Stuck in transit? Feeling bored? Brian Johnston finds 50 fun things to do for adults and kids at the world's airports.
Airports have long been more renowned for tedium than entertainment, and few of us are keen to loiter in transit for longer than an hour or two. Lately, however, some of the world's top airports have been coming to the rescue of people on long layovers, with some innovative ideas to make the time pass more pleasantly for adults and children alike.
1 Let the kids soar
O'Hare airport in Chicago is one of the world's busiest airports and notorious for delays, but the Kids on the Fly exhibit keeps little ones occupied with interactive displays, including a helicopter and cargo plane. flychicago.com.
2 Celebrate Christmas
If you find yourself in Munich airport from mid-November, enjoy the Winter Market, which features 400 sparkling Christmas trees, market stalls serving mulled wine and an outdoor ice skating and curling rink. munich-airport.de.
3 See a dinosaur
The main atrium at Hartsfield-Jackson airport in Atlanta features the fossilised skeleton of a yangchuanosaurus. The carnivorous Jurassic-period dinosaur, which was unearthed in China, is three metres tall and 9.4 metres long. atlanta-airport.com.
4 Pat a pooch
If you're anxious about flying, then pat Casey the golden retriever at Miami airport in the US. Casey is a trained therapy dog and adept at calming uptight travellers and fractious children. miami-airport.com.
Yes, you know you've arrived in Las Vegas when you hear the sound of slot machines as you step off the plane. The one-arm bandits aren't hard to find - just don't gamble away your return ticket. mccarran.com.
6 Visit the Antarctic
Across the road from Christchurch airport, the International Antarctic Centre is a top-quality interactive attraction highlighting the wildlife, exploration and environment of Antarctica; it even includes a simulated snowstorm. iceberg.co.nz.
7 Attend a concert
Nashville in the US brings music to the airport, with four stages, three beyond the security area. Between 80 and 100 acts perform each year, and not just country music: rock and jazz are also featured. flynashville.com.
8 Admire art
Check out the wonderful artworks in Terminal 5 at Heathrow in London. The Expo Fine Art Gallery is one of the first art galleries in an international airport and showcases many up-and-coming British artists in sculpture and painting. Some of the monumental sculptures are spectacular. highperformanceart.org.uk.
9 Go native
While loitering in Vancouver, check out the terrific collection of native Canadian art dotted throughout the airport, including paintings, sculptures and tapestries. The domestic terminal has 75 sculptures by contemporary Inuit artists. yvr.ca.
10 Visit a museum
Find out about the history of Qantas at Sydney's domestic T3 terminal. The Qantas Heritage Collection has artefacts and memorabilia donated by staff and passengers, including uniforms, navigational equipment and more. qantas.com.au.
11 Swap it
What traveller doesn't love swapping their just-finished book for a new one? At Helsinki airport, a reading corner and book swap at Gate 27 is just the place to grab some reading material on the go. helsinki-vantaa.fi.
12 Head into space
Kids and adults alike will enjoy SpacePort at Calgary airport in Canada. The exhibition on aeronautics and space flight is interactive and includes a quarter-size replica of a space shuttle and samples of moon rock. yyc.com.
13 Fly a plane
OK, not a real one, but take to a flight simulator at Hong Kong airport's Aviation Discovery Centre, which also has information and other interactive exhibits related to flight and aviation. hongkongairport.com.
14 Meet the butterflies
Only one airport in the world boasts a butterfly garden. At Singapore's Changi airport, a two-floor, state-of-the-art landscaped garden complete with waterfall allows you to walk among tropical butterflies - and 30 species of carnivorous plants. changiairport.com.
15 Go behind the scenes
Few of us get the chance to see how an airport actually operates but in Munich daily tours take visitors on a 12-kilometre loop through freight and maintenance facilities, airport aprons and fire stations. munich-airport.de.
16 Plane spot
Denver airport has notable architecture but its best feature is the pedestrian bridge connecting the terminal with the concourse. It passes right over the top of planes as they taxi, allowing you to look down and marvel at these mighty machines. flydenver.com.
17 Take control
At Stockholm airport, take a tour of the 83-metre control tower and admire the view over the runway. Other tours will take you around the check-in, baggage handling and customs areas. swedavia.com.
18 Get high
19 Get inside tips
The Visitair Centre at Vienna airport has exhibits on how the airport operates, as well as an interactive media table on the airport's history and a "sound station" of airport noises for the kids to identify. viennaairport.com.
20 Unleash the kids
At Dallas-Fort Worth, the Junior Flyers Club play area allows the rug rats to play on a soft-foam car and aeroplane, as well as a climbing frame in the shape of a control tower. dfwairport.com.
21 Let there be light
Get active at the great Kids' Spot in San Francisco airport's Terminal 3. Kids will love the crawling apparatus and the plasma wall, which, when activated by clapping, shoots out coloured light. flysfo.com.
22 Lounge about
The dedicated Family Lounge at Copenhagen airport's Terminal 2 is a great place for kids, with distractions that include Lego, iPads, table soccer and animated cartoons. Family fast-track lanes also get you through security faster. cph.dk.
23 Play games
Children have plenty of options to unwind while waiting at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport. Play areas have coin-operated games such as table soccer and pool, cool PlayStation zones, and mazes, distorting mirrors and brain-teasers. aeroportsdeparis.fr.
24 Have a birthday party
Give your kids a birthday experience to remember at Frankfurt airport, with a guided tour providing close-up views of take-offs and landings, followed by a birthday treat at a restaurant. frankfurt-airport.com.
25 Get cultured
Check out Korean Cultural Street at Incheon (Seoul) airport, where re-creations of traditional buildings are host to cultural events and performances. Then head to the Cultural Experience Zone and make traditional artefacts from paper and wood. airport.kr.
26 Enjoy a slide
Had enough of those long, slow escalators? Lyon airport in France has a fun alternative: a giant metal tube slide curling between floors in its chill-out area to make you feel like a kid again. lyonaeroports.com.
27 Go ice skating
Seoul's Incheon airport has numerous entertainment options, including an ice rink where artificial plastic ice takes the bruises out of falls - and allows you to have a spin with the kids year-round. airport.kr.
28 Admire art
A mini branch of Amsterdam's famous Rijksmuseum brings highbrow to the airport. It showcases 10 permanent canvases - all masterpieces of the Dutch Golden Age - as well as changing exhibitions on various themes. schiphol.nl.
29 Play tennis
Just a five-minute walk from Cairo airport, right beside the airport hotels, Smash Tennis Academy is a top-notch sports club with clay tennis courts, squash courts and outdoor and indoor swimming pools. smashtennis.com.eg.
30 Have a round
Hong Kong airport's SkyCity Nine Eagles Golf Course is next to Terminal 2 and has a challenging signature hole on an island in the middle of an artificial lake. The course has floodlights so you can play at night. nine-eagles.com.
31 Get into the swing
A recently opened "golf town" at Incheon (Seoul) airport's International Business Centre features an 18-hole putting course and a 300-metre driving range that can accommodate 120 players, as well as a swing analysis room. inggolf.co.kr.
32 Retreat to a garden
Singapore airport has the world's only airport cactus garden, as well as a tropical orchid garden under towering foxtail palms, and a sunflower garden with an illuminated bamboo walkway. changiairport.com.
33 Do some yoga
A yoga studio at Gate D40 in Dallas-Fort Worth airport comes well equipped with yoga mats, allowing you to strike a pose while gazing over the airport from large windows. Not quite serene, but almost. dfwairport.com.
34 Have a spa treatment
While back rubs and neck massages are common at airport stands, XpresSpa areas at New York's John F. Kennedy airport go much further, with 90-minute spa sessions including deep-moisturising facials and full-body massages. xpresspa.com.
35 Paint your nails
Both terminals at Tokyo Narita have a nail-polishing and manicure salon but, beyond the normal services, you can get your nails painted and adorned with art designs. Rhinestone glitter at your fingertips, anyone? narita-airport.jp.
36 Feed the fish
Singapore's Changi airport has a koi pond where the fish are fed at 9am and 4pm. But for feeding of another kind, dip your feet into the Fish Spa, where special fish will nibble at your skin, leaving it feeling baby smooth. changiairport.com.
37 Take a tour
Who says you have to sit around at the airport? At Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport, passengers transiting for six to 12 hours can take specially designed transit tours covering various interests such as the Grand Palace, shopping, golf or a crocodile farm. airportsuvarnabhumi.com.
38 Go on tour
If your stopover is five hours or longer at Changi airport, enjoy a free two-hour Singapore tour that will give you an overview of the city's attractions from the windows of a coach. changiairport.com.
39 Shuttle around
Enjoy the best of traditional and contemporary Japan at Tokyo's Narita airport with a hop-on hop-off shuttle bus that takes you to a shopping mall, one of the country's largest temples and an open-air museum. narita-airport.jp.
40 Meet a local
A tailored tour departing from Frankfurt airport can take you around the sights of the city, or the vineyards and villages of the Rhine valley, in the company of a well-informed local insider. toursbylocals.com.
41 Walk the Wall
Why sit in a transit lounge when you could be walking along the Great Wall of China? A tour from Beijing airport, with a personal guide, gives you an hour at one of the world's greatest sights. beijing-airport-transportation.com.
42 Go shopping
No, not in expensive airport duty free, but in a shopping mall filled with premium-brand outlet shops. Japan's Kansai (Osaka) airport offers a shopping tour that includes return transport. kansai-airport.or.jp.
43 Have a snooze
In Terminal 1 at Dubai airport, retreat to new soundproof Snooze Cubes, which not only contain a full-size bed if you want to sleep, but a television, music, movies and wi-fi for passing the time. snoozecube.com.
44 Just relax
The pay-for-use No.1 Traveller Lounge at London Heathrow has 12 bedrooms for hire by the hour and pod-style resting cabins in a "snug area". There's even a 10-seater cinema screening classic British movies to help you unwind. no1traveller.com.
45 Watch a movie
Hong Kong airport's Terminal 2 boasts the largest screen in the city, a giant IMAX movie experience that projects regular and 3D movies. It shows both the latest releases and documentaries. www.uacinemas.com.hk.
46 Watch a video
A new Sony video lounge at Terminal 2E in Paris' Charles de Gaulle offers cool modular seating with built-in speakers and 3D high-definition screens. Choose a free film from the catalogue and settle in. aeroportsdeparis.fr.
47 Learn about flight
A free aviation museum at San Francisco's international terminal presents the history of flight in a retro space designed on a 1930s air terminal. There are also continually changing special exhibitions. flysfo.com.
48 Read a book
Amsterdam boasts the world's first airport library, with books in nearly 30 languages on the history and culture of the Netherlands. There are also photos, videos and music from Dutch musicians to while away the time. airportlibrary.nl.
49 Enjoy some beer
Munich is famous for its Oktoberfest but, any time of year, get a mini-taste of the event at the airport. Airbreu brewery not only serves up local beers, but provides cabaret acts and other live entertainment, too. munich-airport.de.
50 Get beamed up
Nothing new about bars in airports but, in Los Angeles, the Encounter's futuristic decor will make you feel as if you're flying intergalactic, as lava lamps shimmer, bar stools seem to levitate, and strange sound effects are heard. encounterlax.com.
Airports: our best and worst
LOVE: Haneda (Tokyo)
You could consume a whole kaiseki multi-course meal in the time it takes to get to and from sprawling Narita, the Japanese capital's far-flung main airport (especially ifyou take the "limousine" bus to the city). But the recently upgraded and expanded Haneda airport is much closer to central Tokyo, with a taxi even possible, and of a much more human scale. And, like most Japanese airports, the food outlets are top-notch.
HATE: Domodedovo (Moscow)
Heathrow but without the charm. No one spoke English (or wanted to), the newsagents didn't stock a single English-language newspaper or even a magazine (hey, guys, this is an international airport, after all), the staff were dismissive and the departure lounges overcrowded. Oh, and it's a bloody long way from town.
I love Singapore's Changi airport so much I could live there — finding the outdoor swimming pool was a game changer. A 10-hour layover from Europe? Bring it on, that's just enough time for six hours' nap at the bargain ($60) Ambassador Transit Hotel inside the airport, sip a fresh mango juice by the pool watching planes take off, stroll through the open-air Cactus Garden and arrive home with minimum jet lag. Reboarding among exhausted direct-flight passengers I want to yell, "Everybody stop! Have an in-airport mini break".
HATE: Los Angeles
No surprises on listing one of the most unpopular airports in the world. But it's not the actual airport, a malignant concrete and linoleum tumour than has spread in indiscriminate directions, with the perfume of melted plastic cheese and ancient sweat from kilometre-long walks that's the major problem. Rather, the States' first line of hospitality, the customs officials. Nowhere does there exist a more humourless collection of antisocial people in the world. Being routinely interrogated, fingerprinted and photographed after a 13-hour flight is never going to be pleasant, but guys, a smile goes a long way.
It's arrival bliss strolling off the plane straight onto the tarmac of an airport encircled by the Colorado Rockies. I love being immediately part of a landscape I've come to explore and instantly drinking in that mountain air, no matter whether it's balmy or bitter.
I don't like shopping malls at the best of times, which means I hate transferring through Dubai airport, particularly in the early hours of the morning. Being channelled through multiple sprawling fluorescent-lit duty free shops is truly offensive to my senses.
Amsterdam's Schiphol airport isn't glamorous and its security staff are just as unnecessarily officious as any other airport, but they do make an effort to cater for passengers. The airport is well connected by train to the city and if you're in transit, there's a branch of the fantastic Rijksmuseum on site, showing temporary exhibitions by the Dutch Masters, a library where you can chill out and a wide selection of shopping and eating options.
It is the kind of place that sucks your soul and ruins your holiday before it's even begun. There's the glut of shops and lack of seats, the surly staff and dilapidated facilities, the congestion and long passport queues.