Singapore's Changi is the most beautiful airport in the world.

Only in Singapore’s Changi Airport can passengers enjoy a layover exploring a tropical forest setting in air-conditioned comfort. Photo by Darren Nunis

By Casey Fahrer

There are over 40,000 airports worldwide where passengers are likely to spend multiple hours in each hub before their departure. That assumes that the flight is on time, which often is not the case.

Not many travelers enjoy sitting around in overpacked airports while anxiously waiting for their plane to board. Dallas Fort-Worth International Airport has made many efforts to modernize itself and give passengers a more enjoyable experience when navigating the busy airport. Others have also taken steps to give the best airport experience possible, with some places seeming attractive even if you aren’t waiting for the plane.

Singapore’s Changi International Airport

Singapore’s international airport is one of the best places to get stuck. First opened in 1981, Singapore Changi Airport first opened in 1981 and has since grown into one of the most luxurious and busiest centers for air travel in the world, and was named the Skytrax Airport of the Year award for 2023. Like many other airports, Singapore Changi offers passengers many different shopping and dining experiences across four different terminals, but there is much more to do here as well.

Many of the terminals are linked together through the Jewel Changi, a ten-story commercial zone that features a mixture of nature, art, and architecture, giving Singapore one of the most appealing atmospheres to be found in an airport. The Jewel is centered on a waterfall surrounded by lush greenery creating an other-worldly experience for passengers.

Singapore Changi offers many interactive activities to keep passengers busy while waiting for a flight, including a rock-climbing wall, butterfly walk, experience studio, television lounge, and several kinds of mazes.

Staying in Singapore for at least five and a half hours? You can check out one of the three bus tours offered to passengers for free by the city. Singapore can also be seen via bicycle as two-hour bike tours have recently been offered at Changi.

South Korea’s Incheon International Airport

Musicians play throughout the day in South Korea's Incheon Airport.

Musicians play throughout the day (and night) at Incheon Airport outside Seoul, Korea. Photo by David DeVoss

Another one of the world’s largest and busiest airports can be found in South Korea. Incheon International Airport first began operating in 2001 and offers passengers dozens of things to do. Incheon has two terminals that feature a medley of Korean cuisine and shopping, along with many accommodations. The airport offers several ways for travelers to enjoy the local culture. There are daily reenactments for the Changing of the Guard as well as the Walk of the Korean Royal Family. There are multiple types of concerts available for travelers at various cultural centers.

Want to get studious while you wait for your flight? head to the Incheon Airport Museum to see and learn about Korean artifacts and artwork. People with longer layovers can sign up for tours to nearby Yongungsa Temple, Dora Observatory and other attractions. You can try your luck at the Paradise Golden Gate Casino and win if you play your cards right.

Munich International Airport

Munich Airport beer garden

Airbrau Beer Garden at Munich International Airport. Photo by Munich Airport Media Center

Munich International Airport became the first hub outside of Asia to be listed as a five-star airport in 2015 and has continued to be one of the most accommodating in the world. Munich hosts many recreational areas for passengers to relax while at the airport. There are even sleeping pods called “napcabs” and massage rooms with licensed therapists. The airport offers roughly 150 retail stores, more than enough to keep you occupied during your stay. Bavaria is known for its beer and is home to the first-ever brewery inside an airport; Airbrau serves seven local types of beer. If you have enough time, check out some of Munich’s local markets as the city is known for its Christmas festivities.

Istanbul Airport

Istanbul's new international airport is a mix of shine and shadow

Istanbul International Airport is a great place for sightseeing. Photo by Artem Bryzgalov

Opened in 2018, the new Istanbul Airport is one of the nicest hubs on the planet. The European airport for the city expanded to serve over 64 million passengers in 2022. What can those travelers do in Turkey’s airport? You can shop at a wide range of stores and enjoy some famous Turkish coffee from several cafes. Different tour options depart directly from the airport if you have enough time.

LaGuardia International Airport

Waiting area at LaGuardia Airport's Terminal C

One of the upgraded waiting areas in LaGuardia’s Terminal C. Photo by anewlga.com

LaGuardia International Airport is the busiest of the three major airports servicing New York City. The reason that this hub makes the list is because of its redesigned Terminal B. LaGuardia is sometimes referred to as a place that passengers want to avoid, but the airport does have its perks. LaGuardia offers a large number of places to grab a drink or a bite to eat while waiting for your flight. The airport has easy access to some of New York’s most famous attractions. So, if you have the time, you can be a sightseer as well as a flyer.

Orlando International Airport

Orlando International Airport has been servicing Central Florida for more than 40 years. What puts it on this list is Terminal C, which opened in 2022, and is available to the general public to enjoy. The terminal makes it easy for passengers to navigate the airport using new technological software. With so many parks and family attractions in the region, the airport boasts family-friendly accommodations. Downtown Orlando is a short drive away thanks to the Lynx public bus service. South Florida is a short trip away on the Brightline inter-city line service.

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

Phoenix, AZ Sky Harbor Airport

Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix is the best large airport in the U.S. according to one assessment. Photo courtesy of Sky Harbor Image Library

The U.S. Airport Rankings listed Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport as 2023’s best Large U.S. Airport. Phoenix hosts one of the largest and busiest airports in the country, offering travelers several ways to pass the time until their flight. Sky Harbor offers many different types of food, but Blanco Tacos and Tequila, Los Taquitos, and Barrio Cafe are some of the best options.

In terms of wellness, Phoenix’s airport hosts multiple XpresSpa locations as well as the FitPHX walkway for those who enjoy walking exercise. There are several exhibits from the Phoenix Airport Museum throughout the hub that feature all sorts of artwork. If you have time, try hopping on the PHX Sky Train and the Valley Metro Rail to quickly explore nearby Tempe and downtown Phoenix.

San Jose Mineta International Airport

The U.S. Airport Rankings proclaim San Jose Mineta International Airport the best Midsize U.S. Airport of 2023. Although it may not be the most glamorous place, Silicon Valley’s hub ranks as one of the most reliable airports in the country. Want to wait in luxury? San Jose offers plenty of spaces to lounge and relax before your flight and even has a few concierge robots to assist you. SJC displays multiple forms of art throughout the airport and offers passengers easy access to downtown San Jose.

Remember, if you have to spend unintended time in an airport, it doesn’t have to be bad. Each hub offers its own passenger experience. After all, it’s better than sitting at the gate and counting sheep until it’s time to board the plane.

Casey Fahrer is a senior at Syracuse University, studying Broadcast and Digital Journalism at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.