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What to do at the airport: Stopover tips for the 14 largest airports around the world!

9 hours later, your bloodshot eyes creak open. You drag yourself off the plane, and in to the airport. The blinding fluorescent lights sear your retinas as you recount the crying baby seated behind you.

More like gnawing on your headrest.

For 7 of those 9 hours.

You dump your sluggish body in to the nearest cushioned seat, and prepare yourself for the mental marathon that is the next 6 hours…of waiting. 

What a joy.

All hope is not lost, friend! Many airports around the world are not just for weary travelers to grab a burnt coffee, and window shop for overpriced best-selling books at duty free shops. What if I told you there were airports with mind-blowing activities hidden right under your nose? Put that crappy book down! Now! And check out some of these airports’ attractions!

Nearby things to do: how to kill time during a long layover!

European Airports

1. Frankfurt Airport

Frankfurt houses the largest airport in Germany and the 4th largest in Europe. It’s the main hub for Lufthansa Airlines and serves Europe, North and South America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

What to do at Frankfurt Airport

At Frankfurt Airport, the relaxation possibilities are nearly endless. At Terminal 1 and 2 –for 6 euros– you can get a professional spa treatment. The terminals also offer hairdresser services and yoga spaces. At Gates B42 and 43 in Terminal 1 and Gates D1 and D4 in Terminal 2 you can kick back in their relaxation areas. The relaxation areas are decorated nicely with hardwood flooring and are home to lots of plants and workstations with USB ports. These spaces, overall, offer some peace from the hustle and bustle of the airport and include lovely, reclining chairs. You better snag one quick!

Frankfurt Airport also has a unique mobile app called “Create Your Stay”. You open it up, input how long your stopover is and it shows you all the cool activities you could get up to with the time you have. You could get a hot-stone massage, tour the airport or even take a trip to Heidelberg via the Lufthansa Airport Shuttle. For a 2 hour round trip ticket the cost is 46 euros for singles and if you’ve got a Lufthansa Airline ticket, you get a 4 euro discount!

I save the coolest thing of all for last. Ever wanted to fly a plane? Guess what? You totally can! Frankfurt Airport has a Flight Simulator tucked away, and for 79 euros you can get a session with a qualified pilot to show you the ropes.

Finally, like any generous airport, Frankfurt supplies free Wi-Fi around the clock.

2. Amsterdam Schiphol

Amsterdam Schiphol is the hub for KLM Airlines and is particularly good for passengers traveling to and from Europe and North America. It’s the 5th largest airport in Europe and also heavily coordinates flights with Singapore Airlines.

What to do at Amsterdam Schiphol

At most airports, it’s tough to get out for some fresh air without being forced to leave the airport entirely, but Schiphol is different. It has a “Park” space that’s specifically designed for this purpose. You can hang out in the fresh air and get some work done on your laptop with free Wi-Fi, or just hang out to watch planes take off at the Panoramic Terrace on the 3rd floor.

The XpressSpa in Lounge 2 and 3 on pier D offers massages and soothing treatments. Alternatively, there’s the Rituals Spa in Lounge 1. Visitors can rent a shower for 15 euros an hour at the Mercure Hotel in Terminal 3, or the Yotel in Lounge 2.

Unique to Schiphol is a “behind the scenes tour” which runs for one hour. For 15,50 euros you can see the fire brigade, airplane hangars and other places that normally aren’t open for public viewing. Tours depart daily from the A15 bus stop at 9:30, 11:00, 13:00, 14:30, and 16:30.

If your layover is more than 4 hours, a great way to spend it is to take a trip to the city of Frankfurt. One-way is only a 15-minute cab ride and you can get a taste of the city during an otherwise boring stopover.

3. London Heathrow

Europe’s busiest airport, and 3rd largest in the world, Heathrow offers more than the eye can see. It’s home to one of the largest airlines in the world, British Airways, and services North and South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and pretty much anywhere else you can think of!

What to do at London Heathrow

If you’ve got the time, pick up a day pass for Sofitel Hotel’s Wellness and Fitness Center. Get some exercise done on those tense and aching muscles of yours! Terminal 5 hosts a British artists’ gallery where visitors can view paintings, sculptures and photographs of some of Britain’s best artists. The airport also supplies computer work and charging stations.

4. Paris-Charles-De-Gaulle

Charles-De-Gaulle is Europe’s second largest airport (next to Heathrow, of course). It’s the central hub for Air France and boasts of spas in Terminals 2A, C, D and F.

What to do at Paris-Charles-De-Gaulle

Here you can get a massage or set yourself up with oxygen and aromatherapy. There’s specially designed meditation areas, for you to get some relaxation in while you wait….and reflect on the drawbacks of sitting on a plane in front of a screaming child. Namaste.

The Galerie Parisienne is an optimal place to visit if you’ve got a few hours before your next flight. With comfy sofas, popcorn and a cold drink, you can watch movies and forget you’re even in an airport! Speaking of movies, this is the airport that the movie “Terminal” was shot in. If you’re a Tom Hanks fan, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If not, I’ll be quick. Basically, they shot a movie about a guy named Alfred Mehran, from Iran, was stranded in Paris-Charles-De-Gaulle Airport. Due to some government complications, he couldn’t leave the airport or go home, so he stayed. For 18 years. You can retrace his steps through the airport by visiting where he lived in Terminal 1, hall 5, level 0.

If you’ve got an even longer stopover, take advantage of the time, and hop on the train to Paris. 10 euros and a 30-minute train ride lands you in the heart of the land of lovers. If you’ve decided to stick around the airport, you can access free Wi-Fi. Unfortunately it’s not the best and can be upgraded for a price of 2,90 euros for 20 minutes.

5. Helsinki Airport

Helsinki Airport covers flights coming in to and out of the North of Finland and is the home base for Finnair. It primarily services Europe, North America and East Asia.

What to do at Helsinki Airport

At the Kainuu Lounge you can find some space to relax and get a bite to eat. There’s also a book exchange market nearby where you can trade in books! Now you don’t have to read your book again…for the 3rd time in the last 12 hours. Along with Heathrow, Helsinki offers an art gallery where you can view pieces made by Finnish artists. The airport also offers an airplane museum that boasts 80 planes on exhibit.

If you’re more the type to get outside for some alone time, the Arctic Bar Terrace is the perfect spot. At Gate 30 on the 2nd floor you can get out to watch the hustle and bustle of the airfield and get a breath of fresh air. Alternatively, if you’re a cool cat that likes to nap, there’s a sleeping are at Gate 37 that’s completely free. To bump your cat-nap up a notch, check out the GoSleep pods at Gates 18 and 38. For 9 Euros per hour you can sleep in a comfy little pod. The service is also free in the spring time.

Similarly to other airports, Helsinki offers free Wi-Fi up to 100MB and workstations at various Gates.

6. Oslo Lufthavn

Lufthavn is the hub for SAS and Norwegian Airlines, the former primarily being used for travel to and from the USA and Thailand. Like other airports on this list, it’s got more than just food, drinks and shopping.

What to do at Oslo Lufthavn

For 32 Euros, you can relax, read and enjoy some peace and quiet at the OSL Lounge. Within the lounge, you can surf the internet as long as you want with their Wi-Fi. Elsewhere in the airport, you only get free Wi-Fi for 2 hours.

Here’s a cool secret for all you thirsty travelers. If you go to Gate A2 and visit the fountains near the toilets across from the duty free shops, you can fill your water bottle up with pure Norwegian water. It’s definitely worth it for saving some cash on bottle of water.

Around the airport you can charge your phone wirelessly by using a service called Powerkiss. You purchase a wireless charge that’s hooked up with the service, plug it in to your device and let it charge. To get a wireless charger you’ll have to visit Upper Crust International, The Christiania Bar, or Monolitten restaurants. You can also get a charger from the OSL Lounge. Be sure to keep the charger, so you can use at other airports with Powerkiss service!

Asian Airports

7. Dubai International

Dubai International is the most important hub in the Middle East. Emirates Airlines uses it as their home base and service Africa, Oceania, The Americas, Europe and pretty much everywhere else!

What to do at Dubai International

This airport is home to Zen Garden. Located in Terminal 3 near Gates B7 and 27, you can relax around real palm trees and enjoy the quiet with the soothing sounds of waterfalls. Terminal 1 offers sleeping cabins near Gate C22. They’re nothing to write home about, but if you’re looking for a quick nap after a long flight, then it’s your go-to place for a pillow and blanket. Alternatively, you can check out Dubai International Hotel, and pay for time in the spa and swimming pool.

Outside of the airport, you can catch a free 2.5 hour sightseeing tour if you’re staying for a long period of time. For Wi-Fi service, you can access the internet free for an hour, but you have to pay 5 euros per hour after that.

Dubai / what to do at the airport
Photo von kyolshin

8. Abu Dhabi International Airport

Etihad Airways and other international airlines use Abu Dhabi as its hub for flights to Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and the Americas.

What to do at Abu Dhabi International Airport

If your stopover only lasts for up to four hours, you can enjoy a delicious meal in either the Al Reem Lounge or Al Dhabi Lounge even if you’re not flying business or first class. There are also workstation spaces for travelers to set up shop and get some work done.

In the famous Six Senses Spa you can relax with a 15-minute professional massage or facial to liven you up and get you full of energy after a long trip. To rent a sleeping cabin in Terminal 3, be ready to spend 8 euros an hour for a nap. If Six Sense isn’t good enough for you and you need a little more TLC, check out Tosa Spa at the Skypark Plaza in Terminal 1. Here you can easily spend a couple hours and just turn off your brain with lavish spa treatments.

Of course, there’s always the possibility to leave the airport if your stopover is considerably long. There a some nice nearby things to do. Visit the impressive sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque or the Yas Marina Circuit–a Formula 1 circuit that tourists can view.

No, you can’t race cars. So disappointing, right?

To visit either these places outside the airport all you need is a travel visa and at least three hours.

9. Doha Hamad International

The Doha Hamad International Airport is the basis for Qatar Airways. It serves over 140 destinations in the Americas, Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe and the Middle East.

What to do at Doha Hamad International

For Economy passengers the Oryx Lounge offers eating, drinking, good Internet and a quiet zone for 50 euros. Here you can also work peacefully, because the atmosphere is very calm and relaxed in contrast to the bustle in the main airport.

Everywhere in the airport you also have the opportunity to get in to relaxation rooms to make your stopover bearable. If you’d rather get your body moving, visit the swimming pool and showers at the Vitality Wellbeing and Fitness Center. Doha Hamad features museum exhibit pieces throughout the airport that you can catch a glimpse of as you walk around. Wi-Fi is free throughout the airport and there are computer stations available with direct internet access.

If you want you hand prefer to make a difference, then go into Vitality Wellbeing & Fitness Center, which even has a swimming pool and where you can relax shower. Distributed in the whole airport also you come across artifacts that are created in cooperation with local museums. You have to stop only the eyes!

Wi-Fi is in the passenger area for free and also you meet again on additional computer stations with internet access.

10. Singapore Changi

Changi is the central airport for Singapore Airlines. From Germany, the airport services trips to Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

What to do at Singapore Changi

To get the best our of your stopover in Singapore’s main airport, head to the Cinema in Terminals 2 and 3, for some feature length film action. More the recreational type? Hit up the Butterfly Garden in Terminal 3 and feast your eyes on 1000 species of butterflies while getting a look at cool plants and tons of fresh air! The garden is home to species of water lily, sunflowers and orchids. In Terminal 3, you can also view a Koi Fish tank to catch a glimpse of these iconic animals.

On the roof-top terrace you can get some much needed exercise in and watch the airplanes take off at their open-air swimming pool. On top of all these cool features, Changi Airport gives visitors free Wi-Fi and the potential opportunity to take a bus tour of Singapore if you’re stop over is 5.5-24 hours long.

As you can see there are lots of nearby things to do at Changi Airport.

11. Beijing Capital International Airport

The 2nd largest airport in the world is home to Air China, China Southern Airlines und Hainan Airlines. The airlines primarily services flights within China like Hong Kong and some internationally.

What to do at Beijing Capital International Airport

An option for weary travelers on a stopover is booking lounge rooms. In Terminal 1, 2, and 3 you can book a lounge and take a hot shower for 10 Euros per person, and and extra 7 Euros for the shower. Throughout the day, the airport offers various activities and performances. There’s a fish fountain in Terminal 3E where you can feed the fish at E Suzhou Garden and Royal Garden.

At Terminal 2 and 3, practice your videogaming skills with free Xbox and Wi-Fi! The internet service is also available throughout the entire airport.

12. Hong Kong International Airport

This airport is China’s 2nd largest and is the primary airport for Cathay Pacific. The airline runs flights within China and the rest of Asia and services European, African, North American, Australian and New Zealand destinations.

What to do at Hong Kong International Airport

There are several art exhibitions within the airport. One showcases the life of Bruce Lee in “Kung Fu – Art – Life” at Gate 62 in Terminal 1. “Theatre Art of Canonese Opera” is another option that’s located at Gate 22 Terminal 1 and 2 on level 6. There’s an additional Imax cinema where you can catch the latest new movies.

If you’re looking to relax a bit, you can get a massage, manicure and haircut at Terminals 1 and 2. For all you techies, there are 1300+ charging stations around the airport. You’ll never have a dead phone or laptop again!

The airport has a space called the Aviation Discovery Center where you can get awesome views of the airport from the SkyDeck. A cool feature of the airport is a virtual golf course. Sign up, and knock a virtual golf ball around a 9- or 18-hole gold course. Fore!

North American Airports

13. New York John F. Kennedy International

The J.F.K. Airport in New York is located in Queens, 25 kilometers from the center of Manhattan. Delta Airlines, one of the largest airlines in the United States, uses the airport as a hub for connections to Europe, but Lufthansa is also popularly used.

What to do at New York John F. Kennedy International

If you’re looking to get your road trip groove on when you get to the U.S. you might very well have a stopover here and then be flying on to your final destination like Miami out of JFK.

If you have a long stopover in New York, and your trip left you drearily tired, it might be worth it to rent a hotel room. Many can be rented by the hour, so you could potentially sleep for 3, go to the hotel’s gym for an hour and have a comfortable hot shower! Here’s a link to give you some more information!

The airport has Xpress Spas in terminals 1, 4 and 7. Unfortunately, the airport itself doesn’t have many nearby thins to do. It’s sure surprising in a country like the U.S. where everyone is bustling around constantly looking for more time and things to do with it. JFK Airport only offers 30 minutes of free Wi-Fi and even the Starbucks don’t offer it…even if you cough up the money for a ridiculously overpriced latté.

14. Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson

Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport is the largest in the world, so we saved the grand finale for the end. Travelers from Europe fly to this hub for a stopover and often continue on to other U.S. cities.

What to do at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson

The airport is huge. Really, it’s massive. It’s so massive it’s comparable to a small city… made out of terminals and airplanes.

A restaurant called One Flew South has incredible sushi. But be warned, it comes with a pretty hefty bill. The Bar in Terminal E houses a live piano player where you can listen to tunes on the piano while sipping your drink. During the Jazz Festival in the spring, the airport brings in jazz bands to perform! Performers out of this city are often world class, and can keep up on the international stage.

There’s a mini hotel called Minute Suites in Hall B at Gate B16. Unfortunately, it costs about 34 euros… per hour. No fun. If you can afford it, though, you can get some work done in peace, and relax in your own little world for a while.

Hey, at least there’s free Wi-Fi.

There’s tons of nearby things to do at airports around the world!

While most airports don’t have a whole lot, many of the largest offer great hospitality through activities and unique spaces. During a long stopover it’s often worthwhile to get out of the airport to get a view of the city. Time flies when you’re taking in a new place and you can have the chance to get up and moving after a long flight. Since the airports listed here have some great nearby things to do, you can take advantage of those long hours and come back to get some relaxation time in after or before your next adventure. From rooftop terraces and jazz bands to koi fish and flight simulators, there are some incredible opportunities hidden right under your nose at many airports around the world.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done during a long stopover at an airport? Share your story in the comments!

Sebastian Canaves
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