12 International Airports With Flair

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I don’t know if you’re anything like me, but when I see my flight search results summary – there are only 2 things I look for (well, after price that is).  Number 1 is the # of stops (more than 1 and I move on), and number 2 – the dreaded layover time.

If the layover is less than 75 minutes, and the airport is big enough to have more than 1 terminal, I know I will spend the entire first flight obsessively plotting distance remaining divided by average flight speed and re-calculating arrival time with the analytical precision of an elementary school remedial math student.

This is interspersed with frantic memorization of the layout map of the destination airport found in the airline’s seatback magazine and simultaneous optimal route plotting. All so that I can still find myself getting totally way-laid upon landing, and, of course, miss my subsequent flight, but with a nice sense of initial false confidence and misplaced pride in my detailed planning and preparedness. Yes, I am that sort. So I bail on those choices too.

But usually, none of us want to spend even 1 extra minute more on layover than is absolutely required to get your butt firmly wedged into its generously allotted 16.5 inches on the next flight – albeit also without having to attain your personal best 6-minute mile on the concourse, right?

Well, all that is changing. A traveler friendly trend I think we can all get behind has emerged and it’s most definitely overdue. There are now airports where there are far more interesting things to do than stare morosely at the departures board willing time to move forward with just the power of your mind.

Here are a few notables:

12. Get Some Speed – Zurich Airport, Switzerland

Here you can enjoy a few fine beverages in a variety of lovely runway side establishments, including two rooftop terraces…. and then crank up the danger meter by renting a pair of inline skates or a bike and careening around the facility.   Don’t forget to scoop up a helmet, too.    If you’ve got more than a couple of hours, local tour guides will be more than happy to show you the sights and have you back before take-off.

11. Feed Your Inner Downward Dog – San Francisco International Airport, USA

This spot has come a long way since its humble beginnings as a cow pasture. At SFO they apparently don’t want you to get too excited though -  a big focus here is on serenity – with multiple Yoga rooms (the first found in any airport), and a reflection lounge for silent meditation and quiet “me-time”. Once you get enough of yourself though, there is also a central library and museum exhibits are found in each of the 3 terminals.

For a layover of any more than just a few hours  – make sure you plan ahead to hook up with an experienced local San Francisco guide to maximize every possible minute of fun. You can enjoy guided food and cocktail tours, and take walking tours to see the beautiful city sights and the legendary waterfront.  Discover local museums and artworks, with a chance to learn first-hand about the heritage and history of the area. Don’t forget to take your heart with you through your departure gate though.

10. Start a Mosh Pit – Incheon International Airport, South Korea

With in excess of 8 daily performances – this live music venue disguised as an airport also manages to house 7 gardens more than my whole city block does (um… that would still be 7 total). This year Incheon provides three “DejaVu Afternoon” concerts daily, five “Classic” concerts featuring crossover pop, movie and classical tunes, as well as extra seasonally themed concerts – all free of charge.    You can also show off your double sow cow (just like local Olympic medalist Kim Yu-Na) at the indoor skating rink, or hedge your bets against falling flat on your face by checking in at the airport casino instead.

9. Get in Some Heavy Petting – Miami International Airport, USA

Some have joked that catching a flight at Miami International is like catching the last flight out from Saigon, but they’ve got something here that we’ve not found anywhere else. An utterly adorable golden retriever canine greeter named Casey. She has her own website too. No lie.

If you make it out of the airport in Miami – do plan to spend some time out on the water with a local fishing or boat tour guide, and be sure to bring loads of sunscreen.

8. Get (Some of) Your Kit Off – Schiphol Amsterdam Airport, the Netherlands

Don’t make the same mistake I did….. even though you’re in free-wheeling “anything goes” Amsterdam, apparently they expect you to keep yourself decently clothed for the airport “water massage” you signed up for. Instead you climb right inside the aqua machine for a pre-programmed massage – a microfiber coating separates you from 36 computer-controlled pulsating water jets. You can get your culture on here too, as an annex of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, showcasing paintings by Dutch masters such as Jan Steen and Ferdinand Bol is open year-round. Admission is free to airport visitors, as well as to the world’s first airport library, well stocked with print and e-tomes in 29 languages.

If you are lucky enough to spend a day or more in Amsterdam – connect with the amazing guides that call this renowned bohemian city home. You will be sure to appreciate the relative lack of incline while you check out captivating walking and biking tours within the colorful city proper.

7. Get Some Expensive Yoga Gear – Vancouver International Airport, Canada

Besides being the best spot in the world to score exorbitantly priced umbrellas and ridiculously expensive yoga gear (everyone’s wearing it, so it must be fashionable, right!), Vancouver’s Airport appears on many favorites lists for its indigenous sculptures and soothing water features, as well as the chance to get nose to nose with 5,000 sea creatures and 70 varieties of fish in the enormous 114,000 liter aquarium.

This city has much to offer so if you can spare the time, check out the local guide offerings in Vancouver – you won’t be disappointed.

6. Get Your Grill Polished – São Paulo-Guarulhos International Airport, Brazil

For a fraction of what most of us pay at home, at this airport you can get your teeth x-rayed, cleaned and whitened before take-off.   Hmm, dental work and airports – the two just seem made for each other, no?   If Brazil is your destination though, there is much more fun to be had on an outing with a local tour guide than you can ever have in a dentist’s chair.

5. Get Your Feed-Bag On – Heathrow International Airport, London

If you generally have a hard time making up your mind about where to eat, this is not the airport for you…. boasting 105 restaurants at last count (including Gordon Ramsey’s “Plane Food”), you could waste your whole layover just trying to decide. Luckily for you slow eaters – they also have cool little bug-eyed driverless pod cars that can whip you to your gate at Terminal 5 at the very last minute.   If you have more than a mere layover here though, do not hesitate to arrange for tours with a local guide – there’s just too much here to see and do!

4. Get Your Frizz On – Kuala Lampur International Aiport, Malaysia

Nature lovers and naturally straight haired folks rejoice. This airport was designed with the surrounding rainforest environment in mind. Not only is it surrounded by lush green space, but, with the co-operation of the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia, a section of the rainforest was transplanted to inside of the airport.  Now everyone with even a mild wave in their ‘do can have bad “high-humidity” hair days – without even stepping foot outside.   Have enough time to get out of the airport? How about cozying up to some elephants with your very own local tour guide?

3. Get Your Bling – Dubai International Airport, United Arab Emerites

The singular stand-out location in the world where the concept “less is more” is considered absolute sacrilege and the statement “that’s just too much!” has never even been whispered (it’s true!) – Dubai’s signature extravagance is on bold display at the Middle East’s largest airport – featuring shopping stands where you can purchase gold bars. Yes, that’s right: gold bars.    If you have extra time here, there are 4WD and Boat Tours with an experienced local guide that can be had for much less than a gold bar would set you back.

2. Get Your Game On – Hong Kong International Airport

If your travel buddies are in need of a serious smack down (game-wise that is), then Hong Kong is your spot. Here you will find an outdoor nine-hole regulation golf course to show off your Tiger-like prowess, iSports simulators for whipping around the track Michael Schumacher-style, or for slam-dunkin’ just like Blake Griffin.  They’ll even put you in charge of the plane in the 3D simulator at the Aviation Discovery Center onsite, so bring your Dramamine and get in a few barrel rolls.

You can also feel the wind in your hair, the kiss of the ocean spray on your face, and you may just have to squint through the swirling fog to see what’s coming at you – all in the 4D “multi- sensory” airport theatre.  Maybe don’t waste a lot of time with your flat iron that day.

1. Get Pretty Much Whatever You Want – Changi Airport, Singapore

Replete with a butterfly garden, free movie theaters, a 40-foot indoor slide and Balinese-themed rooftop pool and hot tub, you can also get your game on in the entertainment area (think Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and more). There’s a waterfall, some carnivorous plants and even a koi pond on the nature trail.  But most of all – art lovers will appreciate the amazing “Kinetic Rain” sculpture (profiled in the short video below) – the largest of it’s kind – made up of 1,216 bronze “droplets” that move in a slow dance to create a soothing and hypnotic visual landscape. Loads of great guided tours are offered in Singapore, so don’t hesitate to connect with a local guide once you’ve finished with all of the goings on at the airport.
What’s your favorite spot for an entertaining layover?

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