If you’ve ever been stuck with a nasty layover, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with one of these five airports – they’re the busiest in the world! But instead of schlepping around the airport or sitting in a Starbucks for hours, why not turn your down time into an impromptu adventure?
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Atlanta, GA
Visitors per year: 92 million
Time to city center: 30 minutes. Take the MARTA rail for $2.50.
As the hub of Delta Airlines, Atlanta gets tons of international traffic making it the busiest airport on earth. Get away from the insanity and enjoy the world’s largest aquarium in the center of downtown, or check out the High Museum, an award-winning collection of art mainly from the 19th and 20th century. You can also take a tour of the “World of Coca-Cola” and peek inside the CNN headquarters.
Beijing Capital International Airport, Beijing, China
Visitors per year: 77 million
Time to city center: 20 minutes. Take the Airport Express Line of the subway for ¥25.
You simply can’t miss Beijing’s most popular attraction, the Forbidden City, even if you’re only in town for a few hours. What was once the Ming and Qing dynasties’ imperial headquarters is now home to the Palace Museum, an enormous collection of ancient artifacts from East Asia. Stroll around the nearby lakes that were originally part of the emperors’ gardens, or rent a rowboat to experience them like the royals intended.
London Heathrow Airport, London, UK
Visitors per year: 69 million
Time to city center: 1 hour. Take the London Underground for £5, or take the 15-minute Heathrow Express train for £20.
Don’t bother making the trek to central London on the tube when the airport itself is a destination worthy of your attention. You can still flirt with charming Brits, practice your English accent and spend way too many pounds at Harrod’s (head over to Terminal 5!) and feel like you’re on foreign soil. Best of all, there’s free Internet access at the Yotel in Terminal 4—an amenity that too many airports ignore. Give your hair some love at the Bumble & Bumble salon in Terminal 3 or relax at the Molton Brown Travel Spa. The highest of high-maintenance travelers will also want to take advantage of a Personal Shopping Consultant, and be sure to book prior to arrival. Heathrow is rated as a flyer favorite on most international surveys, so it’s easy to pretend like you’re on Oxford Street even at 15 miles away.
O’Hare International Airport, Chicago, IL
Visitors per year: 66.5 million
Time to city center: 45 minutes. Take the L train for $2.25.
If you can stand the relatively long subway ride, you’ll want to walk the Magnificent Mile, Chicago’s premiere shopping street (if only for the people watching). Visit the Art Institute of Chicago for its world famous Impressionist collection and afterwards check out Frank Gehry’s Pritzker Music Pavillion in nearby Millenium Park. If the weather’s nice, don’t miss Navy Pier, where you and your companions can ride the Ferris Wheel while dodging the thousands of fellow tourists.
Haneda International Airport, Tokyo, Japan
Visitors per year: 62 million
Time to city center: 16 minutes. Take the monorail for ¥470.
If you’ve just landed in the wee hours of the morning, visit the Tsukiji fish market and watch fisherman from all over the world auction their catch to local food stand owners. Then, pop in to one of the nearby fish joints and taste some of the freshest seafood in your life. Overwhelmed? Head to the Sensoji Temple, Tokyo’s oldest and most popular. Devoted to the Buddhist goddess of mercy and happiness, you’ll be one of 20 million yearly visitors looking to restore their spirituality.