The best destinations for a stopover: make the most of a long journey

Here are the best places where you can make a quick dash from the airport to a stopover city – and where to stay

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Why visit one destination when you can get two new cities under your belt for the price of one? 

Most of us don't fly direct. Sure, new kinds of planes like the Airbus A350 XWB Ultra Long Range and Boeing 777-200LR Worldliner mean it’s now possible to fly for 18 hours+ without stopping. 

However, one look at the price of ultra-long flights like London-Perth, and even regular long-haul flights such as London-San Francisco and London-Bangkok, leaves most of us contemplating a journey with at least one connection. 

Cue jet-lag, lack of sleep, and hours wandering around airports. 

So why not take advantage of a long layover and make it into a stopover? You can’t always choose the location of your stopover on a long-haul journey, but you can often extend it for free.

Research by Netflights.com has looked into the pros and cons of 40 of the world’s major airport hubs to find out which ones are best suited to a stopover. 

Based on the fact that in its survey, 54% of over 2,000 adults in the UK would prefer to turn their stop-off into a small holiday to avoid long-haul stress, researchers looked into five factors for each of 40 of the world’s airports most often used as changeover hubs: 

  • Cost and distance of a transfer from the airport to the nearest city
  • Type of public transfer available
  • Minutes to the city centre
  • Number of destinations the airport has flights to
  • Airline offering a free stopover

“When we looked at what UK travellers value in a stopover destination, 34% said a short distance from the airport was the most important factor," said Paul Hopkinson, Marketing Director for Netflights. 

"Naturally, you don’t want to spend any longer in transit – and a quick dash from the airport to the stopover city helps you maximise your time there.”

Using that data, the research reveals the definitive top 10 best destinations in the world for a stopover: 

1. Amsterdam

Named the best destination for a stopover to break up a long journey, Amsterdam's Schiphol airport ticked all the boxes. It's close to the city, and there are a lot of flights in and out. 

It's also a fact that for many Brits living outside London, their nearest airport is so often a 'feeder' airport for Schiphol, and is linked by KLM flights. That makes it a terrific place to change planes before flying to South America, the Caribbean, and Asia. By lucky chance, KLM also offers free stopovers, so you can enjoy Amsterdam on your way to or from your final destination. 

2. Singapore

The ultimate stopover destination? This tiny island nation has been styling itself as a stopover city for decades and is about to add yet another terminal to its plush Changi Airport. 

It's no place for a long holiday, but its vibrant districts of Little India and Jalan Besar are worth exploring, as is the Gardens by the Bay, and the Night Safari at the wonderful Singapore Zoo. The airport runs free guided tours for anyone with a layover of five hours or more. 

3. Lisbon

A frequent change of plane is required in Lisbon for routes to Portuguese island destinations in the Atlantic, such as Madeira and the Azores. So why not stay a night in one of Europe's hippest capitals? 

It’s one for experiences, not sights; take Tram 28 through the cobbled roads of the Alfama district,  people-watch in the trendy Bairro Alto neighbourhood, and visit the colourful town of Sintra nearby, an UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

TAP airlines offer the possibility to stop for up to five nights at no extra cost, along with some special deals and rates for hotels and city attractions.

4. Bangkok

For many Brits, Bangkok is a destination in itself, but it's so close to some of the surrounding jewels of Southeast Asia, such as Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, Vietnam, and Malaysia. All of those destinations are reached most easily by taking a connecting flight via Bangkok. 

Even if you don't want to spend your holiday in Thailand itself, you can very easily take a couple of days to check out the Thai capital's incredible Grand Palace, the reclining Buddha at Wat Pho, and sample the city's incredible street food. Many tour operators have transit programs for Bangkok that offer a transfer from Suvarnabhumi airport to a hotel for a two-night stay. 

5. Beijing

Surely China is difficult to get a visa for? Historically, yes, but not anymore. Visitors to Beijing from Europe, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries can now visit China for six days without a visa when entering through Beijing. 

A popular stopover when flying to Australia, or elsewhere in Asia, the sights are endless but the essentials – the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, the Forbidden City, and Tiananmen Square – can be visited in a day or two. 

6. Dubai

Here's a city that began as a place to change planes, and has since become a destination in its own right. The highlight for brief visits is probably the 830m-tall Burj Khalifa tower, though this city is also known for its luxury shopping and artificial islands. 

Firstly, Dubai International Airport is just six miles from the city. Secondly, Emirates offers several stopover programs in Dubai and has joined forces with numerous hotels and attractions to get special deals within your stopover. 

7. Tokyo

Who goes to Tokyo and doesn't stay for at least a week? While Japan is increasing as a destination in itself or British tourists, the Japanese capital is precisely halfway between Europe and Australia, so perfect for a stopover on British Airways, Quantas or Japan Airlines if you are heading Down Under. 

Its Akihabara 'Electric Town', the huge Senso-ji Buddhist temple in Asakusa, and the buzzing Shinjuku area are not to be missed. Japan Airlines allows a free stopover in Tokyo, so it's a no-brainer. 

8. Shanghai

The fifth busiest airport in Asia and the ninth busiest in the world, Shanghai's Pudong International Airport is typically used as either a layover on the way from Europe to Australia, or increasingly as a gateway city for a holiday in China itself. 

First, take the futuristic Shanghai maglev train to the city, a magnetic levitation train that reaches a whopping 268mph. Then explore its colonial Bund riverfront promenade for its incredible skyscraper view, before ascending the Shanghai World Financial Center to see the opposite view from the 100 Floor Observation Deck. Both Air China and China Southern offer free stopovers.

9. Frankfurt

The financial capital of mainland Europe, Germany's business hub is not thought of often as a stopover city. However, because adventurous German tourists are the number one European target of most emerging countries (closely followed by Brits), a lot of the only direct flights from Europe to destinations like Namibia and Kazakhstan – to name but two – leave from Frankfurt. Not to mention dozens of routes from Asia to Europe. 

The city's airport is just 15 minutes away by train, making it straightforward to explore its Römerberg medieval district, Old Sachsenhausen and the home of Oskar Schindler even if you only have a short stay here. 

10. Vancouver

It's not thought of as a typical layover destination when flying to North America, but Vancouver International Airport in Canada's British Columbia scores highly on convenience, with a short trip to the city centre. 

The city itself has a beautiful natural setting, a thriving hipster scene, scores of excellent Japanese izakayas, while in the mountains nearby you can ski, hike and bike. Air Canada has a free stopover program. 

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