world's best airports: black and white butterfly on red gerbera daisy
Unique among the world’s best airports, number-one Singapore Changi features a butterfly garden

The results are in – Singapore Changi came out on top in a ranking of the world’s best airports.

That’s according to the SkyTrax World Airport Awards. The honors were based on more than 13 million passenger nominations representing 106 nationalities. They rated 550 airports worldwide in the largest annual global airport satisfaction poll. The survey evaluates flier approval on 39 factors, including check-in, arrivals, shopping, security and immigration, and departure at the gate.

Why is Singapore Changi the globe’s top airport? And what makes regional winners among the world’s best airports? Discover what makes 6 outstanding global airports tops in their regions.

Top airport: Singapore Changi

For the fourth time, Singapore Changi emerged on top of the list of the world’s best airports. The airport, handling more than 53 million passengers a year, is also, of course, the best in Asia.

Fans praise its organization and efficiency. An example: you’re asked to rate the restrooms. If you weigh in with anything less than ‘good,’ you’re asked why. A dirty stall or lack of soap will be remedied quickly.

Changi devotees also love its surprising features. What other airport offers a two-level Butterfly Garden? Home to more than 1,000 butterflies, passengers can see the birth of a butterfly as it emerges from its cocoon. It’s one of several specialty gardens in the airport. Two rooftop gardens highlight sunflowers (500 of them) and more than 40 species of cacti. The orchid garden shows off Singapore’s famed flowers, including rare varieties. And a water lily garden displays the plants in their aquatic surroundings.

world's best airports: singapore changi lounge with comfortable chairs and plants
Singapore Changi features many comfortable lounge areas for weary travelers

When passengers tire of the gardens, they can be entertained at the airport’s movie theaters or assortment of TV lounges. Or take a refreshing dip in the rooftop pool. Tired from travel? Catch some Zs at free Snooze Lounges. Lie back in a chair and pretend you’re out in nature with abundant light and nearby tropical plants.

Kids, though, won’t want to nap. And Changi won’t disappoint. They’ll find toy stores, video arcades, Singapore’s tallest slide (all four stories of it) and a playground.

Best airport in Africa: Cape Town

Africa’s third-busiest airport (behind Johannesburg and Cairo), Cape Town wins praise for its infrastructure, cleanliness and friendly service. Rebuilt for the 2010 World Cup, the spacious airport handles large numbers of passengers efficiently – around nine million a year. It’s easy to navigate and the abundant natural light is also a winner with passengers. Enjoy panoramic views of departing and arriving planes while waiting for your flight to be called.

There’s no lack of restaurants, shops and services to pass the time. Do as the locals do and buy a snack at the Woolworths food market. Or munch on South Africa’s beloved dried meat, biltong. Have your hair or nails done. Purchase souvenirs such as South African wines or commemorative coins. If you’re looking for a pricier remembrance of your stay, you can also purchase one of the country’s most famed exports: a diamond.

Unique among the world’s best airports, passengers can relax in the Flybrary – a lounge with comfortable chairs and shelves of books. Take one you haven’t read and leave one you have to lighten your travel load. Get cozy by the antique fireplace rescued from an old home and dive into your new find.

Best airport in Australia/Pacific: Brisbane

Serving 22 million passengers per year, Brisbane is Australia’s third-busiest airport. Like others on the world’s best airports list, it’s clean, efficient, modern and spacious. But what sets Brisbane apart are its funky and local offerings.

When shopping, you’ll find local treasures galore to take home. Airport stores offer everything from mango wine to organic soaps to coffee to sustainably sourced hand-crafted wood pieces.

world's best airport: man on down escalator at brisbane airport with glass wall on right
Brisbane Airport wins praise for being clean, efficient, modern and spacious

Other retailers offer distinctive goods you won’t see in just any airport. There’s a cool stationery store, a bookstore-café, an outfitter with everything you need for Outback adventures, a store specializing in wool garments from Australia and the world, and a modern sleepwear shop. The Market Place, with its stalls selling local gifts and food, adds another element of fun.

Dining options, too, are more interesting. Many focus on healthy, fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Craving Vietnamese street food? There are two spots for that. Or gourmet burgers, including ones fashioned from Australian lamb. Or Down Under favorites like meat pies and beer-battered whiting.

For a hip sweet treat, enjoy small-batch hand-dipped donuts with interesting ingredients such as potato chips, freeze-dried strawberries and Hershey’s kisses.

Best airport in Europe: Munich

Munich, number three overall on the world’s best airports list, took the top spot for European airports. Handling 39 million passengers a year, the airport feels airy, with lots of glass to let in outdoor light.

One outstanding feature: its Visitor’s Park. Kids love the playground and the chance to see historic aircraft up close. Passengers of all ages can learn about the airport in a multimedia exhibit. They can climb 30 yards above the airport for a great view of both runways. And even play mini-golf.

Travelers have their choice of more than 150 shops and 50 restaurants and bars. In a city famed for Oktoberfest, it’s no surprise that you’ll find Airbräu, the world’s first airport brewery. It’s also Europe’s largest roofed-in beer garden, with room for 600 patrons.

Looking for more ways to pass time? Try your luck at two gaming arcades. Or practice your pilot skills at a Boeing 737 flight simulator. If hunger strikes in the middle of the night, two 24-hour dining options are available.

Free relaxation zones provide lounge chairs and couches for relaxation. Special lighting and decorative plants create a calming environment. There’s even a reading area with a choice of 600 free books.

For an even better rest, head for a Napcab. These pods, rented by the hour, contain a bed, music, TV, desk and free Internet. The airport’s VipWing goes a step further, with lounges, individual suites and the service of personal attendants.

Best airport in North America: Vancouver

Canada’s second-busiest airport, Vancouver serves 19 million passengers a year. Watch the activity on the tarmac at the observation area through floor-to-ceiling windows, complete with telescopes and a touch-screen kiosk to test your airport savvy.

The award-winning design, based on themes of land, sea and sky, creates a serene experience. The blue and green color palette and the supporting pillars that resemble trees are just two ways the theme is reflected in the décor. High ceilings and lots of windows also make the airport an attractive place to spend time.

world's best airports: vancouver airport departure lounge with multicolored chairs
The color scheme at Vancouver’s airport matches its design theme of land, sea and sky

Nature is never far away. Chester Johnson Park offers a calm place to sit down or wander a tree-lined path past a pond and three totem poles. The Green Wall, a symbol of the airport’s commitment to sustainability, is a tapestry of 27,391 separate plants. There’s also a 30,000-gallon aquarium showcasing 5,000 native sea creatures such as eels, sea urchins and anemones.

Take the terminal’s self-guided walking tour to explore its West Coast First Nations themes. One standout feature is the 19-foot-long Jade Canoe, a bronze sculpture representing all living beings. Two sets of welcome figures, carved from cedar, greet passengers as they enter the customs area and the public international arrivals area. A collection of carvings called Supernatural World commemorate creatures of the region, including an orca, bear, eagle and human.

Best airport in South America: Bogota El Dorado

Travelers rave about Bogota’s airport, the third busiest in Latin America with 30 million passengers. They use words like beautiful and clean. The newly renovated modern airport feels spacious with its abundant windows.  It’s also well designed for efficient passenger flow. And it’s comfortable to walk around, with its constant 72-degree temperature.

Airport staff also get stellar reviews. They’re praised for their courtesy, friendliness and multilingual abilities.

Shoppers will find a variety of outlets selling everything from books to clothing. Several craft shops sell locally produced items including leather goods, jewelry and other souvenirs.

Dining options include international fare like pizza and teriyaki. If you want cuisine that’s authentic to the region, try Katios for catfish stew, roast chicken and grilled spicy sausage. After dinner, treat yourself to an offering from one of the bakeries.

You’ll also find plenty of cafes – natural given that this is Colombia. Thirsty for something stronger? Craft brewery Bogota Beer Company has an outlet at the airport.

How to discover the world’s best airports

Virtuoso has hundreds of advisors who specialize in air travel. They know airports and airlines inside and out. And they’re happy to share their secrets of the world’s best airports with you. Contact one when you’re contemplating your next trip.