The Complete Guide to Free Airport Layover Tours | 6 City Sightseeing Tours for your Next Layover

Last Updated on February 19, 2024 by Christine Kaaloa

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Airport layover tours, in-transit city tours, airport stopover tours,… they go by various names, but they all spell inexpensive entertainment during a long layover.

Have you ever found yourself with a lengthy layover at an airport, contemplating how to make the most of that in-between time? Luckily, some airports around the world offer free airport layover tours and in-transit city tours, providing travelers with an opportunity to explore the nearby city. In this guide, I’m sharing six airports that offer complimentary airport layover tours and how airport layover tours operate.

Read what I pack for long haul flights & layovers

What are free airport layover tours?

Free airport layover tours are airport guided tours that help you spend your waiting time by offering a unique glimpse into the local culture and city attractions of each destination. Sometimes they are tied to a specific airlines or airport who is partnering with the tourism board.

Either way, they are are almost always a partnership between the airport and the city’s tourism board as a complimentary service that allows travelers with long layovers, the opportunity to have a taste of their city in the hopes you’ll return for a longer stay. Many airport layover tours are free, but some are offered at a discounted cost and still budget-oriented.

Read ways to get a free trip from your layover & essential tips for connecting flights & layovers

When passing through Qatar Airport, I wanted to do the sand dune tours, which were offered by the airport and tourism board at a discounted price which was a quarter of how much I would’ve expected it to cost. It was still a complimentary cost given out of the tourism board’s hospitality and ahem.. I’ve worked with tourism boards to know their goal is not to profit as a private entity. Unfortunately, my timetable didn’t align however.

I’ve listed the airport layover tours I know of. If you Google airport layover tours, you might get a handful of listings for city tours for layovers, but whom may not be affiliated with the tourism board. You will be required to do real research, so i’d follow the airport links on my page and try to stay closely aligned to them.

Miss the guided airport tour? Check out these airports that offer Airport Sleeping Pods

How do airport guided tours work? (Step-by-step process)

1. Find the layover city tour kiosk and check tour schedules: Often, the airport will have a tour desk or kiosk in the terminal and one outside the terminal in Arrivals, where you can sign up and book a tour. In specific cases, like my layover with Turkish Airlines, I needed to check in with the Turkish Airlines customer support desk, where they handled the city tour and in-transit hotel.

Tip: Research airport guided tour options in advance so you’re prepared before arriving.

2. To qualify for an airport layover tour, you need to meet the layover duration requirement. They take this seriously because the city layover tour program is responsible for ensuring you return on time for your flight.  They have gauged how much time is required to complete the tour and get back to your gate. The kiosk attendant will check your flight ticket itinerary and passport to see that you qualify with enough hours for the layover tour.

3. Passing through immigration without a visa: If you check in and sign up for a tour, with the city tour kiosk inside your terminal,  the tour desk attendant escorts you through immigration. They inform immigration officials that you are on a transit tour, so if there is a visa requirement, they skirt you through the visa part without any issues. Remember, their responsibility is to get you on the tour and back to the airport on time so you can resume your trip connection.

4. Check in with the city tour desk and wait: After clearing immigration, you then proceed to the city tour desk outside Arrivals. This is where they double check your flight ticket, collect passengers and guide them to board the city tour bus.

5. Drop your luggage at left luggage: Prepare in advance for your tour and pack light for carry-on luggage to check at the airport or anti-theft essentials purse. I use Hynes Eagle convertible carry-on for lightweight travel ease. There are options for storage, so keep reading.

6. Take the city tour and make sure you show up at the appointed times. Some tours offer a very guided experience. Others, you may receive a guide who prepares and informs you about the next location while on the bus then, you get dropped at the location and told when to meet back.

Tip: Always be on time for the pickup and take a photo of the bus location spot in case you get lost and need to ask help from locals.

7. Return to the city tour desk: After your free airport city tour is complete, you will be returned to the city tour desk outside Arrivals and the tour is complete.

Tip: Don’t forget to pick up your luggage at the desk or with left luggage.

8. Get back to your gate in time to board your connecting flight: You must then go through airport security and immigration again but on your own. This part of the journey back to your gate is your responsibility.

airport guided tours
airport layover tours: Visit the city tour kiosk or your airport customer support

6 Free Airport Layover Tours and In-transit City Tours

1. Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) – Free Singapore City Tour

Singapore Changi Airport, renowned for its world-class amenities, offers a complimentary city tour for passengers with layovers between 5.5 and 24 hours. There are four tour itineraries offered and it is open to all in-transit passengers.

Explore iconic landmarks like Gardens by the Bay, enjoy Singapore’s vibrant heritage culture and more.

Check the requirements and details on the Changi Airport website. Singapore Airlines and Scoot passengers can book online here. Other passengers can make reservations at the tour booth at Terminals 3 & 4. You must abide by visa regulations.

2. Istanbul Airport (IST) – Touristanbul City Tour

Turkish Airlines invites passengers with layovers at Istanbul Airport between 6 and 24 hours to embark Touristanbul a guided in-transit city tour of this historical city. Check out my Turkish Airlines review and how I got a free transit hotel in Istanbul.

Immerse yourself in the rich culture of Istanbul by visiting landmarks such as the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. The tour lasts approximately 6 hours

You don’t need to book in advance; just show up at the Hostel Desk of the International Arrivals Terminal of İstanbul Airport or from the Touristanbul Desk Office in the Transfer desk area. Check the Touristanbul for restrictions.

3. Doha Hamad International Airport (DOH) – Discover Qatar Tour

Hamad International Airport in Doha offers passengers with layovers between 4 and 8 hours the opportunity to explore Qatar with the Discover Qatar Tour. There are 4-6 tours to choose from from a Doha highlights tour, desert tour, golfing tour and three airport tour where you can tour the airport, play squash or simulated golf!  These are not free but most are inexpensive.

I did the Discover Doha tour and loved it. We took a city bus with a guide told us about the sites we visited and about Qatar culture. My favorite was visiting the vibrant markets of Souq Waqif; it certainly made me wish I had longer in Doha. The bus was nice and spacious and they gave us complementary bottled water. The tour duration for the Doha city tour was around 4 hours.

You might also qualify for the free transit hotel or do a stopover in Doha. Find more information on the Discover Qatar website.

doha airport
doha airport waiting for my transit tour to start

Transit Tour Doha Qatar
Complementary water on bus of Transit Tour Doha Qatar

Transit Tour Doha Qatar
Visit Souk Waqif on the Transit Tour Doha Qatar

 

Read my more about the top free transit hotels

4. Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport (TPE) – Half-Day Tour Taiwan

Passengers with layovers between 7 and 24 hours at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport can join a free half-day in-transit city tour of Taipei. You must be from a country eligible for visa-exempt entry or have valid R.O.C. visa. Tour is limited to 18 seats. You can pre-book anywhere from 5 to 90 days before arrival.

Visit notable attractions such as Taipei 101 and the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. The half-day tour is approximately 4 hours, while the full-day tour is around 7 hours.

For details, visit Half Day Tour Taiwan. If you have longer than 24 hours in Taiwan, check out my Taipei trip guide .

5. Incheon International Airport (ICN) – City Transit Tours in Seoul

Incheon Airport offers a rich handful of free to inexpensive airport stopover tours for passengers with layovers between 4 and 24 hours. They have city tour desks in Terminal 1 and 2. They have anything from airport tours, temple tours, historical tours and more. They have a good selection to explore the beauty of Seoul, Incheon or anything nearby. The tour duration varies, with options for 1.5 to 5 hours. Check the requirements on the Incheon Airport website.

I did the Hongdae tour, where we had a tour leader on the bus to tell us about Korea and make sure we were all accounted for. The Hongdae tour was a free time where we could explore Hongdae for an hour and then return to tthe bus. The bus was comfortable and had free onboard wifi.

Read my review of Korean Airlines economy

Free transit city tour Incheon Airport
Free transit city tour Incheon Airport

Free transit city tour Incheon Airport
Free transit city tour Incheon Airport

 

6. Riga International Airport (RIX) – Riga City Tour

Travelers with layovers over 5 hours at Riga International Airport qualify for an airport tous. They are not free and there is no itinerary on the website, so you will need to email them. There are other websites that offer free city tours, but this is not affiliated with the transit service.  Learn more on the Riga City tour .

Make sure to check the specific requirements and details on the respective airport websites before planning your airport layover adventure. From Singapore to Amsterdam, these airport stopover tours are an excellent way to turn a layover into a mini-vacation.

What if you are carrying luggage with you?

If you know in advance that you’re planning to do an in-transit tour, it’s best to check your luggage beforehand. Otherwise, you’ll need to take it with you on your tour. I use Hynes Eagle convertible carry-on for lightweight travel ease. Airport tours have either let me store it at their kiosk desk or on the tour bus.

If you’re friendly and the tour desk agent is having a good day, sometimes they allow you to store your luggage behind the tour desk. However, they are not responsible for any lost or missing valuables.

Another option is to store your carry-on in the airport’s left luggage facility. They typically charge by hour or half/full day rates.

Tip: Carry your valuables and do not leave them in your carry-on luggage.

Should you tip your guide on an in-transit city tour?

Tipping your guide on an in-transit tour is generally a thoughtful gesture and a way to express gratitude for their services. While it may not be expect or a strict requirement, especially if the tour cost includes gratuities, offering a tip is a customary practice in many cultures.

The amount can vary depending on the length and nature of the tour, and the responsibilities of the guide. Tipping acknowledges the guide’s efforts in making your layover experience enjoyable and informative. It also fosters a positive relationship with local tourism services, ensuring a pleasant connection between travelers and the destination. Always consider the cultural norms of the country you’re in, as tipping practices can vary widely. If the tour is free, then I definitely like to gift my guide something.

You may not have the country currency, I like to use U.S. dollars.

Read 30 responsible tips for ethical travelers

What do you think of Free Airport Layover Tours and in-transit city tours? Would you be taking them?

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