A lengthy layover during a long-haul flight is often a dreaded occurrence for many travelers. But connecting flights in some cities may actually offer a travel bonus. Layovers of a half-day or more provide air travelers the chance to leave the airport and explore new places on the way to their ultimate destinations.
The next time you’re faced with connecting flights, you might consider stopping off at what we consider the best layover cities in North America. They just might make you think twice about booking a direct flight.
Chicago, Illinois, United States
It can take up to 50 minutes to reach downtown Chicago from Chicago O’Hare International Airport, but don’t let that stop you from heading downtown on the “L” train. Grab a bite of Chicago-style deep-dish pizza at Pizzeria Uno. For dessert, try some of Chicago’s best doughnuts at Do-Rite Donuts. Walk off lunch with window-shopping along the Magnificent Mile and a stroll to nearby Millennium Park to take selfies in front of “The Bean,” a silver sculpture by British Artist Anish Kapoor. If you have time, finish off your brief tour of the Windy City with a ride on the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier, which is modeled after the world’s first Ferris wheel and provides unparalleled views of Chicago’s skyline and Lake Michigan.
Toronto Pearson International Airport isn’t far from the center of Canada’s largest city. Enjoy dim sum and browse the shops in the second largest Chinatown in North America before heading over to the Hockey Hall of Fame, home of the Stanley Cup. The museum has many interactive exhibits giving guests the chance to compete against animated versions of the sport’s greatest goalies, call game play-by-plays, watch 3-D films and see the Stanley Cup up close. If you’re not a sports fan, see Toronto from above at the CN Tower, where brave souls can walk along the top of the tower’s main pod 1,168 feet above the ground at the EdgeWalk attraction.
Miami, Florida, United States
Miami International Airport is six miles from downtown Miami and a 35-minute bus ride to Miami Beach, Fla. Head to South Beach for roadside ‘runway’ views of bronzed beach bums, models and tourists, who strut along the backdrop of Ocean Drive’s pastel-colored Art Deco-style buildings. Along with people-watching, be sure to sample some of Miami’s must-try eats, including Joe’s Stone Crab, which has been serving seafood to the likes of Al Capone, Amelia Earhart and countless locals for 102 years. Their specialty is stone crabs served with potatoes and coleslaw, and no trip to Florida is complete without trying key lime pie. Joe’s homemade key lime pie is one of the best slices around. If seafood isn’t your thing, head to Icebox Café for fabulous contemporary food and large layer cakes with generous slabs of frosting. Oprah Winfrey’s favorite cake is Chocolate Delight, a delectable creation with layers of dark chocolate, creamy cheesecake brownie and chocolate mousse filling topped with dark chocolate ganache.
You will need a longer layover at Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport in order to see the sights, but they are well worth the 45-minute to one-hour bus ride. The 747 bus line operates 24/7 and riders pay $10 for unlimited one-day travel. The bus drops off at Montréal’s central bus station. From the bus stop, it’s 1.6 miles to must-see Vieux-Montréal’s well-preserved 18th-century buildings, which house quaint cafes, small museums and souvenir shops. Be sure to dine at Toqué!, one of Montréal’s most famous restaurants. Open for lunch Tuesday to Friday and dinner Tuesday to Saturday, the restaurant is helmed by chef-owners Normand Laprise and Christine Lamarche. The $120 tasting menu emphasizes locally produced ingredients in dishes like venison carpaccio and spot prawn with aioli, marinated vegetables and bell pepper glaze; duck Magret with fiddleheads, oyster mushrooms, Jerusalem artichoke purée and Madeira sauce; and popcorn mousse, hay caramel, toffee peanuts and green apple sorbet. Toast your good fortune at having a layover in Montréal with a drink at Whisky Café, which carries more than 150 scotch whiskies. The bar offers whisky tastings that include three whiskies and a bottle of spring water, making it easy to sample several whiskies in one visit.
Mexico City, Mexico
It’s only a 30-minute taxi ride from Aeropuerto Internacional de México to Zocalo (the Plaza de la Constitución), one of the largest public squares in the world. Travelers who have time to spare should leave the airport and explore downtown Mexico City. In addition to phenomenal people-watching at Zocalo, the Catedral Metropolitana at the north end of the plaza is worth a visit, as is the Palacio Nacional on the east side of Zocalo, which features Diego Rivera’s murals.
Atlanta, Georgia, United States
For $2.50, take the MARTA train from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to downtown Atlanta. The 20-minute journey makes it easy to visit some of Atlanta’s most popular attractions like the Inside CNN Tour, a 50-minute walking tour of the global headquarters of CNN.
Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States
Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport has an easy way to escape its terminals. A light rail airport shuttle whisks passengers to the Mall of America in 12 minutes. It would take 86 hours to shop in each one of the Minneapolis mall’s 520 shops if savvy shoppers spent just 10 minutes in each. The massive shopping center also includes Nickelodeon Universe, which is packed with amusement rides.
Travelers with a layover at Québec City Jean Lesage International Airport have plenty of options outside the airport. A 30-minute taxi ride quickly takes travelers from the busy airport to charming Old Québec’s cobblestone streets flanked with boutique shops and cozy cafes. Stroll along Dufferin Terrace for a bird’s-eye view of the mighty St. Lawrence River and the historic Château Frontenac hotel. A trip to Québec isn’t complete without snacking on poutine, a dish of French fries topped with brown gravy and fresh cheese curds, at Chez AshTon, a fast-food snack bar. After feasting on poutine, admire the city’s 4.6km of city walls. Québec is the only fortified city in North America north of Mexico. If you have time to spare, have dinner at La Grolla, which is famous for its Swiss-style cheese fondue. After dinner, explore the Plains of Abraham, one of the world’s largest urban parks.
The Canada Line rail connects Vancouver International Airport to downtown Vancouver in just 26 minutes. Start with a 360-degree view of the bustling seaport city in British Columbia from 547-feet up at the Vancouver Lookout at Harbour Centre. Afterward, take a stroll through the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Classical Chinese Gardens, an elaborate garden built in 1986 using classic 14th-century methods. Stop for traditional Chinese tea before heading back to the airport.
Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
It’s roughly three miles from McCarran International Airport to the Las Vegas Strip, making this one of the easiest places to explore during a layover. There are more than 20 casinos on The Strip, which is only a short taxi ride away. While gambling is an obvious option for passing the time, many casinos also offer other fun, family-friendly attractions, from Adventuredome, the largest indoor theme park in the U.S., at Circus Circus to the High Roller, the world’s largest observation wheel, at Caesar’s.
(Main Image: Mall of America)