Layovers are inevitable on long-haul journeys, but they don’t have to be boring. If you’ve scheduled a layover where you can leave the airport and explore, it can be a fantastic opportunity to get a glimpse of the local culture—even during a brief stay.
Luxury tour operators Audley Travel share their top picks for three global cities where you can experience the most culture and sights in a limited time during a layover.
Read on for their recommendations!
The convenience and modern amenities of Singapore make it a favorite jumping-off point for travelers heading to or from Southeast Asia and beyond. But Singapore offers far more than just a comfortable place to transit: you can experience generations of cultural history and fusion in just a short layover.
Mary Cropper, Southeast Asia specialist at Audley Travel, notes that “With its convenient location, wide-ranging choice of hotels, and diverse dining options, it’s no wonder Singapore is a favorite stopover choice.”
Start at the Marina Bay area to take in the sweeping, futuristic skyline and the high-tech Gardens by the Bay with its aerial walkways and supertree groves. Then dive into the city’s colorful ethnic enclaves. Chinatown’s Taoist temples give way to Muslim mosques and Indian spice shops all within a few blocks. Hawker centers sizzle with foods reflecting Chinese, Malaysian, and Indonesian influences.
The island nation’s many cultures blend seamlessly together. Don’t miss the elaborately painted Sri Mariamman Temple in Chinatown or grabbing a flaky roti prata flatbread in Little India. Culture vultures can also explore the Asian Civilisations Museum or the National Gallery Singapore.
Hotels range from colonial Raffles to the iconic Marina Bay Sands with its skypark and rooftop infinity pool overlooking the city. Shopaholics find nirvana at the high-end malls lining Orchard Road. When hunger strikes, join locals at whichever hawker stall has the longest line for tried-and-true specialties like chilli crab and chicken rice.
London is a perennially popular layover destination for good reason. The city offers endless opportunities for sightseeing, world-class museums and theater, and easy transportation between iconic landmarks. According to Brittany Beck, Europe specialist at Audley Travel, “There’s so much to do in London, whether you’re there for a few hours or a few days, and its strategic location makes it a very popular stop on long-haul journeys.”
Even with minimal time during a layover, you can marvel at postcard-perfect sights like Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and the Tower Bridge. London in England has something for everyone, so you should contact travel experts to find out how you can visit, and when! More history and royalty awaits at the Tower of London, where you can gawk at the Crown Jewels. Hop on the efficient London Underground system to get between neighborhoods and sights quickly.
London’s world-renowned theater district, the West End, is not to be missed if you have an evening layover. Catch a Shakespeare classic at the Globe Theater or opt for a buzzed-about new musical or play in one of the grand historic theaters of the West End.
Nature can be found right in central London as well. Regent’s Park and Hyde Park offer sprawling green space for strolling, people watching, or grabbing a picnic lunch. The city’s older buildings have a classic charm, but the modern Shard skyscraper offers panoramic views of the city from its observation decks.
Dubai has become a favorite stopover in recent decades thanks to its explosive growth and development. The city offers convenient connections across the Middle East and beyond. But it also delivers stunning architecture, luxurious amenities, traditional culture, and desert landscapes for short stay visitors.
According to Hannah Guest, Dubai specialist at Audley Travel, “Dubai features on many flight paths, and makes a worthwhile addition to a wider trip. Whether you want to unwind in the dry heat, spend your way through Dubai Mall, or take the time to explore the city’s mix of cultures, there’s plenty of ways to fill a couple of days.”
The centerpiece of any Dubai layover is undoubtedly the towering Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. Ascend to the observation deck on the 124th floor for views that seem to go on forever. Nearby, take an abra (traditional boat) across the glimmering Dubai Creek to the spice and gold souks where you can practice your bartering skills.
For more modern splendor, the dancing Dubai Fountain show lights up the Burj Khalifa lake nightly. Dubai Mall sits at the base of the Burj Khalifa, offering every amenity you could need, from restaurants to shops to an aquarium.
Just outside the city, travelers can experience Dubai’s Bedouin roots and striking desert landscape. Dune bash in a 4×4 vehicle, ride a camel, or try sandboarding down sunset-hued dunes. Many layover travelers also take advantage of Dubai’s numerous high-end spas for some relaxation during their brief visit.
Where have your favorite layovers been? Share your recommendations and stories with the Frayed Passport community!
Featured image by Charles Postiaux on Unsplash