Layovers are a widely dreaded part of the travel experience, but they don't have to be. In fact, if you talk to any intrepid traveler, they'll likely tell you that one of the best ways to soften the blow of a layover is to turn it into a mini trip of its own. A long layover can last anywhere from 10 hours to a day, two, or more. And with more and more flight search engines offering the flexibility to control how, when, and where you fly, the options are continually expanding. However, there are some cities that make far better long layover destinations than others, whether it's because they're easy to reach from the airport, have minimal visa requirements, or are just too amazing to pass up. Read on for our 10 favorite cities for a long layover. You'll also find tips on how to score a long layover as well as how to handle logistics once you're on the ground.
How do I Book a Long Layover?
For starters, you might be wondering how to score the perfect layover. It’s not so hard, as the lowest fares you spot in any flight search generally come with some sort of stop, as airlines try to sell seats on unpopular schedules in order to pad their bottom line. However, there are tools within your control that can help you find a long layover that actually works for you. The easiest way to get the long layover of your dreams — the kind that will let you add a cool stop to your getaway — is to plan your trip using a multi-city itinerary. This allows you to specify the precise time you want to spend in the layover airport. Generally, this lets you fly with the same airline the entire way, but also gives you the amount of time that you want on the ground in the city where you stop.
If you’re only after a morning and afternoon in your chosen layover destination, simply adjust the layover parameters to around 12 hours, as this will give you enough time to explore. This is a particularly good option for small-scale cities that are easily reachable from an airport by public transit. Before committing to your layover, do your research and see how far the airport is from the city center, and whether it’s feasible to exit and clear security again. You should always err on the side of caution when it comes to this.
What Do I Do With Luggage on a Long Layover?
By and large, if your travel is booked to your final destination on the same airline, your luggage will be checked through. However, if you’re planning on staying in a city for more than just a morning and/or afternoon, you’ll want to claim it and take it with you to your hotel. If you’re only making a quick day trip in your layover destination, allow the airline to check it through to your final destination. With this in mind, you should pack your carry-on extra lightly, as you’ll be hauling it around for the entire day. Those who insist on traveling with carry-on luggage only, and want to do a day-trip layover, should investigate in advance if the airport has a luggage counter or lockers.
Do I Need a Visa For a Long Layover?
Depending on your country of citizenship, you will need to check whether or not you need a visa to leave the airport during your long layover. Many countries that require visas will wave them if you have a ticket for onward travel within a reasonable amount of time (or will provide a simple visa upon arrival). Also, make sure your banks know that you’ll be visiting this destination as well when you alert them of your travels. Telling them only about your final destination leaves you susceptible to having your cards turned off due to suspected fraud.You’ll want to do recon if you’re planning on making it into the city and back in time on your chosen method of transport. With that in mind, the majority of airports in the cities listed below are well-connected to urban centers and generally have efficient security screening policies.
What Are The Best Cities for a Long Layover?
Turkish Airlines has made itself a major player in the trans-Atlantic flight game by offering fares that are often lower than major European and American carriers, alongside great onboard amenities and a brand-new hub that puts most airports to shame. Whether you’re continuing on elsewhere in the Middle East, or using Turkish Airlines to score a low fare to continental Europe, you should plan on devoting a few days to exploring Istanbul.
Reaching the city from the airport can take some time. We recommend grabbing a taxi to the city center, which costs around $30 and takes 40 minutes or so, depending on traffic and the time of day (it’s fastest later at night). Once you’ve made it to the center of town, divide the major areas up into two or three parts. On your first day, hit up the major historic attractions in the so-called Golden Horn. Here, you’ll find Istanbul’s most famous sights, including the Grand Bazaar, Spice Market, Hagia Sophia, Suleymaniye Mosque, and Blue Mosque, as well as stunning views across the Bosphorus. Spend your night in Beyoglu, around Galata or Cihangir, which is also on the European side and easily reachable by tram from the Golden Horn.
Your next day can be spent in the impeccably pretty and hip lanes of the neighborhoods that make up Beyoglu. You’ll find all manner of boutiques, cafes, and restaurants here, as well as a number of historic sights like Galata Tower. Stroll with the masses along Istiklal toward Taksim Square, which is packed with bars that roar to life in the evening and well into the night. Alternatively, Karakoy is another cool bar- and cafe-packed part of town that bursts with late-night revelers (especially on the weekends). End your night with something sweet, like baklava, at Karakoy Gulluoglu. If you’ve decided to give yourself a third day here, head to the Asian side of Istanbul on a ferry across the Bosphorus. You’ll land in the neighborhood called Kadikoy, which is teeming with markets, restaurants, antique shops, boutiques, and cafes, and has a more frenetic vibe than some of the neighborhoods on the European side of the Bosphorus.
Where to Stay in Istanbul on a Long Layover: Corinne Hotel
This simple and sweet little hotel has classic appeal and a spot-on location between busy Taksim and Istiklal Caddesi, right next to the super-hip Cihangir neighborhood. That puts tons of nightlife, dining, and drinking options all around, as well as excellent name-brand and indie shopping and amazing Turkish coffee and sweets. It’s also close to several public transit options, so it’s easy to reach Sultanahmet and other spots in Istanbul.
If you’re after the charm of Scandinavia, but don’t want to delay your trip by more than a day, Copenhagen is just right for you. To be fair, you could easily spend several days soaking up the ambience in the Danish capital. However, if you only want to have a couple of meals and take in a few major sights, Copenhagen is perfect. Tip: Pick up a bag of pastries to snack on during the second leg of your flight. Currently, Norwegian Air uses Copenhagen as one of its hubs for reaching southern Europe.
So, why is Copenhagen one of the best cities for a long layover? For starters, it’s incredibly easy to reach from the airport. You’ll likely need no more than 15 minutes to reach the city center by metro. From there, this compact and quaint city is easily walkable. Walking is, after all, the best way to take in Copenhagen. Start your morning along the oft-photographed Nyhavn and its colorful canalside row houses. While there, stop by the Charlottenborg Palace — now known at Kunsthal Charlottenborg — a cutting-edge contemporary art gallery that makes for a nice break in the day. From there, head southwest, where you’ll pass cute cafes and trendy boutiques slinging sharp Scandinavian design wares, especially along Stroget and Laederstraede. Pass by the iconic city hall and Tivoli Gardens on your way to lunch in Vesterbro. This once-seedy part of town has been given the hipster overhaul and is now packed with great restaurants serving local fare. You’ll find your share of vintage shops and great coffee joints around here as well. Vesterbro also happens to be right next to the train station, making it convenient to get back to the airport quickly.
Where to Stay in Copenhagen on a Long Layover: Hotel Alexandra
Vintage Scandinavian design is the name of the game at the Hotel Alexandra. Given its excellent location — just north of Tivoli Gardens and the train station — the rates here are a total draw. That’s especially true, given its retro-chic style and the easy walks from here to trendy Vesterbro and touristy Nyhavn.
While Emirates Airlines isn’t known for building painfully long layovers into its itineraries, if you’re heading to Asia from Europe or North America, you’d do well to split up the journey. Luckily, Dubai is a tourist’s paradise, especially if you’re looking to relax in the lap of luxury. Like a city from the future, Dubai’s glimmering towers rise out of the desert and offer all sorts of indulgences for visiting tourists. You’ll find luxe hotels along the sea (especially around the Palm Jumeirah development), and everything from high-end shopping to bustling souks and even indoor ski slopes.
Reaching most destinations in Dubai from the airport is simple. Budget-conscious travelers can hop on the metro, which connects the airport to most major parts of town. However, a taxi is likely the easiest way to get to your destination, and should take no more than 20 to 30 minutes, depending on where you’re going. You’ll likely want to base yourself in Jumeirah Beach Residence, near The Palm, or just to the north of that development, where the bulk of the city’s most famous hotels are located. Two nights is more than sufficient for taking in the city’s major sights.
If shopping is your thing, you’ll do well in Dubai. Spend your first day touring the souks near Dubai Creek for a taste of how the city once was (and for more wallet-friendly souvenirs and mementos). Then, head to the malls, including the gigantic Dubai Mall, with its endless floors of luxury shops, and the Mall of the Emirates, which is home to the infamous Ski Dubai (an indoor ski slope that’s open year-round). Give yourself plenty of time to unwind at your hotel, as the majority of the city’s best properties include destination dining and drinking spots, incredible views, and plenty of amenities.
On your next day, it’s time to go big or go home. But first, check out beach clubs like Azure or Nikki Beach Dubai. After you’ve had your fill of sun, it’s time to take in Dubai’s most famous attraction: the Burj Khalifa. The tallest building in the world, the iconic structure is a sight to behold. Head to the 148th floor for awe-inspiring (and vertigo-inducing) views.
Where to Stay in Dubai on a Long Layover: Jumeirah Dar Al Masyaf at Madinat Jumeirah
While this sprawling resort is the kind of place where families and couples post up for weeks at a time, its central location, beachfront setting, and wealth of amenities make it a great spot for just a few nights as well. Rooms are spacious and sharp, and views can be spectacular as well.
Dublin might just be one of the most underrated cities in all of Europe. And as the hub for Aer Lingus — an often lower-than-average option for trans-Atlantic flights to Europe — a visit here is a no-brainer. Dublin is compact enough for a single-day visit, if you just want to tick off the major sights. Or, you could extend your stay for a few days if you’re really looking to max out on all things Irish. Reaching the city center is fast and easy on the airport bus (Route 747), which takes about 45 minutes, or in a taxi, which is around 30 minutes.
Concentrate your itinerary around the Liffey River, which divides the south and north sides of the city. You’ll find the majority of the most famous sights along the south side of the river, starting with Trinity College Dublin. Here, check out the well-known Old Library, which includes the picture-perfect Long Room and the Book of Kells. The campus itself is full of photo ops, though you’ll likely want to move on to St. Stephen’s Green — one of the city’s most iconic parks. You can make your way between Trinity College and St. Stephen’s Green down Grafton Street, a lively pedestrianized shopping lane that’s busy day and night. To the west, you’ll find Dublin Castle and Temple Bar, which is packed with pubs, cafes, boutiques, galleries, and restaurants. Just north of Temple Bar is Ha’Penny Bridge over the Liffey River. If you have a second day, explore the historic attractions and museums to the north of the Liffey, including the Irish Revolution monuments along O’Connell Street as well as The Hugh Lane art museum, which holds the contents of painter Francis Bacon’s studio and provides a fascinating look into his craft. Also on the north side of the Liffey is the Jameson Distillery, which can easily be reached by the Luas light rail. Of course, no trip to Dublin would be complete without a visit to the Guinness Storehouse, which offers a look into the history of Guinness (as well as one of the best views of Dublin).
Where to Stay in Dublin on a Long Layover: The Merrion Hotel
A stately luxury property, The Merrion does its job of making you feel like you’re living in the Dublin of your dreams. Classic interiors, an indoor pool, and excellent dining all make it worth a stay. It’s also just a three-minute walk from St. Stephen’s Green and 10 minutes from Trinity College Dublin.
These days, there is no shortage of cost-effective ways to reach Asia. You’ll find plenty of cheap long-haul flights that stop in major cities across China, in Seoul, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. However, we vote for a layover in Taipei, which is one of the most overlooked Asian capitals in the region. In 2018, Taiwan as a whole saw a record 11.1 million foreign tourists, solidifying its place as one of the trendiest places to visit in Asia, according to Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau. Eva Air uses Taipei as a hub, and often has low rates on flights to Southeast Asia, making the city an easy and fascinating long layover.
Whether you only want to spend a day wandering the city, or devote a couple of days to exploring, Taipei’s airport is readily accessible by the metro system, with a dedicated airport train that takes you directly to Taipei Main Station and connects to several other metro lines. Opt for a few major sights and some great food, if you’re just touring for a day. At the top of that list should be Taipei 101, the city’s iconic pagoda-inspired skyscraper, which has its own metro station and is easy to reach. For food, you can head to the famous Shilin Night Market, which — despite its name — opens in the late afternoon and buzzes until past midnight. Slurp on noodles and fuel up on tasty sweets before heading back to the airport.
If you’re planning to add another day or two to your itinerary, there are cool hikes nearby, including the trails of Yuanshan. Alternatively, if you’re feeling ambitious, make the hike up Taiwan’s tallest mountain, Mount Qixing, but be warned, as the climb is steep and essentially made of stairs the entire way. Or, visitors can head to the National Palace Museum for an awesome display of ancient Chinese artifacts and art in a stunning setting. Longshan Temple is also a great place to see the local spiritual life on full display.
Where to Stay in Taipei on a Long Layover: Hotel Midtown Richardson
This modern and simple spot makes for a solid base from which to explore Taipei for a couple of days. Hotel Midtown Richardson is central to shopping and sights like Longshan Temple. Plus, it’s only 15 minutes by mass transit from Taipei Main Station.
Mexico City can easily take up an entire week or more of your vacation time, but if you’re heading to one of Mexico’s beautiful beach destinations or elsewhere in Latin America, you can make a short stopover entirely worth it. A number of discount carriers pass through the city’s airport, and fares on Aeromexico to other cities across Central and South America are often far lower than major U.S. carriers. We recommend at least an overnight in Mexico City, if not more.
While getting to the city center via public transit isn’t convenient, taxis and app-hailed rides are cheap (around $10) and take around 45 minutes to an hour. Of course, traffic varies wildly depending on what time you’re arriving or departing, so keep that in mind. You’ll want to base yourself in Roma or Condesa, where the majority of the city’s current cool kids can be found. Both neighborhoods are leafy, peaceful, and relatively safe. They’re also packed with incredible restaurants, bars, galleries, and shops. You’ll find multiple outposts of El Moro — the city’s most famous churreria — in this part of town, and the nightlife of Juarez is just to the north. You could easily tick off a visit to a major museum, like the National Museum of Anthropology, while here as well.
Alternatively, you can use the historic Centro as your home base. Here, you’ll be surrounded by centuries-old buildings and a streetscape that buzzes all day long. Famous pastry shops like Pasteleria Ideal are found in the Centro, as are many chances to sample Mexico’s dizzying street-food scene. Some of the city’s most famous murals are found in the Centro, at the National Palace and the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso, as well as at the Museo Mural Diego Rivera. However, you can also opt for touring the Palacio de Bellas Artes — a stunning marble building that’s arguably Mexico City’s crown jewel — or hit up the sobering Museum of Memory and Tolerance. The original El Moro is in the Centro, in case you didn’t get your churro fix elsewhere and need a sweet treat before heading to the airport.
Where to Stay in Mexico City on a Long Layover: The Red Tree House
It’s hard to overstate just how charming this little boutique property is. The Red Tree House also happens to have one of the best locations in Mexico City, smack in the middle of the cool (and pretty) Condesa neighborhood, and within an easy walk of Roma Norte. You’ll find plenty of cafes, parks, galleries, restaurants, and bars all around.
Madrid is one of those places that looks pretty no matter how much time you spend there. It also happens to be home to Iberia Airlines, which runs codeshares with American Airlines, British Airways, and Finnair, making it a popular spot for layovers on flights to continental Europe. Luckily, Madrid’s Barajas Airport easily connects to the city center on the metro. If you take an evening flight, you’ll likely land early in the morning, giving you an entire day to explore the city (though, of course, a longer stay in Madrid is always better).
After the quick 40-minute trip to Puerta del Sol or Callao, do some walking. Start your day with a quick Spanish breakfast: a pastry and a coffee at any of the cafes near those two metro stations. Or, better yet, line up for churros and chocolate at San Gines — the city’s most famous churreria. Once you’ve fueled up, pick either the Prado Museum or Reina Sofia — the former focuses on classic art and is home to famous Velazquez and Goya works, while the latter is for modern and contemporary art and holds Picasso’s “Guernica.” Doing both in one day would be too much even for the most enthusiastic art lover.
Then, grab lunch at one of the casual tapas bars in Lavapies or around Tirso de Molina before wandering the streets of Malasaña. There, vintage shops, cool boutiques, and lively bars pack the atmospheric streets. To the east of that neighborhood, you’ll find Fuencarral, Madrid’s major pedestrian shopping street that’s lively day and night. Beyond that is the gayborhood, Chueca, which is also home to a ton of cool restaurants, galleries (like Mad is Mad), queer bookshops like Berkana, and lively bars. If you decide to extend your itinerary for a day or two, explore Lavapies and Barrio de las Letras — the former is a hipster haven and home to the majority of the city’s international community, while the latter is an upscale shopper’s paradise that once was home Miguel de Cervantes.
Where to Stay in Madrid on a Long Layover: Petit Palace Plaza del Carmen
Petit Palace Plaza del Carmen is one of the most popular outposts in this charming boutique chain — and with good reason. Just off of Gran Via, within a 10-minute walk of Chueca, Malasaña, and Plaza Mayor, the location is hard to beat. It also has a funky, modern style and extras like minibars, smart TVs, and free loaner bikes.
If you’re heading to the west coast from the eastern U.S., and San Francisco is on your itinerary, you’re in luck. For starters, SFO easily connects to San Francisco’s city center, with simple and relatively fast routes that take no longer than 30 minutes (and are far cheaper than taking a taxi). With a full day, you can hit up plenty of must-see San Fran spots.
If you’re pressed for time, head straight to Union Square and explore the city center (and engage in some retail therapy). Then, make your way to the iconic Fisherman’s Wharf to snag a picture with the area’s resident sea lions. (Tip: Go to Pier 39 if you’re after the perfect pic.) There’s plenty in this area to keep you busy for much of the day, though to fuel up, head to Chinatown for some great Asian fare. If you’ve got more time to spare, it’s worth visiting Mission Dolores Park — arguably one of the city’s prettiest spots, with picture-perfect views of San Fran and the Bay Area.
If you’re taking another day to hang around town, make sure to visit the Golden Gate Bridge and Presidio. If the weather is right, opt for a stroll on the beach. From there, it’s an easy walk to The Castro — one the original gay neighborhoods in the U.S. You can also visit the hipster-friendly haunts of the Mission District. Here, you’ll find tons of street art, coffee shops, and great local fare.
Where to Stay in San Francisco on a Long Layover: St. Regis San Francisco
If you’re after luxurious rooms, cool style, easy access to Union Square, the city’s cable cars, and SFMOMA, then the St. Regis San Francisco is for you. Here, you’re within a 20-minute cable car ride of Fisherman’s Wharf, and can easily reach plenty of shops, restaurants, and bars. The hotel itself is packed with amenities, which is great for recharging before that second long-haul flight.
Singapore is the one destination on this list where we recommend not leaving the airport on a long layover. Why? Singapore’s Changi Airport has made headlines for its futuristic eco-theme-park terminal that pairs stunning design with technological innovation and amazing amenities. In fact, it’s served as something of a tourist destination for Singaporeans taking staycations.
The center of the action is known as Jewel Changi Airport, which connects several international terminals and features a jaw-dropping amount of things to see and do. That starts with the rain vortex — the world’s tallest indoor waterfall that’s surrounded by jungle-like landscaping (it also makes a cool counterpoint to the Gardens by the Bay near Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands complex). The landscaping is actually a four-floor garden — a great place to stretch your legs after a long flight. However, you can opt for an IMAX movie, or hit up one of the adventure courses inside Jewel Changi. There are numerous retail outlets — both local and international — as well as bars and restaurants for cocktails and delicious fare.
Should you want to head into Singapore proper, that’s easy enough to do. It takes about an hour on public transit to reach the Downtown Core, which puts you within walking distance of Clarke Quay, Marina Bay Sands, Gardens by the Bay, Little India, and Chinatown. However, you can hop on the metro to access all of these spots from the city center, as well as to hit up the shopping along Orchard Road.
Where to Stay in Singapore on a Long Layover: Marina Bay Sands
If you’re opting to leave Singapore Changi Airport, and want to spend a night or two in Singapore proper, you might as well go big. Marina Bay Sands is one of the most iconic and recognizable hotels in the entire world, especially after its star turn in “Crazy Rich Asians.” With its sky-high pool deck, dizzying amenity list, and posh rooms, it’s one of the best in the city.
Beautiful scenery, amazing food, and frequently sunny skies — Lisbon might have it all. The city also makes for a convenient long layover, if you’re booked for onward travel on TAP, the Portuguese national carrier. TAP tends to have lower fares for reaching destinations across Europe and around the Mediterranean, and you can make a mini trip of it along the way. That’s especially true because Lisbon’s airport easily connects to the city center by train and metro. The trip to Rossio Station, right in the center of the action, takes around 45 minutes and only requires one transfer. Once you’re at Rossio, it’s all about exploring on foot — just be prepared as the hills in Lisbon are not to be underestimated. You’ll be spoiled with beautiful streetscapes no matter which direction you head, but if you’re after those iconic Lisbon scenes, head southwest to Praça Luis de Camoes in Chiado, which is thronged with activity day and night. Here, you’ll find the famous statue of Fernando Pessoa — arguably Lisbon’s most famous author — which is right next to a famous bar, Cafe A Brasileira. From there, head east into Baixa and toward Praça do Comercio, the photogenic main square that sits next to the Tagus River. Once you’ve got your shot, head up into the Alfama, one of the city’s oldest quarters, to take in the stunning views from St. George’s Castle.
If you’re opting to stay overnight, you’ll want to do your drinking in Bairro Alto, where the party spills out into the street almost every night. LGBTQ travelers will find several bars and nightclubs in Principe Real, just northwest of Bairro Alto. If you’re after beautiful city views, and are making your way to the local market at Jardim do Principe Real, make sure to stop off at Jardim de Sao Pedro de Alcantara. Right next to the garden, you’ll find one of the city’s iconic funiculars, which are meant to cut travel time between the highest heights and lower valleys. However, these days, they mostly serve tourists looking for great pics.
Where to Stay in Lisbon on a Long Layover: LX Boutique Hotel
If you want great style for relatively low rates, check out the LX Boutique Hotel. It also happens to have a prime location just south of lively Bairro Alto, which puts you smack in the city center for a quick visit to Portugal’s capital.
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