The Best Airports in North America for 23-Hour Layovers

Last week we covered fun places in Europe to do a quick 23-hour layover, but you can do the same within North America before or after your trip as well!

Since all passengers transiting through the US have to clear immigration and customs, it can be quite annoying for many based outside of the US, but if you’re based in the US or Canada and on your way out or in, it’s still very possible to spend a full day in several cities.

Keep in mind that trips to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean are very much international, so the sub-24-hour layover can be invoked in any city that has reliable connectivity out of the country, even on a short trip connecting in a city not normally considered a “gateway”. And you get lounge access with alliance status too!

Finally, on a housekeeping note, I’ve uploaded the database to Google Docs. Feel free to comment below or on the sheet directly if there are any inaccuracies. I’ll also be putting some analysis together once the dataset is more rounded out.

San Diego—SAN

In addition to a really convenient airport, San Diego also has a ton of great beaches.

Probably the American city with the closest airport to its downtown, San Diego has a great local beer scene, Mexican food and a hopping nightlife. While people joke that you can walk to the airport, it’s more likely a 5 minute cab ride. Check out the beaches at Coronado Island, or live music in the Gaslamp district. Also, because the airport isn’t hub-captive, airfare is relatively cheap and you can mix and match flights on different carriers to onward destinations.

San Francisco—SFO

With a number of great parks and over a dozen diverse neighborhoods, it’s hard to get bored in San Francisco. Local tip: Spend a day in the Mission/Castro/Hayes Valley areas instead of Fisherman’s Wharf to get a real taste of the city.

Great food, beautiful scenery and many quirky, walkable neighborhoods. San Francisco has a lot of opportunities to unwind between flights. Since BART takes you right from the city center into the international terminal, it is very possible to stop in for some farm-to-table food, have a few drinks in the Mission and still catch your flight to Asia.




Boston has a ton of history, a great old city center and tons of fresh seafood!

With the airport so close to downtown and several redeye departures to Europe, Boston can make for an excellent city to explore on the way over. Check out the Faneuil Hall market or catch a Red Sox game. The Silver line will take right in and out of town, and because this city also isn’t hub captive, you have more airlines options to mix and match if you choose. Avios to Dublin anyone?



One of the prettiest cities in North America, Vancouver also has a mild climate, so a jog around Stanley Park in January isn’t out of the question.

Revamped with a direct train into downtown for the Olympics, Vancouver has it all. Efficient immigration, great Asian and seafood, wonderful neighborhoods and night life up and down Granville and Davie Streets make Vancouver one of the easiest cities in North America to stretch your legs. Take a run along the waterfront and Stanley Park to take in the views and fresh air before you get back in that cabin again.


Las Vegas—LAS

Take your chances at the tables or a quick helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon!

With McCarran Airport literally right on the Las Vegas Strip, a very short cab ride will get you right next to all the gambling you can handle. Try a few hands of blackjack and catch a show while you wait for your connection. You’ll also be surprised at the connectivity, with a few flights to Asia (Korean) and Europe (BA, Virgin Atlantic and Air Europe) as well as Mexico and Canada.


Runners Up:

  • Newark - EWR
  • Seattle - SEA
  • Chicago - ORD
  • Minneapolis - MSP
  • Mexico City - MEX
  • Philadelphia - PHL

All fantastic cities, with minor issues like winter and/or a longish commute into downtown, but still very doable transfers on public transit and interesting places to see.

Cities to Avoid:

  • Houston
  • Dallas
  • Miami
  • Los Angeles
  • Washington D.C. (IAD)
  • Denver
  • Detroit
  • Toronto

No shortage of bad cities for a quick layover in North America! These airports are either not known for efficient service, connections can be harrowing or they are either so far from downtown too much time would be eaten by transit or a car rental would be required for even basic mobility. They are possible, but not recommended.

Finally, keep in mind that renting a car or using a shared ride shuttle are possible in almost every city listed (and can be much more attractive in the US than in other countries), but it’s hard to reliably list in a database since everyone has access to different rates (if you’re paying more than $50, reach out in the comments to get some help!) and rideshares are often quote-based and take a variable amount of time and usually try to pick you up 3-4 hours before your flight, negating the value of this type of layover.

26 Responses to “The Best Airports in North America for 23-Hour Layovers”

  1. Good list! I wouldn’t have thought about planning a long layover in Vegas, but it actually seems like a good option now that you pointed it out. Reagan/DCA is a also great for anyone who’s traveling domestically - I’ve had a few long layovers due to flight delays and the easy metro line access and combination of free attractions and museums makes it a good one to keep in the back of your head.

    • Scott and I have been talking about compiling all of the cities with “hidden” connectivity. The alliance search engines would never pull them up and an agent isn’t going to suggest them, so availability can be quite good on those routes (think LAS, BOS, MXP)

  2. I would second Becky’s point about DCA. Using the Metro, it is about 35 minutes from gateside to the US Capitol. Crystal City is also only a 15 walk from the airport (one I have done many times when I worked there) with some decent places to eat that is practical on any layover over a few hours.

  3. LOL Detroit… not much to see anyways….

  4. I actually don’t mind LAX… but not to visit LA. In and Out burger and a trip to Manhattan beach are a nice way to pass the day…

  5. LAX is either perfect or hell. I happen to have family in el segundo which is a $10 cab ride so any layover >3.5 hours means I make the effort to see them. But it’s a rare case. Before they lived there though, in’n’out meant a great layover as well!

    But newark? really? reallllly?

    • EWR is a fairly easy train ride directly into Manhattan. For a layover of more than 8 hours, it is a great way to do some sightseeing or shopping, and way better than rolling the dice with traffic/taxi to LGA.

      • ewr air shuttle is out of service right now, could cause a bit of delays now that you have to take a bus, have seen some ridiculous lines

    • downtown Newark is awesome!!

  6. +1 for DCA. A 10-min metro ride will take you to major sightseeing places (Mall, 10+ Smithsonian museums, Capitol, White House, etc.)

    • DCA is probably one of my favorite airports in the US, but it’s severely hampered by the distance cap on flights going in and out. You could conceivably fly United in and Air Canada up to Toronto or Montreal, but there aren’t a whole lot of other international flights. BWI suffers from a similar dearth of int’l connectivity

  7. DCA should be #1 or #2 on this list.

  8. Also worth noting that you can do as long of a layover as you want when using Avios (since they’d been mentioned). Good choices - I’m tempted to accept some of the lower-ranked cities drawbacks and go with them anyway. DEN for example is a huge pain to get in and out of, but if you’re OK with renting a car (and the hassle of doing it at DEN), it can work OK. SLC is super quick in and out - transit options are not ideal but the airport is super efficient and close to the city and probably more importantly the mountains. A lot of the ski areas are very close and offer free/discounted day of arrival lift tickets. I probably wouldn’t spend a lot of time in SLC itself, but in the area there are a lot of good options (although the international schedule is a bit limited so getting the timing right can be tricky.)

    • Yes, Avios absolutely crush the need for getting artistic with your awards, sort of what makes them a blessing and a curse right?

  9. DCA and PHL are both good options.

  10. ATL wouldn’t actually be too bad at all for a long layover. MARTA runs directly from the airport to several different neighborhoods with good hotels, shopping, and restaurants. Georgia Aquarium (the world’s largest), World of Coke, and several other good sites are within a short walk of a MARTA station. All of the major sports venues (Braves, Falcons, Hawks, and Georgia Tech football and basketball) are also easily reached by MARTA.

    • This is all great feedback, and nothing on this list is set in stone. How long would you say the trip is to downtown? I’ve heard everything from 20 mins to 1.5 hours. Is MARTA reliable?

      • The train ride itself from the Airport station to Peachtree Center Station (closest to the GA Aquarium, World of Coke, and some good business hotels) is 18 minutes. To Buckhead Station is 32 minutes, which is as far north as I’d recommend someone going for such a short turn-around. North of there is mostly residential or office complexes anyway. During mid-week rush hour, trains leave the airport every 5 minutes-Gold line and Red line each run every 10 minutes but both cover most of the in-town stops. I don’t think they ever run less frequently than every 20 minutes from the airport.
        MARTA is generally reliable, so long as you pay attention to when they’re doing track work. They _usually_ post that on their website in advance. If they’re doing work, add 15-20 minutes to any trip.
        There are also flat cab rates to some of the main in-town neighborhoods from the airport. Downtown-which I assume includes Peachtree Center area, CNN Center, etc. is $30 each way, Midtown is $32, and Buckhead is $40.
        EDITED TO ADD: Flat taxi fare can also tack on $2 fuel surcharge and $2 per extra person. So a couple would actually pay $34, $36, and $44, respectively.

  11. I think that MDW is actually way better than ORD for a Chicago layover. Much quicker train ride downtown & easy in/out airport.

  12. Another vote for Atlanta; it is a cheap, quick and easy trip from the airport to downtown, Midtown, Buckhead (extremely popular shopping destination for international flight crews) and other points.

  13. Another good list in this great “series!” Eric. I must admit, I never really gave it much thought about doing a 23h stopover in North America, since I try to get going on my trip once I leave home (IAH). However, you certainly make excellent points that reminded me about the awesome things that BOS, SFO or YVR have to offer to warrant a layover. So compiling that list of ‘hidden’ connectivity should be a must and YES, I’ve thought about DUB via Avios too!

  14. Could you guys comment on YUL?

    • YUL is a really fun city, with great food and nightlife and a solid airport. The connection into town takes a while, but the bus has Wi-Fi. I could see it being combined with trips to Europe, especially since Air Canada and Air France offer decent frequency. Toronto (YYZ) is a far bigger hub, but YUL is a nice detour, especially in summer.


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