When you hear the word ‘layover’, it’s easy to imagine being stuck in a cramped corner of a faraway airport. Maybe in your time travelling you’ve even spent a few restless nights trying to get comfy on itchy airport carpet, cabin bag as a pillow, waiting for the hours to pass before your next flight is (mercifully) called. But it doesn’t have to be this way! With some careful planning and a little energy, your next layover can be enjoyed, and not just tolerated. So, whether it’s Dubai or Kuala Lumpur, here is how you can make the most of your layover.

How many hours do you need to leave the airport on a layover?

This depends on a few different factors, but the main things to consider when planning a quick layover are:

  • If you’re transferring from an international flight to an international flight, you need to consider the time you will spend waiting at immigration, customs and baggage collection. A good rule of thumb is to budget for 1.5 hours to leave the airport, and 2.5 hours to check back in.
  • Airports are usually on the outskirts of the city. It can take up to two hours to get anywhere worth seeing in some places. When planning your layover, check to see how long it will take you to get to the places you want to see.

Tip: It's also critical that you check to see if you need a visa or any other documentation to leave the airport.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital, is a bustling modern metropolis with pockets of vibrant culture. Yes, the city has fallen prey to rampant globalisation, but there are still treasures to be found in the back alleys, and on a plate in front of you. The food alone is worth the stopover.

If you have 8-hours

Take the KLIA EKspres or KLIA Transit train to the city. This takes about half an hour each way. Once you’ve arrived in the city centre, it’s very easy and cheap to get around on the monorail.

A good first stop for some food and a nice cultural immersion would be Jalan Petaling or Bukit Bintang road. While the goods on sale in both of these areas lean towards the cheap and fake, the areas are both bright and lively. If you’re looking to pick up a souvenir or two, make sure you bargain! 

While you’re in the area, now is a good time to grab a meal. To get a good taste of what Malaysian cuisine is all about, try the national dish Nasi Lemak, and remember you can never go wrong with a Malaysian satay.

Once you’re finished, head over to the Petronas Towers- A must see when visiting Kuala Lumpur. While they aren’t the tallest buildings in the world anymore, they are still very impressive even more so when they light up at night.

If you have overnight 

If your layover in Kuala Lumpur is a little longer, check into a hotel for the night. In addition to the itinerary above, when you wake up in the morning, head out to the Batu Caves.

Easily accessible by train, the limestone caves are an important Hindu shrine, and as such, are guarded by a tall golden deity statue.


Like Kuala Lumpur, Singapore is another popular stopover for International airlines, so you just might find yourself there with some hours to kill.

If you have 5.5 hours or more

As if Singapore’s Changi airport wasn’t cool enough, they also offer an entirely free transit tour of the city. With two tours to choose from- the Heritage Tour and the City Sites tour- all you have to do is sit back, relax and see the highlights of Singapore. When arriving in Singapore, stay in the transit area of the airport and remember that registration for the tours close one hour before the start time.

The Heritage Tour goes through both the colonial and cultural districts, including Chinatown, Kampong Glam and Little India. It also stops for the perfect Singapore photo opportunity with the lion-headed fish at Merlion Park.

For those who would like to see a more modern Singapore, the City Sites tour takes you around Singapore’s more recent architectural accomplishments. There is even a 30-minute stopover at the very impressive Gardens by the Bay.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

If you’ve been travelling for any length of time, you would have found yourself in Dubai. There are so many sites in Dubai worth leaving the air-conditioned indoors and battling through immigration. The world’s tallest building being one of them.

6 hours or more

While Dubai has a lot to see, a big ticket item is a trip up the Burj Khalifa. It takes about 30-minutes (in light traffic) to get there in a taxi making it a very doable stopover. The viewing platforms on level 125 and level 148 make for a stunning view. Just don’t forget to pack your camera in your cabin bag.

If heights are not your thing, or you’re more interested in a little retail therapy, the Mall of Emirates is an easy 30-40 minute metro trip from the airport. With 630 shops, over 100 restaurants, an indoor ski field and an aquarium, your stopover can be as weird and wacky as you want to make it.

Turning your layovers into a fun opportunity to explore a new city takes some planning but is the perfect way to turn something ‘blah’ into a new memory.