You don’t have to be an airport expert to find interesting things to do on a long layover- modern airports are full of interesting things to do- if you know where to look.
With the right information (you’re in the right place, here!) and mindset, a layover just might turn out to be the most enjoyable part of your travel! What you can do with a layover varies a lot by just how long you have between flights. Because of that, this article is split into 4 sections:
- How to spend a 2-hour airport layover
- What to do at the airport when you have a 4-hour layover
- How to find things to do during a 8-hour airport layover
- And finally, a list of things to do to pass a huge 12-hour layover or flight delay.
Follow along to find things to do and ways to keep busy during even the most boring layovers
First, the basics:
(skip this if you’re a travel pro- jump right to ideas for things to do!)
Ok, in case you are a new traveler that missed my guide to airport layovers, a layover is the time you spend at an airport in between two flights. If you can’t get a direct flight from destination to your final destination, you have to take two or more different flights to get there. The time in between, where you get off one flight, navigate the airport, and board another is a layover.
Layovers can be any length of time, but generally are 45 minutes at the absolute minimum. This is because getting off your plane, getting to a (nearby) boarding gate, and boarding your next plane takes around 30 minutes if all goes smoothly and your arrival and departure gates are near each other. If you’re a novice air traveler, connecting to an international flight, or anticipate delays, aim for booking tickets with 2-hour layovers.
Ideas for Things to Do at the Airport
Experienced travelers know that planning airport layovers is both an art and a science. You don’t want something too short that will leave you sprinting to your connecting flight, but you don’t want to spend hours staring at the wall and listening to boarding announcements, either.
Tips for a 2-Hour Layover
In the grand scheme of travel by air, a 2-hour layover isn’t as long as it sounds. Remember, you need to get from your arrival get to the gate where you’ll depart. In larger airports, this may involve walking or riding a tram or bus to another terminal. It could take 30-45 minutes to get from one terminal to another in a crowded airport. Always be sure to leave enough time to get to your gate!
If you’re traveling domestically and have a 2-hour layover, you’ll probably have time to wander around the airport for 45 minutes to an hour before it’s time to start heading to the next gate to board.
Art Installations and Museum Exhibits: In many airports, you’ll find interesting exhibits about local history and art throughout the terminals. These are great for killing time during a short layover.
If you’re traveling internationally, or through a major hub, 2 hours is a short layover! You’ll have just enough time to make up for a delayed arrival on your first flight, pass customs, and continue to your connecting flight’s departure gate.
With a 2-hour layover, it’s best not to plan to do any extra activities (unless we’re talking about stopping to pet airport comfort dogs. There’s always time to pet airport comfort dogs- even if they are probably just undercover police dogs!)
With a 2-hour layover, you should arrive at your gate with 30 minutes to 1-hour to spare. That’s just enough time to enjoy a coffee or a snack while reading a chapter of your vacation novel or listening to an episode of your favorite podcast.
Things to do at the Airport with a 4-Hour Layover
With a 4-hour layover, you’ll definitely have time to find something to do. FOur hours is relatively a lot of time to spend in an airport, but it’s not quite enough time to leave the airport, see a city, and be back in time for your next flight. So, you’ll have to find things to do at the airport for 4 hours.
Here are some things worth checking out during your 4 hour layover
Local History Exhibits – In most large airports, you can find exhibits about the local history, art, and culture. In international airports, you can spend some time perusing the duty-free shop. Of course, these activities will fill an hour, tops.
Do some Yoga – While downward-facing dog at arrivals might look a little off, many airports have a dedicated space for travelers who want to stretch between flights. (Likely, in hopes that moments of mindfulness this might help remedy the wave of unruly passengers!) San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Chicago Midway Airport (MDW), and Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) all have dedicated, semi-private spaces for yoga, mindfulness, and stretching.
Rest & reflect – For a free way to rest in a less chaotic enviroment, you can visit the chapel or prayer room. These are available in the terminals of most major airports. Faith spaces are kept quiet and calm so that travelers can take some time to reflect or pray; some spaces are inter-faith, while others are faith-specific. Take some time to meditate and step outside of the hustle and bustle of travel for a while.
VIP Lounge – if you’re willing to pay a premium price for the best thing to do at most airports, try VIP lounges. In many airports, you can pay for a one-time pass to the lounge, even if you’re flying economy. Lounges usually include food and drink, wi-fi access, plus comfy spaces to take a load off, all included in the price of the one-time pass.
Pro Traveler Hint: If you’re on the wrong end of a long layover and don’t have access to a lounge, check eBay! Tons of people get free QR-code-based passes to airport lounges and don’t get a chance to use them before they expire. Savvy travelers sell them digitally on eBay before they expire! Click here to see United Club passes for sale secondhand.
Whatever you do with your 4-hour layover, don’t forget to leave enough time to walk to your departure gate and pass through any necessary security checks before your departing flight!
Tips for an 8-Hour Layover
If you have 8 hours between flights- especially during daylight hours- consider a whirlwind trip into the city. If you’re going to spend your layover on an excursion, you’ll need to plan ahead.
Before you click “book” on that flight with an 8 hour layover, make a plan. Choose two or three key places that you want to see in the city- close together if possible. With an 8 hour layover, you could have lunch at a famous restaurant, take a selfie at a certain landmark, and still be back to the airport 2 hours before your next flight. Whatever the case, map it out in advance!
With a solid plan, and transportation plan, with an 8-hour layover you can get into the city, see your top sites, and then get back to the airport in time for your next flight. However, remember that once you leave the airport, you’ll have to go through all the security checks again.
This is best don’t domestically, since there may be extra visa requirements for travelers in transit if you’re traveling internationally.
If this kind of hustle and bustle between flights isn’t for you, you can look into many of the things to do at an airport that are designed just for people with a long layover. These include:
- getting a day pass for a coworking space,
- trying a nap-pod
- camping out in an empty gate,
- squeezing in an impromptu workout,
- or opting for a one-time pass to the VIP lounge (as discussed above).
If you’re looking for things to do at an airport, you might want to consider getting a day pass for a coworking space. This can be a great way to get some work done while you’re waiting for your flight. Alternatively, you could try a nap-pod mini-hotel. These are becoming increasingly popular in airports, and they offer a great way to get some rest and relaxation. If you’re just looking for something to do, you could try napping or watching a movie at an empty gate. This is a great way to relax and recharge before your flight.
If you’re looking for a workout, you could try squeezing in an impromptu workout. There are often fitness centers or yoga studios in airports, or you could just do some exercises in your gate area. Walking from one terminal to the farthest terminal and back is often a good walk, and on the way, you’re likely to find more things to do on your 8-hour layover.
Doing weight-bearing exercises at the airport is a great way to stay fit while traveling. The seats are the perfect height for doing tricep dips and assisted pushups. These exercises work the arms and legs, and they can be done without any equipment. They are also easy to do in a small space.
Tips for a 12-Hour (or Longer) Layover
If your flight schedule has you stranded for 12 or more hours in an airport (and you have the appropriate visa/entry documents, if international) then you should definitely leave the airport and explore the nearby city. Many travelers even like to plan their flights around a one-day visit to the layover city- it’s one of my cheap way to see expensive destinations in Europe, while in transit to budget-friendly options.
Before you book the flight, make sure to take into account the logistics and cost of transport to and from the city center. You don’t want to miss your flight because you didn’t check the bus schedule beforehand!
No matter if your airport layover is 2 hours, 4 hours, 6, or 10, there’s plenty to do in modern airports and- if you have time- the city beyond!
Artist, digital nomad, and highly sensitive person, Lynli started traveling full time as a digital nomad in 2018. Writer and Illustrator by day, remote-destination explorer by other-days, Lynli is passionate about pushing the boundaries of her own comfort zone, exploring the world as a plus size, one-bag traveler, and journaling it all on WanderBig.com