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Hong Kong International Airport terminal with a passenger looking out to the city in the distance

How to plan the Perfect Stopover

Brianna Mills

When most of us take a long-haul flight, we end up stopping somewhere. Usually, all this means is a few wasted hours in duty-free waiting for a plane to show up. You might find yourself in the middle of a city you’d love the chance to explore, but you're unable to leave the airport. That’s where a stopover comes in. A stopover is an alternative way to grab an extra adventure and visit more countries without the extra cost of another flight.

The difference between a layover and a stopover

Layover. Stopover. What's the difference? In short, a stopover is a long layover. However, You might have heard of the terms being used interchangeably. And while they're very similar, there are some key differences. Let us break it down for you:

What is a layover?

A layover is when the gap between connecting flights is less than 24 hours. Typically, layover fights don't give you enough time to leave the airport and explore the city you're stopping in. If you're worried about not having enough time between connecting flights, check out our page on how to deal with a short layover.

So, what is a stopover?

stopover is essentially an extended layover — normally referred to as a break in connecting flights of more than 24 hours. Still, following? For the purpose of this blog, a stopover can be anything from a weekend away to just enough time to have a bit of an adventure before boarding your next plane. It's all about making the most of your time in an exotic destination, no matter how long you've got, without the cost of another flight.

A female traveller stood at the airport looking up at the flight displays

Why do a stopover?

The perfect stopover destinations are places you've always fancied visiting but know deep down that you probably won't get round to going there. They're cities that are too far away from you for a weekend break. They're too expensive or not enough of a draw to commit all of your precious holiday time to. But if time and money were no obstacle you'd love to go there and do some sightseeing. For example, I'm probably never going to organise a 2-week holiday to Texas, USA. But if I found myself on a connecting flight to South America through the Lone Star State I might pop in for some Texan Tourism. Why not?!

Why we love stopovers

You can explore somewhere new

Cities on your bucket list are stopover gold. Maybe you’ve always wanted to see the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. Now you can, without having to commit to a whole holiday to do so.

A stopover is like a bonus mini-holiday. This is the perfect opportunity to discover somewhere new. You could spend 48 hours soaking up the Hong Kong skylines or beach bumming in Bali before you continue on your way to your 'main event'. It's also a great way to give you a flavour of somewhere. If you find out you love Hong Kong you can always go back for a longer time. If you discover you hate Bali you're only there a few hours and you now know not to waste your future flights!

Cheap flights

Connecting flights are normally cheaper than direct ones. And, often, buying a flight with a very long layover/stopover is at least the same price or cheaper as a regular return. Cheaper still can be booking your two connecting flights separately with different airlines (scroll down for more information on using multi-city features. What's more, if you collect miles, many airlines, like Delta, impose a no stopover restriction on most award tickets.

Re-visit somewhere you love

A stopover is an excellent chance to re-visit a place you once fell in love with but never got the chance to go back to. Take this time to go back to your favourite cafe or restaurant abroad. When I book my holidays, I’m always on the lookout for Pegasus Airlines or Turkish Airlines flights so I can get a few bonus days in Istanbul as I'm doing here:

Busy market in streets of Istanbul

 Istanbul's famous grand bazaar, Turkey. Photo credit: Alex Booth

You can break up a long journey

If you're not used to flying long distances, you can use a stopover for a bit of rest and relaxation. In fact, finding a connecting flight might even allow you to treat yourself to a few days of luxury. For example, If you do your stopover somewhere in South East Asia, you could simply have a couple of nights at a swanky hotel that's usually out of your price range. Bangkok, for instance, with Thai Lion Air, would be a great place to do this.

How to plan your stopover

Know your airlines

If you’re looking for a connecting flight, It’s good to have some idea about the airlines that go to the destination you want to visit and where they stop off on the way. Here are a few of our favourite classic stopover locations to get your wanderlust underway:

If you're going to Europe <-> USA: A stopover in Iceland can really shake up a transatlantic flight. Connect in Reykjavik with Icelandair.

If you're going USA <-> Australia: Catch some waves in Hawaii with Hawaiian Airlines

If you're going Anywhere <-> South East Asia: Kuala Lumpur, with Air Asia X in Malaysia is a great stopover city, as is Singapore, with Singapore Airlines.

If you're going East <-> West: Dubai with Emirates is possibly the most common and least exploited stopover destination of all time, but I think Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific is an excellent alternative.

A blue wave crashing down onto the ocean by the shores of a tropical resort

 Photo credits: John Bishop

Make the most of multi-city searches

We've already mentioned that booking two separate flights on two different airlines often works out cheaper. However, buying these 2 independent tickets requires a lot more research than your average connecting flight. I would recommend looking at different routes through Alternative Airline's multi-city features to get a feel of what's on offer. With Alternative Airlines 'multi-city' flights you can book all your flights under one easy-to-manage itinerary. A couple of tips:

  • Make sure you have enough time in between flights though because you won't be covered if your connecting flight is delayed.
  • Check all of your fare rules closely for both tickets. You may have different baggage weight restrictions etc. for each of your flights so it's important you know exactly what you're letting yourself in for!

With this technique, the world is your oyster with stopovers. Have a look at our alternative stopover destinations below for inspiration.

A screenshot of the Alternative Airlines website

Know your stopover city logistics

Visa issues

This one's a deal-breaker. Find out if you need a visa for your stopover destination before booking your flight. You don’t want to find out that your 48-hour bonus holiday is going to be a whole lot of paperwork and cost you $100s of dollars in visa fees. It's your choice, but I prefer visa-free stopovers. Even though I'd love to visit Moscow, when I had a 15-hour layover on my way to Japan, I decided that it wasn’t worth the time and money to leave the airport. However, when I had just a few hours in Kuala Lumpur Airport (KUL), I could roam the streets visa-free! Here's a visual comparison to show you just how much visas can influence your stopover decision:

Aeroflot aircraft at a snowy gate. Next to this picture is the silver Petronas twin towers in Malaysia

 Moscow stopover vs Kuala Lumpur stopover. Photo credit: Alex Booth

Proximity or your stopover destination to the airport

You don't want to be spending all of your precious stopover time going to and from the airport, with little time to explore the city you've dreamt of visiting. The perfect stopover destinations are the ones that are hassle-free so make sure you have a quick and easy way of getting from the airport to where you want to go.


Know how much the place you’re going to is going to cost you. Check local accommodation and transfer prices before you get on the plane. Even different stopovers within a country can vary drastically. For example, Sydney, Australia (SYD) has convenient transport to and from the Airport as well as reasonable accommodation prices (erm, for Australia). Darwin International Airport (DRW), on the other hand, does not. This is the difference between a fun-loving, sightseeing day out and sleeping in the airport hating life:

Sydney vs Darwin

Sydney stopover vs Darwin stopover. Photo credit: Alex Booth

How to Pack with your stopover in mind

If you're only after a flying visit (no pun intended), pack for your stopover in your carry-on and leave your big baggage items near the airport. Remember to keep all your essentials in your carry-on, whilst making sure they are all non-prohibited items. . Most airports have lockers to store your luggage for 24 hours, leaving you free to explore. Handy tip: if you're disgusted by airport locker prices, check for luggage storerooms/lockers at local metro/train stations instead. A little walk can save you a whole load of cash.

How to make the most of your stopover

Know what you want to do

Don't feel as though you have to do everything. Think of a stopover as an added bonus. A pre-holiday before your big holiday. If you DO want to pack everything in, you need to do your research. If you don't want to buy a whole guidebook for your stopover destination, print out some pages with key information to help you make the most of your time. Is it feasible to do the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, some 5th Avenue Shopping and hit a Broadway show in a 24 hour New York stopover? If you know what you want to do, where the things you want to do and the distances in between them, you'd be surprised what you can fit into a day. A top tip is to order each destination from furthest to nearest - this can save you a lot of time.

Empire state building in sunset surrounded by the New York skyline

 New York Skyline, USA

On the flip-side, don't feel like a stopover means you have to go into a sightseeing overdrive. You may just find a hotel you really want to stay at or know that there's a restaurant you really want to try that you can only get in this one place. It can be a little stressful trying to fit everything during a short stopover. Whatever you want to do, when your time is sandwiched between two flights, it's probably best to have some idea. Whether that means going into a tourist frenzy, wandering around aimlessly, or doing nothing at all is totally up to you.

Some Stopover Ideas

Find a free walking tour

Many capital cities around the world offer free walking tours and they are normally pretty good. Free walking tours means that you don't have to plan anything ahead of time, you can rely on experts advice. They can give you a real feel for a place and leave you with some great recommendations as to what to do with the rest of your time. If you find yourself falling in love with the city and that there are lots to do, you can always plan your next flight here.

Find a restaurant you'd love to visit

I know that if I ever find myself in Chengdu, China, I will be heading straight for an authentic hotpot experience. The second I get to Istanbul, I'll be hunting out 'Falafel House'. It might be that you love Indian food and you want to sample the real thing, or you've heard about this great Michelin Star restaurant in Oslo that's been on your wish list forever. Maybe you had an incredible meal somewhere once this is your time get to relive the deliciousness again! Stopovers are a foodie paradise.

Picture of noodles

 Sichuan Yak Noodle Soup, China. Photo credit: Brianna Mills

Ask around

If you only have a few hours, you only want to do the crème de la crème of touristing. Ask people what the favourite part of their holiday was and what parts weren't so great. Recommendations save you time and money. You can do all of their holiday highlights without having to do the disappointing bits!

Alternative Stopover locations

Delhi, Air India

In terms of Asian stopovers, Delhi is often overlooked. Delhi Airport (Indira Gandhi International Airport - DEL) has great transportation into the city with reasonable luggage locker rates at its train stations. As soon as you get off the metro, you get slapped right in the face with the spectacular sensations of India right in the heart of its most dynamic city. Enjoy a meal. India is known for its delicious flavours - make the most out of this stopover to try all the Indian sweets & treats.

Moscow or St. Petersburg, Aeroflot

I know that I've already mentioned my disappointing Russian Stopover, but 2018 is a little different. If you have tickets to the Russian FIFA World Cup, you can visit Russia visa-free. Take advantage of this and see some stunning St. Petersburg architecture en route to the football. This applies to many sporting events so bear this stopover trick in mind whenever you attend any international games!

Kyiv, Ukraine International Airlines

Kyiv (KBP) is a beautiful city you can easily see in a day and it's jaw-droppingly cheap with good airport connections:

A white Orthodox monastery in Kyiv surrounded by green and yellow sunflowers

 Pechersk Lavra, Kyiv. Photo credit: Brianna Mills

Mauritius, Air Mauritius

After finding out that Air Mauritius offers a stopover at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport (MRU) on their UK - Perth flight, I've become slightly obsessed. According to Lonely Planet, Pointe d'Esny and Blue Bay have some of the most beautiful stretches of beach on the entire island, not to mention being right next to the airport. Ile aux Aigrettes is a popular ecotourism destination also on the airport side of things (although the island is a pretty nice stopover size in general). If you get the chance to stay overnight in Mauritius, simply dance the night away. Mauritius has a vibrant nightlife, and the locals are always up for a party.

Almaty, Air Astana

Almaty (ALA) is a little bit of Europe in a very Central Asian Country. You can wine and dine in the city in the evening and hit the ski slopes or hike up the magnificent mountains surrounding the metropolis during the day. Why not take a city tour? Visit the Zenkov's Cathedral, Central State Museum, Ile-Alatau National Park, Kok Tobe and more.

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