Transit Tours in South Korea

Transit Tours in South KoreaWhen I landed at Incheon International Airport, South Korea, in the wee hours of the morning on my way home from Vietnam this past summer, I was absolutely dreading the 12-hour layover I had in front of me. I had plans to write, read and die a slow and painful layover death, but as I headed out of the international terminal, I passed a reservations desk for Transit Tours, which offered another solution for how to spend my day.

For anyone with a layover at Incheon, Transit Tours are the ideal way to leave the airport for a whirlwind tour of the surrounding town or nearby Seoul. Tour options in Incheon range from one to four hours in length, and those to Seoul require five to seven hours of time.

Once I stopped at the Transit Tours desk and picked up the brochure with the tour offerings, I had the wild idea to venture out on my own for the day, but the beauty of a pre-arranged tour during such a short duration of time is that I didn’t have to know where I wanted to go nor did I have to worry about getting back to the airport in time for my flight. On my own, I would have needed to do my own research on sites I could reach during my 12 hours while navigating the language barrier and figuring out how to deal with the public transportation options.

Located between gates 3 and 4, the main Transit Tours desk is well staffed with English-speaking locals who helped me figure out what tour was best for me. I wanted to make the most of my time, but, as I was a solo traveler, I also wanted to get the most bang for my buck, which required I go on a tour that had at least four people (including myself).

The company offers twelve tours from Incheon International Airport. Those located in Incheon are as simple as one– and two-hour tours that go from the airport to a nearby temple and a shopping mall (two separate tours, $5.00 per person). There is also a drama tour that includes stops at film locations, and there are a few city tours that hit some of the markets and parks significant to the city.

With extra time, visitors can make it all the way across the bridge to Seoul for a city tour. There are four city tours, and they hit a variety of temples, museums, markets and significant sites. One even includes a stop at a kimchi cooking school.  All of the city tours have very different itineraries, but they all include meals and run $60.00 per person.For those with a bit more time, there is a tour that offers attraction stops around the DMZ.

I chose Seoul City Tour 1, which was a whirlwind tour of Gyeongbokgung (an ancient palace), the National Folk Museum, a walk along Insadong (a popular shopping district) and a traditional Korean lunch. Was it the ideal way to see the city? Not necessarily, but I definitely wouldn’t have done any better on my own (chances are good I never would have left the airport), and it was a great way to get a quick overview of Seoul, which happens to be one of my husband’s most favorite places in the world. In a way, I felt the $60.00 was a bit steep, but I was completely willing to fork over the cash given the fact that all of the details were taken care of and all I had to do was enjoy the ride and not worry about getting back to the airport on time.

The Transit Tours concept is absolutely brilliant, and I recommend that anyone with a long layover at Incheon International Airport consider signing up for a tour. I would love to see similar tour desks placed in other major international hubs. There’s no way a traveler can immerse himself into a culture in 12 short hours, but that doesn’t mean he can’t enjoy what is located just beyond the airport runway.

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Transit Tours in South Korea
JoAnna is a globe-trotting, idea-inventing, culture-collecting creativity connoisseur with big dreams and a desire to touch all seven continents. You can also find JoAnna at joannahaugen.com and at The 52 Letters Project.

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31 Responses

  1. Joey Phi says:

    60$! Yeah, kinda really expensive. At least you liked it! :)

  2. Gray says:

    Yes, $60 is pricey, but you’re really paying for the convenience factor (and to avoid the long, slow layover death). I think it sounds like a terrific idea, and I wish these kinds of tours were available at all airports.

  3. JoAnna says:

    Totally worth it though. What would you have done with a 10+ hour layover?

  4. JoAnna says:

    If you learn of any other airports offering such tours, please let me know. I’d love to know where else travelers can find these.

  5. Thanks for this post JoAnna. I scheduled an extra-long layover in Korea after reading it, and I’ll let you know how it turns out next week. I just had a minor panic attack about visa requirements, but all is good — no visa’s needed for US citizens.

  6. JoAnna says:

    So … what’s the word? What tour did you decide to do?

  7. Jordan Stallard says:

    Hi JoAnna,

    I have a 14 hour layover in Korea on the way back from Indonesia, and I’m thinking about doing a day tour. I was just curious on the safety levels of our carry-on luggage, as I’ll be traveling with computers, iPads, and other valuable stuff. Do the tour buses lock up the stuff well when you’re out and about?

  8. JoAnna says:

    I was worried about the same thing because I was backpacking, and all I was a single large backpack with everything and then one small day pack. There is a large desk in the main terminal, and they lock everyone’s luggage in the cabinet behind the desk. I suppose anyone with a key there could open and access the luggage, but I guess there’s just an inherent amount of trust you have to have when you travel. There aren’t personal lockers or anything like that, so you really do just have to hand your luggage over to the people running the tours if you want to travel bag-free.

    We also picked up a number of people from local hotels who joined us on the day tour, and they kept their luggage on the bus, which was locked when we went to the different sites on the tour. The bus driver was with the bus the whole time, except when he came in to eat lunch with everyone else.

    Hope that helps! Enjoy the tour if you decide to go!

  9. josh says:

    [MARKED AS SPAM BY ANTISPAM BEE | Server IP]
    12 hour layover is truly agonizing / painful / remorseful, airline made it so for extra revenues, I really don’t need these tours , i lived in Los angeles were most koreans have lived too, surrounding areas. I can only suggest airlines shortens layover,lower travel cost, make passengers/visitors happy with FAST immediate flight back home !

  10. JoAnna says:

    I can appreciate what you’re saying. No one wants to sit around the airport that long. But I really didn’t want to do it when I could get out and do something with my day, even if it did cost a small chunk of cash.

  11. Moly says:

    Could I ask u one question please? I was wondering which gate did you get out after you finished booking the tour? Well, because I am going to be a tour guide for my family who is having a transit in Korea while they are waiting for changing the flight. Actually I don’t know what gate I should wait for them at the airport. :D Thank you so much.

  12. JoAnna says:

    Moly ~ I honestly don’t remember, but I was coming in from an international flight, so I had to go through customs and immigration to get out into the concourse. The tour actually took off from the main terminal for international flights. I would suggest waiting in the international arrivals terminal. Everyone will show up there eventually.

  13. Elva says:

    Hi Joanna.
    It’s a good thing you post your trip on the web, I was planning my trip to Ind, and my prefered flight has 11 hrs layover at Seoul airport, and was wondering about the transit tour. Do people have to book in advance or can just show up? thx. hope you post more of your trip

  14. JoAnna says:

    You can just show up at the counter for the Transit Tours and book in the airport. I didn’t know about it until I landed in Incheon and I happened upon the booking desk. No need to make a reservation in advance.

  15. Kalyn says:

    I also returned from a 12 hours layover in Incheon. The airport itself is beautiful and we considered the transit tours but my daughter and I were exhausted from an overnight flight from Cambodia. We opted to get a room at the hotel which is on site. The rooms can be booked for intervals as short as 4 hours. They are on the small side but extremely clean and well appointed. We were relaxed and ready to complete the rest of our journey back to the US after a luxurious shower and a 5 hour nap. We checked in at 7:30am and out at 4pm. The cost was 117.00. Well worth it. We had a delicious lunch at one of the airport restaurants and browsed the boutique shops.. The hotel was across from the our gate, so it was literally no more than 20 steps to the gate. I don’t get 12 hour layovers, but if you have one, getting a room inside the airport is definitely the one way to go.

  16. Jenny says:

    Hi! My family (husband and 4 y/o daughter) will be having a 13 hr layover at incheon before heading back to london and i am looking for a day tour like this.. Do you know if travel tours have any website so we can plan which tour is the best? Thank you!- jenny

  17. JoAnna says:

    Thanks for the tip, Kalyn. It seems that a lot of flights have super long layovers here, and it looks like the airport has thought of everything! I didn’t know about the hotel but really appreciate you mentioning it so people know what their choices are.

  18. JoAnna says:

    Hi Jenny ~ It looks like the transit tours are run by the tourism board. Here is some information I was able to find: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_5_1.jsp

  19. Azrol Salleh says:

    Hi JoAnna,

    Is the service will be provided in the night time also?
    I will have a 22 hour transit and will arrive Incheon at 5.00pm.

  20. JoAnna says:

    I don’t believe it’s available at night, as most of the attractions are only open during the day. But since you’ll be in Incheon for 22 hours, you could take a morning tour and get back in time to catch your 5:00 flight.

  21. butch says:

    nice and clear, glad i found your info. thanks , i am now ready to follow your recommendation.

  22. JoAnna says:

    I’m glad you found it helpful, Butch. Safe travels!

  23. nigel says:

    is there an option to check in at a hotel in the city then take a tour and be back in thw airport at around 5 in the afternoon? im extending my layover so that i could get to see a bit of seoul during my trip. also is a transit visa needed. thanks. your info has been useful and kinda exciting

  24. Carolina N says:

    Hi JoAnn,

    I was wondering about tourist that are not US Citizens, are they able to hop on the tour or not? Is re-entering the airport at security check point will be an hassle for that person.

    Thank you!

  25. JoAnna says:

    I imagine the only time there might be a problem is if you need to have a visa to enter South Korea, but I don’t know what countries that might be required from. Otherwise, it’s a simple stamp in the passport to get out of the airport and a check of the passport as you go through security to get back in.

  26. Ron says:

    Hey! Im 17 years old, travelling alone and i wanna try this. Do they have a minimum age or something? :)

  27. JoAnna says:

    I don’t know of a minimum age, but I can’t imagine that they’d have a problem with a 17-year-old on the tour alone. There is a booth for the tour company in the terminal, so you can ask there before leaving for the tour meeting space.

  28. Tony says:

    A friend of mine had a 7 hour layover at Incheon, and they wouldn’t let him out of the airport (US Citizen). They said if he wanted to leave, he would have to buy another ticket. Are you only allowed to leave the airport through a tour? Or did my friend speak to someone misinformed? Because I am about to buy a ticket and whether or not I am allowed to leave the airport on my own is very important. Thanks!

  29. JoAnna says:

    Hi Tony ~ Unless things have changed, your friend was misinformed. There are a lot of full-day layovers in Incheon, and that’s why these tours are available. You have to go through customs to leave the airport, where you’ll have your passport stamped, but you can come back into the airport to catch your flight. if you have an airline ticket, you can get back into the airport, through security and to your gate. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to — everyone on my tour was doing what I did.

  30. Agnes Grissom says:

    Hi just wanted to ask about this tour bus for passenger who have long stayover, my husband and I has 13 hours and 40 mins layover and wanted to experience Korea while waiting our flight back to Hawaii. Is it ok that I can go out with my husband even if I’m not US citizens yet but had my permanent green card? Please help me.

  31. JoAnna says:

    I do not know the entry rules for Korea if you have a green card. Whatever Korea’s guidelines are for a green card apply though, whether you’re in the country for three hours, three days or three weeks. If you plan on leaving the airport during your layover, make sure you’ve done your research ahead of time to find out if you can actually leave the airport.

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