If you haven’t learned how to take advantage of long layovers, what have you been doing? I LOVE having long layovers because it gives me a chance to see another city for FREE… well sometimes. Below I have listed 8 airports that offer travelers passing through free tours of their city.
Istanbul (A.K.A my favorite city in the world)
Turkish Airlines offers three tours from Ataturk Airport, showing visitors Istanbul’s highlights. Travelers are picked up and dropped off from their respective terminals. Tour 1 runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Tour 2 from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.; and Tour 3 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
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 Theodosius
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.
Important note(s): To qualify for the free Istanbul tours, you must be flying with Turkish Airlines. Turkish Airlines is personally one of my favorite airlines so I try to book with them whenever possible.
Got eight-ish hours to kill in Taipei? The airport offers two half-day tours that are free, limited to 18 passengers and offered on a first-come basis. You can choose between morning and afternoon departures.that get to the heart of the city’s cultural and historic attractions. The morning tour visits the Daoist Sanxia Qingshui Zushi Temple; Sanxia Old Street, featuring late Qing Dynasty, Japanese, and Baroque architecture; and Yingge Ceramics Old Street, the heart of Taiwan’s historical pottery industry. In the afternoon, transient tourists get an introductory glimpse of Taipei, followed by a visit to Longshan Temple, a prime example of Chinese temple art, and Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and Park.
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.
The Korean Tourist Board offers 7 free transit tours at Incheon International Airport. Choices include an Incheon City Tour, Seoul City Tour, Temple Tour and several others, lasting between one and five hours. Although the tours are free, any site admission fees must be paid by travelers.
Layover time needed: 1-5+ hours depending on the tour.
What to see: Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, Incheon Grand Bridge, Shinpo Market, Namsangol Hanok Village, and Gyeongbokgung Palace (Pictured left).
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 for some.
Changi Singapore Airport
If you have at least a four-hour layover in Singapore, Changi Airport offers two free two-hour tours of the city-state. Other tourist boards and airports also suggest transit tours, but they’re not necessarily free. The Hong Kong Tourist Board, for example, suggests two tours, one of Hong Kong Island and the other of Lantau island, for about $85 per person. There’s a similar tour offered at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport.
Layover time needed: Tours are 2.5 hours therefor your layover should be at least 5.5 hours. (Reserve 6 hours for the night tour)
What to see: Merlion Park, Colonial District, Kampong Glam, Business District, China Town, Little Indian, Malay Heritage Center, Marina Bay
Where to register: Head to a Free Singapore Tours booth in either Terminals 2 or 3. There are 6 departure times each day, and you need to register at least an hour before the tour begins.Tour Schedule and Information:
Tour & Schedule info: Seat availability is on a first come first serve basis. The Heritage Tour runs 4 times daily (9:00AM, 11:30 AM, 2:30AM, 3:30AM) and the City Sights Tour runs 2 times daily (6:00PM, 7:30PM).
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 center where you can try out woodblock rubbing, a once popular art form in the 50’s and 60’s.
Doha Airport, Qatar
Passengers passing through Qatar Airport can take a sightseeing tour of Doha, courtesy of Qatar Airways and the Qatar Tourism Authority. Stops include the Pearl-Qatar, with upmarket shops and restaurants on a manmade island; Katara Cultural Village, which celebrates the emirate’s arts heritage; a traditional souq; and the Museum of Islamic Arts (and its seaside park for some welcome fresh air). There are four tours daily, each lasting about two hours and 45 minutes.
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.
Salt Lake City Airport
Currently, Salt Lake City is the only airport in the U.S. offering free city tours. And while I’m not entirely sure what kind of flight would merit a long layover in Salt Lake City, we’re happy it offers it. Those with at least two hours of wait time can pop from the airport to the city’s historic Temple Square, home to the massive Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints temple. P.S. If seeing the church doesn’t appeal to you, consider visiting the nearby Utah Museum of Contemporary Art.
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.
Narita Airport, Tokyo, Japan
Those passing through Tokyo’s Narita Airport can choose between self-guided tours, which mostly take visitors to popular shopping destinations, or volunteer-guided tours, which introduce travelers to Japan in three-hour blocks. Tourists on a generous layover can choose between several “courses,” including cultural experiences like a visit to Narita-san Shinsho-Ji Temple.
Layover time needed: 5 hours minimum (tours are 3 hours long)
What to see: Forest paths, museums, Toyko Tower
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 note: you must pay your own public transit costs and/or museum entry (where applicable).
Only those lucky few flying KLM and who have a layover of six hours or more can sign up for the airline’s ‘layover with a local’ program. How does it work? All you have to do is fill out a simple questionnaire on the KL M website that asks you all about your interests and KLM will pair you up with an English-speaking local who will show you the town – free bus tickets and the first round of drinks included too. Score.
Layover time needed: 5+ Hours
What to See: Airport History museum, Airport Library, Dam Square, Royal Palace, Red Light District, Magna Plaza Mall, EYE Film Institute
Where to Register: Check email address used to buy your flight tickets upon arrival to Amsterdam. Once you’ve booked via KLM, check your email as there will be a link in it asking you if you’d like to sign up for the program.
Tour Schedule & more info: Currently the ‘Layover with a local’ website is not available.