Last Updated on August 20, 2018
If you’re flying long-haul, make the most of your airport transit time with a free tour in your layover city. Here’s our pick of the six best free city tours.
Sydney to London, Auckland to New York... if you’re travelling the distance, a layover in a mid-way city is usually unavoidable. Whether you love the time to stretch your legs, or dread the long wait in the airport, we’ve some great news – there are a number of airports that offer free city tours, meaning that your transit time can become a discovery journey of a city you may not have even considered as part of your trip.
Here’s our pick of the best airports offering free city tours, so when it comes to booking your next trip you can discover a new destination along the way.
1. Hamad International Airport – Doha, Qatar
Many flights between the United Kingdom and Australia and New Zealand stop-off in Qatar, so if you’re flying with Qatar Airways and find yourself with a few hours of transit time and would like to stretch your legs before settling in for the remainder of your journey, it’s worth considering the free tour from Hamad International Airport. Courtesy of Qatar Airways and Qatar Tourism Authority, the complimentary Doha city tour visits four important landmarks of the city: The Pearl-Qatar, or ‘Arabian Riviera’, where you can browse high-end boutiques and dine in top-notch restaurants on this man-made, pearl-shaped island; Katara Cultural Village, which celebrates Qatari arts and heritage in its theatres and galleries; Souq Waqif, a traditional Arabian market where you can indulge your senses with the array of spices, foods and handicrafts on offer; and the Museum of Islamic Art, an iconic building designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect I.M. Pei, filled with centuries of Islamic art.
Need to know: The tour lasts approximately 2 hours 45 minutes, and is led by an English-speaking guide. Passengers with a transit time of between five to 12 hours and with a valid passport and boarding pass for their onward travel can join the tour. A complimentary visa is included. The tour cannot be pre-booked and availability is on a first-come, first-served basis at the Doha City Tour desk, with a maximum of 33 guests on each tour. For more information, visit the Qatar Airlines website.
2. Singapore Changi Airport – Singapore
Much like Hamad International Airport, Singapore Changi Airport is a popular transit spot for long-haul flights. Often voted the World’s Best Airport, Changi is impressive enough to while away some layover time, with its many different attractions including free 24-hour movie theatres, the world’s first Butterfly Garden in an airport with more than 1,000 tropical butterflies, the Cactus Garden with more than 100 species of cacti, and much, much more. But if you’re after some cultural immersion in this island-state on your layover, then make the most of the Free Singapore Tour. There are two tours available to those with at least six hours’ of transit time. The Heritage Tour runs four times a day and takes you on a journey through some of Singapore’s architecture of the past and present in the colonial and cultural districts including Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam. The City Sights Tour runs twice a day and focuses on modern Singapore, with stops at Merlion Park and Gardens by the Bay.
Need to know: Tours are conducted in English and only passengers on Singapore Airlines and SilkAir can pre-book. If you’re travelling with a different airline, you can register at a tour booth in Changi Airport – the booths are located within the transit area and availability is on a first-come, first-served basis. You must meet the eligibility requirements and have any valid visas to take part in the tour. For more information on the tour and eligibility requirements, visit the Singapore Changi Airport website.
3. Incheon Airport – Seoul, South Korea
If you’re transiting through Seoul on your trip, why not make the most of the eight free tours of the city on offer from Incheon Airport? Ranging from one- to five-hours, you can pick the tour that is most suitable for your transit time. Sights on the one-hour tour include the Yonggungsa Temple, famous for its 1,300 years old zelkova trees; Heungryunsa Temple and Incheon Grand Bridge on the two-hour tour; Gwangmyeong Cave on the three-hour tour, perfect for those seeking something a bit more adventurous; and Songdo Central Park inspired by New York’s Central Park on the four-hour tour. If you’ve got plenty of time on your transit, there are four different options for the five-hour Seoul City Tour, with highlights including Gyeongbok Palace, built in 1395 and the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty, and Gwangjang Market, one of the oldest and largest traditional markets in Korea.
Need to know: Reservations are required, and are on a first-come, first-served basis until the tours are filled. Reservations can be made online or at the Transit Tour Desk in the airport. The tours are led by English-speaking guides, and are largely free – a couple of the Seoul City Tours are $10 to cover the entrance fee to the Royal Palace and the meal. You must be eligible to enter Korea. More information on how to make a reservation as well as entry requirements can be found on the Incheon Airport website.
4. Narita Airport – Tokyo, Japan
If you’re transiting through Narita airport in Tokyo, or even staying in a hotel nearby, make the most of the self-guided or volunteer-guided tours available through the Narita Airport transit programme. The volunteer-guided tours are run by local guides who take you to and from the airport and you can choose from four different ‘courses’, all of which are three hours and give visitors an insight into the Japanese way of life. Destinations on offer include Narita-san Shinsho-ji Temple, countryside walks in Tako town, known for its Tako-mai Rice, and Boso no Mura open-air museum, among others. You can book the tours online or in person at the Narita Transit Tourism Counter in Terminals 1 and 2.
Need to know: The tours are free, but guests must pay personal expenses, including public transport, food and entry costs where applicable. The courses are all walking tours. It’s advised that you return to Narita Airport at least two hours before your next departure – it is the responsibility of each traveller to ensure they do not miss their connecting flight. Eligibility requirements may apply, so check visa requirements for the country you’re visiting from. More information can be found here.
5. Ataturk International Airport – Istanbul, Turkey
Heading somewhere with Turkish Airlines and have a transit through Istanbul of more than six hours? You may be pulling your hair out at what to do, but fear not – Turkish Airlines run the awesome Touristanbul programme, a free layover service for Turkish Airlines passengers with an international transit. Touristanbul offers five tours of between two-and-a-half and nine hours covering off some of the most culturally and historically significant destinations in the city. From the wonders of the Blue Mosque and the Grand Covered Bazaar (one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world), to the Walls of Constantine, the Obelisk of Theodosius, the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, and many other spectacular sights, this tour is not to be missed if you’re transiting through Istanbul. And in a pinch-me moment, all entrance fees (and even some food) are included.
Need to know: You need to be flying with Turkish Airlines and have a layover in Istanbul that is between six- and 24-hours long to be able to do one of these tours. No bookings necessary – simply head to the Hotel Desk in International Arrivals at least half an hour before the tour start time. A free lunch or dinner is included, depending on the tour time. Tours are conducted in English and guests will be transported to and from the airport. It is the guest’s responsibility to ensure they leave enough time to check-in for their next flight and also check any visa requirements before attending the tour. More information can be found here.
6. Taoyuan International Airport – Taipei, Taiwan
Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau runs free half-day city tours for passengers with a seven- to 24-hour layover and who have valid Republic of China visa (or come from countries eligible for visa-exempt entry) – a perfect way to get a taste of what’s on offer in the island-nation’s capital city. There are two tours – a morning and an afternoon tour – and both last about five hours. Sights covered off include Sanxia Qingshui Zushi Temple, an Ornate Daoist temple founded in 1769, and Sanxia Old Street, which is well-known for its houses with ornate facades featuring late Qing, Japanese, and Baroque elements. Yingge, the ‘Pottery Capital of Taiwan’, Taipei 101, one of the world’s tallest buildings, and Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall & Memorial Park also feature.
Need to know: The tours are only for passengers with a seven- to 24-hour layover in Taiwan, who have a valid Republic of China visa (or come from countries eligible for visa-exempt entry) and a passport with six months’ validity. Only one tour during each stopover per passenger is allowed, and each tour is limited to 18 passengers. There are 12 places available for walk-up registrations (you can book your tour after arrival at the Tourist Service Centre located in the Arrival Lobby of Terminal 1 and Terminal 2), but six places are available to be reserved from 14 to 30 days prior to passengers’ arrival. For more information and details on booking forms and visa regulations, visit the tours site.
Like the sound of what you’ve read? Make the most of exploring a new destination on your next trip – just don’t forget to pre-book your airport transfer in your first and final destinations so there’s one less thing to worry about! You can compare and book from thousands of transfer companies at hundreds of airports in the US, the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand on Jayride.com.