Cheap and free airport activities are probably the best thing to hit the budget traveler’s wallet since complimentary Wi-Fi became a thing. The trend started in Asia and is gradually spreading westwards across Europe and North America. From planetariums to puppy petting stations, airports are quickly becoming a place where you actually want to spend more than the minimum number of hours. Who would have seen that one coming a few years back? So all you frugal travelers, when you are sitting down to plan that convoluted flight path, quickly peruse this list for budget-friendly activities to build into the trip! It is after all, about the journey not the destination – right? The following 10 activities are great reasons to extend that layover just a couple more hours.
Singapore Changi has built not one but FIVE gardens throughout the airport, each more extravagant than the next. The rooftop cactus garden is home to over 50 global varieties of cacti, while the orchid garden displays the national flower, the Vanda Miss Joaquim, amidst ponds of koi. Terminal 3’s butterfly garden however is the crowning jewel of the airport – unprecedented and magical, transit passengers can amble through a room filled with over 1000 butterflies while waiting for a connecting flight. Kuala Lumpur has also brought nature indoors by transplanting a section of a Malaysian rainforest into the Satellite Building. Take a stroll along the wooden walkways or look down from the canopy-level mezzanine floor, soaking in the lush and diverse plant life.
Seriously – this is a thing. If flying through San Francisco, keep an eye out for the nine beautifully tempered dogs wearing ‘Wag Brigade’ vests. Pups like Dino, Kona, and Lady Jenna Barbara (their name, not ours) have been handpicked to help take the stress out of travel. Similar programs are offered at LAX, Miami and San Jose. We’re just wondering how long before this becomes a global phenomenon?!
The number of airports that now house mini-museums profiling local history and art really is quite surprising. San Francisco started the trend in the 1980s, but Amsterdam’s Rijks Museum is probably the best reviewed today, with its impressive collection of Dutch paintings and artifacts. Espace Musées at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport is not too bad either, given that it pulls its revolving collection from some of the best galleries and museums in Paris. Why not incorporate a bit of Monet into your journey?
Cultural enthusiasts would be wise to swing through Seoul Incheon and pay a visit to the Korean Cultural Street, complete with jeongja (pavilion), giwa (tiled roofs) and a traditional garden. Sample local delicacies and enjoy a traditional musical performance before heading over to the Cultural Experience Zone where you can learn how to make local handicrafts. Obviously, the airport is never a substitute for visiting the country – but it would seem Incheon is still on its way!
Continuing with a musical theme, the musical cities of Austin and Memphis in the United States proudly display their local talent with free concerts for passengers each month. Frankfurt also hosts occasional lunchtime concerts in the chapel areas. Many more airports bring in local orchestras, bands and school groups to perform for travellers.
Munich Airport takes live entertainment a step further, incorporating an Airbräu brewery tour into the list of possible activities. However, if you would rather just enjoy a great meal, a drink and a show, the Airbräu is always featuring young and local musical talent in the main restaurant.
Canada’s Vancouver Airport has extended the city aquarium inside the airport with two satellite tanks. Featuring a variety of local marine life, both the 14,000L main aquarium and the 1800L jellyfish aquarium are free for passengers.
More of an astronomer than an ichthyologist? You will then need to fly through Tokyo! The 2010 upgrade of Haneda International included the opening of the Starry Café, a small planetarium with soothing music and an impressively relaxing power. Enjoy a coffee at a dimly lit table while staring up into the constellations above.
Or perhaps you are really just in the mood for a movie. At the Hong Kong Airport you can watch the latest blockbusters at the airport’s full IMAX movie theatre. While Singapore Changi offers free movies at two movie theatres inside the transit area – 24 hours per day.
Perhaps all these sights and activities are just a bit much to take in after a long flight – all you really want is a quiet place to unwind. In that case, a pay-per-use lounge may be just the tonic. For a moderate fee, economy class travelers can experience all the wonders of a first class lounge without having to purchase a first class ticket. Most of these lounges offer a concierge, a business center and fine dining opportunities while others even offer suites for a nap and shower.
To be honest – this list hardly ends here. Fitness facilities, tours of the airport, oxygen bars, improved airport restaurants and spectacular shopping opportunities only continue to entice us to spend more time in the terminals. Airport city tours – free at Seoul Incheon, Singapore Changi, and Doha – are also a great way to chew up time on a layover. We’re curious – what other great airport activities have you come across?