Long Layover? Unique Attractions Near Major Airports

mother and son walking on airstrip
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Gateway Getaways

Most airports have decked out their facilities to give travelers a pleasant experience while passing the time between flights. But if you’re connecting through a city before your final destination and get a several-hour layover instead of a race from one gate to another, you don’t need to stay inside — most airports have attractions close enough and quick enough to allow you to experience the local sights and delights. Just be aware of travel time away from the airport and back; of course it’s safer to stick close to your gate. It just isn’t much fun.

Related: 16 of the Most Passenger-Friendly Airports in the World

Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, Denver
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Visit the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge Near DIA

Denver

The Denver airport is close to the great outdoors. “If you’d rather get out in nature, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge is between the airport and downtown Denver” and offers 10 miles of hiking trail for animal watching, A Dangerous Business author Amanda Williams says. The Rocky Mountain Arsenal also has tours.

Related: Explore the Best National Parks in Every State

Art of Wynwood, Miami
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Admire the Art of Wynwood Near Miami International Airport

Miami

Fifteen minutes from Miami’s airport is the street art of the Wynwood neighborhood, Williams says, which can be appreciated by organized tour or just by walking around on your own. The neighborhood is known for the famous Wynwood Walls, which feature murals by world-renowned street artists, as well as numerous art galleries, bustling restaurants, craft breweries, and trendy boutiques. Sightdoing.net blogger Becky Pokora agrees artsy Wynwood is “perfect” for a layover; she had about four hours to get there and back.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
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Head to the Golden Gate Bridge From SFO

San Francisco

Enjoy views of the Golden Gate Bridge if you have enough time on a layover in San Francisco: You can take relatively inexpensive BART mass transit, but be prepared to sight-see out light rail windows for a couple hours. A more expensive 40-minute trip by car allows more time to walk the 2-mile bridge.

Bean at Millennium Park, Chicago
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See the Bean at Millennium Park During a Layover at O'Hare

Chicago

Head for The Loop. At Millennium Park you can see the Bean and the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion and, depending on the season, plenty of outdoor activities. The Art Institute of Chicago is nearby, and, for really long layovers, the Siskel Film Center has daily showings. Forbes recommends setting aside at least six hours, but the L Train (with a $10 day pass) will get you to the park in around 40 minutes.

Mystery Castle, Phoenix
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Tour the Mystery Castle Near Sky Harbor Airport

Phoenix

Boyce Gully built an 18-room castle for his daughter in 1945, and she lived there until she died in 2010. Now there are tours of the Mystery Castle between 11 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., making for an eccentric excursion during a layover in Phoenix, iFly.com says. It’s only about a 20-minute ride away by taxi or car service, on the edge of the South Mountain Park and Preserve.

World of Coca-Cola, Atlanta
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Tour the World of Coca-Cola Near Hartsfield-Jackson

Atlanta

The World of Coca-Cola can be seen in around two hours, whether you do a self-guided tour (for $17 general admission) or book a VIP tour for $32 per person (beverage included) that lets you explore the Atlanta-based soda magnate from its 19th century history and secret formula to Polar Bear photo ops and a 4D movie experience. The trip is just a half-hour by MARTA from the airport station to downtown Atlanta with an 11-minute walk.

Manhattan Beach, Los Angeles
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Hit the Beach Near LAX

Los Angeles

It would be a shame to spend hours inside LAX when the beach is right there. Manhattan Beach is the closest for short layovers to maximize your sunbathing or sightseeing time — just 20 minutes south down Sepulveda Boulevard in good traffic (fingers crossed!) — and it has a pier and downtown with restaurants and shops to explore. Venice or Santa Monica are fun choices if you have more time.

Park Street Church Tower, Boston
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Explore The Freedom Trail During a Layover at Logan

Boston

Logan is only 3 miles from downtown Boston, so you can accomplish a lot on a quick layover. Why not take in The Freedom Trail? With 16 historic landmarks over two and a half miles, it’ll make the most of your time in a historic city. There are guided tours that leave on the hour during the day, but you can walk it yourself and have the flexibility to stop and explore along the way. (For instance: Grabbing some pizza in the North End.)

Queens Botanical Gardens, Queens, New York
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Admire the Queens Botanical Gardens Near JFK

Queens, New York

Since it’s likely an hour each way into Manhattan proper, stick closer for layovers from JFK and see the Queens Botanical Gardens, a lush respite from the urban jungle and site of the 1939 World’s Fair. It’s less than 25 minutes by car.

Related: 55 Free or Cheap Things to Do in New York City

The Spotted Cat Music Club, New Orleans
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Hear Jazz at the Spotted Cat Music Club Near Louis Armstrong International Airport

New Orleans

The average jazz set at the renowned Spotted Cat Music Club (bring cash; it doesn’t take cards) lasts about 50 minutes, and catching one of three shows daily may still allow time to explore the French Quarter before getting back to your next flight. The trip from the airport is about an hour and a half by mass transit, but less than a half-hour by car.

The Henry Ford Museum, Detroit
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Experience History at The Henry Ford Near Detroit Metro Airport

Detroit

No question: Get to The Henry Ford museum complex, with how much you see depending on how much time you have. The Henry Ford has more than 20 exhibits ranging from transportation to firearms and dollhouses. Greenfield Village is a monument to earlier innovators, such as the Wright Brothers and Thomas Edison and offers daily demonstrations of crafts such as glassblowing and cutting tin. The Ford Rouge Factory Tour lets you walk through a truck plant, and there are two theater experiences. The trip will be about an hour by mass transit, or likely less than a half-hour by car.

The Mall of America, Minneapolis
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Explore The Mall of America Near Minneapolis-Saint Paul International

Minneapolis

The Mall of America is the biggest in the U.S., and you don’t need to shop — you can also play mini golf, visit the aquarium or even enter the Nickelodeon Universe theme park — at this staggering monument to consumerism only 12 minutes from the airport by light rail.

Related: Cheap, Must-See Attractions in All 50 States

Grand Canyon from helicopter ride
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Take a Helicopter Tour of Grand Canyon From McCarran International

Las Vegas

The Las Vegas Strip is only 15 minutes from McCarran Airport, but why spend time gambling when you can hop on a helicopter or plane tour? Air Tours will fly you over the Grand Canyon in half a day, with some services just 20 minutes from a McCarran terminal. Viator will do the flyover in only 25 minutes, though you’ll need two hours to get to its ranch, and another two hours back. You can shop around for other helicopter tour offerings to find one suited to your layover.

Related: 22 Must-See Vegas Attractions That Aren’t on the Strip

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio
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Rock out at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Near Hopkins International

Cleveland

You can easily spend a couple hours visiting the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame — open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. most days, but until 9 p.m. Wednesdays — once downtown, says Williams, who also writes the Cleveland Traveler blog and knows what layover visitors can accomplish in two or three hours. “You can get downtown from the Cleveland airport in 30 minutes using either a taxi/Uber or by taking the city’s light rail,” Williams says.

Related: 36 Bucket-List Destinations for Music Lovers

The Liberty Bell, Philadelphia
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See the Liberty Bell Near Philadelphia International Airport

Philadelphia

Stuck in Philly for a bit? You have to see the Liberty Bell — though the lines can be crazy and it may make sense to just peek through the glass walls, travel writer Wendy Perrin suggests. That lets you move on to Independence National Historical Park, which is right there. The trip to Center City is about a half-hour by SEPTA mass transit; a car saves you only around 10 minutes.

Elvis Presley's grave in the remembrance garden at Graceland
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Visit the King at Graceland Near Memphis International Airport

Memphis, Tennessee

Elvis’s home and museum is doable on a Memphis layover. “From Memphis International, it’s a short ride to Elvis’ Graceland, which is an easy spot to spend a couple hours,” Williams says. “Though I would note that the neighborhood Graceland is in isn’t the best one to have a wander around on foot.” If you have even more time, the National Civil Rights Museum is near Graceland.

Grapevine, Texas
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Visit Charming Grapevine Near Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport

Dallas-Fort Worth

The city of Grapevine made the most of proximity to the Dallas/Fort Worth travel hub. It runs an hourly shuttle from the airport to its walking district of shops and eateries. You can also ride a vintage train, see live shows, and visit art galleries.

Temple Square, Salt Lake City
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Explore Temple Square Near Salt Lake City International Airport

Salt Lake City

Temple Square offers riches for either historic or religious purposes, including the Beehive House (a museum about Brigham Young), Family History Library, conference center rooftop garden, and tabernacle and gardens for the famed Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square (until recently known as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir). There are guided tours, but Wanderlust Princess Erika Aresta did it alone, starting with a 15-minute trip by mass transit; the square is only 7 miles from the airport.

Pike Place Market, Seattle
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Eat and Shop at Pike Place Market Near Seattle-Tacoma International

Seattle

Pike Place Market is classic Seattle, with eating, shopping, and diverse crafts available — and if your layover goes overnight you can catch comedy there on Wednesdays and a cabaret and burlesque on Saturdays. Getting there by light rail should take around 45 minutes including a walk, but it’s less than a half-hour by car.

Washington Monument in Washington, D.C.
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Stroll Along the The National Mall During a Layover at Dulles

Washington, D.C.

On the National Mall, you can walk around the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument and see Smithsonian museums aplenty. Getting there from Dulles by mass transit might take an hour and a half; taking a car can cut that to about 45 minutes.

Related: 23 Free or Cheap Things to Do in Washington D.C.

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