Free transit tours are great getaways to maximize your travel time and explore a destination. So, turn your long airport layover into a great experience.
Free transit tours are often only available only to transfer passengers flying with certain airlines to the carrier’s home-based airport. However, four airports in Asia offers such tours to travellers regardless of carrier choice.
Demand for these free transit tours are high during peak travel season, and they are available on a first-come-first-served basis. Some airports allow advance online reservation.
If so, reserve your tour once you purchase your air ticket. There is no add-on fee for airport layovers. However, some airlines may charge slightly more for air tickets with lengthy layovers.
Request your travel agent to reserve your tour once your air ticket is purchased. Your arrival time at the airport must coincide with the transit tour counter opening hours. You must be physically present at the tour counter, generally 30 minutes prior to tour departure.
Ensure you meet the destination’s entry requirements, and your passport is valid for a minimum of six months on arrival. Apply for a visa in advance, if needed.
Transit and transfer passengers may require a visa, depending on their passport issuing country. Tours held within the airport transit area without needing to clear immigration generally do not require a visa.
Transit passengers resume their journey on the same aircraft after a brief layover whereas, transfer passengers continue on a different aircraft or airline.
At the transit tour counter, the agent would ask for your passport, boarding pass, valid entry visa (if required) and tour booking confirmation.
The agent can deny your tour if you don’t meet eligibility requirements. Some agents may keep your passport before you depart on your tour and return it to you after your tour.
Jet Lag and Other Considerations
Consider jet lag when you book your transit tour. You wouldn’t want to sleep while on tour. Jet lag is worse when travelling from west to east or, north to south across three or more time zones. Generally, it’s easier to delay your internal body clock than advance it.
Most free transit tours are between one to six hours in length. They operate within or outside the airport terminal, and are often led by English speaking guides.
Tours range from city visits to cultural, entertainment and theme experiences. Some include market visits and food sampling.
Inform the guide prior to starting your tour should you have food allergies, and avoid food sampling if you have a sensitive gut. You still have a flight to catch.
Ready a small amount of local currency to pay for admission fees, meals, tips and shopping. You can change money on arrival at the currency exchange counters. Prepare for last minute tour itinerary change due to weather and traffic conditions.
Watch Your Time
Set your clock to local time before leaving for your tour. Allow sufficient time to return to the airport to catch your connecting flight. Ideally, be at the airport at least 2.5 hours prior to flight departure. This would give you time to collect your luggage, freshen up, check in and clear immigration and security.
While you are on tour, stay close to the tour guide to avoid getting lost. It’s easy to wander off and lose track of time especially on market or shopping tours.
The tour guide and bus are on a schedule to get passengers back to the airport on time. Tour providers are not responsible for passengers who miss their flights due to delays returning to the airport.
Your travel insurance will likely not cover your travel expenses, including flight costs, and accommodation, if you are at fault.
Airports and Airline Offering Free Transit Tours
Here are four airports and an airline that offer free transit tours. Incheon International Airport offers the most comprehensive free transit tours outside of the airport. The tours are well worth it.
The others are Singapore Changi Airport, Tokyo Narita International Airport, Taipei Taoyuan Airport and Istanbul International Airport.
Incheon International Airport
- Transit tours were re-launched on January 01, 2023.
- Minimum transit time is at least 4 hours but less than 24 hours.
- You can reserve in advance online or upon arrival.
- Transit Tour Information Desks are located near transfer areas in Terminal 1 and 2. The main desks are in the public areas after immigration clearance.
- You can pre-book your tour(s) at Tour Reservation. If online reservation is ‘sold out’, you may still try to book your tour on arrival as less than 50% of the space is allotted for online booking.
- Leave bulky or wheeled cabin luggage at a luggage storage and packaging (fees apply) depot in the airport before tour departure.
- Note that transit passengers can only enter and exit Korea once during their layover period.
- Registered tour passengers must be present at main registration desk (after immigration clearance) with their travel documents at least 30 minute before the tour commencement.
- Tours range from one to six hours. Most of the 15 tours are free. Some tours have a minimal charge of $2 US to $20 US, perhaps to cover for admission fees. You may be able to sign up for two or more tours if you overnight at an airport hotel (at your expense) during your layover.
Related: Craving for Tasty Seoul
There are many attractions and activities to enjoy for those who prefer to stay within the airport, such as:
- Watch the traditional changing of the royal guard ceremony or Korean royal family walk
- Enjoy gugak-traditional Korean or classical music performances.
- Immerse in a cultural experience at the Korea Traditional Culture Experience Center, Kinetic Jogakbo and Korean Cultural Street.
- Enjoy the traditional and contemporary artwork in the airport.
- For a breath of nature, there are seven gardens to explore.
Singapore Changi Airport
- Transit tours were re-launched on April 01, 2023 after a two-year hiatus due to Covid-19.
- Tours are only available to passengers on transit or transferring at Changi Airport.
- Minimum transit time is at least 5.5 hours but less than 24 hours, and your flight schedule coincide with their tour times.
- You can make a reservation on arrival at Changi Airport. Do Not clear immigration on arrival as the Free Singapore Tour service counters are located within the transit area in Terminal 2 and 3. Counter opening hours are 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. daily.
- To book a tour, you can scan the QR code at the counter or pre-book if you are flying with Singapore Airlines.
- Leave bulky or wheeled cabin luggage at a Baggage Storage counter (fees apply) in the airport transit before joining the tour.
- Note that transit passengers can only enter and exit Singapore once during their layover period.
- Tours are under three hours. More details at Free Singapore Tour
Related: Singapore’s Capsule-Style Lodging: A Minimalist Travel’s Secret
No time to leave the terminal. There are plenty of attractions and activities to do within the airport, such as:
- Take a garden walk in any of the airport’s five gardens, including the butterfly garden. The garden is home to over 1,000 tropical butterflies of nearly 40 species.
- Free movies at any of the airport’s three movie theatres 24/7.
- Enjoy an exhilarating ride down 4-storeys on the Discovery Slides at Canopy Park, Singapore’s tallest slide and the world’s tallest slide within an airport.
Related: Changi Airport: A Game Changer and Destination in Its Own Right
Istanbul International Airport
- Istanbul Airport is a large transit hub that connects Europe and North America with Asia.
- Touristanbul is a free layover tour program of Turkish Airlines for their international transfer passengers. Non-paying passengers are not eligible.
- Minimum transit time is between 6 hours to 24 hours.
- Passengers with restricted mobility cannot participate as virtually all tours involve climbing steps.
- You can only reserve the tour on arrival at the Turkish Airlines Touristanbul Hotel Desk located in the International Arrivals Terminal. The Desk opens at 7:00 a.m.
- Passengers must be present at Hotel Desk with their travel documents at least 30 minute before tour commencement.
- Tours run daily starting at 8:00 a.m. The last tour finishes at 9:30 p.m.
- There are eight tour choices ranging from 3.5 to 6.5 hours in length, and only one tour is permitted for same day transit.
- One of the tours permits caged pets.
- In addition to transportation, the guided tours also include basic meals (breakfast and/or lunch) and museum admission fees. There are no medical and religious meal options, only vegetarian.
- You can rent luggage lockers located next to the Hotel Desk for a small fee to store your bulky or wheeled cabin luggage.
- If you choose to skip the Touristanbul tours, you may be able to get a free hotel room to rest. The Hotel Desk will determine your eligibility.
Temporarily Suspended Programs Due to Covid-19
Tokyo Narita International Airport
- The airport transit and stay programs are temporarily suspended.
- Minimum layover period must be at least five hours as tours are between 2.5 to 4 hours long.
- Citizens of most countries require a visa to enter Japan.
- You can book your tour at the Narita Transit Tourism Center at both Terminal 1 and 2. The Centers’ opening hours are from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
- The airport offers five guided tours and six self-guided tours listed. For online reservation, click here.
- Only tour guide services are free, and are provided by local English speaking volunteer tour guide interns.
- Transportation and other related-travel cost are at your own expense.
- A few tours provide bus service which you have to pay, while others utilize public transport.
- Details will be updated once tour suspension is lifted.
Taipei Taoyuan Airport
- One of the first airports in the world to offer free transit tours. Their free half day tours are temporarily suspended.
- Tour duration is about four hours. Minimum layover period must be between 7 to 24 hours.
- You can book online or on arrival at the Tourist Service Centre in the Arrival Lobby of Terminal 1 and 2.
- Each tour has 18 spaces. Six can be reserved online between two and four weeks prior to arrival, the remaining is based on a first-come-first-served on arrival.
- Two types of tours are offered, namely: city and rural spa tours with one morning departure, and the other in the evening.
- Details will be updated once tour suspension is lifted.
Etihad Airways used to offer free transit tours for transfer passengers arriving at Abu Dhabi International Airport. The carrier now offers complimentary accommodation in a three-star hotel. Transit time must be between 10 to 24 hours.
This offer is limited to passengers travelling to and from select destinations. You must make a reservation at least five days prior to your airport arrival.
A passenger must meet the minimum fare requirement of US $500 for one-way flights, and US $750 per person for return flights, including fares and taxes. For more details, click here.
At Doha International Airport, the free transit tours offered by Qatar Airways are also discontinued.