Families coming together around the fire, eggnog flowing freely, and food fights at the kids’ table — it’s the most wonderful time of the year, if you’re not stuck in an airport, that is. Yes, the dreaded holiday travel season sees more than its fair share of delays, cancellations, double-bookings, and long layovers. Airports, with their half-assed holiday decorations — a tiny bit of tinsel here, a sprig of mistletoe there, easily overshadowed by sterile glass and Formica installations — can be a downright depressing place.
Instead of wallowing in your wilted winter wonderland wishes, why not (gasp!) actually try and enjoy your time while you’re stuck in JFK, IAD, LHR, GIG, DEL, PVG, or AMS? This week, we here at NileGuide worldwide headquarters (read: hut with an Internet connection, a light-up globe, two cups and a string, and an Etch-a-Sketch) have charged our savvy Local Experts (read: worldwide correspondents) with finding the best ways to kill some time either in or around 37 of the world’s major airports.
Whether you’d like to stick inside the airport or step out for a brief jaunt, we’ve got you covered. Want to push yourself? We’ve included a section for the bravest traveler. Got six hours at Heathrow? Why not go see Big Ben? Four hours in San Francisco? You can totally make the Golden Gate Bridge.
In the Airport
Read on for some of the best ways to weather your layover inside the airport.
If it so happens that you’re stuck at New Delhi’s swank new airport, you’re in luck. Not only is the airport designed like a mini, standalone city — it is also well connected to Delhi, so you can pull off a quick excursion to a number of places of interest.
With a huge Duty Free shop, a 100-room hotel, shower stalls, lounge rooms, play areas, installations inspired by Indian culture…well, you get the picture: flying into New Delhi International Airport’s newest terminal is a wonderful way to start your love affair with the city.
If you know there’s going to be a delay, don’t go through security/passport control just yet. Have a wander around the open areas of the airport, especially Terminal 2. Opened in 2004, it is a light and airy space that will allow you to breathe normally and perhaps relax. In the departures lounge there is usually an art exhibit on display. The tall windows flood the space with light, making this impromptu gallery a pleasure to visit.
There’s also a permanent Prague Airport Museum that traces the history of the very building in which you find yourself stranded.
Image: J.O.H.N. Walker
Ataturk Airport’s private lounges are mostly located on the upper floor. Entrance to these is permitted if you have a certain bank card. There are, for instance, the Is Bank Lounge and the HSBC Lounge. So if you have a bank card from either of these or from a business partner of theirs, you may be able to enter. With free Wi-Fi and some food and drinks, these lounges should carry you through a couple of hours. You can then leave the lounge and get a nice back massage in the massage zone before hopping aboard your flight.
Believe it or not, DIA actually has a scavenger hunt designed for travelers who have some time to kill. There are items to find in the Jeppesen Terminal, and in the A, B, and C gates; if you have a lot of time, take the train to another gate area and continue the scavenger hunt. (Note: If you are at A, B, or C gates and you travel back to Jeppesen Terminal, you will have to go through security again to reach your departure gate.)
Near the Airport
Got a couple hours? You might be surprised what kind of cultural activities are available to you right outside the airport.
If you feel the need to leave the airport and explore your immediate surroundings in College Park, you might not be in for the most exhilarating travel experience, but you will at least be able to socialize with folks that aren’t fretting about a layover.
About 3 miles from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport you can dig into some authentic southern style barbecue at Hambones BBQ. Housed in a homely building in nearby Hapeville, Hambones is known for its finger-lickin’ barbecue ribs, pork, and chicken as well as lip-smackin’ sweet tea.
The nearest town to Munich Airport is called Freising. Freising has a cathedral dating back to 1250 that Pope Benedict XVI presided over before he became the current Pope. More important to some, Freising has the oldest operating brewery in the world, which has a large beer hall and beer garden. If you taking bus 635 you can get to the town of Freising from the airport in 20 minutes. The bus departs every 20 minutes and costs €2.40 each way.
The Museum of Flight is a mere six miles down the highway — the kids can have some hands-on fun at the aviation learning center, and sitting in the cockpit of a SR-71A Blackbird might make your coach seat seem roomy by comparison. And hey, if you’re really itching to get in the air, the museum’s flight simulator can help you pretend you’re right on schedule.
The Rotterdam Airport is located just 8 km north east of Rotterdam. Getting to the city center (near the Rotterdam Central railway station) from the airport is convenient and takes just 20 minutes in the RET Airport shuttle, bus #33. The fare is around €2.30. Alternatively, you can hire a taxi to the city center for about €25.
All major attractions within the city center are walkable to each other. Start with observing the unconventional architecture at the Cube Houses (tilted at an angle of 45 degrees) and then walk through the koopgoot (literally the shopping gutter), the oldest pedestrian shopping street in the Netherlands. You might find some good bargains here.
For the Love of Rudolph, Will You Make It Back to the Airport in Time?
These treks are not for the average traveler; you risk missing your flight unless you follow our Local Experts’ instructions carefully. Even then, don’t blame us if instead of catching your flight home you get stuck on a slow boat from Rome.
With six hours to spare you can visit the Acropolis. The Airport is 33km from the city center so the trip will take roughly forty minutes. Get off at Syntagma Station and change to Line 2 (the red line). Follow the signs toward Aghios Dimitrios (south). Travel one stop to the Acropolis station. Take in the archaeological treasures displayed underground and then make your ascent toward Makriyianni/Dionysiou Areopagitou.
You need one hour to visit the Acropolis without being rushed for time. Likewise for the New Acropolis Museum, though with its pleasant cafe and two gift shops, an hour and a half might be more generous. Walking the pedestrian streets of Areopagitou and Makriyianni to get between the two places offers ample opportunities for souvenir shopping and tasting local treats, should you get peckish. We recommend a spinach pie at Makriyianni 3.
Pudong International Airport is connected to Shanghai by the world’s fastest Maglev train. You can be whisked into the city at an impressive 500 kph, which gives you a lot more free time to explore if you do choose to leave the airport.
It takes a mere seven minutes to get from the airport to Longyang Station in Pudong. From there, you can easily hop in a cab to anywhere in Pudong or else transfer to another subway line and visit even more of the city. For a safe layover, consider taking a cab from Longyang Station to JinMao Tower. From the Sky Lounge you can see an impressive panoramic view of the city, and an especially beautiful view of the Huangpu River while you sip a reasonably-priced martini and snap pictures of your layover adventure from up on high.
The Metro leaves every six minutes (and every four minutes during rush hour) from Copenhagen’s Kastrup Airport to the city center, and will get you to central square Kongens Nytorv in eight stops (15 minutes). However, we recommend disembarking at the stop before, Christianshavn, to sample one of Copenhagen’s quaintest and most visited neighborhoods– known for its old painted houses along the canalsides, cute shops and some of the best cafes and restaurants in the city.
Step 1: Follow the signs in the terminal to the Heathrow Express, non-stop train service to London’s Paddington Station. Running every 15 minutes, the train will have you in central London within 20 minutes for £32 round trip.
Step 2: From Paddington follow signs to the London Underground, purchase a one-day travel card from a ticket machine or window. Follow signs to the Circle Line (yellow) towards High Street Kensington and in less than (another) 20 minutes you’ll alight at Westminster. Big Ben will be towering above the station exit, reminding you to get back to the airport in time for your departure.
Read on for more ideas on how to combat boredom around the world:
Salt Lake City
Rio de Janeiro