13 cities with best and free layover programs
On the road

13 cities with best and free layover programs

How often does it happen to you that you walk through the airport terminal and end up wondering: What now? Where to go? What to try? How to kill time? If we give it some thought, since we most often fly over Istanbul, we’ve always wondered ‘What the hell are we going to do here for 5 fucking hours?’ while standing hopelessly in Victoria’s Secret store and looking at €100 women’s lingerie. It’s virtually impossible that you don’t know where Victoria Secret is in Ataturk. After 5 years of travelling, we got fed up with those panties, so instead of looking at underwear for 5 hours or two days, we decided to look at something else, such as the Merion in Singapore or the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.

layover stopover
Where’s that airplane!

Take into account the following cities when you’re planning your next trip, because the airports or airline companies of these countries can provide certain benefits such as free sightseeing tours. If you’re willing to turn your layover into a stopover, you can even expect to get such benefits as three nights at the price of one, a free local guide, free public transport tickets etc.

If you’re not familiar with the term stopover, we’ll give you a brief explanation. When you book tickets on a particular site, you can buy a return ticket, one-way ticket and a multi-city ticket.  Multi-city tickets are generally more expensive than return tickets. This is where stopover comes into play. Some airline companies offer an additional destination for the price of return ticket – for example, London-Mumbai through Oman.

So, without any additional charge, you get the chance to include Muscat in your London-Mumbai return ticket. This way your return ticket becomes a multi-city ticket. This happens when there is great competition or at destinations which will do anything to attract tourists because of a lack of popularity. Muscat is probably the best example, if you take into account the fact that Oman has fewer tourists than Dubai, Qatar or Abu Dhabi.

This is a list of our favourites when it comes to free stuff offered by airports and air companies.

 

#1 Istanbul, Turkey – free city tour and meals

layover stopover
Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul is a huge city. It’s a link between Europe and Asia. The number of tourists is enormous. In this fierce competition for passengers, the national airline company, Turkish Airlines, probably offers the best tour of the city. In order to apply, you have to be their passenger and your stopover should be at least 6 hours.

That’s not such a great problem because for most flights you can choose between a layover that lasts few hours or 6-7 hours. It is also important to point out that you cannot book this tour and that the number of places is not limited. Here you can find detailed information about departures.

The tour includes: free meals (breakfast, lunch or both, depending on the time of your departure), free museum tickets, a free guide and free transport to and from the airport.

Places to see: (depending on the length of the tour) The Blue Mosque, The Hippodrome of Constantinople, Hagia Sophia, The Grand Bazaar, the Topkapi Palace, and the Obelisk of Theodosius.

Our own experience is more than positive. There’s always the question of safety, but if kamikaze and bombers take a break during that period, you can expect to have a whale of a time. Joking aside, if the safety in endangered, the tours are not made.

 

#2 Muscat, Oman – free stopover and an extra night

layover stopover
Muscat, Oman

Oman is a country that you have to visit someday. The touristic organization of Oman cooperates with the national airline company and enables its international passengers a free night if they book the accommodation for at least two days. The visa for Oman is obtained at the airport itself. You can find more information here.

Places to see: The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, the Royal Opera House, Kurum beach and the downtown of Muscat.

 

#3 Doha, Qatar – free city tour

layover stopover
Doha, Qatar

This tour was devised by the touristic organization of Qatar in cooperation with Qatar Airways. In order to take a tour of Doha, you have to be a passenger of their airline and your stopover must last at least 8 hours.

It isn’t possible to make a booking and unfortunately, there are a limited number of places (33). You can find more information here.

The tour includes: a temporary visa for a couple of hours (the tour lasts 3 hours), a bottle of water (misers! what about a sandwich?) free transport from the airport and back and a free guide who speaks English.

Places to see: the Museum of Islamic Art, Souq Waqif marketplace, The Pearl-Qatar artificial island (restaurants and shops), Katara (a district of Qatar’s culture and heritage).

 

#4 Singapore – free city tour or stopover

layover stopover
Singapore, Marina bay

The Singapore airport has been the best airport in the world for years. We can corroborate that based on personal experience. I mean, how many airports have carpets almost everywhere? Imagine a cleaning lady who has to vacuum it all. Not to mention the butterfly house, free sleeping pods, and even a slide! Shall we go on? Ok… a cactus garden, a water lily garden, free movies streaming 24/7 at Terminal 3 and free artistic dabbling at Changi cultural centre. As far as the tour is concerned, you can be a passenger of any airline but your layover has to be at least 5 hours.

Unfortunately, the number of places is limited and you cannot make a booking. Everything works on the principle ‘first come first serve’. You can find more info here.

The tour includes: free bus tour for sightseeing with stops at certain places of interest and a free guide who speaks English. Food and drinks are not provided free of charge. Not even water! You have to pay for the tickets!

Places to see: You can choose one of two available tours at Changi airport. The so-called City tour includes the following sights: the Singapore Flyer, the Esplanade, Marina Bay of the financial centre, the Merlion, MBS (the most expensive hotel in the world) and Gardens by the Bay botanical garden. The Heritage Tour includes the tour of the colonial district, business district, the Merlion, the Chinese quarter, the fantastic Little India and Kampong Glam (a quarter of Malay culture and heritage).

 

#5 Reykjavik, Iceland – free stopover and a local guide

layover stopover
Reykjavik, Iceland

If you’re flying from Europe to South America (or vice versa), flying with IcelandAir or WOWair airline can prove to be an extraordinary experience. You can decide to stop your trip without any charges and decide to stay up to 7 days on Iceland. All you need to do after that is get on the plane and continue your trip. But that’s not all. Every passenger is provided with a local guide through Stopover Buddy service. You can get more info here.

Places to see: Hallgrimskirkja church, aurora borealis, Bruarfoss Waterfalls, the Blue Lagoon.

 

#6 Seoul, S. Korea – free city tour

layover stopover
Seoul, South Korea

The touristic organization of South Korea has in its offer a tour of Seoul and Incheon. In all, there are 7 tours with 14 departures every day. The tours can last from 1 hour to up to 5 hours. You can find more info here.

The tour includes: Free transport from the airport and back and a free guide who speaks English. You have to pay for the tickets.

Places to see: Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, The Incheon Bridge, Shimpo market, Namsangol Hanok village, Gyeongbokgung Palace, etc.

Just like at Changi, you can find free stuff at the Incheon airport. You shouldn’t miss: gardens (most of them, such as the cactus or rock garden are at Terminal 1T), The Museum of Korean Culture, Korean art (a gallery of traditional craftsmanship), musical performances in the transit zone, etc.

 

#7 Bangkok, Thailand – free stopover and free night at the hotel

layover stopover
Bangkok, Thailand – Floating market

Thai Aiways provides a free night with the support of the touristic organization of Thailand. There are occasional special offers and they are most commonly connected with flights between Europe and Australia. They are primarily targeted at Australian passengers. The system is based on vouchers that you get for a particular hotel. You can book accommodation online by means of this voucher. You can see the current special offer for stopover here.

Places to see: The Grand Palace, Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn), the Floating Market , Wat Pho (The Temple of the Reclining Buddha)

 

#8 Taipei, Taiwan – free city tour

 

layover stopover
Taipei 101, Taiwan

Free tours are available if your layover lasts more than 7 hours. The number of places is limited to 18 and it is possible to book online (6 places) or you can apply at the arrival hall of terminals T1 and T2 (12 places). The mail for bookings is halfdaytour@tbroc.gov.tw and it is necessary that you complete a form. You can get more info here.

The tour includes: free transport and a free guide who speaks English. You have to pay for the tickets.

Places to see: the morning tour lasts from 8 am to 1 pm and includes a tour of the Zushi Temple in Sanxia District, Sanxia Street, the New Taipei City Hakka Museum and Yingge Ceramics Street. The afternoon tour lasts from 2 to 6.30 pm and includes a tour of Taipei 101, Lungshan Temple, Chiang Kai-shek memorial hall and park.

 

#9 Tokyo, Japan – free tour with volunteers

This is the so-called Narita transit program that functions differently. There are tours that last 3 hours and are led by volunteers. You meet your guide at the airport and after he gives you a tour of the city, he will get you back to the airport. The number of places is limited because of the shortage of available guides. All passengers whose stopover is long enough can apply. The people employed on these tours do not take care of departures and arrivals. You need to figure out for yourself which tour is the most convenient. You can find more info here.

The tour includes: a free guide who speaks English, but transport and tickets are your concern.

Places to see: Narita surroundings. The tours are divided into four sections: culture, food, village and costumes.

 

#10 Salt Lake City, USA – free tour

layover stopover
Salt Lake City, Utah

Utah is a Mormon state. If that sounds interesting, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints organizes a free tour of the city. Temple Square, which is the highlight of Salt Lake City, is in the foreground of this tour. We are not sure if this tour should be interpreted as a pilgrimage or if there is enough time to see something else. As far as prerequisites are concerned, there aren’t any. Everyone is welcome and the tour lasts two hours approximately. You can get more info here.

The tour includes: free transport to the airport and back and a free guide who speaks English.

Places to see: Temple Square and its surroundings

 

#11 Helsinki, Finland – free stopover

layover stopover
Helsinki, Finland

Finair provides a free stopover of maximum 5 days for all connections through Helsinki. If you want a stopover on your way back, the price is €100. Stopover in Helsinki can be a good idea, but you have to take into account the fact that Finland is one of the most expensive countries in the world. No special offers are included. You can find more info here.

Places to see: Suomenlinna fortress, Rock church (Temppeliaukio), Seurasaari island, Esplanadi park.

 

Following the same principle as in Helsinki free stopover is also possible in Dubai (12) and Abu Dhabi (13), but all the combinations include spending a lot of money. Starting with the expensive visas.

 

There are also cities where traffic is so busy and the offer so developed that special offers such as stopovers do not even exist. You can find multi-city tickets in these cities at a price which is almost the same as the return ticket. Basically, it’s like arranging a stopover by yourself. Istanbul and Frankfurt are in this category. But these cities offer some other things such as free tours for long layovers or mini-golf course at Munich airport.

 

A few tips when it comes to layovers and stopovers:

  • Don’t forget to check the visa status!!!
  • Calculate how much the tour lasts so that it doesn’t happen that the plane should leave without you on it.
  • Apply to tours online, if possible.
  • Bring money with you. A free tour or stopover doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is free.

23 Comments

  1. robin masshole mommy

    I almost never book flights unless they are direct, but these are great ways to kill time for people who get stuck on layovers 🙂

    06/04/2017 Reply
  2. Amber Myers

    Wow, how cool! I will keep this in mind. I usually try to always get a direct flight, but sometimes it’s just not possible.

    06/04/2017 Reply
  3. ThePittStops

    What a cool blog! I can’t tell you how many horrible layovers I have had! Now I know which places are best 🙂

    06/04/2017 Reply
  4. Heidi

    What a cool idea! I don’t travel much internationally, but I’d love to take advantage of some of those free tours and stay overs. On a side note, I live in Utah, and I have a little more information about the temple square tour. If you speak another language other than English, there are guides who speak many different languages available for the tour. Temple square is gorgeous — especially in the spring.

    06/04/2017 Reply
  5. Leo T. Ly

    Wow, I never new there are so many great cities in the world that offers free city tours and stopover. I would love to visit Tokyo and get a free tour.

    06/04/2017 Reply
  6. Cruise Writer

    Great info – I only knew of Salt Lake City. Will keep these in mind on my next travels to distant lands.

    06/04/2017 Reply
  7. Sandra crespo

    Wow I didn’t know about any of these !!! I am saving for future reference specially when we start traveling abroad !

    06/04/2017 Reply
  8. nlampert

    This is such a helpful list! I’d love to go to Finland and Iceland sometime soon so I’ll have to keep those stopovers in mind when I’m booking my tickets.

    06/04/2017 Reply
  9. Author Brandi Kennedy

    This is pretty cool – long layovers can be such a drag, so I love that there are programs like this that get you out of the airport and back out exploring!

    06/04/2017 Reply
  10. Elizbeth O.

    This is pretty awesome. I had no idea that there are free tours aside from the free accommodations. I used to dread layovers whenever I was traveling especially when I’m with the kids.

    06/04/2017 Reply
  11. Carol Cassara

    This is not bad at all. Thank you for putting up a guide like this. I really appreciate it especially now that my husband and I travel a lot.

    06/04/2017 Reply
  12. Amanda Love

    I so love this guide. I learned so much about the tours and accommodations in each country. Thank for this, I usually don’t research about the layovers. Now I have something better to do.

    06/04/2017 Reply
  13. Chiara Lisbeth de Lisi

    Amazing and so interesting, very good to know when travelling!

    06/04/2017 Reply
  14. Jessica Hughes

    I’ve never really looked into this benefit and I had no idea so many cities offered these amenities! I would love to do a stopover in Reykjavic or Helsinki! The fact that these cities offer free tours or free nights is just fantastic!

    06/04/2017 Reply
  15. Kim

    Very beautiful places! I would love to go to Salt Lake City 🙂

    07/04/2017 Reply
  16. MyYellowApron

    I have done two lay over trips in Singapore and its worth its while both the times. I have to check out other places too.

    07/04/2017 Reply
  17. Cameron Dufore

    How fun! I knew stopovers were a thing, I just never knew how to go about it – very helpful!

    08/04/2017 Reply
  18. GD Blog

    Hmmm…this is a cool-to-know post! we got plans of visiting back the Philippines. Our lay-over will be in China though. When we visit other countries and have lay-overs in these places, we will certainly take advantage of these free tours and hotel-stay.

    08/04/2017 Reply
  19. Ana De-Jesus

    I have to say they all sound amazing but I am really liking the sound of Singapore’s airport system it sounds like an absolute whale of a time. I like the idea of a layover programme and what it can offer x

    09/04/2017 Reply
  20. Ashlea

    I would love to stop over in Singapore. That looked amazing. I always told my husband if we had a long layover we might as well go tour the city we are in. I doubt that will ever happen. He is worried they wouldn’t let us back into the airport.

    10/04/2017 Reply
  21. Blair Villanueva

    Taking advantage if these free stopover and free city tour will help you save a lot for your travel and an opportunity to get more travel experiences.

    10/04/2017 Reply
  22. alwaysalfresco

    This is a great compilation! Hoping these will come in handy for me in the future!

    30/04/2017 Reply

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