En español | I've come to think of layovers as travel opportunities, and so can you. Sometimes I even consider lengthening a layover to allow for a day trip. And, believe it or not, I've planned layovers that save money on overall airfare.
My favorite international airports for layovers all have a few elements in common: a sense of place, elements of surprise and proximity to an interesting city. I relax and enjoy the local flavor and the stimulating feeling of being somewhere new. Sometimes I like to catch a ride into town, have lunch and shop a little before departure.
U.S. airports have also added dozens of amenities in the past five years. Whether large or small, many hubs now feature nail salons, massage therapists, yoga rooms and wine bars. And in a growing trend, many airports now have pharmacies and walk-in clinics.
Here are a few of the airports I've enjoyed. Search for them on the Internet to get more information and details.
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1. Amsterdam Airport Schiphol
This is one of the oldest international airports in the world and also one of the most relaxing. An outpost of the city's Rijksmuseum features works by Dutch masters. A bright, comfortable library in the center of the airport takes you out of the layover zone, with overstuffed sofas, tables, chairs you can recline in, multimedia content on iPads, and books in 29 languages. Shopping's no problem: I bought tulip bulbs and planted them in my yard when I got home. Getting into Amsterdam from Schiphol is easy, too. I was able to go in, have lunch and return within three hours.
2. Singapore Changi Airport
Decorated with soothing earth tones, this takeoff location is remarkably tranquil and unrushed. You'll find multiple gardens, including ones showcasing orchids and butterflies; a waterfall; and special exhibits to admire. Changi offers free two-hour tours of the city that leave at regular intervals. Other choices: gaming centers, a movie theater and a four-story slide.
3. Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport
Like many other airports, Detroit's has invested heavily in recent years to improve its design and upgrade the experience of its captive audience of visitors, imbuing its large open spaces with local art, culture and entertainment. The center of the McNamara Terminal features a soothing water sculpture that draws throngs of tourists to capture it in photos and videos. There's also a tunnel with moving walkways and almost 9,000 feet of LED lights that change colors — you'll think you're at a Pink Floyd laser show.
4. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
This airport is among those that have been stepping up their game in recent years, adding fine dining and other amenities to make for an enjoyable stretch between flights. You can get some mouthwatering Southern-inspired food at One Flew South, the airport's upscale dining option, which also offers creative signature cocktails and an international wine list. When you're full, check out XpresSpa in Concourse C for a massage, waxing or pedicure. Men are welcome here, too; there's a special facial treatment to ease the irritation of razor-burned skin.
5. Honolulu International Airport
If you're hopping to different Hawaiian islands, you may have a layover here. Of course, this airport is already interesting just because it's in Hawaii. But you can truly relax here walking in beautiful Chinese and Japanese gardens that will give you a last breath of fresh air and tranquility to prepare you for that five-hour-plus flight back to the lower 48.
6. Incheon International Airport
I was once stuck at Seoul's airport overnight during a major snowstorm that shut down the city. But the airport's cultural diversions were still going strong. Folk performances continued, and I was transfixed by women dancers clad in vibrant costumes with equally colorful fans. I had been suffering from sensory deprivation on a 12-hour flight; it seemed almost psychedelic. Incheon also features a golf course and driving range, as well as a sauna and fitness room. If you're more inclined to nap, you can rent a pod and catch 40 winks.
7. John F. Kennedy International Airport
Most travelers will have a layover here at one time or another. JFK lacks the quick transportation modes to get you to New York City for just an hour, but what would you do if you could get into the city? Most of us would probably want a great meal. So the airport, especially Terminal 4, has made great strides in bringing in outposts from the Big Apple's best chefs and eateries, including Marcus Samuelsson's Uptown Brasserie and Danny Meyer's Blue Smoke and Shake Shack. After that, take a walk and check out the JetBlue terminal's impressively, well, blue decor.
8. London Heathrow Airport
Here you'll find a little taste of London, with a 10,000-square-foot Harrods outpost, an art gallery and the famed Heathrow Express, which gets you into the city's central section in less than 30 minutes for about 34 pounds ($55). A cab will run you $80. Head into town for a quick lunch, and when you get back to the airport you can still pick up a Paddington Bear at Harrods if you forget to buy one at Paddington Station.
9. Minneapolis – St. Paul International Airport
This is my favorite U.S. airport for its bright, cheery, open space and its great shopping. Travelers and locals alike love the dining options, which showcase dishes by some of the Twin Cities' culinary stars. The food concourse also features iPads at every seat, so you can order your food, check email or your flight status, and browse the Internet.
10. Vancouver International Airport
When it comes to airports that give you a sense of place, this one is hard to beat. YVR, as it is known, currently houses the world's largest collection of native art and architecture from North America's Northwest Coast, and a variety of self-guided tours are available. If that's not enough, you can explore two aquariums featuring marine life native to British Columbia. At the heart of the international terminal, shop or grab a bite to eat along an indoor creek with running water, plants, logs and intriguing glass-sculpted salmon sprinkled through the streambed. With all these attractions, it might be difficult to tear yourself away to explore the real Vancouver!