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Top Tips for a Long Layover in Dubai Airport


Whether you’re a newbie traveller, a seasoned tourist or a travel influencer jet setting around the world, there is one universal truth that applies: long plane journeys can be a drag. The lengthy waits to drop luggage off, the security checks, the boarding lines - it’s all about patience and queues. But there is something worse yet… Long airport layovers. 

Layovers often equate to mildly uncomfortable and insufficient seating, Toblerone bars galore, and a Premier Inn or NH Hotel awkwardly attached to the terminal building, and almost impossible to find if you’re coming from inside the airport. If you are travelling to developing countries, the dread all but amplifies. I was bracing myself for my umpteenth layover at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from South Africa to Italy, when I found an incredibly cheap alternative through Dubai. The catch? I was going to be at the airport waiting for seven hours. True to the savvy saver I always am, I went for it. Those seven hours changed my concept of layovers so drastically that since then, I purposefully travel through Dubai every time I can.

Here’s why.

Dubai airport - Image: Arianna Meschia

Dubai airport

Image: Arianna Meschia

Innovation Meets 24/7 Convenience

Dubbed the busiest airport in the world by international passenger traffic, Dubai International Airport is a lot more than just a place to get on and off planes, and getting stuck there for a long layover might actually be a blessing in disguise for the weary traveller. Time and space are suspended inside this glass universe that feels a lot like a mix between a gigantic shopping centre and the International Space Station. The high-ceilinged Terminal buildings are open to the outside by church-like ogival windows that scar the steel structure from floor to ceiling.

This and the carefully controlled temperature almost make you feel like you are in fact outside. High palm trees scattered around the Terminals soar to the ceilings, and the children’s playing area at Gate B32 in Terminal 3 boasts fake grass and elegant round benches to enjoy one of the many takeaway options the Terminal offers. Terminal 3 even offers free showers between Gates B13 and B19, and between Gates C18 and C22.

Cosmetics area Dubai Airport - Image: Arianna Meschia

Cosmetics area Dubai Airport

Image: Arianna Meschia

Eating, Drinking & Shopping 

Eating and drinking are probably the most obvious options on long layovers, and nowhere more than Dubai is this true. Each Terminal is a complete culinary trip around the world: from classic Middle-Eastern choices like S34 Meze Bar on the way to C gates in Terminal 3, to high street chains like Paul’s. 

For a real concentration of goodness, head to the Urban Street Market opposite Boots Pharmacy in Terminal 3, where you’ll find anything from poke bowls to burgers. If you prefer to get take away, head to Giraffe for some healthy choices, grab a Starbucks on the way, and head to the nice sitting area near gate B32. Don’t forget to refill your water bottle at one of the many water fountains located at every toilet, and if you’re organised enough to bring tea bags, fill up your cup at the hot water dispenser near gate B31 and enjoy your very own brew!

Urban Street Food - Image: Arianna Meschia

Urban Street Food

Image: Arianna Meschia

Grab yourself one last healthy treat at Camden Food Co. or Treehouse, which both offer cold pressed juices and organic coffee, before shedding some calories with a window-shopping session.

Very helpfully, shops are split into categories, clearly labelled with bright signage: tobacco, jewellery, watches, perfumes, cosmetics, haute couture, toys… You name it, they’ve got it! Separate stands in the middle of the concourse offer additional brands, like luggage maker Akaru - you know, just in case you find yourself in an airport needing a suitcase!

Gucci at Dubai airport - Image: Arianna Meschia

Gucci at Dubai airport

Image: Arianna Meschia

Working & Relaxing

For the jet setters and work-minded types, Dubai International Hotel (accessible from Terminals 1 and 3) has taken remote working and coworking to a different level. With meeting and board rooms, WiFi and hotspot desks, plus printing and fax facilities (do people still fax?!) the time spent travelling can be as productive as possible.

If you’re just looking for a laid-back space in which to relax, the comfortable reclined sitting scattered around all gates provides a much cheaper alternative. The seats are perfect for working on your laptop, watching a film or even taking a nap. There are charging stations including USB sockets at all gates, and the WiFi is pretty fast and easy to get on, with no registration needed. Top tip: if using an Android phone you might get an SSL untrustworthy certificate message. Just exit the WiFi window, then access it again, and try one more time.

Nutella shop Dubai airport - Image: Arianna Meschia

Nutella shop Dubai airport

Image: Arianna Meschia

After you’ve eaten, shopped and worked (or watched movies!) to your heart’s content, head to one of the many spas, which offer anything from waxing, to threading, to massage - essential before getting on your next flight! My recommendation is the Be Relax “From Head to Toe” package, which includes a twenty-minute-deep tissue massage of your upper body, with a twenty-minute reflexology session for £80.

Still not convinced Dubai airport is the place to be? Check out its Facebook page for updates on their Dubai Stage performances: you might even catch some live music at three in the morning... Because why not? 

Written by Arianna Meschia

I travel (a lot), I write (always), I take pictures (too many). Born and bred in Italy, London adopted me until I grew bored of the film production routine, bought a one-way ticket to Malawi and gave into my first and biggest passion: putting words together to tell stories, better if unheard. I’ve just come back from an East Africa bike trip churning 8,000km through six countries, and I’m about to continue into Europe, aboard a trusted BMW F650GS, before moving back to South Africa.

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