (from $279). Walk to the pier, check out the beach path and eat at restaurants that draw diners from all over Los Angeles, like Fishing with Dynamite, M.B. Post, and Little Sister.
More info: Check out Airfare Watchdog's LAX insider guide.
Paris-Charles de Gaulle (CDG)
Short (1-4 hours): Hop into the massage chairs (or, if they've room, on a table) for a full work-up at the Be Relax Spa (multiple locations). Then move on to either Laduree for macarons (Terminal 1, 2A, E, F), luxe grocer Hediard (Terminal 2F) for their famous fruit jelly candies or La Maison du Chocolat (2E, F) for, well, you know.
Long (4 hours or more): The CDGVAL light rail system (free) connects all terminals to the RER B train ($13, 35 min. to Paris Nord). An hour after clearing customs, you can be climbing up Montmartre. Also touristy, but tastier: Catch the Roissybus from the terminals to Opera ($14, 50 min) and work your way through the food hall (Men's Store, Level 1) at Galeries Lafayette.
Very long (overnight): Frequent TGV trains link the airport to Disneyland Paris (from $23, 12 min) – hop off at the Marne le Vallee-Chessy station for the short walk to both park gates, Disney Village and the park hotels. To be close to your next flight, the Sheraton Paris Airport is located right above the train station, back at Terminal 2 (from $260). Note: They also offer day rates.
More info: Check out TripAdvisor's guide to Paris.
Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW)
Short (1-4 hours): Bliss out in the yoga studio (Gate D40), stroll the sculpture garden (outside Terminal D) or unwind with other in-the-know travelers at M Lounge, the all-day spot at the Grand Hyatt hotel (above Terminal D). For a memorable meal, dine like Texans do at Cajun seafood legend Pappadeaux (Terminal A), or its Southwestern cousin, Pappasito's Cantina (Terminal A).
Long (4 hours or more): The cities are far and cabs are pricey; better to hang closer to the airport. Get yourself an Express Massage (25 minutes, $85) at the world-class spa inside the resort-like Four Seasons Las Colinas, just 15 minutes from the airport via cab ($20). Once booked in, you've got unlimited access to steam, sauna, whirlpool and a spa guest-only pool.
Very long (overnight): Rent a car and head for Fort Worth, an historic city known for architecture old (The Stockyards) and new (Tadao Ando's serene Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth). Of course, Dallas is no slouch – come here with an appetite: From succulent brisket at Pecan Lodge in the lively Farmers Market to the Dr. Pepper Braised Short Ribs at Fearing's, nobody goes hungry.
More info: Check out TripAdvisor's guide to Dallas.
Short (1-4 hours): Fuel up at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf or Starbucks (Terminal 2) and take a walk around, stop for traditional souvenirs at Batik Keris (Terminal 2) along the way. If you're in Terminal 1, grab a bite at the excellent Food Cetera food court, a hawker center-style affair featuring cuisine from all over Asia. Need a lounge? Pura Indah will fit the bill nicely ($32, Terminal 2).
Long (4 hours or more): Even if you've got a half-day to spare, leaving the airport area is unwise. Traffic and road conditions are simply too unpredictable. Instead, play a round of golf ($60 for non-members) at the terminal-adjacent Cengakareng Golf Club, or do the spa thing at the pleasant and very affordable FM7 Resort, located at the airport entrance and accessible via hourly shuttles.
Very long (overnight): Jakarta's a gold mine of great hotels at good prices. The Mandarin Oriental, considered the best in town by many, has rates that can be sky high, until they're not – say, for example, $180/night. Check in, then arrange for a car to take you on a personalized tour to spots like Old Town for the popular night market and cocktails at Café Batavia, a legendary colonial relic.
More info: Check out TripAdvisor's guide to Jakarta.
Short (1-4 hours): Grab a day room at the Dubai International Hotel ($43, 1 hr, $128, 4 hrs, Terminals 1&3) for a shower, a nap and a trip to the pool, gym, steam, sauna and Jacuzzi. (The hotel also sells very affordable passes to the fitness facility as well – pool access is included.) Refuel at Pulp Juice Bar (T3) and go people watching in the terminal, or book into one of the Marhaba lounges ($45, multiple locations) for some more chill time in the company of free wireless, food and other perks.
Long (4 hours or more): With town ten minutes from the terminal stations of the Dubai Metro (fares from $0.50), getting out is a must. Hop off at the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, which has its own Metro station. Ride up to the 124th floor for the At The Top Observation deck (from $32, reservations recommended). Downstairs, you'll find the world's largest choreographed fountains and gigantic Dubai Mall, boasting Bloomingdale's, Galeries Lafayette, and Marks & Spencer department stores.
Very long (overnight): With more time, still do the Burj Khalifa / Dubai Mall thing, but then ride the Metro back to Al Fahidi for a self-guided tour of the historic Bastakiya Quarter, a charming pocket in a sea of stark modernity. Restaurants in Dubai are legendary – book in at the overwater Pierchic, an seafood spot at the Madinat Jumeirah hotel. (They have a $50 prix-fixe lunch, too.) Of course, you could do worse than a meal at one of the iconic Burj al Arab hotel's many restaurants – they may be expensive, but it sure beats paying to sleep over.
More info: Check out TripAdvisor's guide to Dubai.
Short (1-4 hours): See the planes go by – and get your fill of fresh air at the Visitors' Terrace at Terminal 2 ($6.75), play the slots at the airport's own casino (Terminal 1) or have a proper modern German meal – and do some proper German drinking -- at deutsch (Terminal 1). Massage-wise, you want the Be Relax spas (multiple locations); get your hair did at Trondle (Terminal 1).
Long (4 hours or more): Depending on the time of year you visit, tours of both the airport and out into town are available and can include everything from a visit to the airport fire department to a river cruise and a stop at the city's popular Christmas market (learn more at frankfurt-airport.com).
Very long (overnight): Explore the Main River with Primus Cruises (they'll take you up towards the Rhine as well, where you can see castles), then hit the bricks and explore the city center's mix of old and new architecture. Get tickets to whatever's on at the Alte Oper, then spend the night at the very cool Arte-Hotel Robert Mayer (from $79).
More info: Check out TripAdvisor's guide to Frankfurt.
Hong Kong (HKG)
Short (1-4 hours): Watch a movie on the world's only in-airport IMAX theater (Terminal 2), play a round on the on-site Nine Eagles Golf Course (from $45, 9 holes) and taste incredible soup dumplings at Tan Xia (T2). Or, take a shower, a nap or just hang out with food and free wireless at the swank, 24-hr Plaza Premium lounges (from $50, multiple locations).
Long (4 hours or more): A cab's about $15, the trip 15 minutes and a park ticket – which you can buy at the airport – is $58. Why not head to Disneyland? No? Fine – the Airport Express train can have you on Hong Kong Island in no time at all ($23 RT, 24 minutes). From here, you're steps from the Star Ferry docks – take a cheap harbor cruise ($0.25) to Tsim Sha Tsui and back.
Very long (overnight): Take the Airport Express to Kowloon and overnight at the best-value Hotel Icon (gorgeous harbor-view rooms from $249) or continue on to Hong Kong Island and bunk at the stylish new Hotel Indigo. Take the tram to Victoria Peak, grab some dim sum, ride the Star Ferry.
Check out TripAdvisor's guide to Hong Kong.
Short (1-4 hours): Self-guide your way through the artwork and sculpture that's part of the Art at DIA program, or buy your way into the branded airline lounges – the usual steep fees apply. Or, save your money for beer – Front Range microbrewery New Belgium reps it on Concourses A and B. Fat Tire, anyone?
Long (4 hours or more): The almost-airport-adjacent Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge – a former chemical weapons production site that's now home to bison, white-tailed deer, bald eagles and prairie dogs – is a terrific place to kill some time; ideally, rent a car and drive the wildlife viewing route, but you can also cab it (approx. $45, 20 min) to the visitor's center, at the beginning of the refuge's rather vast trail network.
Very long (overnight): If daylight is on your side and weather conditions permit, rent a car for the drive up to Rocky Mountain National Park. Otherwise, get a cab to Boulder. Once there, you'll be able to walk to everything, from beers at Avery Brewing to fine dining at Frasca to coffee at Boxcar to a brisk hike up to the iconic Flatirons on the Chautauqua Trail. Stay at the historic Boulderado (from $229) or the quaint Foot of the Mountain Motel, located (of course!) at the foot of the mountain (from $65).
More info: Check out TripAdvisor's guide to Denver.
Short (1-4 hours): It's hidden away on Level 1 near the taxi ranks, but the Magic Food Point food court is home to some of the airport's best food – think authentic Thai dishes for a buck or two. On Concourse F, Bangkok's beloved Mister Donut has a cheerful outlet. Eat up, then retire to Louis' Tavern CIP Lounge, with six locations in the terminal. The lounge ($32) and day rooms ($77, 4 hours) are both pleasant places to wait out your wait.
Long (4 hours or more): With the LINK train connecting city and airport in 15 minutes for $5, you're almost obligated. At Makkasan and Phaya Thai stations, you're directly linked to local transit (MRT, BTS), which take you to, say, Silom, or the piers on the Chao Phraya. First, though, two essentials: Get a Thai massage – Divana, with three BTS-convenient locations, is a great bet – then eat lots of Thai food. (Pro tip: Here, they just call it food.)
Very long (overnight): Sample Thailand's legendary service without breaking the bank at the luxurious, Lumpini Park and BTS station-adjacent Sukhothai (from $197), or check into the smaller but equally beautiful Ariyasom Villa (from $156), a gem of a boutique property just around the corner from the BTS Phloen Chit station. Both make a great base of operations for a city highlights tour, whether you go it alone or have the hotel make arrangements.
More info: Check out TripAdvisor's guide to Bangkok.
Singapore Changi (SIN)
Short (1-4 hours): How unlike other airports is Changi? Well, there's a pool, for starters, and $11 gets you in – Jacuzzi, showers, the works (Terminal 1). There are free rest zones with reclining loungers throughout the airport. A butterfly garden (Terminal 3). Multiple free movie theaters. There's great food, too, everywhere (Prima Taste is a great intro to Singapore's intriguing cuisine, T3).
Long (4 hours or more): Changi and Singapore Airlines offer the Free Singapore Tours, which leave Terminals 2 & 3 throughout the day and last two hours. You'll need to register at least one hour before the next departure. For a more hands-on adventure, grab a cab to nearby Changi Village, a laidback spot on the water with a popular hawker centre that's at its best around dinner ($15, 5-10 min).
Very long (overnight): The network of unique conservatories that comprise the city's new Gardens by the Bay is beyond worth the $22 entry fee; the collection of plant life from around the world is nothing short of stunning, as is the presentation. Ride the MRT to Bayfront Station ($2.20, 40 min). Stay over at the Marina Bay Sands urban resort next door, renowned for its rooftop infinity pool, shopping center, casino and world-class dining (from $380).
More info: Check out our list of reasons to love Singapore.
New York-JFK (JFK)
Short (1-4 hours): Your experience at JFK varies widely depending on the terminal. There's little reason to travel between them, however, seeing as most everything is behind security. Short answer: Hang tight. If you're at Terminal 8, head to Vino Volo (two locations) and start sampling wines by the glass; Terminal 4, get in line at Shake Shack for some of New York's best burgers. Terminal 5 is among the best places to wait out a wait, featuring a wide array of solid, non-chain restaurants like La Vie, a postage stamp-sized bistro and Deep Blue Sushi, which reels in pescophiles.
Long (4 hours or more): Manhattan and back can be done in four hours – it's a risk, but it can be done. You won't see much, though. Opt instead for a mini-adventure to Rockaway Beach, on the mend after taking a beating and a half in 2012's Hurricane Sandy. Home to the city's only legal surfing beach and a terrific spot for a walk at any time of year, you can be here fairly quickly, thanks to the fast, free AirTrain connection to Howard Beach and the A Train, which you take just two stops to Beach 90th Street ($2.75, 20 min, transfer at Broad Channel off-peak.)
Very long (overnight): Heard the one about Brooklyn? It's all true. Take the AirTrain ($5) to the Howard Beach station of the A Train; ride ($2.50, 30 min) to Hoyt-Schermerhorn, which puts you within a block or so of the nifty Nu Hotel (from $189), on the edge of the brownstone-fabulous Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, and Brooklyn Heights neighborhoods. Stroll down Court Street and end up at Prime Meats for one of the city's best dinners; also make sure to walk down to the waterfront, where the fast-developing Brooklyn Bridge Park is a striking example of adaptive re-use.
More info: Check out Airfare Watchdog's JFK insider guide.
San Francisco (SFO)
Short (1-4 hours): Go for chinese food at Fung Lum or Harbor Village, sushi at Ebisu, or burgers at Lori's Diner, all in the food court (pre-security) at the International Terminal. Walk it off with a tour of the airport's public art collection, alongside an array of fascinating rotating exhibitions, all curated by the San Francisco Arts Commission.
Long (4 hours or more): BART trains serve the airport (International Terminal); go for a ride to Embarcadero ($5.15, 30 min.) and crawl your way through the Ferry Building, a working terminal and one of the best public market halls in the country. For a more cutting-edge crawl, hop off the BART at 24th Street for new wave Jewish deli food at Wise & Sons and some of the country's most interesting ice creams at Humphry Slocombe.
Very long (overnight): Besides eating, take a sunset ride on one of the commuter ferries to Sausalito or Tiburon and back; overnight at the smart Hotel Vitale (from $256), just across the street from the ferries. If you want to be near the airport in the morning, the charming Inn at Oyster Point faces a marina, is linked directly to a waterfront trail and offers rates from $129 and a free shuttle for the 10 minute ride back to your terminal.
More info: Check out TripAdvisor's guide to San Francisco.
Las Vegas (LAS)
Short (1-4 hours): Tour the exhibits at the Cannon Aviation Museum (Baggage Claim, Terminal 1), then kick back with a beverage at one of the in-terminal video poker machines. (Don’t expect to win much, but hey, beats losing at slots.) Want some more personal space? Buy a pass for The Club at LAS ($35, Terminals 1 & 3). Two words: Free drinks.
Long (4 hours or more): Take a taxi to Bellagio ($16, 10 min), still one of the Strip's most appealing resorts. Check out the Conservatory, the iconic Dale Chihuly lobby installation, watch the fountains dance. After, hop the free monorail to Aria for cocktails at civilized Sage or great pies at the new Five50 Pizza Bar.
Very long (overnight): Cab it ($16, 10 min) over to the Cosmopolitan (from $180) and book a Terrace Studio or higher, kick back and enjoy the view of the Bellagio fountains or City Center (there are no bad views here, only good ones and better ones) from your private balcony. Have one of the city's best pizzas delivered from the in-house "secret" pizza joint and eat it in your tub.
More info: Check out TripAdvisor's guide to Las Vegas.
Short (1-4 hours): Free wireless, outlets and rocking chairs in the Atrium area of the terminal – where all concourses converge – are the ultimate free chill-out spot; also here is a giant US Airways Club, which you can book in advance for $29 or $50 on the spot. Or, take that money and spend it on wine (North Carolina only) at Yadkin Valley Wine Bar, or BBQ at Brookwood Farms.
Long (4 hours or more): The US National Whitewater Center is a short cab ride ($26, 20 min) away, $5 gets you parking and free access to 20 miles of trails along the Catawba River and a ringside seat to all kinds of action. Prefer the indoors? Taxi over ($26, 15 min) to TEN Park Lanes, a fab bowling alley serving good drinks gourmet southern eats all day, everyday.
Very long (overnight): Uptown is a $25 flat fee cab ride from the airport. Nosh your way through the growing 7th Street Public Market, open every day, check out the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art or the central campus of the Mint Museum, a temple to craft and design. For dinner, hit Dandelion Market, a dark pub that's actually a cool American tapas bar. Overnight at the great-value Hyatt House (from $101).
More info: Read AirfareWatchdog's list of 10 reasons we love CLT.
Short (1-4 hours): Terminal 4 is good food central, packed with great local names like La Grande Orange and Barrio Cafe (D gates), Cartel Coffee (C gates), Modern Burger (A gates) and, for those stuck in other terminals, the pre-security Chelsea's Kitchen, a Phoenix favorite. (Try the short rib tacos.) Need to chill? This is a US Airways hub, so their club (A gates) is a decent bet. Book online for $29 or buy a pass for $50 at the front desk.
Long (4 hours or more): Ride the SkyTrain from T4 (shuttle bus serves T2 & T3 for now) to the 44th Street stop (Free, 5 min). Transfer to the Metro Rail ($2, 20 min), visit the Phoenix Art Museum (McDowell Road) & Heard Museum (Encanto Ave.). Hungry? It's only a couple more stops (Campbell Ave.) to the city's best sandwiches at Pane Bianco, then kick back in civilized surroundings at Lux Coffeebar next door.
Very long (overnight): Check into the scene-y Hotel Palomar (from $249), part of a new downtown entertainment complex not far from the airport. Cab it ($25, 10 min) or take Metro Rail ($2, 15 min, exit the train at Washington/Central.) Stay close with dinner at Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails, the hotel restaurant – locals love it too – or take a short walk to Nobuo at Teeter House, a lively izakaya from a James Beard Award winner.
More info: Check out TripAdvisor's guide to Phoenix.
High Museum, Forbidden City, Italian Garden, Tsukiji Fish Market, Chicago O'Hare, Venice Beach,
Galeries Lafayette, Ft Worth Stockyards, Jakarta Old Town, Burj Khalifa, Alte Oper, Kowloon, Rocky Mountain Arsenal, tuk tuk, Singapore Gardens, Brooklyn Heights, Ferry Building, Bellagio fountains, Phoenix skyline images via Shutterstock
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