Updated June 23, 2020.
This is the truth: Non-stop flights rock. They’re just the best. They get you where you need to go quickly, concisely, and easily. You don’t have to think about layover times, delays or missed connections. But sometimes a layover is the only option to get you where you want to be. And occasionally… a layover can actually enhance your trip! You could even enjoy two (or three!) trips in one!
So next time you have the opportunity to choose an awesome layover, keep these in mind. Admittedly, I have not visited every airport in the world, but here is a quick list of the best—and the worst!
Best Airports for Long Layovers
Long layover: 6 hours or more between scheduled landing and scheduled take off of your connecting flight.
Criteria: Ability to leave the airport and explore a nearby city, things to do inside the airport, and ease of and time spent at arrival and customs.
Changi Airport, Singapore (SIN)
Changi has long been at the top of every “best airports in the world” list, and for good reason. For starters, it’s huge! There is a butterfly sanctuary, a swimming pool, and multiple airline lounges to choose from if you want a day pass. The Singapore Airlines lounge even has a shower! And if you want to explore Singapore itself, it’s easy to check another country off your list and make one trip into two! Not sure what to do, there are several FREE organized tours to choose from!
More on my Singapore Page!
Kingsford-Smith Airport, Sydney, Australia (SYD)
We love Sydney. You can see all the iconic sites in just a day, and their electronic passport system (which we just experienced for the first time on our trip in August) made getting through passport control and customs so easy! If you can swing a 24-hour layover, I highly recommend it, but if you only have 6 hours or more, you can still get right down to Circular Quay for a bite to eat and a walk around the Sydney Opera House and nearby Botanic Gardens!
Plan your layover: How to Spend 1 Day in Sydney
Christchurch Airport, Christchurch, New Zealand (CHC)
If you find yourself connecting in Christchurch, you’re in luck! Literally right across the street is the International Antarctic Centre, where you can easily spend several hours and see little blue penguins! Have a full 24 hours? You can find plenty to fill your time in downtown Christchurch!
More here: 10 Things to Do in Christchurch
Schiphol, Amsterdam, the Netherlands (AMS)
It’s easy to explore Amsterdam in just a few hours, and getting into the city is a simple, 30-minute train ride. Prefer to see the tulips in season? You can take a non-stop bus to Keukenhof Gardens straight from the airport and back!
More here: What to Know Before You Visit Amsterdam
Reykjavik-Keflavik International Airport, Keflavik, Iceland (KEF)
I think it’s fair to say that Iceland owes 90% its booming tourism industry to the marketing of FREE long layovers with Iceland Air and Wow Air. That is what a long layover can do! Even if you only have 6 hours, you can leave the airport long enough to enjoy the Blue Lagoon (get tickets far in advance!), or if you have a full 24 hours, you can enjoy the best of Reykjavik! It is definitely an easy-out, easy-back-in airport for a long layover.
Check it out: Your Ultimate Guide to Iceland’s Blue Lagoon
Dubai International Airport, Dubai, United Arab Emirates (DXB)
I have never been to Dubai, but it seems like every time I look at Pinterest or Instagram, I see a new post about how to make the most of a long layover or some new picture of someone there enjoying one! So go up in the Burj Khalifa, take a day trip to the desert, or do some high-end shopping at the Dubai Mall! Whatever you choose, have fun with it!
Hamad International Airport, Doha, Qatar (DOH)
Another country that is definitely benefitting from long layovers on the country’s official airline is Doha, Qatar! Whether you want to relax (and shower!) at the Qatar Airways Lounge, explore the Museum of Islamic Art, have a desert adventure with Strong Power Sports, or shop at the traditional Souq Waqif, you will be glad you chose a long layover in Qatar!
Keep reading on my Qatar Travel Page!
Worst Airports for Long Layovers
There are just some airports to avoid like the plague:
Washington-Dulles International Airport, Chantilly, VA, USA (IAD)
Call me a traitor… Dulles is my home airport! I’m here to tell you folks, it’s far. Like, really far from D.C. If you have 12-24 hours, you have time to go into D.C. If you have 6-12 hours, you have time to take a cab or an Uber to the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum (where you can see actual airplanes and watch flights land and take off from Dulles from their tower). Less than that, and you have time to eat at one of the many fine restaurants Dulles has to offer!
So what’s a traveler to do if you have to get into D.C. from Dulles?
Check out How to Get into D.C. from Dulles (IAD)!
Newark Liberty International Airport, Newark, New Jersey (EWR)
Oh, Newark. You’re such a mess! It’s just a little too busy for its britches. I don’t remember the last time I both arrived at a gate and departed from a gate at Newark. Usually I’m waiting forever for a shuttle to arrive so we can deplane on the tarmac and be bussed over to a gate, or vice-versa. I don’t think I’ve ever been allowed to land on time or depart on time, and to be honest, the employees have the worst attitude. Because we fly United frequently, we very often end up having a layover at Newark (a major United hub), and it always makes us nervous!
Additionally, it’s quite complicated (and unpredictable) to get into New York City. In fact, I planned for a 10-hour layover last year on my way from D.C. to Germany, and not only was my flight delayed 4 hours getting into Newark (for traffic control purposes at Newark, not D.C.), it also took an extra 45 minutes to get from the plane to the terminal. I knew 5 hours and 15 minutes was definitely not enough time to get into the city, do anything, get back to Newark, get through security (even with TSA Pre-check), and get to my gate on time. So I stayed in the airport all that time. Trust me, it does not belong on the “best” list!
Frankfurt International Airport, Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
This is another airport that’s simply too busy for its britches. Again, you’ll always be waiting for a bus on the tarmac. While the train system is excellent, it could take you a long time to get through passport control and customs, walk to the train station in the airport, and get into Frankfurt. Once you’re there, I’ll be honest with you—we didn’t think Frankfurt was all that great. We spent our 9 hour layover trying to figure out the right stuff to do in Frankfurt when we probably should have just gone to a lounge to get some sleep!
What’s your favorite airport for a long layover?
Want more? Check out my Air Travel Page for everything you need before your next flight!
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