Trip Reports

Layover in Seoul: Free Incheon Airport Transit Tours

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Have a long layover in Seoul? Definitely take advantage of the free Incheon Airport Transit Tours!

Transit tours are a great opportunity to easily get out and see an area near the airport without having to arrange your own transport, navigate the local language and currency, and figure out where to go. It’s a particularly great option for Seoul, South Korea where taxis can run $100+ and take an hour each way from the airport to downtown. Scroll down for my tour experience.

Incheon Airport Transit Tour Options

They offer a few options to accommodate various layover times, the shortest being an hour in length, the longest taking 5 hours. If you have a really long layover it is possible to do multiple tours on the same day.

  • Yonggungsa Temple (1 hour)
  • Heungryunsa Temple, Incheon Grand Bridge, Memorial Hall (2 hours)
  • Incheon City (3 hours)
  • Songdo City (4 hours)
  • Seoul City Tour 1 — Gyeongbok Palace & Insadong Street (5 hours)
  • Seoul City Tour 2 — Bukchon Hanok Village & Kwangjang Market (5 hours)
  • Seoul City Tour 3 — Changdeok Palace & Samcheong dong (5 hours)
  • Seoul City Tour 4 — Myeongdong & NSeoul Tower (5 hours)

Making Tour Reservations

The free Korea Transit Tour desk definitely takes walk ups, but if like me, you plan the length of your layover specifically to take advantage of the tours, you’ll want to make your reservations in advance via the website. Two of the Seoul City Tours require a $10 fee for lunch, but fortunately no advance payment is required.

They also provide jackets to borrow if you’re not prepared for the cold temperatures.

My Experience: Seoul City Tour 1, 8AM

Our flight landed at 6:30, which I thought was plenty of time for an 8AM tour. They had provided a map to get to the tour desk and requested you get there 30 minutes in advance. With an hour to kill I assumed we’d have time to stop by a lounge and grab some breakfast and hopefully a shower. First mistake.

We cleared transit security and headed towards our terminal, stopping at the transit tour desk at the head of the escalator to confirm that’s where we’d meet for the tour at 7:30. Wrong!

Apparently they don’t escort you through passport control as part of the tour, you need to make your own way to the main transit tour desk in the arrivals hall. And because the lines are so long, we’d apparently need the entire hour to get reach the main tour desk in time.

So we waited with several other tour hopefuls and the representative escorted us back through transit security and dropped us off at passport control, where the lines were indeed quite long. I was rather anxious about what to put on the accommodations line on my arrivals, but apparently you just have to write “Transit Tour” (which neither the website nor materials indicated). An hour later we cleared passport control and customs and arrived breathless at the desk 10 minutes before 8AM.

Participants made a long line of ~40 people and followed our guide to the very end of the terminal where the bus was waiting. While there was space for personal bags above your tour bus seats, carry on luggage got stored beneath, so I made sure all my valuables were out of my suitcase beforehand.

Our guide was very nice and earnest, but the accent made it a little hard to understand her on the microphone. She was very clear at the very beginning of the drive we had to be on time at the meeting points — that late arrivals would be left behind. She even provided details on how to get a cab back to the airport and what it was likely to cost. It takes a full hour to get into Seoul, so after she finished a brief overview of the area most people slept.

As we approached our first stop, Changdeokgung Palace, she again warned us against being late and provided the number of the transit desk to call if we got left behind. As someone with a flight departing shortly after we got back, I really appreciated the insistence on punctuality! We all tumbled out at the palace and had about an hour to wander the historic grounds. It was a great introduction to Korean architecture and history and a great way to stretch our legs. I particularly liked the contrast of the traditional palace rooftops against the modern Seoul skyline.

The bus left only one minute late for the next stop — Insadong Street. Less than 10 minutes later we were walking enmass to the restaurant.

Yep, that’s right. Lunch at 10:30AM in quaintly traditional place. The interior was fantastic, the food not as great. There was a choice of bibimbap or bulgogi, with shared accompaniments. It was communal seating, which was a little awkward when we got trapped by diners more interested in a leisurely meal rather than getting out and seeing the sites. I recommend immediately grabbing a table for four or sitting on the end of the booths.

As soon as we could extricate ourselves we headed out to Insadong Street known for its antique shops and folk art. We had about an hour to wander the fairly modern street, enough time if you want to shop, too much time if you don’t. I was wishing I’d done more research about what else was in walking distance.

Starbucks on Insadong Street

Community garden near the antique shops

Nearby historic park

Our guide did not stick to her policy of leaving people behind, one guy got away with holding us up about 15 minutes, but we made good time on the way back to the airport and arrived before the scheduled 1PM drop off.

Was it the most amazing tour experience? No. Was it a great alternative to sitting in an airport lounge for 5 hours killing time? Absolutely, I would definitely go again.

Tips for a Better Incheon Airport Transit Tour Experience

  • Make a free reservation in advance.
  • Fill out the immigration and customs forms on the plane. Transit passengers don’t need the documents, but transit tour participants do. Use “TRANSIT TOUR” as your accommodation in South Korea on the immigration form.
  • The transit tour desk is outside immigration which can take awhile. Unless you have 2+ hours before your tour, go through passport control immediately after deplaning, do not go to the lounge or get food first.
  • Be prepared to spend a lot of time in the bus if you choose a Seoul tour. It’s a solid hour each way to downtown Seoul which only leaves you time to see 1-2 sites.
  • Remove all valuables from your carry on suitcases and keep them with you.
  • If you’re not crazy about shopping, research the sites around the market streets so you know in advance where to go.

Full Disclosure: I may receive affiliate credit from links in this post or on this site which will help fund my travels. Thank you for your support!

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Living for the little (and big things) that make life so fun, especially mistake deals and crazy last minute weekend mileage runs across the world. www.twitter.com/klatravel

1 Comment

  1. JJ

    December 5, 2017 at 3:21 am

    Such a helpful post, thank you!

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