What is the best airport for international layovers?

Hubber GinnyLee has posted the question What is the best airport for international layovers?

While I have had the opportunity to pass through and spend time in many airports in North America and Europe, I would have to say that Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport is the best one I have spent time in to date.

My wife and I visited her parents in Veliky Novgorod, Russia last summer and, in the process, spent considerable time in Schiphol Airport.

Tucson, Arizona, where we live, is a moderate size city with an international airport (international because Mexico is a few miles to the south and there are some flights to Mexico) that is small but modern.

Veliky Novgorod is an even smaller city with no airport (it was closed some 20 years ago due to lack of traffic).

Welcome to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol
Welcome to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol | Source

For this trip we ended up having our son drive us to Phoenix where we spent the night and then caught an early morning flight to Atlanta, Georgia.

Following a three hour layover in Atlanta we had an all night flight to Amsterdam, arriving there at 8:15 local time the next morning.

Our layover at Schiphol lasted some four hours as our flight to St. Petersburg, where my brother-in-law met us and drove us to Veliky Novgorod, didn't leave until 12:30.

On the return trip we spent even more time in Schiphol Airport as we arrived from St. Petersburg at a little after seven in the evening and didn't depart until eight the next morning.

Given that our layover on the return was only 12 hours and, not wanting to go through the hassle of passport control, we decided before we began our trip that we would simply spend the night in the airport.

View of Dutch Countryside Just Before Landing

Dutch countryside as our plane is on final approach to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport
Dutch countryside as our plane is on final approach to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport | Source

Located a short distance southwest of Amsterdam, Luchthaven Schiphol or, in English, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, is Holland's main international airport.

Airport Schiphol is the fourth busiest airport in Europe and twelfth busiest airport in the world.

The airport began as a military airport in 1916. Its name, Schiphol, came from nearby Fort Schiphol a fort that was part of the Stelling van Amsterdam network of forts and other defenses constructed in the mid-nineteenth century to defend Amsterdam.

Terminal Building of Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport
Terminal Building of Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport | Source
Air Traffic Control Tower at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.
Air Traffic Control Tower at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. | Source

Interestingly, the advent of aviation rendered forts and defense systems, like the Stelling van Amsterdam, obsolete. Fort Schiphol itself was demolished in 1934 although some of the other forts that made up the Stelling van Amsterdam are still standing as historic monuments.

Following World War I aircraft started being converted to civilian uses. In October 1919 Albert Plesman started KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.

On May 17, 1920 (some sites give December 17, 1920 as the date) KLM made its first scheduled flight which was also the first civilian commercial flight out of Schiphol Airport.

The ground on which Airport Schiphol sits was originally a large lake which was drained when the Stelling van Amsterdam defense system was built. The name Schiphol translates as ship grave or ship hell due to the large number of ships that sank in its waters in times past.

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - resting on a sculpture.  Not very comfortable but my wife wanted a picture.
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - resting on a sculpture. Not very comfortable but my wife wanted a picture. | Source
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol temporary storage lockers.  Fee for medium locker is 6 Euros per 24 hours.
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol temporary storage lockers. Fee for medium locker is 6 Euros per 24 hours. | Source
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol looking down on First Level Shops
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol looking down on First Level Shops | Source

Among its other distinctions, the entire Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is below sea level with its lowest points being about eleven feet (3.4 meters) below sea level.

However, its Air Traffic Control Tower, at 101 meters (331 feet) is one of the tallest control towers in the world.

Entering the Amsterdam Airport Schiphol terminal you find yourself literally inside a small, self contained city.

In addition to a wide range of restaurants, bars and shopping opportunities, Schiphol provides a number of comfortable public lounges, a museum, a library, children's play areas (indoors and outdoors, work areas with WiFi, a hotel, a casino, ATM machines, currency exchange and other amenities.

All of these amenities, including the outside play area, are located within the transient area behind passport control so present a visa or passport and formerly enter Holland.

While convenient, there is more to the airport beyond the passport control. How much, I really don't know as we didn't want to go through the hassle of passport/visa and security checks to venture to the grounds around the airport.

We did, however, miss the opportunity to tour the KLM Cityhopper Fokker 100 aircraft that sits atop the Panorama Terrace between departure halls 1 & 2. To get to this plane one has to exit through passport control.

I was advised by a person at the information desk that it would be a hassle to go through the process of exiting and re-entering the arrival/departure section where we were located especially since we were only in Holland for four hours.

A Couple of the Many Shops

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - my wife in a tulip shop
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - my wife in a tulip shop | Source
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - souvineer wooden shoes for sale
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - souvineer wooden shoes for sale | Source

A Stroll Down Holland Boulevard

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - Holland Boulevard ceiling decoration.
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - Holland Boulevard ceiling decoration. | Source
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - relaxing at a table in one of the cafe's
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - relaxing at a table in one of the cafe's | Source
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - More tulips
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - More tulips | Source
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - smelling a tulip
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - smelling a tulip | Source
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - inside view of Holland Boulevard ceiling decoration.
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - inside view of Holland Boulevard ceiling decoration. | Source

Lounges and Special Services

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - one of the many public lounges where one can sit and relax
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - one of the many public lounges where one can sit and relax | Source
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - an Oxygen Bar where one can recharge by breathing 15 minutes of pure oxygen for a mere 7.,50 Euros
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - an Oxygen Bar where one can recharge by breathing 15 minutes of pure oxygen for a mere 7.,50 Euros | Source
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - For those who prefer to fill their lungs with smoke there are special rooms for smokers.
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - For those who prefer to fill their lungs with smoke there are special rooms for smokers. | Source

Business Center with WiFi

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - Business Center with computers and WiFi
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - Business Center with computers and WiFi | Source
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - WiFi Rates
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - WiFi Rates | Source

I Publish a Hub From the Airport at Four in the Morning

In addition to the hotel, which is actually cubicles with a bed and bath that rent by the hour, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol has an area with nice lounge chairs. While comfortable, these chairs are not a good substitute for a good night's sleep.

As a result I got a few hours of intermittent sleep and, not being able to sleep any more, got up around 4 a.m.

The place was lit but very quiet with but a handful of others up and scattered throughout the airport.

I had the business center all to myself. Sitting down, I took out my netbook, purchased some WiFi time and turned my netbook on.

It was here that I accessed my Google Docs account and finished the story of Countess Anna Orlova-Chesmenskaya and her affair at the Yuryev Monastery that my Mother-in-Law had told us while visiting Veliky Novgorod's St. George (Yuryev) Monastery.

Finishing the story, I transferred it to HubPages and hit the Publish button and published it from Schiphol Airport.

A Library, A Museum and An Airline History Display

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - Library where one can relax and read a book
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - Library where one can relax and read a book | Source
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - Library lending policy
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - Library lending policy | Source
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - Rijksmuseum located in airport.
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - Rijksmuseum located in airport. | Source
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - One of the displays in museum is model of new Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - One of the displays in museum is model of new Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam | Source
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - Photos and posters from KLM's past
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - Photos and posters from KLM's past | Source
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - Photo of Converted De Havilland DH 9C Bomber that KLM used for their first passenger planes in 1920
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - Photo of Converted De Havilland DH 9C Bomber that KLM used for their first passenger planes in 1920 | Source
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - 1932 KLM poster showing cities served from Amsterdam to Batavia in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia)
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - 1932 KLM poster showing cities served from Amsterdam to Batavia in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) | Source

A Place to Sleep

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - Yotel hotel
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - Yotel hotel | Source
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - comfortable benches but not good for sleeping
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - comfortable benches but not good for sleeping | Source
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - A section with individual reclining chairs. Not as good as a bed but better than the benches.
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - A section with individual reclining chairs. Not as good as a bed but better than the benches. | Source

As darkness descended and the clock approached 10 p.m. things began to slow down. Shops began closing, planes stopped landing and the number of people stirring in the airport declined sharply.

Outside, things were quiet and inside workers not on security or cleaning details left for home. Most of the passengers who had arrived earlier in the evening had either left to continue their travel on a departing flight or had gone to their destinations in the city.

All that were left were the few dozen of us whose continuing flights were departing early in the morning and who felt that it wasn't worth the time or money to make our way to a hotel outside the airport for a very few hours sleep.

The best place to stay was the Yotel hotel inside the airport where one could rent a private cubicle with a bed and bath by the hour. However, when I checked upon arrival all that was available was a cubicle with a single bed and a high hourly rate.

Years ago as a college student flying on a half-price standby ticket found myself stranded for the night at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. I rolled my coat into a pillow and spent a quiet night on a padded bench like the one at the right.

A few years later, arriving by car in Frankfort, Germany I discovered that there was some big trade show going on and all the hotel rooms near the airport were occupied. Turning the car in, I went into the airport and found another padded bench and spent the night.

While the reclining chairs at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, which are obviously intended for those who want to nap or spend the night between flights, are superior to the padded benches, they still aren't a good substitute for a bed.

However, it is wise to grab one, or two if traveling with you spouse as I was, as they tend to fill up starting about 9:30. While I thought the reclining chairs were an improvement and the night in the airport an adventure, my wife, who had never slept in an airport in her life, claimed it was the most uncomfortable night's sleep she had ever had.

Breakfast Choices

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - Ronald McDonald relaxing on a chair outside his restaurant
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - Ronald McDonald relaxing on a chair outside his restaurant | Source
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - Looking down at snack and beverage barsbelow area where we slept
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - Looking down at snack and beverage barsbelow area where we slept | Source
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - Some of the snack and beverage bars Downstairs below where we slept.
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - Some of the snack and beverage bars Downstairs below where we slept. | Source
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - A choice of fast food establishments
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - A choice of fast food establishments | Source
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - There is even an Irish Pub
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol - There is even an Irish Pub | Source

Morning dawned and the airport quickly came to life. Workers poured in, shops opened and passengers with early flights began arriving.

Those of us who had spent the night, awoke, gathered up our things and went looking for a place to eat.

Having gotten up early, I ventured down to the area below where we slept and had a cup of coffee and a danish at at coffee bar that was among the the last to close the night before and first to open in the morning.

A couple of other early risers were having coffee a few tables down from me.

By the time I finished my coffee, other places were opening up and I was able to get something more substantial to take back to eat with my wife who was just waking up.

Finishing, we headed to our departure gate for the flight back home.

KLM Cityhopper Fokker 100 aircraft that siting atop the Panorama Terrace at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol
KLM Cityhopper Fokker 100 aircraft that siting atop the Panorama Terrace at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol | Source

The Schiphol App

For those who spend time regularly in Amsterdam Airport Schiphol there is an App available to download and keep up to date with the airport.
For those who spend time regularly in Amsterdam Airport Schiphol there is an App available to download and keep up to date with the airport. | Source

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Comments 8 comments

JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 4 years ago from Central Oklahoma

Chuck, I wasn't aware an international airport would allow entry into the concourses without passing through passport control. But then the Dutch do like to think outside the box. Thank you for the wonderful photos! Alas, looking at them is probably as close as I'll ever get to Amsterdam or its airport. Voted up, useful, awesome and beautiful! ;D


PapaGeorgeo profile image

PapaGeorgeo 4 years ago

good read, voted up!!


Madurai profile image

Madurai 4 years ago from Online

Chuck, nice article with great photos. You have really taken me to the airport, with your presentation. Great. Voted up.


Chuck profile image

Chuck 4 years ago from Tucson, Arizona Author

alcosin - thanks for the tip. I know that I should hold back on publishing these until March 1st but time constraints have limited my publishing to just a couple of Hubs so I felt a need to publish more now.

I am, however, preparing for the contest in March.

Thanks again.


Chuck profile image

Chuck 4 years ago from Tucson, Arizona Author

Hmrmr1, alocsin and GinnyLee - thanks for your nice comments. I'm glad you enjoyed the Hub.


Hmrjmr1 profile image

Hmrjmr1 4 years ago from Georgia, USA

Concur I think Schipol is probably the best Large Airport on the planet.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

Sounds like a great airport. Hope to spend some time there sometime. But you do know, this only qualifies for the contest when published from March 1 onward? Voting this Up and Interesting.


GinnyLee profile image

GinnyLee 4 years ago from Arlington, VA

What a wonderful article! Thank you for spending the time to write it. I look forward to visiting that area someday.

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