Layover: Boston

Beantown! As one of the most historic cities in the U.S., there’s plenty to look forward to should you have some time during a layover at the Boston Logan International airport or close by. Boston’s public transportation system, the “T” for short, reaches Logan on the Blue (Wonderland) line, and is also just 20 minutes from downtown (via the Sumner Tunnel) by car.

Try some of these layover activities on for size…

Short Layovers (3 hours or less):

  • The Logan Airport is one of the few that hosts a selection of salons and spas on the premises. Check out the Classique Hair and Nail Salon in Terminal C. While you’re there, you can get a jet setter’s pampering at the Jet Setter Mini Spa, also in Terminal C. There’s also the XpresSpa in Terminal B.
  • If you really want to get pampered (or need some exercise) and don’t mind shelling out a little extra dough, head to the Hilton Health Club & Spa at Logan International Airport, a sun-flooded facility that has a gym, sauna, and express massages. Take one of the free buses that run every 10 to 15 minutes between the airport and hotel.
  • If you need to fill that belly, there are a few decent locally established restaurants. Both Boston Beer Works and the Legal Seafoods Restaurant are located in Terminal C.
  • Revere Beach near the quaint enough town of Winthrop is worth a quick look if you’re really itching to dart out of the airport.

Longer Layovers (4 hours or more):

  • America’s oldest park, the Boston Common, also functions as the heart of Boston. Part of the Freedom Trail runs through the common, and a wintertime favorite is the Frog Pond, which doubles as an ice skating rink. Check out the spooky old graveyard near the Boylston “T” stop. The famous Cheers bar is also close by at 84 Beacon Street.
  • Faneuil Hall or Haymarket Square is a great place to grab some grub, people watch, and shop.
  • Boston’s very own little Italy called the North End is within walking distance from Faneuil Hall, and there’s a beautiful new green that is worthy of a stroll.
  • The Aquarium is also close by and has a spacious IMAX theater there.

Other tips:
Got kids? Head to Terminal A and let your kids play at the “Kidport,” a comfortable place for kids to let out some energy, complete with an airplane climbing sculpture, baggage claim slide, wall mural, window display, and magnetic poetry wall.

Layover: London Heathrow

Of all the airports in the world, Heathrow is probably my favorite to be stranded.

The airport itself is nothing special, but thanks to some very efficient public transport, you can be in the heart of London in about 30 minutes if you find yourself on a layover.

Shorter (2 hour) layovers

As I mentioned – the airport complex is not too impressive, and with the possible exception of some decent shops and restaurants, there won’t be too much to do. Of course, if you do like shopping, then you’ll probably enjoy what the airport has to offer.

Unlike some other major International airports, Heathrow has not invested in any kind of entertainment for waiting passengers – you won’t find a casino or museum here. If you want to stretch your legs, you may want to walk from terminal to terminal, just keep in mind that many parts of the airport are under construction, and you may find yourself walking towards a closed door, or long detour.

If you are lucky enough to be stuck in Terminal 5, then things are different – this terminal is brand new, and a real pleasure to spend some time. Terminal 5 is also home to the best eateries at Heathrow, including a Wagamama and a Gorden Ramsay restaurant.

Longer layovers (4+ hours)

Leaving the airport is the best thing to do if you have more than 4 hours to kill. From the terminal buildings, simply follow the signs to the Heathrow Express. The Express runs every 15 minutes, and trips to Paddington station take just 15 minutes (though in reality these trips often take a little longer). Once at Paddington, you can make your way to the Bakerloo line train, and in just 4 stops you will be at Oxford Circus. I’ve made this trip many times, and without delays, you can travel from the arrivals lounge of the airport to standing in Oxford Circus in 34 minutes.

The biggest downside to the Heathrow Express is its insane price – a round trip ticket is $52! There are alternatives to getting into the city from Heathrow. London Underground trains operate from Heathrow towards London on a very regular basis, the ride will be much cheaper, but it will also take a little over an hour to get to most major destinations in the city. If you have the time, this is a fun way to make your way into the city.

Once in London, the list of things to do is of course endless, and much easier to discover using one of the many London guides available. Personally I always enjoyed starting my trip at Oxford Circus, then walking up or down the street while visiting the many stores. Fans of electronics will enjoy taking a walk up to Tottenham court road, where store after store sells the latest and greatest in gadget land.

If you prefer a more peaceful way to spend your time, make your way to one of the many parks where there is almost always something fun to watch, especially in the summer months.

If you are running a really tight schedule (one hour or less) and don’t mind a decent amount of walking, start at Oxford Circus, walk down Regent Street to Piccadilly Circus, then on to Leicester Square. After taking in the sights and sounds here, walk down Charing Cross road towards the Embankment and take a quick look at the Thames. Of course, the easiest way to get around is by purchasing a bus pass and hopping on board one of the thousands of buses clogging up the streets of London.

A couple of things to keep in mind before you leave the airport are of course to be aware of the time it will take to get back through security and to always keep an eye on your belongings. Like most major cities, London has its fair share of street crimes, but pickpockets and thieves are very active all around the area, especially on the tube.

Layover: Amsterdam Schiphol

Layover in Amsterdam at Schiphol Airport? Perhaps not even sure which European country you’re in? Allow me to help.

You are in The Netherlands, or Nederland, as the Dutch call it (I wish we all called it that; the plurality is grammatically vexing). The people, the language, and all things from there are called “Dutch.” These different names are to confuse you. Some people get all messed up and call The Netherlands Holland, which is incorrect; North and South Holland are provinces of Nederland. If you are at Schiphol, you are in the province of North Holland. The Netherlands is part of The Kingdom of the Netherlands, which includes Caribbean countries Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles.

Map here: The Netherlands

So. Now you know where you are. Here’s what you can do!

Shorter (2 hour) layovers

Nederland is known for windmills, tulips, cheese, art, wooden clogs, and letting people do drugs. You can find all these things, with the probable exception of the last one, right at Schiphol airport.

Schiphol is a sprawling airport with a lot of floors of a lot of stuff. You’ll find gift shops stocked with mini windmills and porcelain imitations of wooden shoes sold right alongside fancy cheeses and chocolates. If you’re really up for the chocolates, though (wherever you’re going, it never hurts to show up with a box of Dutch chocolates), hit Leonidas for an excellent selection. They’re cool about selling you just one truffle, too, if you just want a quick little nom.
Up for more shopping? Hit up the duty free shops. You’ll get one of those bright yellow “See Buy Fly” bags; a status symbol for when you’re sipping cocktails afterward. If you’re not headed home yet and don’t want to carry your purchase on your vacation? You can pick it up when you get back to Amsterdam with their Pick Up On Return program.

If you’re on the way back from roughing it and are hurting for some Americanization, there’s Burger King, Starbucks, McDonalds, and Sbarro, but I’ve always been a fan of the oddly placed, impromptu-seeming Sushi Bar. It’s near Lounge 2 and very tasty. Amsterdam is not terribly famous for food, so don’t kill yourself trying to find an authentic local dish. Just get a Heinkein or a gin (the Dutch originated Jenever) and eat what you want.

Harried? Hit up the Silence Centre. Alternatively, hit the restrooms for the calming tulip images emblazoned all over the stalls.

The most important thing to see at Schiphol? Not the massages, not the exclusive club with the iris scan, not the Kids’ Forest (unless you have kids), not the casino, but the museum that’s right there! Rijksmuseum Amsterdam Schiphol is a great (and free) place to forget you’re at the airport. Good info here, and I highly recommend the Schiphol Museum Shop, too.

Longer layovers (4+ hours)

Got 4+ hours? Good news: You are already at the train station.

Ditch your bags in the basement of Schiphol for just a few dollars (they have these crazy high-tech storage lockers), and get on the train to see some of Amsterdam!

For interested parties, here’s a good guide to buying drugs in Amsterdam, but as you know, you really, really can’t take it with you on the plane (and shouldn’t try), and airlines have the right to refuse passengers who’ve had too many beers, let alone too many mushrooms. If you’re not staying the night in Amsterdam, I’d advise you not to step through the looking glass, so to speak.

Here are some ideas for what you can do pretty quickly:

Here’s all the info you’ll need to get around.

Alternatively, you can hit the Sheraton Fitness & Spa facility (open 24/7) — a day pass is just EUR 20 — or take a nap by booking a tiny room at YOTEL (minimum four hours).

Other tips

Lastly, here’s how to say the name of the airport without sounding like an idiot: “SKIH-pole.” Hope that helps!

Layover: Paris

Oft voted among the worst airports in the world, Charles De Gaulle outside of Paris doesn’t have a great reputation among travelers. The terminals are disjointed, sprawling and confusing, public transportation is mind boggling and security is amazingly frustrating.

With enough practice and preparation, however, the beast can be tamed. Connected to the heart of Paris by regional RER trains, it takes about one hour to get from terminal to city center, so it’s very possible to get in some quick sightseeing during a long layover.

With CDG, the keys are in managing security and the train station to minimize time wasted in transit. Stick around for a few tips from the experts and to learn how to take advantage of your next layover in Paris.
Shorter Layovers (2 hours)

CDG is so expansive and confusing that it’s usually not worth the effort of leaving your terminal if you’ve got a shorter layover. If you’re in the right terminal, however, you can still take advantage. International passengers in terminal 2E will meet the fortune of wide open spaces, duty free shopping, a few couches and even video game consoles to pass the time.

Other terminals, such as 2A are a little thriftier. But at least each terminal has a cafe where you can enjoy lovely French espresso, sit back, and try to adjust to the time zone of your destination.

Longer Layovers (4+ hours)

If you’ve got enough time to sneak out of the airport, it’s actually fairly easy to get into the city from Paris. If you’re flying international, the RER train station is between terminals 2E and 2ABCD at CDG, and these frequent trains run straight into the heart of the city.

You’ll need either cash (just over 8€) or a credit card with a smart chip to get tickets, the latter of which few American’s have. So as you’re passing down to the train station, stop by the HSBC on the right at the top level, withdraw some cash and head downstairs. Since the ticket machines don’t take bills and the line for RER tickets is always crazy long, head into the (RER, not SNCF) ticket office and look right immediately. There will be a change machine two meters away from you where you can get coins. Take these to the ticket machines outside and get billets into Paris, dodging around the dozens of confused travelers trying to use regular credit cards in the machines.

Downstairs, all trains lead into Paris, but some are express and can save you 15 minutes inbound. If there are two trains waiting, take a look at the scheduled stops and jump on the train will take you faster to Gare du Nord. That’s the beginning of Parisian stops.

Be prepared for the quaintest and Frenchest performers playing the accordion on the train. It happens every time.

Once inside the city you can connect to almost anywhere from Gare du Nord (North train station) by hopping off of the RER and transferring to the Metro. The Eifel Tower is either off of Trocadero on the 9 or Ecole Militaire on 8.

If you’re short on time, consider taking the RER one stop further to St. Michel – Notre Dame, where you can surface from the trains and see the magnificent church with a very short walk. You can also walk south from this stop into St. Michel and grab a crepe and beer in St. Michel, which despite being touristy and pricy, is still a lovely experience.

Finally, the Louve can be reached from either the 1 or 7 at Louvre Rivoli or Palais Royal. Be forewarned, however, that lines at the famous museum can be very long, and on a short layover you may not be able to justify seeing a fraction of the museum for the entry fee.

Other Tips

While the RER trains are frequent and fast, make sure you leave plenty of time to connect back into CDG from the city. Northbound trains don’t all run to the airport, either, so make sure you get on the right train when you board at Gare du Nord or St. Michel.

Though you’ll already have your boarding pass, also remember that you probably need to go through immigration when you return, so plan on spending a little extra time waiting in line at the kioks.

Also remember that you can’t bring any of that wonderful French wine with you on your trip, but vacuum packed cheese is totally allowed!

Layover: Honolulu

So, you’ve landed in the middle of the Pacific ocean on a tiny paradise island called Oahu. You’ve got a few hours to kill before catching the next plane across the other half of the Pacific (too bad you can’t stay longer!). What do you do?

Well, if you’re smart, you’ll head to the ticket counter and find a way to stay longer — maybe even forever. If you don’t have that luxury, and you really must board that future plane, here are some possibilities.

Short layovers of 2 hours or less:

The Honolulu International Airport (HNL) is situated on the western edge of the city, bordering Honolulu and Pearl City. Aside from Pearl Harbor, one of the island’s most popular sights, everything worth seeing is unfortunately over 15 minutes away by car. Add the city’s almost constant highway traffic, and you’ll likely be sitting in a cab to get to your destination only to turn back around.

If you’re stopping through HNL for 2 hours or less, you should stay in the airport. There are plenty of gift shops worth browsing for Hawaii-made knick-knacks and souvenirs. I would grab a bit to eat at one of the airports finer restaurants. I say finer with great hesitation, as there is a major shortage of decent food at the Honolulu airport. However, here’s the short list of restaurants that are worth checking out.

  • Stinger Ray’s: The only place with a restaurant-like feel to it, Stinger Ray’s served affordable and edible food from sun up to sun down. An review suggests the chili ‘n cheese fries and clam chowder were actually quite good, while Claire Walter over at CulinaryColorado says the caeser salad is salty, but the nachos are tolerable. Prices are reasonable and food is served on plates with little umbrella tents, not platters, for a little island touch.
  • City Deli: Another sit-down place that is a healthy option is City Deli. Sandwiches and salads made to order, so you know you’re getting something fresh, if not a bit standard.
  • Chow Mein Express: It may be the only Chinese food served at the restaurant and, while it’s not the most authentic, the food at Chow Mein is tolerable. The fried rice, orange chicken, or beef and broccoli are good bets.

None of these places have the best atmosphere, but there is a very pleasant, green courtyard with benches on the ground floor of the airport near the central concourse that would be worth taking your meal in, reading a book or just having some down time before your next flight.

Longer layovers of 4 hours or more:

If you have a healthy chunk of time before your next flight, get outta HNL and hit the road! Put on some shorts and “slippers” (we don’t call them “flip-flops”!) and flag a cab. Here are a few cool options that are close enough to Honolulu that will renew your energy and give you a taste of island life.

  • The Arizona Memorial or the Battleship Missouri: The famous floating memorial that is situated over the sunken U.S.S. Arizona is a really stellar sight, and just a 10 minute jaunt from the airport. On December 7, 1941, the Arizona sank in battle, taking 1,100 sailors with it. In 1961, a solemn white monument was erected above the midsection of the ship. The deck of the Arizona lies now six feet below the surface of Pearl Harbor and is clearly visible from the monument. The shuttle launch from the shore to the monument takes about 20 minutes round trip. Free guided tours are offered 8am-3pm daily. There are often very long lines to visit the floating memorial, so if you don’t have time to wait, head across the parking lot and visit the Battleship Missouri Memorial, which will give you a good taste of the events that took place in Pearl Harbor over 60 years ago.
  • La Mariana Sailing Club: Just over 10 minutes from the airport is a unique sailing club where you can be merry and enjoy a mai tai as you admire the sailing boats moored in the Ke’ehi Lagoon. A South Seas fantasy island in an almost impossible to find location (50 Sand Island Access Road; #808.848.2800), this local watering hole is a throwback to the Trader Vic’s days. The food is standard: salads, burgers, Chicken Parmigiana and the like, but the decor is the draw: a tacky mishmash of fishnet, glass floats and shell chandeliers adorns the sprawling room. A reed fence is all that separates you from the ocean, and a huge live tree grows in the middle of it all.

Other tips:
If you’re dying for some fresh air and to escape the sound of airplane engines, head outside the security gates and to the Starbucks that is situated in a nice courtyard by the United Airlines check-in. There are also plenty of hard but airy benches to sit on and take in the tropical sun and air.

Plan your next layover with Gadling’s Layover Guides.