Lengthy airport layovers are not only a total brain drain, but a wasted opportunity to explore. If you thought that all airport layovers have to be this way, this article may just change your mind!
Some airports offer tours and other great distractions such as in-airport movie theatres, museums, musical performances, and tropical gardens. The best part? These are available for FREE, and no visa is required as you’re considered an “in transit” passenger. Just be sure to bring all your travel documents with you (see end of article).
Needless to say, layovers can now be turned into thrifty travel experiences. Here’s 7 airports with free tours & activities!
1. Singapore (Singapore Changi Airport)
- Layover time needed: 5 hours
- What to see: Chinatown, Little India, Gardens by the Bay, The Esplanade, and Marina Bay Waterfront (pictured above).
- Where to register: For Terminal 2, sign up is near the escalators to North Arrival Immigration and Skytrain station at Transit Mall North, Level 2 (Near Transfer Lounge E). For Terminal 3, it is next to Transfer Lounge B at Transit Mall North, level 2. If in Terminal 1, transfer to Terminal 2 to register.
- Tour schedule & info: There are 2 tours to choose from – a City Lights Tour and Heritage Tour. Tours run 5x a day, the first at 9AM and the last at 6:30PM. Further details can be found on the Changi Airport website.
Other Changi Airport Freebies
- Take a garden walk in any of the airport’s 5 gardens, including a butterfly garden.
- Free movies can be watched in any of the airport’s three movie theatres 24 hours a day, located in Terminal 2 & 3. For locations and movie times, check here.
- Slip down the world’s tallest slide. With any $10 purchase at the airport, you can get a token to give it a go!
- Sleep in Changi’s free rest areas between flights at no charge.
- DIY art in Changi’s cultural centre where you can try out woodblock rubbing, a once popular artform in the 50’s and 60’s.
2. Seoul, Korea (Incheon Intl Airport)
- Layover time needed: 1-5+ hours depending on the tour.
- What to see: the oceanside Haedon Yonggungsa Temple (pictured above), Incheon Grand Bridge, Shinpo Market, Namsangol Hanok Village, and Gyeongbokgung Palace.
- Where to register: reservations can be made online or at the main Transit Tour main desk in immigration section B, near the KoreanAir desk, 2nd floor of the passenger terminal.
- Tour schedule & info: There are 7 tours to choose from with recommendations based on your layover time (viewable here). In total there are 14 departures per day. The first is at 8:00AM and the last finishes at 3:00PM. Further details can be found on the Incheon airport website.
- Important note(s): Incheon’s tours are almost free – a $10 USD (10,000 KWD) fee is charged.
Other Incheon Airport Freebies
- Gardens: Pine, cacti, and rock gardens are just some of the 7 gardens to explore, all found on this map. Location: All are located in the Millenium Hall and Welcoming Hall (both 1F, passenger terminal), except for the Four Gracious Plants garden found in the East and West Wing B1 of the passenger terminal.
- Korean Cultural Museum: with an array of art spanning 5,000 years, this small but impressive collection of ancient relics is a great way to pass the time. Location: Transfer Lounge (Level 4F). Hours: 07:00-22:00.
- Traditional Korean Cultural Experience: make your own handicrafts such as traditional Korean paper (Hanji) or fans. You can even listen to traditional Korean musical performances and 12-string harp recitals (concert schedule viewable here). Location: Public area 1F Millenium Hall or Level 3F if in the Duty-Free Area near Gate 31. Hours: 07:00-22:00.
- View Korean art in the Traditional Craft Gallery, open 24 hours a day for your viewing pleasure.
3. Taipei, Taiwan (Taoyuan Intl Airport)
- Layover time needed: 7 to 24 hours max.
- What to see: Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial hall, Taipei 101, Sanxia, and Zushi Temple.
- Where to register: Book upon arrival at the Tourist Service Center in the Arrival Lobby of Termina 1 and 2. As per the airport website, “You can book a tour after your arrival, at the Tourist Service Center located in the Arrival Lobby of Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 of the Taoyuan International Airport”. Bookings are made on a first come, first served basis.
- Tour schedule & info: There are two tours to choose from – a morning tour and an afternoon tour leaving at 08:15 and 13:45 respectively. Further details can be found on the Taipei Airport website.
4. Tokyo, Japan (Tokyo Narita Airport)
- Layover time needed: 5 hours minimum (tours are 3 hours long)
- What to see: forest paths, museums
- Where to register: in-person at Narita Transit Tourism Counter in Terminal 1 or 2 (maps here) or online. Take note the desk is only open from 9:00AM-12:00PM.
- Tour schedule & more info: There are 5 different tours offered. Highlights include the Narita-san Shinso-Ji temple, Museum of Aeronautical Sciences, nature walks, Shisui shopping outlets. More information can be found here.
- Important notes: you must pay your own public transit costs and/or museum entry (where applicable).
5. Istanbul, Turkey (Ataturk Intl Airport)
- Important note(s): to qualify for the free Istanbultours, you must be flying with Turkish Airlines.
- Layover time needed: 6 to 24 hours max.
- What to see: Blue Mosque (pictured above), Hippodrome Square, Aya Triada Church, Taksim Square, Grand Covered Bazaar, Serpentine Column, Topkapı Palace, and Obelisk of Thedosius.
- Where to register: the Hotel Desk in the International Arrival Hall, which is located after passport and customs control next to Starbucks. Arrive at least half an hour before a tour starts. Location is viewable here.
- Tour schedule & info: There are 3 tours which each cover various highlights. Tours begin at 09:00 and 12:00. Further tour details can be found here.
- Note: it seems that visa requirements have changed and travellers are advised to check if they need a visa while in transit, which can be viewed here.
6. Doha, Qatar (Doha Intl Airport)
- Layover time needed: 5 to 12 hours max.
- What to see: the Museum of Islamic Art, the Souq Waqif, the Pearl-Qatar, and the Katara Cultural Village.
- Where to register: the Doha City Tour desk (marked as “City Tours”) located between the departures board, the Chanel/Dior duty-free shop and a store called Marmelade.
- Tour schedule & more info: Tours are available to anyone arriving between 4:00AM-7:00PM with the minimum layover time. Further tour details can be found here.
- Important note(s): the Museum of Islamic Art is closed on Tuesdays.
7. Salt Lake City, Utah (Salt Lake City Intl Airport)
- Layover time needed: 2 hours
- What to see: Temple Square in Salt Lake city
- Where to register: The airport information desk in Terminal 1 or 2 (or ask any ticket counter for a brochure which has times).
- Tour schedule & more info: Tours leave every hour from 11:00-16:00. More information can be found here.
Free Airport Tours: Must Knows
- You don’t need a visa to take airport layover tours as you’re considered an “in-transit” passenger. Often you may need to hand over your passport for the length of the tour. But you should always ensure beforehand that your passport is not an exempt country, as some countries are not allowed to have in-transit passengers.
- Double check for extra costs such as museum entries which may not be covered.
- Consider bringing a packed meal e.g. it may be cheaper to buy a sandwich at an airport food court chain than a museum. Alternatively if seeing a market, you may wish to hold out for stall food.
- Check what documents you need to board a tour. Commonly you may need to show the airline ticket of your previous and upcoming flight.
- Consider where to store your luggage if applicable (some tours may not have room or allow you to bring your luggage with you).
- Take note of when you need to arrive for tours – some require you to show up 30 minutes to an hour beforehand.
Know of any other airport freebies or tours not listed here? Share below!