It’s the most wonderful time of the year … to be at an airport. No, seriously. Hear us out.
For many reasons, holiday travel can be challenging, but your time at the airport doesn’t have to be miserable. The airport can be an almost jolly part of the holiday travel experience if you end at one that gets into the holiday spirit. There are a few airports that pull out all the stops, complete with festive activities and amenities that go well beyond a well-decorated Christmas tree or menorah display.
This time of year, certain airports worldwide host ice skating rinks, full Christmas markets and even flights to the “North Pole.” Here are some of the most impressive ways to get in the holiday spirit while transiting through airports this holiday season.
Ice skate for free at Denver Airport
If you’re out west and still want to get your ice skating fix satisfied, Denver International Airport (DEN) has you covered thanks to its pop-up ice skating rink at the outdoor plaza near The Westin Denver International Airport hotel.
The rink is open between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily from Nov. 18, 2022 through Jan. 1, 2023. You can get free skate rentals from the on-site skate shop, which sits inside the hotel by the Tivoli Tap House restaurant and brewery.
Related: Already booked your holiday travel? Here are the best credit cards for making your trips more comfortable
Browse Munich’s famous Christmas market
After a two-year hiatus, Europe’s tradition of charming Christmas markets returns to Munich International Airport (MUC) from Nov. 19 through Dec. 26, 2022.
Here, you can stock up on handblown glass ornaments, artisan crafts and mulled wine. If shopping isn’t your thing, you can also make your way to the ice skating rink, listen to live music or, depending on when you pass through, enjoy a magic show, face painting or even a visit from the big man himself.
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Related: The Munich Airport has its own full-fledged Christmas market
Reenact ‘Home Alone’ at Chicago’s O’Hare
At Terminal 3 in Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD), the iconic 8-foot-long red bows, 7,500 white lights and numerous illuminated doves weren’t just props used as the McAllister family ran down the hallway in “Home Alone.” These holiday decorations have been a staple of this international hub for decades.
While in Chicago, keep an eye out for Santa on the decorated Chicago Transit Authority’s Allstate CTA Holiday Train, which has been around since 1992 (minus a few years during the coronavirus pandemic).
Related: Ferris Bueller’s Chicago: Reliving the ’80s in a city that never stands still
Visit a Christmas cabin at the Helsinki Airport
If your flights take you near Gate 40 at the Helsinki Airport (HEL), you can pop into a free Christmas Cabin with an elf door, a Finnish sauna and the sights and smells of the holiday season.
Should you hope to see the Finnish Christmas Cabin but won’t make it through the airport during the holiday season, don’t worry: It’s there year-round.
Related: Searching for Santa: A once-in-a-lifetime trip in Finland’s snowy Arctic
Fly to the ‘North Pole with United
Did you know that occasionally, United Airlines offers fantasy flights, seasonal flights that involve bringing the holidays to especially festive airport gates for some special families? For more than 30 years, the team has created these holiday experiences for needy children. The airline works with local hospitals at its different hubs and changes up the recipient base annually.
These short flights take off, fly around and give the kids and their guardians an incredible inflight experience before landing at the “North Pole,” where Santa and his elves (in this case, United employees and volunteers) greet children and throw an awesome holiday luncheon.
Related: Flight of a lifetime: United sends some very deserving children to the North Pole
Check out Singapore Changi’s Festive Village
If you happen to fly through Singapore between Nov. 4, 2022 and Jan. 2, 2023, be sure to visit the show-stopping Changi Festive Village. As if Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) didn’t already have enough you can do — the massive slide is one of our favorite must-dos — the airport comes alive around the holidays thanks to its seasonal village.
When you’re not busy exploring the new “Avatar”-themed “The Way of Water” installation in the Departure Hall’s Terminal 3, partake in the Changi Festive Village’s overnight in-airport glamping program or stroll through the Jurassic Mile, a dazzling (and impressively long) light display. There’s even an underground carnival, should you want to play games or enjoy a few rides.
Related: Singapore presents new details on Changi’s future Terminal 5
Last-minute holiday travel tips
We hope you’ll encounter holiday magic and excitement no matter which airports you transit through this season, but if your trip ends up feeling like it was orchestrated by the Grinch instead of Buddy the Elf, here are some tips to keep you moving:
Additional reporting by Madison Blancaflor and Samantha Rosen.