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Travel Tips

The Best Airports for Waiting Out Long Layovers

We’d be hard-pressed to find even a single soul who enjoys a layover, but luckily, airports are starting to feel – and aptly address – the pain of those in transit. Thanks to a combination of free activities, entertainment options, and proximity to on-the-ground hot spots, these are 8 of the best airports for long layovers.

A Brooklyn-based writer and editor, Chelsea's work has appeared in Matador Network, The Huffington Post, the TripAdvisor blog, and more. When not planning her next trip, you'll usually find her drinking way too much iced coffee (always iced—she’s from New England) or bingeing a Netflix original series.

See recent posts by Chelsea Stuart

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Changi Airport, Singapore, Singapore

Normally, we wouldn’t suggest you waste any precious vacay time on movies, but layovers are fair game. At Singapore’s Changi Airport, dual movie theaters – in Terminals 2 and 3, show free-of-charge films 24/7 (and we’re talking of-the-moment blockbusters). Over at Terminal 1, those with a long enough layover can grab a day-pass to the Aerotel Airport Transit Hotel rooftop and trade uncomfortable gate seats for pool, jacuzzi, and hot pre-flight shower access. On your walk back to your gate, take a relaxation break in the Water Lily Garden or Cactus Garden, and if all else fails? The airport has so kindly organized a top 5 list of places to snag a selfie.

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Narita International Airport, Narita, Japan

Multi-leg international flights are no joke, especially when planes are behind schedule and 2-hour layovers turn into full days, or even...nights (!). If you’ve been strapped with a 4- (or more) hour break, and you find yourself at Narita International Airport, you’ve got some options. Join the Narita Transit Program for a free volunteer guided tour of the city, taking your pick of neighborhood – Narita, Shibayama, Tako, or Sakae – or take a shopping-centric self-guided tour. If you don’t have the time and have to kick it back at the airport, you can pop into the Nine Hours capsule hotel where pods can be rented by the hour if you’re in need of a first-rate nap.

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Hong Kong International Airport, Hong Kong

HKG pulls out all the stops when it comes to in-between-flights entertainment; just take your pick of the IMAX Theater (with the largest IMAX screen in the whole city), the 9-hole and 18-hole golf simulators at GreenLive AIR, or go for the real deal at SkyCity Nine Eagles Golf Course, all in and around Terminal 2. If you’re in the mood for something a little more educational, stop by the Aviation Discovery Center for exhibits that revolve around the evolution of air travel in Hong Kong. While you’re there, it’s also worth dropping by the 360 degree SkyDeck for a little fresh air and to watch the arriving and departing planes. Cap off your layover with a walk through one of the mini gardens and snag a quick rest in one of the lounges, all sprinkled throughout gates 21, 34, 41, and 61. Along the way, you can also fit in ample window shopping as you pass by high-fashion retailers like Chanel, Dior, and Balenciaga (among a generous handful of others).

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Incheon International Airport, Incheon, South Korea

Thirty-miles west of Seoul, Incheon International Airport encourages flyers of all ages to feel like a kid again with complimentary access to their 365-day in-line skating rink – aka, the Ice Forest (in Transportation Center, 1B). Strap on a helmet (it’s required) and go for a spin before tiring yourself out enough for a new release screening at one of two CGV Incheon & IMAX cinemas. At some point during your layover, you’ll likely find yourself a parade and pageant spectator as the airport hosts traditional royal processions four times a day which wind along Korean Cultural Street in level 4 of the passenger terminal.

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Heathrow Airport, London, England

Air travel – no matter the length – can take a real toll on your skin thanks to moisture-sucking pressurized cabins. That’s where the No.1 Travel Spa (in Terminal 3) comes in handy with the “Jet Lag Cure” – a full-body aromatherapy massage and 20-minute micro facial that’ll get you back in tip-top shape. From there, you can use the rest of your time (if you’ve got a couple hours) to head into the city – it’s just 15 miles west of the airport – to hit whatever hot spots are calling your name. The airport has three easy to access underground stations which can zip you into central London via the Piccadilly Line. But, if your itinerary doesn’t have time for the Tate Modern or V&A, per se, you can always hit the permanent gallery in Terminal 5.

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Dubai International Airport, Dubai, UAE

Despite the potential activities you can fit into a long layover, sometimes, you just want to squeeze in a bit of sleep, and that’s A-okay. At Dubai International, travelers can opt for cat naps in a SnoozeCube. The sound-proof, micro-hotel rooms are equipped with touch screen TVs so you can doze off to a movie or music, and they run only $21 USD an hour. Once you’re adequately rested, you’ve got all of Dubai at your fingertips, as the center of town is just a 20- to 30-minute ride train ride away. Take in sights like the Burj Khalifa, Dubai Mall, or Bastakia Quarter by hopping on the metro at Terminals 1 and 3.

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Los Angeles International Airport, Los Angeles, CA

Flying through LAX is best when immediately hopping flight to flight (that way you have no time to think about what you’re missing), or with a long layover so you can really enjoy SoCal's spoils. From the airport, Venice Beach, Marina del Rey, Santa Monica, and Manhattan Beach are all just a _sans-traffic _20- to 30-minute drive, so you can hail a cab, call an Uber, or rent a car and turn your layover into a beach day. If you’re not about the beach bum life (hello, friends) then you can always turn to LAX’s art contemporary installations and live performance series which unfold across Terminals 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, and Tom Bradley International. Any self-respecting traveler (with time to spare) should also fit in a trip to In-N-Out, because...well, you just have to. The closest burger god-send – on Sepulveda – is less than a mile walk from Terminal 1, so go for the animal fries, but just know you won't be walking them off anytime soon.

Related: 9 Hot New Hotels in Los Angeles
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Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Seattle, WA

Need a soundtrack for your travels? Us too. At Sea-Tac International, Seattle shows off its musical chops with live performances 7 days a week. So far, more than 240 local groups have entertained those in-transit. Another culture-rich option is a self-guided airport art walk. The half-mile route – marked by QR-equipped signs – spans 16 permanent installations (think: 3D pointillism, silk-screened glass, mixed media kinetic sculptures, etc.) and a number of temporary exhibits. It starts at the Starbucks in the Central Terminal food court, so grab a venti vanilla latte (or your choice indulgence) to tide you over as you traverse exhibits on through Gate A-14. Alternatively, if you’re looking to get out of the airport and fit in some Emerald City sightseeing, a 20 to 25-minute taxi ride can land you at Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, or Chihuly Garden and Glass.

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