Wondering what to do during a layover?
If you find yourself wondering what you should do during airport layovers look no further. This is a comprehensive list of things to do with both short and long layovers.
As a former flight attendant, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who has spent more time waiting in airports than I have.
Below is a list of the best ways to spend your time at major airports while waiting for connecting flights.
Table of Contents
- 26 Things to Do During a Layover
- 1. Eat at a Restaurant
- 2. Take a Prearranged City Tour
- 3. Book an Airport Hotel Room
- 4. Go for a Long Walk
- 5. Check out the Airport Lounge
- 6. Spend Time Doing a Hobby
- 7. Watch Airplanes Take-off and Land
- 8. Listen to an Audiobook or Podcast
- 9. Browse Duty Free
- 10. Reconnect with People
- 11. Organize Photos
- 12. Replenish Snacks
- 13. Mani/Pedi
- 14. Get to Inbox Zero
- 15. Work Out
- 16. Check Out the Airport Art Galleries
- 17. Play a Game
- 18. Read
- 19. Write
- 20. Plan your Trip
- 21. Watch a Movie
- 22. People Watch
- 23. Practice Your Travel Language
- 24. Send Postcards
- 25. Get a Head Start on Christmas Shopping
- 26. Clean up the Apps on Your Phone
- FAQs About a Things to Do on a Layover
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26 Things to Do During a Layover
1. Eat at a Restaurant
Airport layovers can actually be a good opportunity to try some local cuisine. Eat real food!
Research restaurants at airports beforehand. You will be surprised at what you can find.
2. Take a Prearranged City Tour
If your layover is 8 hours or more, consider booking a city tour. Many tour companies offer organized tours of some kind that leave from the airport and drop you back off at a specific time.
I do not recommend trying to do this on your own; you will spend most of your layover trying to work out public transit and then stress about getting back on time. Some airports have free tours you can do of the city or of local attractions.
3. Book an Airport Hotel Room
Airport hotels are a fantastic resource if you have over 8 hours to kill. You get privacy, access to a quiet place to stretch out, nap and shower facilities. Honestly, this can make such a difference with jet lag.
If you have a shorter layover and can get a transfer hotel that’s even better. This is crucial to make use of hotel facilities on shorter layovers because then you don’t need to take security wait times into account. At a minimum ensure the hotel is attached to the airport and don’t have to worry about shuttle times to and from the airport.
4. Go for a Long Walk
Lots of major international airports are actually huge and have many areas to explore. If you connect through somewhere like Heathrow it’s worth taking a nice long walk. Not only can you stretch your legs, but you may also find all sorts of interesting shops and cafes.
5. Check out the Airport Lounge
Airport lounges tend to be quieter and less crowded than main terminals. If your priority is to find somewhere that is quiet to do some work, or if you just don’t like crowds, it might be worth trying out an airport lounge. You will usually benefit from doing some research beforehand. Most international airports have multiple lounges and it’s often cheaper to book an entry in advance.
This is especially useful if you’re getting a long haul flight. We have some tips on packing your carry on for long haul flights.
6. Spend Time Doing a Hobby
Knitting, crochet, embroidery, drawing and sketching are all things you can do while waiting for your flight. I have seen this many times; the most patient people in any boarding lounge are the knitters. Flight delayed? Long lines? Doesn’t seem to phase them.
7. Watch Airplanes Take-off and Land
Most airports have an area where you can watch planes take off and land on the runway. I 100% recommend doing this. It sounds boring, but you often see some seriously cool planes, especially at the big international airports.
8. Listen to an Audiobook or Podcast
This is a great way to create a bit of quiet for yourself in a busy terminal. Turn something on with noise canceling headphones and you can zone out or listen while you’re doing something else.
This type of noise canceling headphones are easy to travel with and effective in airport settings. Great for killing time on a long layover when you don’t want to constantly be listening to airport announcements.
9. Browse Duty Free
This is just a fun way to kill an hour. There are often free samples, such as perfume and chocolate. They also have local products you might not know exist otherwise.
10. Reconnect with People
Layovers are an excellent time to reconnect with people and message family or friends you have been meaning to catch up with. Find a quiet corner near an unused gate and reach out. I will caveat that it isn’t a good idea for early morning flights.
11. Organize Photos
If you are on your way home from vacation, this is a great time to organize your photos and even order your vacation photo book if you like tangible copies of things like I do.
Alternatively, if you’re heading to a new destination or on a business trip, this is an excellent chance to clear old photos from your phone or camera. I have been known to organize pictures from previous trips and order photo books, so they are waiting for me when I get home.
12. Replenish Snacks
If you have just come off of your first flight and most of your snacks are gone, it’s a good idea to stop at one of the airport shops on your way to the next gate. Yes, the snacks are more expensive than they would be at a grocery store, but they are far cheaper than buying food on the plane.
For more information, see my article on suitable foods to bring on a plane.
If you have a long layover, consider getting an express manicure or pedicure. To start with, the Pedicure Spas invariably have the most comfortable chairs in the entire airport.
As a former flight attendant, I have spent many pleasant hours getting my nails done in quiet corners of the airport. You will pay a premium but will walk away feeling refreshed. Plus it’s a fun way to start your vacation a bit early!
14. Get to Inbox Zero
If you only have a few hours before your next flight getting some admin done is a great way to make it feel productive. A nice coffee and working towards inbox zero will make you feel accomplished and like you are starting your trip on the right foot.
15. Work Out
I am going, to be honest: this is not my favorite activity. However, I know many people who feel better after working out and taking a shower.
Airport terminals often have fitness centers and some of the larger airports include shower facilities. Again this is a situation where some research about the airport can help. A yoga room with equipment is also increasingly common in some parts of the world.
16. Check Out the Airport Art Galleries
Many airports, surprisingly, have art galleries or small museums with local culture. These are often fun to go through and don’t take too much time to see if you only have a few hours. They are also quiet areas to sit in and get some quiet time before your next flight.
17. Play a Game
This is a fun easy thing that can kill time, bring a card game or travel board game. The more modern version is to use something like Switch or a board game on a tablet. Just remember if you are using something that requires power to try to find somewhere to recharge or use a power bank.
These little games are fun and easy to travel with. It is easy for something like this to kill 30 minutes but this pack can make sure you get a few hours of play time if you have a long layover. The magnetic board means you are not going to easily lose the game pieces.
Either bring a book with you or take the opportunity to peruse one of the bookshops that invariably pop up in big airports. Spending time casually looking for a book and browsing the local author section is a great activity by itself, and afterwards, you get to crack open a new book and read until boarding time.
I love using long layovers to catch up on writing projects. This could be personal creative projects or journaling. You could also document the trip you just had or outline the hopes you have for the upcoming experience. This is a very peaceful way to pass time in a busy airport.
20. Plan your Trip
If you are anything like me, you get on your flight with only a rough itinerary of what you want to do at your destination. Layovers are a great time to flush out details. Are there any tickets you need to book, wait times that need researching? Maybe plan a couple of restaurants you want to try and make reservations? These things make your layover go by quickly and get you excited about your trip.
21. Watch a Movie
Often your streaming services will have different content than you have at home. So find a comfortable place to sit with a snack and drink, pop your headphones in and enjoy a movie
22. People Watch
Airports are the best place to watch people. They are gathering places for people from all walks of life who are traveling for all sorts of reasons. You get vacation seekers, grandparents going to visit grandchildren, business travelers and then the people who are doing things like going to funerals or flying for sad reasons.
23. Practice Your Travel Language
Apps like Duolingo and Babbel make it easy to brush up on your destination’s native language and will help you navigate signs and directions more easily when you arrive.
24. Send Postcards
Buy some postcards and mail them, you can often buy stamps and mail them right from the airport. Or at least have them ready for the mailbox to go for when you arrive at your destination or on your return home.
25. Get a Head Start on Christmas Shopping
Start making a list of people you need to buy for, lists of possible ideas and a Christmas card list. If you are on your way home, you might even be able to place some online orders to be ready when you get home.
I advocate for this regardless of the time of the year. It is never too early to start planning when you are just passing time. Duty-free is also a great place to get started on physical shopping.
26. Clean up the Apps on Your Phone
This is a great way to review anything you don’t want or need on your phone and get it into vacation mode before your next flight. Turn off notifications and hide your work apps in a separate folder, so that you’re less tempted to check them while you are at your final destination.
FAQs About a Things to Do on a Layover
Do You Have to Go Through Security Again During a Layover?
If you have a domestic connecting flight, you will not have to go through security again as long as you stay in the terminal on the secure side. If you leave the airport at any time, you must clear security a second time.
If you are flying internationally, you will have to clear customs and probably security again, depending on how the layover airport is set up. It’s best to assume long lines and give yourself lots of time at your layover airport to connect internationally.
Can You Leave the Airport During a Layover?
You can leave the airport during a long layover, just make sure you give yourself lots of time to come back through security and make your boarding time.
What do People do on a Long Layover?
The main activities people do during long layovers are explore the airport, people watch, window shop, eat a meal at an airport bar, and go for walks to stretch their legs especially after a long flight.
Is a 3 Hour Layover Enough Time to Leave the Airport?
A 3 hour layover is not long enough to leave the airport. I would personally not consider leaving the airport with anything less than six hours if it was a domestic connection, or eight hours for an international one.
I hope you find this article helpful and that it answered all your questions on what to do during a layover.
For information on how to pass time once you are on the plane check out our article on Things to do on a plane to pass the time.
(Cover Image: Sorbis / Shutterstock)