The 12 Best U.S. Airports for Sightseeing During a Long Layover

Pass the time with a quick trip downtown.

Palm Springs International Airport
Palm Springs International Airport
Palm Springs International Airport

Flight delays are as inevitable a part of air travel as crying babies and drinking before noon. And while you can certainly pass the time loitering in duty-free or camping out in a slick pod hotel, sometimes a long layover is the perfect excuse to see more of a city than the Terminal A Cinnabon.

But which downtowns are easiest to reach from the airport? And which are worth getting out and exploring? Not all of them, that’s for sure. Here are 12 American airports that-thanks to their close proximity to city centers and prime transportation access-are tailor-made for taking in the sights between flights.

Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International

Distance to downtown: 9.5 miles
Transportation options: Cab (25 minutes); MARTA Gold or Red Line Train (25 minutes)
Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport boasts a MARTA train station right next to baggage claim, making it super convenient to pop into the city. Hop on the Red or Gold Line and shoot over to a museum that’s uniquely Atlanta: The World of Coca Cola. If you’ve got the time, follow up your newfound knowledge with a stroll through Centennial Olympic Park. And no need to haul around that wheelie bag-luggage storage is available at Wrap-a-Bag outlets throughout the terminals.

Chicago Midway International

Distance to downtown: 11 miles
Transportation options: Cab (25 minutes); CTA Orange Line Train (35 minutes)
Midway is much smaller and closer to the city than O’Hare, making it easier to escape if you’re staring down a few hours between takeoffs. Play it safe with a short drive or train ride over to the South Loop, where you can hit the Museum of Contemporary Photography before tracking down one of Chicago’s quintessential food items by way of a donut from Stan’s Donuts, a Chicago Dog at Kim & Carlo’s Hot Dog Cart, or some deep-dish at Giordano’s.

Miami International

Distance to downtown: 7.5 miles
Transportation options: Cab (20 minutes); Metrorail Orange Line Train (40 minutes)
Your best transportation bet out of Miami International depends on how much time you have to kill. The Metrorail is the cheapest option, albeit a bit tricky-you’ll need to take the MIA Mover over to the platform, which could end up cutting into your precious layover. The train is definitely doable, but if time is of the essence, consider splurging on a 15-minute cab ride into Little Havana for an order of empanadas at Café La Trova, or head further north to people-watch among the galleries and breweries that put the Wynwood Arts District on the map.

Portland International

Distance to downtown: 10 miles
Transportation options: Cab (20 minutes); MAX Red Line (40 minutes)
You can do lots of things at Portland International, like get a shoe shine or admire the Insta-famous carpet. But if you feel like venturing out, the airport provides direct access to the MAX Red Line, which takes you right to Pioneer Square. While there, do a little window shopping at Pioneer Place and browse the aisles at Powell’s City of Books, or get your botanical fix at the International Rose Test Garden, Portland Japanese Garden, or Lan Su Chinese Garden.

Philadelphia International

Distance to downtown: 11 miles
Transportation options: Cab (20 minutes); SEPTA Airport Line (35 minutes)
Philadelphia International has SEPTA stations at each terminal, allowing enterprising travelers to reach Center City in about half an hour no matter where they’ve landed. Ditch the terminal food court and take the Jefferson Line to Reading Terminal Market, where you can sample a soft pretzel at Miller’s Twist, some cannolis from Termini Brothers, or the best damn pork sandwich you’ll ever eat at DiNic’s. If you decide to cab it from the airport, a 20-minute ride will transport you to the less-touristy foodie paradise of East Passyunk Avenue, where you can grab a coveted table at Bing Bing Dim Sum or Gabriella’s Vietnam.

Seattle-Tacoma International

Distance to downtown: 13.5 miles
Transportation options: Cab (25 minutes); 1 Line Light Rail (45 minutes)
One of the best ways to end any trip is with an aerial view of the destination you’ve just visited. And if you haven’t yet had the chance to ascend Seattle’s soaring Space Needle, it takes just 25 minutes by cab to get there from SeaTac. Afterwards, check out the nearby Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum or grab lunch at Tilikum Place Cafe. An extra incentive? You can stash your baggage at the airport’s Smart Carte kiosk before you hit the town.

Washington Reagan National

Distance to downtown: 4.5 miles
Transportation options: Cab (20 minutes); Metro Blue Line Train (25 minutes)
DC’s Reagan National conveniently houses a Capital Bikeshare station near the Terminal B/C parking garage, perfectly positioned for snagging a two-wheeler and hitting the Mount Vernon Trail, which goes all the way over to Georgetown and Downtown DC. But if you’re not down for some heavy cardio, take a cab or the Metro Blue Line Train to the Smithsonian stop, where you can explore famous landmarks like the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument as well as a host of world-class (and free!!) museums.

San Antonio International

Distance to downtown: 8 miles
Transportation options: Cab (15 minutes); VIA Bus (30 minutes)
From San Antonio International, catch the VIA Bus Route 5 (located on the far west end of Terminal B) and you’ll find yourself downtown in about 30 minutes. Once there, take a peaceful stroll down the famous River Walk, shop for a handmade souvenir at El Mercado Historic Market Square, or grab a signature puffy taco at Ray’s Drive Inn.

Boston Logan International

Distance to downtown: 5 miles
Transportation options: Cab (15 minutes); Silver Line Bus (25 minutes); MBTA Blue Line Train (20 minutes)
Boston’s Logan International offers a plethora of easy-access transportation, from subways to water taxis. You have the option to visit Boston’s Seaport District-which requires a necessary stop at the Barking Crab for a buttery lobster roll-or Downtown Boston, where you can enjoy some New England Clam Chowder at Quincy Market inside Faneuil Hall Marketplace, wave hello to the Paul Revere House, and take a walk down the Freedom Trail.

Palm Springs International

Distance to downtown: 2 miles
Transportation options: Cab (5 minutes); Bus (25 minutes)
One might be tempted to stay put at Palm Springs International Airport, with its open-air layout and artwork straight out of the Palm Springs Art Museum. But venture out just 10 minutes by car, and you’ll discover the Palm Springs Air Museum, where you can marvel at vintage wartime fliers. Or, head downtown to pay homage to the Palm Springs’ own Walk of Stars before checking out the always-engaging Robolights sculpture yard.

Denver International

Distance to downtown: 24 miles
Transportation options: Cab (45 minutes); A Line Train (35 minutes)
At Denver International, you can pick up the A Line Train right by the new Westin Denver International Hotel and zip over to Union Station in approximately 35 minutes. The 1914 Beaux-Arts building is a wonder in its own right, and you can take in its beauty while grabbing a bite at the Cooper Lounge, which offers views of the station’s historic Great Hall alongside downtown Denver. If time permits, hop back on the A Line and take it to 38th & Blake to hang out at a brewery or two while roaming the city’s bustling River North Art District (a.k.a. RiNo to locals).

Louisville Muhammad Ali International

Distance to downtown: 7 miles
Transportation options: Cab (10 minutes); TARC Bus (35 minutes)
If you only have a few hours to spend in Louisville, the Kentucky Derby Museum is a must-see, offering 30-minute walking tours of iconic Churchill Downs Racetrack. Get there in six minutes by car, or take the TARC Bus and reach the grounds in under an hour. Downtown Louisville offers even more options, with cultural institutions like the Muhammed Ali Center, the Frazier History Museum, and the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory all within walking distance from each other (not to mention a bevy of bourbon-centric distillery tasting rooms).Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTikTokTwitterFacebookPinterest, and YouTube.

Jessica Sulima is a staff writer on the Travel team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram

Matt Meltzer contributed to the reporting of this story. 


Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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