Stopovers: Take ‘Em or Leave ‘Em?

I’ve never really taken advantage of stopovers before, since I usually have the problem of not having enough time at my destination rather than having extra time to include a second location!  However, this time I actually booked two stopovers, one being a “true” stopover in London for two days and the other technically being a connection of 23 hours in Madrid on my way home.  I went into this trip thinking that these stopovers would be more hassle than they were worth while my husband was looking forward to the stopovers just as much as the main destination!

So what’s the verdict?  Well, London was a win and Madrid was a miss.  Frankly, I found the 23-hour connection to be less than enjoyable, since most of that time ended up being used for immigration, buses to/from the airport, checking in/out of the hotel, returning to the airport with enough time to check in, and then personal needs like sleeping and showering.  All in all, I’d estimate my usable time in Madrid at only about 8 hours since we had a flight delay that also cut into the connection.  We tried to make the most of it – but won’t be going out of our way to schedule 23-hour connections in the future.
London, on the other hand, was fantastic.  Recovering from jetlag in a city that’s easy to get around was much simpler than if I had tried to dive right into Morocco half-exhausted.  It gave me the opportunity to see London all decked out for Christmas and do some holiday window-shopping without being stuck in the cold for a full week.
Plus, with 50 hours inbetween flights, there’s actually enough time to do a few things, even if it does leave you wanting more.  Some favorites from this time around were the Tower of London and the Borough Market.  Less of a hit was the Tate Modern, sorry to all you art fans!
But mostly, London was a way to kick back and enjoy the start of my travels at one of my favorite pubs.
Neither my first visit to London or this one was long enough to satisfy me, so I can guarantee I’ll be back.  Next time I’ll stay the whole week – after all, I was inspired by the Borough Market to rent a flat and do my own cooking with all those fresh foods.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll even turn into a regular at the Dog and Duck.
What’s your opinion on stopovers?  Take ’em or leave ’em?

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Editor and Lead Author at The Girl and Globe
Becky loves hiking and the outdoors, reading a good book on a rainy day, practicing yoga with friends, cooking with Sinatra in the background, relaxing with her husband and a good glass of wine, and above all: travel. Read more about Becky.


  1. The Deal Mommy says

    Funny…I had 23 hours in Madrid too! I’d give it a hit, though, for this reason…I had another 3 hour flight to Tenerife and really appreciated the soft landing to help with the jet lag. It also gave me a chance to see a city I’ve never seen and do some shopping. Tapas in the bar where Cervantes lived while writing Don Quixote? Si! Bartender who was bored enough at 4PM to give the gringa free pours of house made vermouth with the serrano tapas? Si!

    Paris for 48 hours? Definite Do! Of course I’ll have to go back to get more, but at least now I’ve seen the Eiffel Tower with my own eyes.

    I’ve even enjoyed stopovers of 8 hours…at BKK I took a cab to Sukumvit for a 3 hour massage and a meal, at LAX I took the bus to the Santa Monica Pier. Any chance to get out into a new city is a win for me!

    (BTW, please enter my giveaway for a free T-shirt. It’s really cute and there are no entries yet!)

    • says

      @The Deal Mommy, I think the soft landing was one of the reasons I had a great time in London, even though it wasn’t a new city for me. Madrid, on the other hand, was at the end of the trip when I had already had a hundred amazing experiences. I’ll write more about the details of Madrid later in my trip report, and you can tell me if I was jaded or not.

      I have to admit that I’ve also done Paris for 48 hours – though it wasn’t a stopover. Can you believe that’s all the time I scheduled there?! I’ll be back there for sure, though who knows when. So many places to go, and this time I know not to try and do Paris in 48 hours!

      Out of curiosity, though…would you book an 8-hour layover on purpose with the intent of something like what you did in BKK/LAX? To me, that’s making the most of an inconvenient situation and I’d probably put energy into looking for that 1-hour layover with an earlier arrival time before resorting to the whirlwind city visit. Or is the quick visit part of the draw for you?

  2. The Deal Mommy says

    Depends. Both of those were forced, but if it’s a city with easy enough visa/transit options (Singapore, AMS, DCA, etc.), I’d happily schedule 6-8 hours to explore a new city.

  3. Kara P says

    Hi, if all works out I’ll be going on a similar trip this year. Madrid/ Morocco for around 9 days. I’ve been trying to figure out the order. I’ll be flying into Madrid. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Based on the soft landing approach I’m wondering if we should do 2
    Days in Madrid first and then leave and hit it again on our way back before we leave. Thanks!

  4. Jason says

    I love a good, long layover in an airport/place I can actually do stuff. AMS, LHR, LEJ, etc, are great airports to get “stuck in” for a long layover. Leave the airport, go do stuff. If I can route it around, I’ll take an extra day on a trip if I can get a 12 hour or longer lay over.

  5. says

    @The Deal Mommy, very interesting to hear your point of view! It’s looking more and more like I’ll have a 23-ish hour layover again this year (Buenos Aires) and while I’d rather just get to my destination sooner, I’ll take advantage of it the best I can and turn it into a “bonus” rather than an inconvenience. I still don’t think I’d purposely plan long layovers though. Maybe I’ll be a convert after an additional try :)

    @Jason, sounds like you’re the opposite of me but I completely agree London is a wonderful place to visit as often as possible. I’ve never been to Leipzig, though!

    @Cd, I pack light but it definitely would’ve been even easier if I had bags checked all the way through and didn’t have to worry about storing them somewhere (or checking into a hotel). Maybe 8-10 hours would be preferable to 23!

  6. Carl says

    I love taking advantage of 23 hour stopovers. You need to do it at airport/city where either the city is really close or the airport has high quality hotels (ideally both) and where you generally don’t have any delays at immigration, customs, security, etc.

    A perfect example is Frankfurt. I’ve never been delayed arriving or leaving. There are several good hotels in the airport (Sheraton and Hilton) and others nearby. The airport train takes 15 minutes into the city, runs every 15 minutes, and costs about $4. So you can stay at the airport and visit the city, or you can stay in the city. Lufthansa’s lounges are grat too.

    So the “overhead” (in time and money) of a stopover in Frankfurt is minimal and you get to spend some time in an additional city. You wouldn’t want to do this if immigation takes an hour, getting to the city takes an hour, you need to arrive 3 hours before your flight, etc. But for some cities, things just work. ZRH is great too, though FRA usually has better priced hotels.

  7. Carl says

    Oh, I should have mentioned – I don’t check bags, so as soon as I’m off the plane, I can enjoy my 23 hours.

  8. Kay says

    @ New Girl – 23 hours should be good in BA. I found BA really disappointing, so it’s a good idea to get a quick feel for it before committing. I liked the colorful La Boca neighborhood. (I think I’m the only person in the planet who doesn’t like BA. I’ll have to give it another chance).

  9. Jessica says

    I had a great 14 hour layover in Rome. Enough time to get downtown, see the Coliseum, ruins, Spanish Steps, Trivi Fountain, eat a ton of food, and get back to the airport in time to fly to the Seychelles.

    We did a 30-ish hour layover on the way home from Germany in London this past summer which also worked out well. Enough time to see some sites again, enjoy a pub for dinner, and do some English grocery shopping. Plus flying in/out of Heathrow & buying German Wings flights vs. direct flights into Germany saved several hundred dollars.

    If you are looking for ideas in BA, check out my friend’s blog. She spent quite a bit of time living there last year and is writing a guide book.

  10. says

    @Carl, I also found FRA easy to transit and was there about 18 hours in 2011. I wasn’t a huge fan of the city, but would gladly give ZRH a chance! (I also travel light)

    @Kay, thanks for your opinion on BA. I’ve read the guidebook and haven’t found anything that stands out as “must do” for me, but I’ll have no problem eating steak, drinking wine, and watching a touristy tango show in the time I have.

    @Jessica, wow – you did a lot in 14 hours in Rome! I haven’t been yet, but can’t wait for my chance to check out the city. Thanks also for the BA blog/link :)

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