Getting to the UK and Europe from our fair shores means resigning yourself to the fact you're going to be spending around 24 hours on a plane. Stephanie Holmes suggests soothing the cabin fever with a layover in one of these great destinations, all one direct flight from Auckland.

LOS ANGELES

Why:

Air New Zealand flies direct to LA several times a day, with connecting flights to London.

The airport:

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Okay, so LAX has a bad reputation, but parts of it are actually a lot better than they used to be. Tom Bradley International Terminal officially opened in 2013 after multibillion-dollar refurbishments and is now reasonably pleasant . . . as far as US airports go. There are great duty-free shops in the departures hall, including Chloe, Burberry, Fred Segal, and Porsche.

How long to stop:

One to three nights. Get an ESTA visitor's visa before travel.

What to do:

About three days gives you enough time to do a day at a theme park, a day's shopping/sightseeing around Hollywood, and a day exploring the beaches of Santa Monica, Venice and Huntington. If you only have 24-hours, spend a night at an airport hotel and get an Uber to West Hollywood for the day. The blocks between the Beverly Center (huge indoor mall) and The Grove (huge outdoor mall, farmers market and dining complex) are easily walkable and boast great food, shopping and celeb-spotting.

HONOLULU

Why:

Have a beachy break on your way to big-city America. From Daniel K Inouye International Airport in Honolulu on the island of Oahu, Hawaiian Airlines connects to 12 US cities, including Las Vegas, Portland, New York City and Seattle. Plus, flying with Hawaiian means you can check in two suitcases weighing up to 23kg each. That's room for a lot of shopping.

The airport:

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One of America's busiest airports, with 21 million passengers passing through every year. It has a reputation as being quite hard to get around, with long queues at security, bad food options, and expensive Wi-Fi.

How long to stop:

You could easily spend a week in Hawaii, so it depends how long you want to dedicate to your layover, and how long you want for your actual holiday. ESTA visa required.

What to do:

Visit one of the island's beautiful beaches — Waikiki is quite touristy, but it's still beautiful with golden sand and warm waters. For an active adventure, hike up Diamond Head Crater, an extinct volcano with panoramic views. For shopping, head to the Ala Moana Center. It's huge, with more than 340 stores, restaurants and a food court, and you'll find prices far more affordable than they are at home.

Waikiki Beach. Photo / Getty Images
Waikiki Beach. Photo / Getty Images

SAN FRANCISCO

Why:

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It's is a great gateway destination if you're heading to parts of the US not served by direct flights.

The airport:

San Francisco International is the second busiest airport in California but its location — just over 21km to Downtown San Fran — means you could be in front of the Golden Gate Bridge in less than 30 minutes. The best thing of course, is the Wag Brigade. The San Francisco SPCA bring trained dogs — and one pig — into the terminals to help passengers feel more relaxed . . . and yes, you can pat them.

How long to stop:

One to three nights. ESTA visa required.

What to do:

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Grab a hop-on, hop-off bus pass so you can see as much of the city as possible, including driving over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, and heading up to Golden Gate Park and the Palace of Fine Arts. Don't miss a tour to Alcatraz — make sure you book online before you leave NZ.

HOUSTON

Why:

If you want to reach America's southern states, or take a hop down to Mexico, the Caribbean or Central America, Houston is the hub for you.

The airport:

While online reviewers on Sleeping in Airports (sleepinginairports.net) say George Bush Intercontinental is "dirty, chaotic and inefficient", Travel Editor Winston Aldworth disagrees. "It's big and slick," he says. "It doesn't have a lot of character but everything's new and everything works."

How long to stop:

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One night is ample. ESTA visa required.

What to do:

Space Center Houston is a museum not to be missed. Filled with space artifacts, exhibits and attractions, it's also where you'll find the NASA Johnson Space Center. A tram tour takes you behind the scenes of this working government facility and to Rocket Park, home of the Saturn V rocket — the most powerful ever built. At the Starship Gallery you can walk inside the Skylab Trainer Module, where astronauts first trained for life in space.

SHANGHAI

Why:

Travelling to China may seem an intimidating prospect if you've never visited before, but Shanghai is a great introduction. Dubbed "the Paris of the East", it's easy to get around, has excellent food and is an intriguing mix of old and new.

The airport:

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Another huge airport that feels spacious and clean, but food can be expensive, with limited options. Getting into the city is unbelievably fast with the high-speed Transrapid maglev (magnetic levitation) train. Reaching speeds of 350km/h, you'll be in the city in 7 minutes and 20 seconds. From there, the Metro is easy to use, with English signage at stations.

How long to stop:

Up to 72 hours — anything longer than that requires applying for a Chinese visa. For visa-free travel, you'll need proof that you're in transit to a connecting destination (which can't be within China, or a return flight to NZ), and you must depart from Shanghai Airport.

What to do:

Walk along the Bund, the riverside promenade area, or see it from above from the world's highest observation deck at the Shanghai Tower. Visit some of the city's many art museums, including the Yuz, Rockbund Art Museum and the Shanghai Museum of Glass. Nanjing Rd is the must-stop for shopaholics, and it's totally worth taking a food-themed walking tour to make the most of the city's best eats.

HONG KONG

Hong Kong. Photo / Getty Images
Hong Kong. Photo / Getty Images

Why:

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Transport options are excellent from the airport into the city and you'll find much to see and do, as well as excellent food at every turn. The Guardian named it "the perfect stopover city".

The airport:

You could actually spend your entire layover in Hong Kong International Airport itself, with an Imax cinema, indoor golf simulator, an Aviation Discovery Centre, food courts, a spa and high-end shopping. Business Class Cathay Pacific passengers should head straight for The Pier lounge — it's heavenly.

How long to stop:

One to three nights. No visa required.

What to do:

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Even if you just have a matter of hours to kill between flights, it's still worth leaving the airport. The Airport Express takes less than 30 minutes and once in the city, the subway is clean and easy to use with English signage to help you navigate. If you'd prefer to stay above ground, taxis are abundant and affordable. Hong Kong's best attractions include Victoria Peak, Victoria Harbour, Temple St Night Market, Man Mo Temple and the Avenue of Stars. There's great local shopping at PMQ (the former Police Married Quarters), and Hollywood Rd is the place to head for antiques and art galleries. Families may want to make a detour to Hong Kong Disneyland.

SINGAPORE

Why:

Another great Asian stopover, with a world-class airport served by a couple of airlines from NZ, and easy transport links to the city. Singapore has some excellent attractions for families.

The airport:

Changi Airport is modern, spacious and huge, often making top spot in "world's best" lists. The three terminals are connected internally so you can walk between them all to stretch your legs. Entertainment is abundant — movie theatres, a butterfly garden, rooftop swimming pool, multi-storey slides, unlimited free Wi-Fi and — for stopovers of at least five hours — a free 2.5 hour tour of Singapore.

How long to stop:

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One to three nights. No visa required.

What to do:

Visit the Singapore Zoo and nearby night safari to see a range of animals in enclosures modelled after their own habitats. Gardens by the Bay, two giant greenhouses housing exotic plants, are a must-see, with sculptures and hourly night-time light shows. Have dinner at

Lau Pa Sat, the city's most famous food market where you can fill your face for very few dollars. Explore diverse neighbourhoods like Little India,

Kampong Glam and Chinatown, and if you want a more taxing walk, there are 40 trails around the city, ranging from 30 minutes to five hours in duration. And on Sentosa Island, you'll find a water park, Universal Studios, zip-lines, a luge and bungy jumps.

KUALA LUMPUR

Why:

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The food, the shopping, the skyscrapers and the parks.

The airport:

KLIA is a world hub, so it can get very busy, but it's modern with great facilities, including free Wi-Fi, children's play areas, a movie lounge, a gym, luggage lockers, and an observation deck.

How long to stop:

One to three nights. No visa required.

What to do:

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See the Petronas Towers — the world's tallest twin towers, which look stunning when they light up as the sun goes down. The views from the observation deck will make your knees wobble. The Bird Park has more than 200 species flying around inside a huge netted complex, with bird shows and eagle feeding to entertain. Take one of the city's many cookery classes and learn how to make classic Malay dishes. Shop at Berjaya Times Square, then take a break with the mall's own theme park. Head 11km out of the city to the Batu Caves, a limestone hill with a 100-year-old temple with idols and statues inside the caves. Be prepared to climb 272 steep steps to the summit.

DOHA

Dhows on Doha Bay. Photo / Getty Images
Dhows on Doha Bay. Photo / Getty Images

Why:

Okay, so you have to take the current world's longest flight to get there, meaning you're on a plane for more than 17 hours. But that means your next flight to your onward destination is much shorter.

The airport:

Hamad International is huge and a major transport hub — Qatar flies to more than 150 destinations from here — but it always feels peaceful and uncrowded. There's excellent free Wi-Fi, and artworks are on display throughout the terminal. The Airport Hotel's wellness centre has a swimming pool, hydrotherapy tub, showers, squash courts and a spa. Transit passengers can also get a complimentary tour of Doha — four tours depart daily.

How long to stop:

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One to two days. Avoid mid-summer unless you love temperatures upwards of 40C. No visa required.

What to do:

Visit Souq Waqif, the historic heart of Doha with shops and cafes. The Pearl is a city within a city, with designer stores and deluxe apartments. Hop-on hop-off buses take you around the main sites, including the Katara Cultural Village Arts Complex. To learn about Qatari and Islamic culture, visit the Fanar Islamic Cultural Centre. Remember you can drink alcohol only in international hotels.

DUBAI

Dubai. Photo / Getty Images
Dubai. Photo / Getty Images

Why:

As with Doha, she's a long flight to arrive, but you can connect to 150 destinations around the world from here. Plus, Dubai is a good stop-off for families, thanks to its theme parks and attractions.

The airport:

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It's the third busiest airport in the world, which may seem overwhelming, but I've passed through Dubai twice in as many years and have found it functional and easy. Emirates flies direct from Auckland and their A380 planes arrive at Terminal 3's concourse A, dedicated for these double-decker beasts. There are four concourses within terminal 3, all easily accessible via light rail, and you'll find a range of lounges, shopping, a fitness club, spa and gardens.

How long to stop:

One to two days. Again, avoid high summer. No visa required.

What to do:

Emirates offers a range of packages for layover passengers, taking care of visas, transfers, accommodation, tours and experiences. Whether you go with their pre-arranged itineraries or your own, you'll want to visit Dubai Creek, the oldest part of the city, where you can travel by Abra boat, see dhow trade ships and visit the souks, museums and forts. There's also a range of theme parks and water parks, malls and nightlife, and tours are available out into the desert. Don't leave without heading to Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.