Butterfly garden at Singapore's Changi Airport (Andy_Mitchell_UK/Flickr)
There are certain world airports that stick out as perennial party poopers when it comes to traveling with kids (London Heathrow being my personal horror show, with its interminably long, draughty, and crowded corridors, which are a nightmare to navigate with jetlagged youngsters). But where are the airports that put some of the play back into travel? Here are our picks (caveat emptor: we can't vouch for freak weather events, transit delays, or unplanned kiddie meltdowns at any of these selections).
Europe Winner: Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS)
Forego the strike-fuelled chaos of Paris Charles de Gaulle each summer, and use Amsterdam Schiphol as your European transit hub. This bright, smooth-running airport features a free "Kids' Forest" playzone with treehouses, slides, and climbing equipment, plus an outdoor observation deck for teens to get their first lungful of (admittedly, aviation-fuel-soaked) European air.
Regional Runner-up: Copenhagen Airport (CPH), for its home-turf Lego store and family-friendly quiet areas.
Asia Winner: Singapore Changi Airport (SIN)
With almost 40 million passengers each year, Singapore's Changi Airport ranks among the world's top 20 busiest airports, but this Southeast Asian hub actually manages to make life bearable for most passengers, including its smallest. Highlights include traditional woodblock-rubbing classes, a tropical butterfly garden replete with gushing waterfall, and free guided Singapore tours for those passing through on longer layovers.
Regional Runner-up: Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL), for its yummy noodle outlets, quiet sleep areas, and indoor rainforest canopy walk.
North America Winner: Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)
In a land of depressingly mundane and soulless airport terminals, Seattle's airport—aka, SeaTac—already scores points for its modern, light-filled central atrium, eclectic restaurants, and free airport-wide WiFi. However, for parents, SeaTac seals the deal with a 1,400-square-foot play area that's filled with padded play structures, airplanes, and other soft toys. There's even a family restroom and private nursing area with rockers.
Regional Runner-up: Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD), for its proximity to the National Air and Space Museum's vaulted Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center hangar (only 50 cents per person each way on VRTA's Dulles 2 Dulles connector service).
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