My international travelers, their trip begins the moment they arrive at an airport abroad. And entering a country from any of these top 10 international gateways ensures your journey will get off to a smooth start. Many of them have undergone dramatic transformations in recent years, as various famous architects worked their magic, creating bright and airy spaces, with amenities ranging from spas and yoga rooms to outdoor gardens and swimming pools. These terminals are such an antidote to jet lag, you might even want to extend your layover. Read on to see how the votes stacked up in our 33rd edition of our annual Readers’ Choice Awards.
- Istanbul Airport (IST)
Opened just last year amid great fanfare—and with bold ambitions to become the world’s biggest airport—the new IST is already garnering praise for its modern design by Grimshaw Architects, which has netted awards for its emphasis on efficiency and sustainability. With high-tech touches like a fleet of robots to direct passengers through the 818-million-square-foot hub and runway capacity to move a total of 90 flights per hour, the airport is poised to take off as a major global player.
- Zurich Airport (ZRH)
As Switzerland’s largest international airport, Zurich is also the main hub for Swiss International, which operates no fewer than nine lounges (and those lounges are no joke, with champagne and whiskey bars). Looking for a place to buy some duty-free chocolate? There are more than 80 shops here to browse. Readers also like the variety of restaurants and bars—even grocery stores—and, if weather cooperates, an outdoor observation deck with sweeping views of the action on the runways.
- Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport, Mumbai (BOM)
As the second busiest airport hub in India, Chhatrapati Shivaji has been transformed in recent years from an aging, overcrowded facility to a gleaming international hub. The modern Terminal 2, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, has won prizes for its airy, open design; it also features a wealth of dining and shopping options, including its GVK First and Business class lounge that offers spa and shower facilities and a full meal service. There’s also a four-star transit hotel right in the airport for layover travelers
- Hong Kong International Airport (HKG)
Hong Kong’s international airport offers fast connections to the city from its island aerie, via an Airport Express that whisks travelers from terminal to city center in 24 minutes. It’s also one of the region’s top connecting hubs, with service to dozens of destinations in mainland China alone. Passengers on a layover appreciate the wide array of premium class lounges, amenities like nap rooms, and the Regal Airport Hotel attached to the main terminal, which Skytrax consistently ranks as one of the world’s best airport hotels.
- Tokyo International Airport/Haneda (HND)
For years, Tokyo’s Haneda was primarily a domestic airport, but it’s gaining long-distance flights—and a strong international following. What accounts for its popularity? Simply put, it’s not Narita, the country’s bustling international hub that’s a 45-mile drive from the capital, notorious for, among other things, the $200 cab fare it takes to get there. Haneda, by contrast, is just ten miles from city center, but it’s not just proximity that wins over fliers. More than just a close-in alternative, Haneda gets high marks for the comfort and cleanliness of its terminals, a wide array of shopping and dining options, and fast and efficient transportation links to downtown Tokyo.
- Sangster International Airport (MBJ)
For travelers to Jamaica, a great way to begin a vacation is to avoid the region’s hectic hub airports and fly directly into Montego Bay airport. A quieter alternative to, say, San Juan, it’s developed a following not only for its clean and efficient facilities, but for its “Club Mobay” VIP lounge program for both arrivals and departures, offered in partnership with the area’s leading hotels. Essentially, it’s a concierge-style service that whisks you through formalities, ensuring that you barely touch the airport on your way out the door—and onto that blissful beach retreat you came for.
- Dubai International Airport (DXB)
As one of the biggest airports in the world overall, Dubai, unsurprisingly, also has one of the world’s biggest duty-free shopping centers. As the base for flag airline Emirates, a Reader’s Choice favorite, Dubai is also served by scores of international airlines—and it’s long been a popular stopover destination for North American travelers heading to the Far East or South Pacific. Amenities like zen gardens and nap pods help make pass the time on a stay of any length.
- Incheon International Airport (ICN)
Seoul’s main international airport opened 20 years ago on reclaimed land in the port city of Incheon, and has been expanding ever since: A second passenger terminal opened in 2018, part of the airport’s aim to double its capacity to 100 million passengers annually. Primarily serving the country’s two main airlines, Korean and Asiana, Incheon International also gains points for its spacious VIP lounges and amenities, including an indoor skating rink, a spa, and a “Cultural Street” with local cuisine and dance performances. While it’s 30 miles from the capital, a high-speed rail link makes the trip from terminal to city center in 43 minutes.
- Doha (DOH)
Hamad International Airport is a major connecting hub for Qatar’s eponymous home airline, also a Readers’ Choice pick, and at times, it can seem more like a resort hotel than a bustling transportation hub, with amenities like a fitness center, squash courts and an indoor swimming pool. It’s gotten high marks for its premium amenities, with no fewer than eight premium lounges, plus quiet rooms and child’s entertainment zones for passengers in any airline class. For those on longer layovers, there is an upscale hotel right inside the terminal, with half- or full-day rates available.
- Singapore Changi Airport (SIN)
That Changi again snagged the top spot among world airports is no surprise, given that it’s home to our readers’ favorite carrier, Singapore Airlines, making it an ideal gateway to dozens of locations in the region. The airport is a destination in itself, with an indoor waterfall, butterfly garden, and open-air decks and restaurants. Transit passengers can take a free city tour, lounge by the swimming pool, or binge-watch flicks at the free 24-hour cinema. Traveler readers also like the self-boarding gates and free and fast Wi-Fi, and family travelers appreciate the vast play areas.