Do you dread overnight layovers? According to our Air Travel Survey, nearly two-thirds of you (65%) are not willing to endure one, even when it means saving a lot of money. But, as someone who has endured many, I am here to tell you that an overnight layover—especially in Europe—can be transformed into a fun adventure: You get a quick but memorable taste of a new city (as long as you leave the airport, of course) and turn one trip into two. With 63% of you planning to fly internationally this year—up 8% from last year—you may not have a choice in the matter anyway: Overnight layovers can mean a substantially lower airfare or the ability to actually use your frequent-flier miles for the trip. Here’s how to get the most out of an overnight layover:
Schedule enough daylight hours into the layover.
Most people’s kneejerk goal when booking an airline ticket is to make a layover as short as possible. But that doesn’t give you enough time to escape the airport. Make your layover longer, and you’ve got time to sightsee and exercise between flights. The beauty of an overnight stay, as opposed to a long daytime connection, is that you don’t have to figure out where to store your luggage while you explore the city. Just drop it at your hotel.
Choose a layover-friendly airport.
You want to be able to zip by train to a charming center of town. You can do so in less than 20 minutes from the airports in Amsterdam, Brussels, Geneva, Lisbon, and Zurich, for example. Istanbul is also great for a layover, although the 20-minute ride is by taxi. You can take the train from Heathrow into London or from Charles de Gaulle into Paris too, although your entire commute from terminal to town may take an hour.
Pick a hotel that’s just a short walk from the city train station.
Last year I had a layover in Geneva, where the (comfy–and free!) train zips you from airport to city center in just six minutes. I chose a hotel, the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues, that’s a five-minute walk from the station, on the riverfront (great for an invigorating stroll) and with a rooftop indoor pool (perfect for a soothing swim between flights and, thanks to the panorama, allowing you to sightsee simultaneously). It was a splurge, but it suited my goal of a recuperative grand finale to my trip en route home.
Or choose a hotel close to the airport train station.
When you’ve got an early-morning onward connection, you may want to sleep in an airport hotel that’s easy to return to at night by train. The Sheraton at Charles de Gaulle, for example, is located about a 30-second walk from the train that takes you into central Paris, allowing you to enjoy the city’s nightlife and get back by 11 p.m.
Find out if there’s a local festival or event happening.
When you’ve got only one night in a city, it can be tough to meet locals. This becomes easier at a festival or event. So check the Web sites of the English-language newspapers in your layover city to see what’s on. One December, when I had an overnight layover in Munich, its festive Christmas Market happened to be in full swing. Not only did I get to chat with merry locals over mulled wine at one of the outdoor stalls, but I got all my holiday shopping done!
Consider a multi-night stopover.
SmarterTravel has compiled a handy-dandylist of the best airlines for free stopovers.
Have you had an enjoyable overnight layover? If so, where, and what made it worthwhile?