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One of my recent trips took me to Incheon International Airport (ICN) which is the primary airport serving Seoul, South Korea. I flew from Almaty, Kazakhstan, to Salt Lake City through Seoul and San Francisco. Unfortunately, my layover in Seoul was clocking in at nine hours, which is rather long even if you stop in at every Priority Pass lounge available. Fortunately, Incheon Airport provides free tours of local attractions to travelers who have daytime connections at the airport.
What Kind of Free Transit Tours Are Offered?
No matter your sightseeing preferences, you’re likely to find a transit tour that suits your needs. Whether it’s Korean culture you’re interested in, ancient temples or shopping, there’s an activity for you.
Tours depart between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. and vary from one hour to five hours in length. Depending on when and how long your layover is, I recommend picking a tour that fits your schedule best. Sure, it’s nice when your theme preference and the layover hours coincide, but perhaps going on a tour that’ll get you back in time for your flight is better than missing out on the experience altogether.
Transit tours depart from both Terminal 1 and Terminal 2. To check out tour themes and schedule, head to this page.
Who Can Take a Free Transit Tour at ICN?
- Those who’re eligible to enter South Korea without a visa can take one of the free transit tours. U.S. citizens don’t need a visa, but if you have another country’s passport, check the entry requirements with Passport Index.
- Travelers who have a connection at Incheon between two other countries within 24 hours of landing. In other words, Seoul can’t be your final destination.
- Flyers whose connection is during the day and is long enough to leave the airport, clear immigration and come back in time to catch the onward flight.
How to Sign up for a Free Tour at Incheon Airport
To sign up for one of the free transit tours, simply head to the website and pick an activity you want to enjoy. It’s also possible to reserve a spot right at the airport, but because these tours operate in small groups, there’s a good chance that your preferred tour will fill up by the time you land at Incheon Airport.
I reserved a tour for my mom and me two days before our arrival at ICN, and most spots had been filled, including the tour we would’ve wanted to join had it been available. Instead, we chose another tour that interested us and displayed two open spots.
My Experience with a Free Adventure Tour
The tour my mom and I chose is listed as “Adventure” on the website. It’s a four-hour outing that took our group of 10 to the Gwangmyeong Cave located on the outskirts of Seoul.
After clearing immigration, we found the transit tour information desk in Terminal 1 and checked in with the woman working at the tour desk. She glanced at our passports, scanned both our inbound and outbound boarding passes and told us to wait for the tour to begin.
A mini-van with a handful of other tourists picked us up right outside the terminal and drove for an hour from Incheon Airport before dropping us off at the cave’s entrance. On the drive there, our female guide told us a few things about Seoul and Korea in general but she let us sleep for most of the trip. We had just flown in on a redeye flight and didn’t mind the rest.
The Gwangmyeong Cave is a former gold mine exploited by the Japanese up until the end of World War II that closed in 1977 and reopened as a tourist attraction in 2011. In it, we found light tunnels, aquariums full of exotic fish, a laser show, a haunted house and even a winery.
Exploring the cave requires walking up and down several flights of stairs. Some level of fitness is implied, but don’t expect anything crazy.
Overall, visiting the cave was a great way to pass the time while waiting for a flight. It totally won over sitting in a lounge, even a nice one. I’d like to remind you that tour was completely free, including the guide, round-trip transportation and even the entrance fees (about $5 per person).
What Other Airports Offer City Tours?
Not flying through Incheon Airport any time soon? No worries. Several other airports across the globe offer similar transit experiences to passengers.
Istanbul Airport: Turkish Airlines and Istanbul Airport offer a sightseeing tour called Touristanbul to passengers with a connection of at least six hours. Depending on the time of your transit, you can choose from six different tour options, during which you’ll visit certain landmarks. The catch is, you must be flying with Turkish Airlines to take advantage of the free city tour—both inbound and outbound flights. The tours include free transport, meals and museum fees.
Hamad International Airport: Although this tour isn’t free, it still gives you an opportunity to visit Doha, Qatar, during your layover. If you have five hours and 75 Qatari Rials (about $20), you can visit the cultural village of Katara, an artificial island The Pearl, Museum of Islamic Art and Souq Waqif, an old marketplace. It’s also possible to venture out to the desert during a longer layover.
Narita International Airport: The Narita Airport Transit & Stay Program offers free guided excursions run by volunteers. Although the tours themselves don’t cost anything, you’ll need money to cover transportation and food costs. A dozen tour options is listed on the website—fit for all types of travelers. You can visit a number of temples, cycle across rice fields or partake in an authentic Japanese tea ceremony. All tours provide times (most take three to four hours) as well as the minimum budget needed.
Singapore Changi Airport: Transiting through Changi Airport and have at least five and a half hours to spare? Then feel free to join the Free Singapore Tour. Two options are available: Heritage Tour and City Sights Tour, but each passenger can pick only one excursion.
The Heritage Tour takes you to Colonial District, Central Business District, Merlion Park, Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam. The City Sights Tour includes stops at Singapore Flyer, Esplanade – Theaters on the Bay, Marina Bay Financial Centre, Merlion Park, Marina Bay Sands and Gardens by the Bay.
Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport: Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport Tourist Service Center offers two free tours per day to those transiting through the airport. Each excursion is four hours long, and to be eligible to participate in one of the free tours, your layover must be at least seven hours long.
The morning tour takes you to the Qingshui Zushi Temple, Sanxia Old Street and Yingge Ceramics Old Street. The afternoon outing visits the Ximending shopping district and Taipei 101, one of the world’s tallest buildings. Pick one and enjoy your layover in Taipei.
City tours run by airports are a great use of a long layover. It’s a way of turning a dreadful and unpleasant wait in the terminal into an opportunity to visit a new city. My short stop in Seoul made me want to book a proper visit to the country as soon as possible.
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Editors Note: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.