Airports are more often a necessity than a pleasantry of travel, but a growing list of them around the world are upping the ante on offered perks making your time between check in and take off a treat. There are airports with free movie theaters, indoor ice skating rinks, swimming pools, spas, sleep pods and even a few featuring the works of world-renowned artists. Architecturally impressive and packed with amenities, these seven airports will have you hoping for a delay.
Paste Travel’s Bucket List columnist Lauren Kilberg is a Chicago-based freelance writer. Her travels have found her camping near the Pakistani border of India and conquering volcanoes in the Philippines.
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Just from a visual standpoint, Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD) is a treat. Having your gate changed or switching terminals is slightly less annoying when it means you get to take in the mesmerizing light installations that play out in multicolor as you wander throughout the airport's hallways. O'Hare is also home to 16 first and business class lounges that offer all the expected perks and then some, including showers, massages and garment pressing. If you don't qualify for lounge-status, many offer access for around $60 USD a visit. The Hilton Chicago O'Hare Airport Hotel near Terminal 2 also offers day passes to travelers with a little time to kill. For around $20 USD you'll gain access to its health club, which includes a lap pool, steam room, sauna and more. There's also the in-airport Terminal Gateway Spa and a free yoga room on the mezzanine-level of Terminal 3 complete with mats and a wall-mounted monitor displaying yoga posses to help you stretch before or between flights.
Photo by Brett Kiger, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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Whether Finland is your final destination or just a stopover, traveling through the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport (HEL) will feel more like a visit to an art museum than an airport. More than 17 million passengers a year are treated to free art and design galleries, permanent collections and a rotating roster of exhibits. From paintings to modern sculptures, this airport could rightfully be called an artport. Its other amenities include ergonomic sleep pods for tired travelers, a movie theater that shows short films, the Finnish Aviation Museum (pictured), live music performances and an open mic series, comfortable and well-designed lounges that will leave you feeling relaxed and pampered, play areas for children, as well as an outdoor terrace. Last year, the airport even hosted the world's first runway fashion show.
Photo by Finnish Aviation Museum, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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It will likely come as no surprise to find Dubai International Airport (DXB) in this gallery. This airport is as opulent as the city it calls home. In terms of international passenger traffic, it is officially the world's busiest. In total, the airport saw more than 83 million passengers in 2016. While it only has three terminals, the airport is considerably large. In fact, Terminal 3 is currently the largest in the world. Retail rules in Dubai, and its airport is no exception. 280,000 square feet are dedicated to shopping and food, including one of the world's largest duty-free spaces. If a trip to Dubai has left you feeling lucky, you can try your hand in the Dubai duty free Finest Surprise raffle, which includes luxury cars, motorbikes and even $1 million USD. Tickets cost $139 USD for cars (1 in 1,300 odds), $28 USD for motorbikes and $277 for the Millennium Millionaire raffle (1 in 5,000 odds). There's also a special cars series, which has included a Bentley, Porsche 911 Carrera Coupe, Aston Martin DB9, Mercedes-Benz S500, Audi R8 and McLaren in the past and will cost you $139 USD per ticket for 1 in 2,300 odds.
Photo by Michael Coghlan, CC BY-SA 2.0
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Singapore's Changi Airport (SIN) has received well over 500 awards, including Skytrax's World's Best Airport every year since 2013. More than 58 million passengers passed through this major Southeast Asian transportation hub last year alone, where over 100 airlines fly in and out and to and from some 80 countries. Given the mass amount of traffic Changi sees, the airport has gone to great and creative lengths to make sure those visiting have a smooth and enjoyable stay, right down to the Experience Agents that are there solely to help travelers navigate the terminals with ease. If a long flight delay has you feeling tense, take a walk through one of the calming gardens, one of which is home to around 1,000 butterflies. There's also an indoor waterfall and a 16-foot green wall. Other amenities include a rooftop pool where you can take a dip, some 350 retail shops, along with a free movie theater.
Photo by Nan-Cheng Tsai, CC BY-ND 2.0
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Hamad International Airport (DOH) in Doha, Qatar is one of only six airports worldwide that has received a 5-star rating from Skytrax. When you look at the amenities offered to travelers, it's no real surprise why. Catering to the many passengers on long layovers, the airport has a variety of offerings to keep you busy or help you recuperate and relax. There's an in-terminal hotel available for a full or half day, designated quiet spaces and nearly 10 premium lounges. For those not interested in sitting still while in transit, there's no shortage of ways to keep active while waiting for your flight. The airport has an 82-foot-long suspended swimming pool over the concourse, play areas for children, 80 high-end shops and a health spa, to name a few. There's also a giant dinosaur robot and the work of world-renowned artists like Urs Fischer (pictured) and Damien Hirst on display.
Photo by Mohamod Fasil, CC BY 2.0
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Incheon Airport (ICN), South Korea's largest, is located 30 miles west of Seoul on an artificial island. It has been honored with the Airports Council International's Airport Service Quality Award every year since 2005. It's home to a massive duty-free shopping mall, airport golf course, casino, indoor ice skating rink, spa, the Museum of Korean Culture, as well as the Traditional Culture Center where guests can partake in experiential programs or admire exhibits featuring traditional Korean arts and crafts.
Photo by Khaled Monsoor, CC BY-ND 2.0
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Spain's Madrid-Barajas Airport (MAD) saw more than 50 million passengers pass through it last year. In addition to being busy, it's also home to one of the world's largest terminals. If you think this is a recipe for chaos, you'd be wrong. Portions of the airport were designed to intentionally reduce stress. Terminal 4 features glass panes instead of walls and numerous domes to let in natural light. There's also a spa and plenty of shopping for retail therapy between flights.
Photo by Thomas Nemeskeri, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0