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Great ways to spend a layover

World-class microbrews, gourmet dining and displays of public art await those passing through some of the country's hubs.
Several major airports offer surprisingly tasteful and rewarding art displays.
Several major airports offer surprisingly tasteful and rewarding art displays.Courtesy of Denver International Airport
/ Source: Forbes

You have some time at the airport. You say, "There's nothing to do."

That's where you are wrong. You could take a short walk to a quiet office cubicle with high-speed Internet, or a day spa offering a wide range of massage options. Depending on where you are, you can find a relaxing set of rocking chairs for curling up with a good book, or even a permanent exhibit of Zimbabwean sculpture.

Too many travelers assume that airports are little more than opportunities to scurry between gates and sit numbly — or spend hours awaiting delayed flights. Though the percentage of late departures has dropped slightly from 2008, from 18.24% to 16.25, they still hit 962,133 of all flights last year.

"I think a lot of folks look at an airport, and it's just kind of a hassle," says Jeff Green, director of public relations for Denver International Airport. "But quite honestly, it feels good here, and there's lots to do," citing Denver's world-class microbrews, dining options, spectacular scenery and grand displays of public art.

Denver isn't alone in its artistic offerings. San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Philadelphia, and Atlanta, whose aforementioned Zimbabwean rock sculptures await you between terminals A and T, are among the country's airports with cultural offerings.

If a workout is more your speed, several airport hotels offer day-passes to their gym and spa facilities. In Chicago's O'Hare International, try the Hilton in Terminal 2; in Detroit, the Westin and its gym are in the new McNamara Terminal; and at Boston's Logan International Airport, there's a Hilton just across the skybridge. And even if there isn't time to leave the concourse, XpresSpa offers vigorous back rubs, facials and even Brazilian waxing at more than 30 in-terminal locations, including eight in New York's JFK airport alone. Massage Bar and d_parture spa are fast-growing competitors offering similar services.

If upscale shopping is your pastime (and there's room in your carry-on), luxury boutiques from Swarovski, Bulgari, Hermes, Cartier and the like are usually grouped in international departures concourses. Alternatively, museum stores offer distinctive gifts, so the Smithsonian Museum boutiques in Dulles, Newark, or Reagan National; the Metropolitan Museum of Art locations in LaGuardia, JFK, Boston, Newark, and Houston; or the SFMOMA store in SFO may be just the ticket.

Wine aficionados can raise a glass at Vino Volo in major airports from Newark to Seattle, or Cibo Bistro and Wine Bar in Philadelphia, LaGuardia, and Reagan National in Washington, D.C. Beer lovers, meanwhile, have fresh local brews on offer in SFO (Anchor Brewing), LAX (Redondo Beach Brewing Co.), and Philadelphia (Independence Brew Pub), and many other major cities.

If the drinks have to wait until after your deadline, the reLAX Lounge in the Bradley Terminal at LAX is essentially a first-class airline lounge — complete with Internet connections, free refreshments, business services and even massages — open to anyone for a nominal fee. Meanwhile, among standard airport business centers, Denver, SFO and DFW are all exceptional and open 24 hours.

Elsewhere, private cubicles offered by Regus Express (formerly Laptop Lane) in Seattle,

Philadelphia, Atlanta and elsewhere are small but quiet; you might even try taking a nap while you're in one of them. An increasing number of airports — among them Denver, Las Vegas, Orlando and Pittsburgh — offer system-wide free Wi-Fi. If you have a laptop, just plop down and work anywhere you feel comfortable.

One favorite laptop plop? Anywhere amid the phalanxes of comfy oak rocking chairs that have been replicated from a pleasant little quirk of the Charlotte Douglas International Airport to the favored airport secret of blissful travelers from San Diego to Boston. The gentle rocking motion can make even a stranded traveler having the worst of travel days feel right at home.