We all know that travel can be a stressful business. All that rushing around, being herded like cattle and – for nervous flyers – pure terror can take its toll on what was meant to be a relaxing trip. And the airport lounge is the apotheosis of the anxiety. It’s where you sit fidgeting that you will miss the plane, even though you are mere seconds away from the gate. It’s where you panic that you’ve forgotten sunscreen and spend £50 in Boots on totally unnecessary products. It’s where you get a stiff neck from craning to see the departure screen and rummaging in your suitcase to check, for the twelfth time, that your passport is still there.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. There is another way. Some airports pride themselves on being destinations in themselves, as pampering and exotic as your actual holiday spot. Presenting the top five most luxurious airports in the world: because life is about the journey…
Singapore Changi Airport
This is officially The World’s Best Airport, and is the largest transport hub in south-east Asia. It’s a monster of a place: 58.7 million people passed through in 2016. But don’t let that put you off: it’s also a fabulous experience, as worth a visit as any theme park. There are swimming pools and high-end shops, a four-storey slide for children (and those of a childish disposition) to play on, and, coming in 2018, a 130-foot waterfall in the ‘Jewel Complex.’ There are two free 24-hour cinemas, gaming consoles and a butterfly garden. Not to mention the cultural displays, which include the facades of old Peranakan houses. And if for some reason you’re desperate to escape, the airport offers free tours of Singapore for six-plus hour stopovers.
This hub in South Korea was the home of the first ever Louis Vuitton duty-free store, and today is the biggest duty-free shopping spot in the world, garnering more than $2 billion in revenue each year. If you shop ’til you drop, the dropping can be done in private sleeping rooms. Or you could indulge yourself in the spa, complete with sauna. Or wander through one of the seven tranquil gardens. Or zoom around the full-sized ice rink. Or play golf. Or while away some time in the casino. Or watch some live music. Or basically do any other bonkers thing that comes to mind, because this is an airport where anything is possible.
As you would expect from Switzerland, this place is a paean to efficiency and cleanliness. One of the healthiest airports in the world, you can do a spinning class on the indoor bikes or visit the fitness centre for some weight-training. Alternatively, you could visit the cigar lounge which is so big it has its own hangar, underneath an ex-Soviet plane at the end of the runway. Best of all, the trains that transport you between terminals play the soft sound of Alpine cattle bells.
The second-largest airport in Germany, what Munich lacks in size it makes up for in booze. Masses of booze. The Airbräu Biergarten is the largest roofed-in beer garden in the world. It even has chestnut trees and a maypole, for the authentic experience. The airport also has an on-site brewery where you can do tours and tastings – these people take their beer seriously – and a further 50 bars and restaurants. These include places specialising in dainty, sugary Bavarian pastries and all the sauerkraut you could wish for. Nap it off afterwards in one of the sleep pods.
Terminal Five has been named the best airport terminal in the world (it’s also the largest free-standing building in the UK). And it’s no surprise: Heathrow offers 105 restaurants, many of which are headed up by celebrity chefs including Gordon Ramsay’s Plane Food and Heston Blumenthal’s The Perfectionists’ Café. They can even pack you a picnic to take on board your flight, to free up time to use the personal shopping service. The personal shoppers will take you to their lounge and organise the most fun trying-on session you’ve ever had. They’ll even transfer you to another terminal, if, say, there’s a particular Prada handbag you’ve got your eye on.