Frequent flyers linger longer in airports these days, whether due to security, scheduling, or the overall quickening of our daily lives. While some airports seem resigned to remain merely sleepless purgatories between point A and point B, others strive to make our layovers heavenly by introducing some whimsy, wonder, and wow into the ground portion of our air travels.
At first glance, Singapore’s Changi Airport (SIN) more closely resembles a dream destination than a busy way station, with its shimmering rooftop pool and Jacuzzi, five themed gardens (including one totally aflutter with hundreds of butterflies), and free Xbox and PlayStation consoles awaiting fidgety fingers. Kids of all ages make a beeline to Singapore’s tallest slide, a twisting 40-foot tower of tubular thrills. Teens gravitate to the Social Tree, an interactive high-def monolith with 64 screens that invites visitors to post selfies that become part of the airport’s visual history. Travel-frazzled adults relax in nap rooms, stroll the nature trail, and unwind with exotic spa treatments, including feet exfoliation by tiny fish.
Speaking of fish, travelers in the International Terminal of Vancouver International Airport (YVR) enjoy the company of thousands of undersea creatures on loan from the Vancouver Aquarium at Stanley Park. The enormous 30,000-gallon centerpiece features 5,000 native rockfish, wolf eels, starfish, sea urchins, and anemones, while a smaller aquarium celebrates 12 species of colorful Pacific jellyfish.
Have clubs, will travel? Downtime magically transforms into tee time at Hong Kong International Airport (HKG), which conveniently built its nine-hole, USGA-approved SkyCity Nine Eagles Golf Course next to Terminal 2, complete with clubhouse, pro shop, and putting greens. Fore!
Travelers through Seoul, South Korea’s Incheon International Airport (ICN) stretch their legs in a much different fashion at the Ice Forest, a surprisingly spacious onsite ice skating rink. First time on skates? Fear not; the Ice Forest rink features special plastic ice that cushions your fall.
Dubai International Airport’s (DXB) reputation for glamour and glitz (gold bars, anyone?) overshadows its quieter side: two tranquil Zen gardens and cozy SnoozeCubes, soundproof sleeping pods with a single bed, touch-screen TV—and most importantly, a direct connection to the airport’s flight information system.
Every autumn, beer lovers oom-pah through Munich Airport (MUC) en route to the city’s famed Oktoberfest. Now the airport celebrates the official beverage of Bavaria daily at Airbräu, a restaurant, brewery, and entertainment venue whose brewery tours and party kegs-to-go threaten to turn layovers into stay-overs.
Finally, for Alps-bound travelers who overindulge on that irresistible Swiss chocolate, Zurich Airport (ZRH) offers several ways to work off the excess baggage. Simply rent a bike, inline skates, or Nordic walking poles at the service desk for a brisk detox.
Airport photos courtesy of Changi Airport Group, Vancouver International Airport, and Munich Airport.