How to make the most of a layover in Dubai, Singapore, Miami and more

Advice

We are all a little out of practice.

One of the many things the pandemic took from us was our capacity to travel. Not just officially, as borders were barricaded and thousands of planes were grounded – but in the way our confinement to front lawns and back gardens ate into our ability to deal with long distances. Like muscle mass shrinking through inaction, we forgot about the rituals of the airport and the trials of the journey. We also lost our scope for managing the hindrance which is inherent in any major cross-continental jaunt. Jetlag.

Now here we are, two years later, with the school-holiday rush towards the beach behind us, and the travel focus broadening to places other than the shores of Europe. The world is finally reopening in full. The USA dropped its testing requirement in June, Japan followed suit last month, and New Zealand and Australia, for so long closed shops, are once again open to overseas visitors.

But after so much time when such things have been largely impossible, a long-haul flight can seem daunting. How to cope with the nervousness you may now feel about traversing the planet? And how to process the tiredness that comes of a trip to Sydney or Auckland?

One option is to halt en route. The airport layover is often dismissed as an inconvenience – but with a little planning, it can add significantly to the holiday experience. Particularly if you deliberately interrupt your journey to enjoy an extended spell – a day, even two – in the city where you will be changing flight. 

There are few downsides to this idea. You can ease yourself into the fog of jetlag with a lesser time difference than you will face at your ultimate port of call; a comfort blanket that will be especially warm if you are travelling with older family members or children. You get to explore a second destination, probably on a different continent. And remarkably, a two-leg flight is usually cheaper.

Where to stop? There are plenty of old favourites, of course – happy havens in the Far East that, in earlier eras of less mighty aircraft, established themselves as welcoming options for globetrotters in need of rest. Then there are the “newcomers” – cities in the Middle East which, as planes have become more powerful and flight paths have changed, have become a louder part of the travel conversation. 

Below we pick out 10 “layover likelies”, in Asia and in North America, and explain why you should swap the terminal for the taxi or the train – and head into town for 36 hours of finding your feet.

Dubai

Time difference

GMT +4

Where might I be flying? 

Just about anywhere. The glitziest of the seven United Arab Emirates has announced itself as a global hub in the last 20 years, and has become one of the key halfway houses en route to Australia. But you might as easily be going to the Far East. Its national airline, Emirates (0344 800 2777; emirates.com), flies to six continents.

Transfer into town

Half an hour – the airport is on the Dubai Metro (rta.ae).



dubai stopovers


The glitziest of the seven United Arab Emirates has become a global hub in the last 20 years

Key sights

Suggestions that Dubai is little more than a series of hotels in the desert are ill-founded. The Burj Khalifa (burjkhalifa.ae) rears dramatically as the world’s tallest building (2,722ft/830m); the spice and gold souks give a glimpse of the city of yesteryear.

Where to eat

If you are going to visit the Burj Khalifa, you could dine at Amal – a fine-dining Indian restaurant in the skyscraper’s Armani hotel (armanihotels.com).



hotels in dubai stopovers


The infinity pool at the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah


Credit: Jumeirah hotels

Where to stay

Newer hotels have appeared since it opened in 1999, but the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab (jumeirah.com) remains a Dubai icon. Expensive, mind. Doubles for £894.


Abu Dhabi

Time difference

GMT +4

Where might I be flying? 

For Dubai, read Abu Dhabi. The two emirates are next-door neighbours. Dubai’s flag-carrier has been proactive in making itself a major air-industry player – but its rival, Etihad (0345 608 1225; etihad.com), has matched it wing for wing.

Transfer into town

About 40 minutes by taxi – from 75 Dirham (£17).



 Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque things to do abu dhabi


The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is as epic as any cathedral


Credit: Getty

Key sights

A confection of pale domes and soaring minarets, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (szgmc.gov.ae) is as epic as any cathedral; the Louvre Abu Dhabi is a superb off-shoot of the Paris art museum (louvreabudhabi.ae). Far noisier, Ferrari World salutes the feted car brand in rollercoasters and driving experiences (ferrariworldabudhabi.com).

Where to eat

Larte (larte.ae) does Mediterranean fare a quick taxi ride from the Louvre.



larte abu dhabi restaurants


Mediterranean fare at Larte

Where to stay

Convenient for the airport and Ferrari World, the glass-fronted W Abu Dhabi (marriott.com) is one of the city’s most eye-catching hotels. Continuing the motor-sports theme, it sits at the heart of the emirate’s Formula 1 track. Doubles for £182. Read the full hotel review here.


Doha

Time difference

GMT +3

Where might I be flying? 

As above. Just 300 miles west of Dubai, but a separate nation, Qatar has largely kept pace with the UAE in the aviation race. Its main carrier (qatarairways.com) also lands at airports over the world – including four cities in the UK.



doha things to do stopover


A stopover in Doha is unlikely to involve football – head to the beach


Credit: Christian Horan/Four Seasons

Transfer into town

Twenty minutes – via the Red Line of the Doha Metro (qr.com.qa).

Key sights

The upcoming men’s World Cup has brought Qatar a wider profile (and hard questions about its treatment of migrant workers), but a stopover in its capital is unlikely to involve football. Set on Doha’s Corniche, the Museum of Islamic Art (mia.org.qa/en) has 1,400 years of relics and artefacts in a striking building crafted by the architect I.M. Pei. Just over the road, Souk Waqif is a blur of stalls selling clothes, trinkets and spices.



Museum of Islamic Art doha things to do stopover


Set on Doha’s Corniche, the Museum of Islamic Art has 1,400 years of relics and artefacts


Credit: Getty

Where to eat

Iris (irisdoha.com), a waterside restaurant which runs from steak to sushi.

Where to stay

Also on the Corniche, the Four Seasons (fourseasons.com/doha) is as chic as you’d expect, but only a six-mile transfer ride from the airport. Doubles for £246.


Singapore

Time difference

GMT +8

Where might I be flying? 

Prior to the rise of the Gulf airlines, the city-state at the foot of the Malaysian mainland was the obvious option for a stopover en route to Australia or New Zealand. It still can be – Singapore Airlines (020 7660 8988; singaporeairlines.com) will fly you on to places as varied as Auckland, Cairns, Darwin, Brisbane and Melbourne.



singapore stopover Garden By the bay, botanic garden travel


Make time to see the enormous artificial “Super Trees” of Gardens by the Bay


Credit: Getty

Transfer into town

An hour – via the East-West Line of the Singapore MRT (lta.gov.sg).

Key sights

For the futuristic Singapore which shines on social media, make time to see the enormous artificial “Super Trees” of Gardens by the Bay (gardensbythebay.com.sg). For a dash of Southeast Asian culture, enjoy the many paintings of the National Gallery (nationalgallery.sg). And for retail therapy (space in your bags permitting), the numerous shops of Orchard Road are worth a visit.

Where to eat 

Chatterbox (chatterbox.com.sg), an Orchard Road chicken-and-rice icon.



raffles hotel where to stay in singapore stopover


Few hotels have the glamorous reputation of the Raffles Hotel


Credit: Getty

Where to stay

It isn’t cheap, but few hotels have the glamorous reputation of the (newly renovated) Raffles Hotel (raffles.com), home of the Singapore Sling. Doubles from £736.


Kuala Lumpur

Time difference

GMT +8

Where might I be flying? 

For Singapore, see KL, 220 miles north-west. Kuala Lumpur International is one of Asia’s largest airports – and, as home to Malaysian Airlines (0330 365 0080; malaysiaairlines.com), will funnel you across the Far East or on to Australasia.

Transfer into town

Half an hour to KL Sentral via the KLIA rail link (kliaekspres.com).



kuala lumpur stopover stays


The Petronas Towers were once the planet’s tallest building(s)


Credit: Getty

Key sights

The 1,483ft (492m) Petronas Towers were once the planet’s tallest building(s), and come with views to match (petronastwintowers.com.my). The nearby Forest Eco Park is a leafy contrast to all that steel and glass (forestry.gov.my). Petaling Street Flea Market offers local bargains galore, particularly if you are prepared to haggle.

Where to eat

Dewakan – with its modern Malay cuisine (dewakan.my) – is included in the 2022 edition of the annual Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants poll. Tasting menus from £108.



kuala lumpur stopover things to do


The nearby Forest Eco Park is a leafy contrast to all the steel and glass


Credit: Getty

Where to stay

Accommodation costs in Kuala Lumpur can be surprisingly modest. Double rooms at the five-star Shangri-La (shangri-la.com/kualalumpur) cost from £88.


Bangkok

Time difference

GMT +7

Where might I be flying? 

You might argue that the Thai capital is a destination in its own right. And you’d be correct. All the more reason, then, to step into its maelstrom before heading on to the beaches of Phuket or Krabi – especially if you are flying in with Suvarnabhumi Airport’s central tenant, Thai Airways (020 7907 9532; thaiairways.com).

Transfer into town

Eighteen minutes, via the Airport Rail Link (srtet.co.th).



bangkok stopover things to do


Admire the traditional Bangkok at the Grand Palace


Credit: Getty

Key sights

Admire the traditional Bangkok at the Grand Palace (home to Thai royalty since 1782) and its neighbour, the Wat Pho temple complex, with its vast reclining buddha. Find a more 21st century take on the city in the Siam Square district, in gleaming malls such as the MBK Center (mbk-center.co.th) and Siam Paragon (siamparagon.co.th).

Where to eat

Ruen Mallika (ruenmallika.com) – a solid Thai-food choice in Sukhumvit.

Where to stay

Sukhumvit is the accommodation heartland. Options include the four-star Grand Swiss Hotel (grandswissbangkok.com), with its rooftop pool. Doubles from £67.


Mumbai

Time difference

GMT +5.30

Where might I be flying?

Elsewhere on the sub-continent. While India’s second biggest city isn’t an air-travel hub per se, its airport is a key arrival point for journeys further into the country. From here, Air India (0800 048 9254; airindia.in) will carry you to the likes of Amritsar (Punjab), Kochi (Kerala), Udaipur (Rajasthan), and Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh).



mumbai stopover city


Mumbai’s airport is a key arrival point for journeys further into the country


Credit: Getty

Transfer into town

You can get a train, but a taxi (90 minutes; 700 Rupees/£7) is easier.

Key sights

Mumbai is alive with landmarks, from the Victorian rail relic of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus to Mahatma Gandhi’s former home (gandhi-manibhavan.org). You can shop for clothing and bags along Shahid Bhagat Singh Road in Colaba, at the southern tip of the city’s peninsula, and stroll with the locals on the broad curve of Chowpatty Beach.

Where to eat

Masala Kraft, which specialises in contemporary Indian dishes at the Taj Mahal Palace, the five-star delight which has adorned the Colaba waterfront since 1903.



Taj Palace Masala Kraft wqhere to stay mumbai stopover


Stay at the Taj Palace Masala Kraft when you stopover in Mumbai

Where to stay

Double rooms at the Taj Palace (tajhotels.com) cost from £232 per night.


Miami

Time difference

GMT -5

Where might I be flying? 

As well as being the main gateway to Florida, Miami is a vital junction for air travel to Latin America. If you are heading to, for example, Columbia, Peru or Brazil with the likes of American Airlines (020 7660 2300; aa.com) or Latam (0800 026 0728; latam.com), there is a fair chance that you’ll cool your heels here.



miami stopover things to do Perez Art Museum


Miami’s Perez Art Museum has art by the likes of Olafur Eliasson and Diego Rivera


Credit: getty

Transfer into town

The Metrorail (miamidade.gov) serves Downtown (20 minutes). You need a taxi for South Beach (20 minutes; $35/£29).

Key sights

Miami is much more than sun and sand. Its Perez Art Museum (pamm.org) has a wealth of modern art, by the likes of Olafur Eliasson and Diego Rivera; its Little Havana district thrills to the sounds and flavours of Cuba. The key seafront avenue, Ocean Drive, revels in Art Deco architecture – and boasts a museum to match (mdpl.org).

Where to eat

El Cristo (elcristorestaurant.com), a Little Havana bastion of Cuban food.



miami stopover ocean drive


Ocean Drive revels in Art Deco architecture


Credit: Getty

Where to stay

It makes no sense to avoid the seafront for accommodation. The four-star Hotel Breakwater South Beach (breakwatersouthbeach.com) does double rooms for £111.


Atlanta

Time difference

GMT -5

Where might I be flying? 

It is a statistic that tends to elicit surprise, but Atlanta Airport has been the world’s busiest since 1998 (Covid years aside) – a location from which you can fly to almost every big US city. It is also a key base for Delta (020 7660 0767; delta.com).

Transfer into town

About 25 minutes to Midtown, on the Marta system (itsmarta.com).



The National Center for Civil and Human Rights things to do in atlanta


The National Center for Civil and Human Rights


Credit: Alamy

Key sights

Atlanta hosted the Olympics in 1996 – a summer in the sporting sun which revitalised its Downtown. Three very different attractions sit on the edge of Centennial Olympic Park – Georgia Aquarium (the world’s biggest; georgiaaquarium.org), the World of Coca-Cola (worldofcoca-cola.com; the ubiquitous drink having originated in the city in 1886), and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights (civilandhumanrights.org).

Where to eat

The Sun Dial (sundialrestaurant.com), which offers spectacular views as well as pan-seared seabass, 723ft (220m) up, at the top of Atlanta’s tallest hotel building.



Georgia Aquarium things to do in atlanta


A whale shark and crevalle jacks at Georgia Aquarium


Credit: Getty

Where to stay

Said hotel, the Westin Peachtree Plaza (marriott.com). Doubles for £165.


Los Angeles

Time difference

GMT -8

Where might I be flying? 

Like Bangkok, America’s biggest west-coast city is definitely a destination in its own right. But it can also be a stopover option if you are going really far afield – out to the islands of Hawaii, or choosing the Pacific route down to Australasia.

Transfer into town

LAX is not on the Metro. Taxis in (up to an hour) start at $70 (£58).



los angeles stopover things to do


Los Angeles can be a stopover option if you are heading to places like Hawaii, or choosing the Pacific route down to Australasia


Credit: Getty

Key sights

Myriad. You will probably need more than a day in town if you want to dash down to Disneyland (disneyland.disney.go.com). But the obvious stuff – the Hollywood Sign, the Walk of Fame, Sunset Boulevard – can be seen in an afternoon, and if you are feeling cultured, the Institute of Contemporary Art (theicala.org) will light up a morning.

Where to eat

The Eveleigh (theeveleigh.com), which brings grown-up dishes and an outdoor dining terrace to Sunset Boulevard, just up from the notorious Whisky-A-Go-Go.

Where to stay

Venice on the Beach Hotel (veniceonthebeachhotel.com), which wears its location in its name, and offers three-star comfort in sight of the ocean. Doubles for £225.


Do you plan chunky stopovers into your long-haul travel plans? Please tell us about it below

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