They say it is the journey that matters and not the destination, but even the most Zen of travelers can struggle to appreciate the part of the journey that involves never-ending security lines, delayed flights, and dreaded layover limbo—where you are not here but not yet there, either. Fortunately, more and more airports are understanding that the layover experience doesn’t have to feel like passenger purgatory and they are upping their amenities accordingly. Shopping, plentiful food options, art, free Wi-Fi (yay!), and relaxing amenities all make for an easier and, dare we say it, more enjoyable way to pass time between flights. Here are 10 of our favorite domestic airports with offerings to help you appreciate the journey—however prolonged it may be!—on the way to your destination.—Emily Wasserman
McCarran International Airport, Las Vegas
While other airports leave you sitting at dull gates hoping you’ll get lucky and your flight will arrive on schedule, McCarran International Airport lets you exercise that luck at slot machines throughout the airport. Remember: what happens at McCarran Vegas stays at McCarran Vegas! When your luck (or money) runs out, there’s also a free art museum, an aviation museum, free Wi-Fi, and designated walking paths (from .5 to 1.5 miles long) to keep you busy and entertained. Also, don’t miss the shopping and dining in the renovated Terminal 3. Village Pub, a small, family-owned restaurant, serves beer-battered fish and chips and homemade soups and salads.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Las Vegas Guide
Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport
American Airlines’ biggest hub, Dallas-Fort Worth International is a common layover spot for travelers, and there are plenty of ways to pass, rather than kill, your time here. A one-mile walking path stretching along Terminal D encourages movement and circulation, as do the airport’s two yoga studios. A good resting place is Minute Suites, where travelers with long layovers can rent suites to take a nap between flights. Travelers can also sit back in leather armchairs by the gates and take advantage of the airport’s free Wi-Fi. If you want to watch incoming and outgoing flights, stop by Founder’s Plaza. The six-acre observation space on the north side of the airport includes picnic areas, telescopes, and radios that broadcast air traffic control messages from the airport’s FAA tower.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Dallas-Fort Worth Guide
Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport
The Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport consistently gets top marks from travelers, and it’s easy to see why. The airport features a central concourse overlooking the airfield that includes shops and a food court. Stop by Shoyu for fresh noodles and dumplings, or check out Ike’s Food & Cocktails for surf-and-turf and cocktails. Travelers who want to take a stroll after eating can walk a 1.5-mile path around the airport’s perimeter. Convenience-wise, Concourse D is home to a barber and hair stylist, and both terminal buildings include postal services. The airport also offers private rooms for nursing mothers. Gamers will enjoy Lucky Lindy’s Video Arcade in Concourse F.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Minneapolis-St. Paul Guide
Detroit Metro Airport
Inspired by the lines of a flight map, Detroit Metro’s mid-concourse Water Feature and its surrounding lounge areas are a magnet—and an oasis—for travelers with time to kill. The 700-foot-long underground Light Tunnel, which was designed by a Michigan-based glass maker and features multicolor LED lighting synchronized to an original score, makes moving between concourses a unique and stimulating experience. Moving between gates is also easy thanks to McNamara Terminal’s elevated red tram. For a taste of local fare, Hockeytown Café in the North Terminal pays homage to the Detroit Red Wings and serves traditional pub food like burgers and wings. Visitors can enjoy more upscale fare at a branch of Andiamo, a celebrated Italian restaurant in Detroit, located in Concourse A. Free Wi-Fi throughout the airport gets travelers online, while a “Reflection Room” and spa help travelers unplug.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Detroit Guide
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
Art and fine dining make Delta’s major hub in the U.S. an easy place to pass time between flights. Hartsfield-Jackson’s art program began in the late ’70s and the collection now contains more than 250 pieces. Permanent installations of note include 20 stone sculptures (in the transportation mall between the Concourse A and T-Gates) from Zimbabwe’s top artists and a grand chandelier (in the transition hall) hung with thousands of hand-cut glass crystals from Austria and Czechoslovakia. The airport also exhibits works from Georgian students and rotating exhibits from the South’s top museums as well as private collectors and galleries. To sample some of the city’s best fare, stop by One Flew South in Terminal E. The upscale restaurant is consistently rated among the best airport eateries in the country and features an extensive cocktail list, Southern-inspired dishes, and sushi. Hartsfield-Jackson hosts local musicians at various times throughout the year for its select music series—you can find jazz musicians around Atlanta’s annual jazz festival (May) and carolers in Victorian costume around the holidays.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Atlanta Guide
Chicago O’Hare International Airport
Despite its reputation as more of a headache than a haven for travelers, Chicago O’Hare International actually makes an effort for travelers on a layover. You’ll find a yoga room and several spa options for massages, nails, and skincare, but more unusually, you will also find an aeroponic garden where guests can relax by self-sustaining bright plants and also enjoy the fruits (or rather, veg) of the plants in many of the airport’s restaurants. Speaking of restaurants, O’Hare offers a variety of great local eateries where you can enjoy classics like Chicago-style hot dogs and the city’s trademark deep-dish pizza.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Chicago Guide
Seattle Tacoma International Airport
Sure, you’d rather be at your destination already but you really could do worse than a delay or layover at Seattle Tacoma International Airport. There’s live music seven days a week at locations throughout the terminal and a large, open food court with lots of natural light, views of the airfield, and decent local offerings—yes, you can eat seafood at an airport. The excellent shopping options include a Sub Pop music store, where you can get the required Nirvana Bleach record along with offbeat art, books, music, and clothing; the sweet handiwork of local chocolatier Dilettante; and there’s a Butter London Nail Spa, a rare treat for fans of this cult British import as well as anyone looking for a pretty mani-pedi. There’s also a free self-guided Art Walk (.5 mile long) of the airport’s 16 permanent art installations and rotating exhibits.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Seattle Guide
San Francisco International Airport
Visitors passing through San Francisco International Airport will find no shortage of attractions and, even better, distractions. Stop by a branch of the Steinhart Aquarium to look at colorful fish and sea creatures. The SFO Museum, the first cultural institution of its kind in an airport, features rotating exhibits throughout the building with an aviation or travel slant, like the history of airline uniform design, a collection of model airplanes, and travel photography. If you like to skip straight to the gift store, San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art airport museum store is a great resource for souvenirs. The real standout at SFO is the food and drink, as most eateries are branches of local restaurants. Travelers with a little time to linger can try Napa wines at Terminal 2’s Vino Volo or grab some sweet treats at Terminal 3’s Boudin Bakery. The airport’s two yoga rooms offer some quiet space for downward-facing dogs and meditation. Around the holidays, enjoy live music performances by local musicians and bands at stages throughout the airport.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s San Francisco Guide
Denver International Airport
Denver International Airport is best known for its sculpted roof canopy evoking the snow-capped Rocky Mountains, but its interior design also stands apart. Unlike most dingy airport spaces lit with fluorescent lighting, DIA’s interior is flooded with natural light and natural elements like grass and wood-covered surfaces. DIA is also home to one of the most extensive airport art programs in the world; you’ll want to explore to see how it is seamlessly integrated into the airport, from the 140 giant paper airplanes suspended from the ceiling to the “sound art,” a series of tones, melodies, and messages that accompany the train. You’ll also want to check out Leo Tanguma’s wall murals to see what has conspiracy theorists conspiring. While you’re up and about, you may want to walk across the enclosed glass pedestrian bridge (the longest single-span bridge in the U.S.), which offers views of the Rocky mountains as well as planes taxiing below. Travelers can take advantage of free Wi-Fi and global calling (handy on a long layover) and enjoy the varied dining options, which includes Boulder Beer Tap House.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Denver Guide
Miami International Airport
The party set won’t have to look far for entertainment during a layover at Miami International. Luxury shopping options include Coach, Emporio Armani, M.A.C., Desigual, and L’Occitane. The airport is also home to one of the nation’s top airport spas, so stranded travelers can really make the most of layover time; guests can recharge after partying with a full range of treatments. For classic Cuban fare, check out La Carreta restaurant, which serves homemade pastelitos and croquetas.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Miami Guide