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Deck the Terminals: 10 Airports with Over-the-Top Holiday Decorations

PHOTO: San Francisco International Airport

From Christmas markets in Munich to holiday entertainers greeting flyers, the holiday spirit is alive and well at the world’s airports.

While you may be dreading your upcoming holiday travel, not every part of the experience is bad. Every November and December, airports go all-out to turn their terminals into winter wonderlands. If you need a break from holiday stress, or just want a treat for all the senses, plan your winter trip through these major airports.

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PHOTO: San Diego International Airport
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San Diego International Airport

A growing international hub in Southern California, San Diego International Airport goes all out for the holiday months. Decorations start at the ticketing counter, with lights spiraling up palm trees and wreaths everywhere. After security, a Christmas tree made of poinsettias greet holiday travelers heading towards their gates, followed by thousands of lights leading flyers towards their next adventures. But the best parts are the little touches that bring comfort to even Scrooges, including therapy dogs and musicians.

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PHOTO: Chicago Department of Aviation
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Chicago O'Hare International Airport

Famous for their light displays, Chicago O’Hare International Airport does not disappoint during the holidays. Terminals halls are decked with thousands of LED lights, with bright trees and stars guiding travelers into the airport. The hallmark of Chicago’s seasonal spirit is the Terminal 3 globe, trimmed with lights, garlands, and doves that circle the earth with wishes of peace and goodwill. Throughout the month of December, highlights include performances from local musicians, making a trip through America’s third busiest airport a little easier in the winter.

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PHOTO: San Francisco International Airport
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San Francisco International Airport

If the TSA won’t let you wrap your gifts, San Francisco International Airport wants to help you out! Pack your presents in your carry-on luggage or find that one-of-a-kind item at the unique airport stores and stop by one of four gift wrapping stations to get it wrapped and ready for your friends and family. In addition to the traditional decorations, SFO also attracts some of the Bay Area’s favorite musicians to play holiday favorites immediately after Thanksgiving. Previous years’ lineups include harpist Naomi Hoffmeyer, the Golden Gate Bellringers, and guitarist Tommy Guerrero.

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PHOTO: Sorbis/Shutterstock
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Amsterdam Airport Schiphol

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is proud of their Dutch heritage, and it particularly shows during the holiday season. All of their decorations–32,000 Christmas ornaments, over 32,000 LED lights, and 200 Christmas trees–reflect their spirit and history. Arriving at the airport, Park and Travel 3 features a decorated globe and greets travelers with a tree themed around the Elfstedentocht skating tour. Before going to the gate, stop at the Jan Dellaertplein square for ice skating and a traditional Dutch donut, the oliebollenkraam. Closer towards the holidays, Santa Claus makes an appearance, along with performances from local orchestras.

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Singapore Changi International Airport

When you think of Singapore Changi International Airport, the holidays may not be the first thing you think about. However, the airport goes big for the Christmas season every year! In addition to their famous ornament tree, Singapore Changi boasts one of the world’s largest music boxes in Terminal 3, which showers candy with every performance. Both adults and children can also play at their inflatable castle complete with falling “snow” and take in performances from traditional dancers and other performers. Decorations are not the only way Singapore Changi celebrates the holiday season. Last year, the airport celebrated kids’ favorite Pokémon, complete with a plushie tree made of the beloved characters.

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Munich Airport

If you missed the world-famous Munich Christmas Market, you can still get all of your favorite items at the airport! This year, the 19th annual Munich Airport Christmas Market opens on November 18, going through the end of the year. In addition to the shopping, flyers can take laps around the open-air ice skating rink and take in all the decorations, paired with a DJ every Thursday and live music performances heading into the holiday. Kids will have their own experiences as well in “Kinderland,” featuring magic shows, arts, and crafts experiences, and visits with Santa. This is all in addition to Munich’s regular attractions, including airport tours and their famous observation area.

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Helsinki Airport

The northern countries may love Christmas more than most, perhaps due to their proximity to the North Pole. This is especially reflected at Helsinki Airport in Finland. While Santa Claus greets flyers young and old at the airport, there’s something more for everyone. Lovers can sneak a kiss under the mistletoe in the extravagant decorations, while the gift-generating machine can help you find the right present for every traveler on your list. Relax with a glass of mulled wine before your flight, and appreciate holiday music from fellow flyers during select open mic days. Coming or going, Helsinki is a special winter stop for everyone.

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PHOTO: Sean Pavone/ Shutterstock
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Orlando International Airport

Where else can you celebrate the season underneath a decorated and lit palm tree? While the holiday spirit is alive and well at this popular destination, the main attraction at Orlando International Airport is the 40-foot Christmas tree decorated with multi-colored LEDs, in the atrium of the Hyatt Regency (located inside Orlando’s airport), just before security. Not only is this tree a popular meeting point for friends and family, it is also the backdrop for holiday-inspired performances throughout the season. Leading up to Christmas, the Orlando Ballet, the Orlando Philharmonic, and carolers perform at the airport, bringing a little cheer during one of the most stressful times of the year.

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PHOTO: Denver International Airport
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Denver International Airport

So you can’t make it to Munich for the famous Christmas Market – but you can still catch the spirit in Denver instead! If you have a long layover at Denver International Airport, step outside of the secure area to check out their free ice skating rink and holiday market, which runsthrough the new year. In previous years, the airport has also held special events to keep the days merry and bright, from local arts performances and holiday films, and an “Ugly Sweater” contest. Enjoy your winter travels when you connect in Denver!

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London Heathrow Airport

If you thought the airport scenes of Love Actually were simply decorated for the film, you may be surprised to find London Heathrow Airport does go all-out for the holiday season every year. In addition to the famous ribbon tree adorned with bright glass stars, the airport decorates from terminal to terminal with bright trees. In a show of kindness, many restaurants offer free meals for children traveling with their families, who can visit Santa afterward for a chocolate treat. In previous years, volunteers would spend over 300 hours completing special trees with holiday themes, including a gingerbread tree.