Today: Top 10 best airports in the world
Getting to or from a travel destination can be an exhausting experience, not least because of the stressful airport experience which can make traveling a real chore. If you’ve ever been stranded at an airport for more than a few hours because of a long layover or a delayed flight, you know how frustrating and boring it can be. However, stopovers have become considerably less miserable in certain airports that seem to get it right by taking their services and amenities up a serious notch. Improvements include high-quality dining venues, world-class shopping malls packed with haute boutiques, exhilarating leisure facilities from IMAX movie theaters to golf courses and rooftop pools, and designated quiet zones that come under the form of zen gardens, museums and luxurious spas. While I never hope for a long stopover, here’s my selection of the 10 best airports across the world where I don’t mind being stuck for a few hours.
There is more information below the slide show. Think I missed one? Share your favorite airport in the comments section.
Heathrow Airport – more commonly known as London Heathrow – is the largest of London’s 6 international airports, the other ones being Gatwick, Stansted, London City, Luton and Southend. With a record 80 million passengers in 2019 (pre-covid), Heathrow ranks as the seventh busiest airport in the world by total passenger traffic. While the airport is not convenient when you have to switch terminals between flights, its Terminal 2 (officially known as the Queen’s Terminal) and its 15 year old Terminal 5 (with two satellite terminals) are great and airy spaces to spend a couple of hours before a flight. These terminals offer some of the best and most abundant airport shopping and dining in the world, with heaps of high-end boutique shops, a Harrods outlet, and a Gordon Ramsay restaurant. Unfortunately, this is a sharp contrast to the Terminals 3 and 4, which feature an old and tired design. Heathrow serves as the main hub for British Airways (which mainly uses terminal 5, in addition to terminal 3) and Virgin Atlantic (which mainly operates from terminal 3).
- Official website: London Heathrow
With 85 million passengers in 2019, Dubai International Airport is the world’s 3rd busiest airport in the world by passenger traffic (behind Atlanta and Beijing). As a home base for Emirates – the largest A380 and B777 operator in the world – is shouldn’t come as a surprise that the airport also has the most Airbus A380 and Boeing 777 movements of all airports in the world. Dubai International is a massive space of almost extragalactic dimensions, as it employs approximately 90,000 people, indirectly supports over 400,000 jobs and contributes over $26.7 USD billion to the world’s economy. The airport dazzles its passengers, not only by its size (one of its three terminals is the second largest building in the world by floor space), but also by its outrageous, Arab inspired design with glimmering pillars and shiny floors separating water ponds, lush gardens, and relaxation areas. The airport offers a mind-boggling array of leisure facilities, such as sensational shopping and world-class spas, in which fliers can indulge while waiting for their flights.
- Official website: Dubai International Airport
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is the main international airport of the entire country of the Netherlands, located just south of its capital Amsterdam. The airport – which handled 60 millions passengers in 2019 – is the hub for Holland’s flagship carrier KLM as well as a major European hub for Delta Air Lines and Jet Airways. What makes Schiphol so convenient from a passenger’s perspective is the single-terminal concept, where all facilities are located under a single roof, radiating from a central plaza. Schiphol also offers a wide variety of leisure facilities at Holland Boulevard: you can learn about Dutch art and culture at a free exhibition in a glass pavilion of the world-famous Rijksmuseum, enjoy interactive science-based activities with your kids at Nemo (Amsterdam’s most famous science museum), or curl up with a good book at the airport’s library. For aviation enthusiasts, Schiphol features a large rooftop viewing area, called the Panorama Terras, albeit not accessible to passengers in transit.
- Official website: Amsterdam Airport Schiphol
Vancouver International Airport is the second busiest airport in Canada behind Toronto Pearson International Airport, and IMHO, the best airport in North America (San Francisco’s airport is not bad either). The airport’s interior features a unique and award-winning West Coast inspired decor, providing its passengers the first or last impression of British Columbia with architecture reflective of British Columbia’s diverse landscape and people. Among vibrant touches of blue and green that reflect the colors of the rainforest and the Pacific Ocean, the airport features the largest Northwest Coast Native art collection in the world, which includes totem poles and the Spirit of Haida Gwaii canoe. Other great things about the airport are the super-friendly staff (well, this is Canada after all), high level of organization, and easy access to downtown Vancouver. Vancouver International also boasts a floatplane terminal, two satellite Vancouver Aquarium exhibits, and one of the best airport hotels in the world, the Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel.
- Official website: Vancouver International Airport
Located on an island just outside of the South Korean capital, Incheon International Airport (sometimes referred to as Seoul–Incheon International Airport) serves as a hub for Korean Air and Asiana Airlines. The bright and ultra-clean airport, which opened in 2001, has a golf course, two movie theaters, private sleeping rooms, an ice skating rink, a casino (albeit not located inside the airport but 2 minutes away at the Hyatt Regency Hotel) and no less than seven indoor gardens in addition to a bevy of cultural performances. The airport even has a museum where you can check out Korean traditional culture that dates back thousands of years. Airport authorities claim that average departure and arrival at immigration takes 19 minutes and 12 minutes respectively, as compared to worldwide average of 60 minutes and 45 minutes respectively, ranking it among of the fastest airports in the world for customs processing. The airport also claims that it has only a 0.0001% baggage mishandling rate, one of the lowest in the world.
- Official website: Incheon International Airport
Tokyo International Airport, commonly known as Haneda Airport or Tokyo Haneda Airport, is one of two major international airports that serve the Tokyo area, the other one being Narita International Airport. Connected to the heart of the Japanese capital in roughly 45 minutes by public transport, Haneda is far preferred to Narita, which is located more than two hours away. Serving as the primary base of Japan’s two major airlines, Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways, Haneda has proven to be a popular port of entry for business travelers and tourists, with a record 80 million passengers passing via the airport in 2019, making it the third-busiest airport in Asia and the fifth-busiest in the world. Over the past decade, Haneda has been improving its facilities and significantly upping its game as it was preparing for the Tokyo Olympics. It now provides facilities and services that offer exceptional convenience, modern comfort, and Japanese functionality.
- Official website: Tokyo Haneda Airport
Opened in 2014 next to the city of Doha and the glittering Arabian Gulf, Hamad International is one of the most architecturally significant and luxurious public spaces in the world, serving over 360,000 flights and 30 million passengers every year. While contemporary in design to mirror Qatar’s progressive growth, the airport pays homage to the nation’s rich cultural heritage and natural environment. The dramatic, curving building silhouette recalls ocean waves and sand dunes to project a powerful image as Qatar’s gateway to the world. Hamad International Airport offers its passengers a seamless travel experience with an enormous variety of retail and restaurant outlets, lush tropical indoor gardens, a 100-room hotel with squash courts, health spa, swimming pool, the world’s best Business and First Class lounges (that is if you fly Qatar Airways) and internationally famous works of art such as the famous, $8 million USD, 7 m (23 ft) tall, canary yellow teddy bear by Swiss artist Urs Fischer which takes centre stage in the grand foyer in the middle of the departures hall.
- Official website: Hamad International Airport
Home to carriers Cathay Pacific and Hong Kong airlines, Hong Kong International Airport – also known as Chek Lap Kok Airport – is built on an artificial island just off Lantau Island in the west of Hong Kong. Designed by the acclaimed British architect Sir Norman Foster, the airport has become one of the most popular facilities in the world since it opened in 1998, and it located within five hours flying time from half the world’s population. With its soaring spaces, bathed in daylight, the terminal building forms a spectacular gateway to the city. Whether arriving or departing, routes are legible and orientation is simple: you are aware of the land on one side and the water on the other and you can see the aircraft. Similarly, the vaulted roof provides a constant reference point as you move to or from your aircraft. Besides advanced infrastructure, the airport also offers world-class entertainment, such as an IMAX theatre, a state-of-the-art virtual golf simulator, and an impressive selection of restaurants offering cuisines from around the world,
- Official website: Hong Kong International Airport
Serving as the primary airport for Singapore, Singapore Changi Airport, or simply Changi Airport, has been rated the World’s Best Airport by Skytrax for the 12th consecutive year. Changi doesn’t dazzle with architectural spectacle and even looks a bit tired on the inside (the decor is very 90s with vintage carpets covering large parts of the terminals), but its the airport’s global connectivity, clockwork efficiency (with one of the world’s best on-time performances) and exceptional service offerings that explains its universal popularity among travelers. Terminal 2 is favored for its wide range of leisure facilities, including a 24-hour cinema and children’s playground, while Terminal 1 is home to a rooftop pool and round-the-clock spa service. Terminal 3 appeals to nature lovers, since it boasts a natural skylight and gardens featuring over 200 species of foliage and butterflies. And there’s more: the airport’s Jewel complex houses 300 restaurants and shops, as well as major attractions including Singapore’s largest indoor garden, topped by an awe-inspiring light and sound show featuring a towering rain vortex.
- Official website: Singapore Changi Airport
Zürich Airport, also known as Kloten Airport, is the largest international airport of Switzerland and the principal hub of Swiss International Air Lines, which manages nine VIP lounges at the facility. While it only ranks 8th in the Skytrax survey, it is by far the best airport from my point of view, simply because it doesn’t really feel like an airport and also because, like everything else in Switzerland, the airport is amazingly clean, sophisticated and modern. The Skymetro rail between terminals A and E makes every traveller giggle as you hear the sound of the Alps (e.g. yodeling, mooing cows and cowbells) being piped in over the audio system while movies of Heidi blowing a kiss and the iconic Matterhorn are projected on the tunnel walls. With plenty of restaurants and duty free shops – where it will be hard to not to buy some stacks of the country’s world-famous chocolates – you’ll never run out of things to do while in transit at the airport. For passengers with an extended layover, Zürich Airport offers bicycle and inline-skate rentals and excursions to the Swiss Museum of Transport Lucerne. For aviation geeks, the airport offers two rooftop terraces from where to observe the traffic on the tarmac with the astonishing Alps as a background.
- Official website: Zürich Airport