Previous Next

Photo: kozumel

If you have to get stuck, make sure it’s here.
1. Zurich (ZRH)

I put Zurich first because it’s got something none of the others do: hiking trails.

The grounds surrounding the airport and nearby villages comprise a nature preserve. There are 12 miles of paths, wildlife like rabbits and wild boar, and even a park ranger force.

The best part is travelers can rent bikes ($20/4 hours) or inline skates in the airport (upper lever, near Garage 2), store their baggage while they go out for a pedal, and then shower up ($15) before their flight.

Check out this story for more.

KUL / Photo: Plaza Premium Lounge

2. Kuala Lumpur International (KUL)

The most unique facility here is the Plaza Premium Lounge, where a flat rate ($27/2 hours or $40/5 hours) gets you unlimited access to a range of services and entertainment.

The lounge includes a decked-out business center with secretarial assistance and a recreation area with massage chairs, movies, and free beer and coffee. It’s open 24/7.

3. Auckland (AKL)

New Zealand’s busiest airport seems most highly regarded for being an easy sleep spot.

Seats in the upstairs lounge are stretch-out-able, there’s 24-hour snackage available, and announcements are made at minimal volume.

SIN / Photo: gyverchangphotos

4. Singapore Changi (SIN)

A heavy hitter, Changi snagged first place in the 2010 Skytrax World Airport Awards. It mixes smooth accessibility with traveler-friendly amenities like free wifi, Xbox/Playstation consoles, and lounge chairs with built-in alarm clocks.

That last one helped earn it the 2010 Golden Pillow Award from sleepinginairports.com.

What does it for me, though, is the swimming pool and jacuzzi at the Ambassador Transit Hotel in Terminal 1. Non-guests get in for S$14 (~US$10).

5. Incheon International (ICN)

Seoul’s international hub was dethroned by Changi this year after taking top prize in 2009.

It’s easy to get around, clean, architecturally attractive, and equipped with in-transit loungers and play areas for kids. On top of that, rotating exhibits of cultural artifacts are presented by the Incheon International Airport Korean Culture Museum.

6. London Heathrow (LHR)

Wait, don’t scroll down to leave an angry comment just yet!

I realize much of Heathrow is a dump. I mean, it was voted world’s worst in 2009 by the Priority Pass program.

What we’re talking about here is specifically Terminal 5, where those with large amounts of time and money to burn can do so with what Skytrax has voted best airport shopping.

7. Athens International (ATH)

Built in 2001, Athens still has that new-airport smell. Special features include green space next to the control tower and the latest in robotic security technology.

But what caught my attention is it’s a “silent airport.” Flight announcements aren’t made over the PA, which means this might just be the best airport for a full night’s sleep.

MVD / Photo: Wikimedia Commons

8. Carrasco International, Montevideo (MVD)

Carrasco’s new terminal, opened this summer, is all glass and sleekness. Its design alone earns it a spot on this list.

Plus, with Argentina’s reciprocity fee in force, Montevideo is set to become a more popular gateway to Buenos Aires, just across the river.

9. Kansai International (KIX)

Located on an artificial island in Osaka Bay, Kansai is just one terminal, but it’s the longest terminal in the world (over a mile).

That makes for some nice, long, time-killing walks.

AMS / Photo: mindspillage

10. Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS)

The Rijksmuseum operates a branch in Schiphol, featuring Rembrandts and other iconic examples of Dutch art, and an airport library opened just a few months ago.

For something less cultural, try the casino.

Or, for those stuck here for a really long time, meet someone special, fall in love, and get married. The airport wedding planner is happy to assist.

Sorry, no coffeeshops at Schiphol.

1 2 Next Page >>

About The Author

Hal Amen

Hal Amen is a managing editor at Matador. His personal travel blog is WayWorded.

  • http://greentea.tk Andrea

    Great list here but please don’t tell me you think Auckland is really in Australia…

  • Jy

    Excuse me..

    But I dont think this is right..

    —-

    3. Auckland (AKL)

    Australia’s busiest airport seems most highly regarded for being an easy sleep spot.

    Seats in the upstairs lounge are stretch-out-able, there’s 24-hour snackage available, and announcements are made at minimal volume.

    Auckland is in New Zealand…not Australia

  • Emma

    GREAT SCOTT! Has Australia invaded New Zealand and taken over while I slept last night? Or has one massive continental movement moved the north island over to OZ? Pretty sure Auckland was in New Zealand last time I checked and with a population of around 1mil, wouldn’t be anywhere near Australia’s largest capital city.

    • http://matadortrips.com/ Hal Amen

      All 3 of you are hired as copy editors. Or should that be “typo of the year” detectors.

      Apologies.

      • Emma

        Sorry Hal, but as a kiwi living in Oz I have to cling to my identity and put up with a lot of jokes so it is good when the joke is on someone else.

  • http://kristin5683.wordpress.com/ Kristin Conard

    Love the first one – renting a bike during your layover sounds like a perfect idea.

  • http://vagabonderz.com Carlo Alcos

    Oops :)

    Impressive list Hal. Agree with Kristin, Zurich sounds sweet.

  • http://greentea.tk Andrea

    Sorry to be that person to leave a negative comment first. Anyway, I have not been to all these airports but I have to say I adore KIX, BKK, YVR and especially HKG. I spent four hours blogging photos of the sunrise and eating noodles there recently. Could easily have spent many more hours there!
    http://andreakw.blogspot.com/2010/08/in-transit.html

    • http://matadortrips.com/ Hal Amen

      No worries, Andrea, I deserved it.

  • Joyce

    SWEET!!! MY HOME COUNTRY SINGAPORE’S CHANGI AIRPORT WAS MENTIONED! NOW, I’M GOING TO PACK MY BAG AND HEAD DOWN THERE TO SPEND THE NIGHT.

  • Adrian C

    The problem with most US airports isn’t that they are dumps (well,there sre some), look at Denver, for example…the real issue is that, since 9/11, with all the security involved trying to keep us safe, the US airports are more like prisons, with all the movement control and absolutely rude airline personnel…

    • http://matadortrips.com/ Hal Amen

      That’s a big part of it, for sure. And you’re right that there are some decent facilities–but no attempts to “wow” you. To my knowledge, there are no swimming pools, Xbox consoles, art museums, or golf courses in any American airport.

  • http://twitter.com/DCFamilyGuide alistaircw

    I have to bang the drum for Denmark’s Copenhagen airport (CPH), which I traveled through a couple of weeks ago. Lots of shops in which to kill time (it feels like a boutique mall), upstairs “quiet” area with reclining lounge chairs, big kids’ play area, not to mention welcome dearth of incessant loudspeaker announcements that are the hallmark of U.S. airports like Washington Dulles (IAD) and Reagan National (DCA).

    • Julie Fricke

      Copenhagen is very nice, except for the hours between about 10 pm and 6 am. I was traveling from Lund, Sweden, and intending to catch a 7 am flight from Copenhagen. “Aha!” I thought, “I’ll sleep overnight in the airport.”

      While sleeping overnight in an airport is rarely especially comfortable, I was astounded to learn that Copenhagen actually SHUTS DOWN. They turned down the lights, the floor polishing zamboni began its rounds, and there was nobody in there except me and a drunk Dane. Because this was Denmark, his English was excellent. Fortunately about the time I began to get quite sick of his advances, I spied one other individual, a Nigerian. Needless to say, I relocated to sitting by him. I can’t say I slept. But I felt less vulnerable. Marginally.

  • johnnyo

    most of this i agree with as i’m a frequent traveler and have been to most of these airports….and i also live in austin. austin is a great airport, as its really small & easy to get through (don’t have to get there more than an hour before your flight, often less), but it would be a terrible airport to be stranded in. yes, everything is local….but everything closes early!!! so if you’re stuck there at night, you’re screwed. there’s no shopping (unless you count like book store, and UT swag stores), many airlines don’t even have lounges there, no where to lay down……so why is this on the list?

  • http://evaholland.com Eva

    I’ve gotta say, I’ve never understood all the YVR love. Sure, it’s pretty, but it’s let me down time and again. I’ve been there for multiple evening flights (we’re talking 9, 10pm, not 2am) and every food outlet has been closed. Not cool when you’ve just gotten off a cross-country flight and you still have another leg to go. Plus I always seem to have my worst security experiences there. As big Canadian airports go, I’d much rather fly through Pearson.

  • http://www.sheila0gh.wordpress.com sheila gallant-halloran

    interesting – glad to see Vancouver on the list, and glad to see you qualified comments about LHR! :-)

  • http://www.groundedtraveler.com Andrew

    Athens is indeed quite quiet and has free internet terminals, both things in it’s favor. However the seats are really really not nice for sleeping. And the security people get after people sleeping on the floor.
    On the whole not a horrible experience, but not the best.

  • Kathy

    If *I* were in charge of the world, one of my first edicts would be to install AT LEAST quiet zones in all airports. At least during the overnight hours, when the only people there are the stranded trying to catch a few winks! I’m glad to see that at least some places are doing that.

    • http://www.cuadernoinedito.wordpress.com Julie

      Kathy- I totally agree with you. I’m totally over the experience of being forced to listen to CNN no matter where I go, as the ever-present TVs dog me at every gate.

  • http://sleepinginthemountains.blogspot.com Tim Patterson

    Whoa – does the Bangkok skytrain go all the way to the airport now?

    • http://matadortrips.com/ Hal Amen

      It will early next year, sounds like

    • http://www.aniceholiday.com Alientyc

      yes, the airport city link goes to the city now!

  • Anis Salvesen

    I totally agree that Changi rocks! It’s hands-down one of my very favorite airports. Heathrow was a shock, but I’ll take your word for it. ;)

    My husband and I have taken a KLM flight on our way to Norway from the States a few times that has a really long layover in Schiphol; I didn’t realize they had a museum. I’ll definitely have to check it out next time.

  • http://expatheather.com Heather

    Makes me want to have a long layover in Zurich, just to check out the hiking trails!

  • http://unexpectedtraveller.wordpress.com Unexpected Traveller

    I have not flown through all of the ones listed but I have to agree with the LHR T5 opinion as it is as different from the rest of Heathrow as night is from day.

    One gripe I have is with the entry for Schipol which I found to not be as welcoming as others do: http://wp.me/ppqxP-DZ

  • http://annemerritt.blogspot.com Anne

    Airbrau? For real? I gotta get to Munich…

    Very cool list, Hal! I fully support LHR on the list. For all the guff out there around Heathrow, I’ve never had problems there.

  • http://eatdrinkandbekerry.blogspot.com Eat, drink and be Kerry

    Sorry, you missed this one – Samui Airport, Thailand –
    http://eatdrinkandbekerry.blogspot.com/2009/09/thailand-samui-airport.html
    It obviously isn’t as big as the others but I’ve never been more comfortable at an airport.

  • http://www.sophiesworld.net Sophie

    To bring in another element – many of these are also excellent when travelling with children. My kids have always loved going through Changi: the running water, the flowers, the very creative play area (almost like a small science centre), the shops, even the free city tours. As a parent, I’ve also really appreciated Auckland, where travellers with children have their own, very short arrivals queue.

    And Dubai, that’s a story all on its own, isn’t it? From the almost ridiculous splendors of the main terminals to the definite lack of… well everything… in Terminal 2 – http://www.sophiesworld.net/dubai-airport-terminal-2/

  • darmabum

    Schiphol is IT for me. On May 5, 1982, halfway through my first ‘Round the World trip – I arrived at Schiphol after six months in India/Nepal. I told the truth on my Entry/Immigration card – that I had $60 USD and no ticket out (money was waiting for me in Brussels) – the Immigration man took a look at my six-month red beard, me wearing one of my two t-shirts, and asked me “wait over there” while he greeted the rest of the flight.

    Once the other 300 passengers had cleared customs the Immigration man had a talk with me: too many young people, he told me, came into Amsterdam in “my condition” and stayed as vagrants, finally being sent home at his country’s expense. I told him I had no such plans, merely needed to get to Brussels where money was waiting for me. As for the ticket, I had a travel agent (does anybody remember travel agents?) back home who could possibly arrange a flight for me (also had no credit card). Turned out my agent was Dutch and she and the Immigration man spoke at length in Dutch.

    In short, I spent two wonderful nights in Schipol (my passport taken away from me) waiting for a ticket – a physical ticket (yes, there was a time when there were no e-tickets) to arrive on the next flight from LA. The seats were at least as comfortable as any bed I’d slept in during the previous six months, I had a lot of coffee with the Immigration man, and spent half my money on video games and newspapers – the Falklands were invaded on the day I arrived.

    All in all, a Great experience; and the reason that Schiphol gets my vote :)

  • http://www.rolling-tales.com EmmaOffshore

    Singapore’s Changi is my top one on this list. Easy access for a transit day in the city, hours of entertainment inside the complex, a free outdoor pool last time I was there, and they even have a corner store selling cans of beer and noodles – what more could you want!

  • Dani

    Having just returned from Kansai airport, I can say it really is fantastic! you couldn’t see from one end to the other

  • http://www.jettingaround.info Pola

    Oh good, I’m glad Munich is on the list since I’m going to have an 18-hr layover there next month!!

  • http://www.thetravellerworldguide.com Hogga

    The Singapore airport looks so sheik! One of the main things when I’m stranded in an airport is a smoking area. I know… smoking… bad!!! But it does help on a long layover. I didn’t even know smoking sections in airports existed until I started my RTW trip.

  • http://mslistologist.com/ Annette Renee White

    I had a layover in Amsterdam on my way home from italy and was hoping my flight would get cancelled! The airport was amazing!!!

  • http://livesofwander.com Theresa

    Loved Incheon in Seoul. We had a full-day layover there between Bangkok and Seattle, and its in-transit lounge was awesome. Free spa-style showers, free Internet (plus computers if you don’t have your own), lounge chairs, TVs that you could set to whatever channel you wanted, etc. It was about a good a place as you can layover for what was essentially two days worth of travel.

  • http://travelstine.wordpress.com/ Christina

    KL International Airport is indeed very nice – but beware of the less so LCC (low cost carrier) Terminal, being stuck there is not very high on my list ;-)

  • Anya

    I spent a night at Heathrow T5. The coolest airport stay in my life so far: met some amazing people, drank loads of coffee and produced some pieces of art with fibre pens and paper! :)

    Stansted must be the worst though… I wonder if anyone would ever make a horror movie and call it “Night at Stansted”

  • Justin

    I think Hong Kong Airport should be ranked a lot higher than 15. It’s consistently placed in the top 3 airports in the world. Kuala Lumpur is number 2 on your list, mainly due to the Plaza Premium Lounge facility that is there. But Hong Kong has Plaza Premium Lounge as well, which should surely justify Hong Kong having a higher place on your list.

    • http://matadortrips.com/ Hal Amen

      Hi Justin, this wasn’t meant to be a “#1, #2, #3″ kind of ranking, just 20 of the best. Sorry for the confusion.

  • BAFFLED

    chicago o’hare totally trumps london heathrow.

    LIGHT SHOW!

  • http://www.whereiskaelani.blogspot.com Kae Lani Kennedy

    I am not a fan of Heathrow!!! I’ve been stuck there plenty of times frustrated by London fog, uncomfortable seats, and the fact you have no idea where your gate is until 50 minutes before your plane leaves. However, you do bring up a good point when it comes to shopping. I was able to knock out a lot of Christmas shopping one year, and then ended it with a meal from Chef Ramsey’s Plane Food Restaurant!

  • http://www.thetravellingfool.com The Travel Fool

    I agree with Singapore and would have to add Dubai to the list. Schiphol in Amsterdam is also a nice one, has a casino and a couple of good pubs.

  • http://www.facebook.com/prussianblu Arti Agarwal

    Aren’t you forgetting Singapore ?

  • John Steppling

    they have coffee shops in Schipohl…..several in fact. Heathrow is so awful that good shopping doesn’t help (nice shop handing out free shots of scotch though)…..but Schipohl is great….oslo’s Gardemoron is excellent as well. Quiet, comfortable. Vienna’s airport is quite nice too actually….smaller. I like Miami…though many don’t. Great coffee! And absolute worst is a tie between JFK and Santa Cruz in Bombay (Mumbai).

It's a hell of a story. And for the following reasons (and more) it's one worth hearing,...
Abbie Mood picks up some public transport skills during a recent trip to Amsterdam.
Adam Polonski shares what he learned during a month riding the Amtrak rails.
Martin Franke takes us on the buses, boats, and tuk-tuks of Thailand.
Whether on a boat, carriage, car, rickshaw, on foot or standing still, Myanmar will move...
No matter how intrepid and seasoned we may be, all travelers have a thing or two they can...
Photos and first-person experiences from some of the best train rides in North America.
Some advice picked up renting rides last year in western Argentina.
Travel vlogger Lindsay expresses her frustration about being scammed by Thai tourism...
Tom Gates takes a moment to discuss the nuances of traveling via Eurail Pass.
A new Colorado bill should make cyclists safer on the road.
Dog & cat owners in the US will soon have more travel options for their pets.
The known is safe while the unknown is a mystery. This causes fear. What you do with the...