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From ice skating to Christmas markets, how airports are making holiday travel fun

December 20 2019
8 min read
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It's the most wonderful time of the year ... to be at an airport. No, seriously. Hear us out.

Holiday travel may be challenging for a lot of reasons (namely crowds) but we promise your time at the airport doesn't have to be totally miserable. In fact, it can be a pretty merry — dare we say, jolly — part of the holiday travel experience if you end up in one of these airports in the next few weeks. They've pulled out all the stops, complete with activities and amenities that go well beyond a well-decorated Christmas tree.

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This time of year, airports around the world are playing host to ice skating rinks, full Christmas markets, therapy pups and even flights to the "North Pole." Here are some of the most impressive ways airports around the world are making holiday travel just a bit more festive.

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Get some puppy snuggles on during peak holiday travel dates at various airports (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.)

Related: Best credit cards for airport lounge access

Go ice skating at the TWA Hotel

Put on your best (not to mention warmest) 1960s attire and get ready to freeze all your other plans. The TWA Hotel has a "one-of-a-kind ice skating experience" called Runway Rink. What do they mean by one-of-a-kind? We're glad you asked.

You can take a spin on the tarmac around the hotel's 1958 Lockheed Constellation Connie airplane (which is actually their cocktail lounge) and then feast your eyes on an ice-skating spectacular. The Runway Rink is custom-made and 56 by 44 feet, and it will operate every day through the end of February. Tickets are $15, and only $10 for kids under $12, plus the cost of rental skates ($10 and $8, respectively).

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy.)

Finally, a reason to have a long layover at JFK.

Ice skate for free at Denver International

Image courtesy of RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images
DENVER, CO - JANUARY 3: People ice skate at Denver International Airport on January 3, 2018, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images.)

If you're not on the East Coast this holiday season but still want to get in your airport skating fix, you're still in luck. Denver International Airport (DEN) has you covered for the fourth year in a row, thanks to its pop-up ice skating rink located at the DEN Plaza.

The best part? It's all free of charge — even the skate rentals. You can arrive early to skate before your flight, during a longer layover or do your best lutz after landing in Denver. The rink is open through Jan. 20 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. -- that's several weeks longer than last year. As a bonus, you might be able to grab some hot chocolate or cider, as well as enjoy fun activities and entertainment on Friday afternoons. What a way to lift your holiday spirits after or before a long day of travel!

Shop Munich's famous Christmas markets at the airport

Image courtesy of Munich Airport
(Image courtesy of Munich Airport.)

Europe's tradition of charming Christmas markets is alive and well at Munich Airport (MUC). For the 21st year, it has transformed into a winter wonderland — so be sure to stock up on all the hand-blown glass ornaments and gluhwein (mulled wine) you can fit in your suitcase. Better yet, if you'd like to do some shopping, head outside security between Terminals 1 and 2. Just be sure to make your way there between Nov. 15 and Dec. 29, when Santa's elves will bring the festivities back to the North Pole until next year. If shopping isn't your thing, you can also make your way to the airport's two ice skating rinks, enjoy some live music or check out more than 40 exhibitors and caterers.

Fly to the "North Pole"

(Image courtesy of Edward Pizzarello/The Points Guy.)

Speaking of the North Pole, you've got to hand it to United Airlines for their Fantasy Flights when they bring the holidays to especially festive airport gates for some special families. For 30 years, the team has created a holiday experience for children in need. 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 (United employees and volunteers) greet children and throw an awesome holiday luncheon. Here's what it was like to be on one of this year's flights out of Washington Dulles (IAD).

(Image courtesy of Edward Pizzarello/The Points Guy.)

Create holiday gifts at the Changi Jewel Festive Market

Why buy a gift to share on your next trip when you could make one? (OK, let's be real, no one on the planet would want a gift I made.) But, if you're feeling crafty, the Changi Jewel Festive Market at Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) has dates through January during which you can create a stuffed bear, coin purse and even a lamp in the holiday marketplace. There are fees for these workshops and a full schedule is listed online.

Peer into Santa's workshop at London Heathrow

In Terminals 2 and 5 at London's Heathrow, there's an installation of periscopes that allow travelers to peer into the inner workings of Santa's workshop. The periscopes show 360-degree films straight from Santa’s Toy Factory, Department of Wrapping, and the Mail Room.

(Image courtesy of London Heathrow Airport.)

Related: Best Priority Pass lounges at London Heathrow

Last-minute holiday travel tips

We hope you'll encounter holiday magic 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:

Featured photo by Photo by Lori Zaino/The Points Guy