The Best Cities to Have a Layover in Asia
Let’s face it, having a layover is not everyone’s cup of tea. Especially, if you are stuck in an airport. Luckily, having a layover in Asia is a completely different story! In fact, you’ll be surprised to learn just how easy it is to add another destination to your travel itinerary!
With most major cities having efficient transport, getting out of the airport and whizzing off to the city centre couldn’t be easier! Added to that, some countries even offer transit tours, meaning you can simply sit back and see the city without having to plan or stress about a thing! And that’s not all – special transit visas, visas on arrival and in some cases, even no visas at all, really allow you to benefit from a longer layover in Asia.
To give you a proper scope of the best layover cities in Asia, we recently asked travel bloggers from around the globe to highlight their favourite layover destinations in Asia. And the feedback was amazing! Find out which cities top the list of best layover destinations in Asia, here!
Are you planning a layover in Asia? Or perhaps wondering which Asian cities to add to your layover destination hit-list? If so, you’ll be spoilt for choice! We set out the best cities to have a layover in Asia here in this guide. Plus handy tips on how to get out of the airport, and what to do and see in 6 hours or more!
Before we get to all the good stuff, we would like to point out that this guide is intended for travellers who have at least 6 hours or more on a layover in Asia. Please always remember that it takes time to go through customs, get your luggage (if necessary) and even just get out of the airport! With some city centres an hour away from the airport, proper planning is crucial. And we’re pretty sure no one wants to miss an onward flight!
Therefore, please only consider leaving the airport if you have sufficient time to properly enjoy your layover in Asia.
In a rush? Pin these layover destinations in Asia for later.
Where to have a layover in Asia
Abu Dhabi, UAE
By Hayley of A Lovely Planet | INSTAGRAM
Abu Dhabi is the perfect layover city in Asia. Most nationalities receive a free 48-hour visa on arrival (and many receive a free 30 day visa). Which means it doesn’t cost extra to enjoy a few hours in the city.
The airport is a short taxi ride to a number of great attractions including the newly opened Louvre Abu Dhabi. I had a 36-hour layover and found there were plenty of things to do in Abu Dhabi. In fact, we managed to fit in a lot!
First up was a trip to the Rub al Khali desert. This is the world’s largest uninterrupted sand mass! As well as meeting the local camels, we had an exhilarating dune bashing experience in a 4×4! Back in the city we hit the Observation Deck at 300 Jumeirah at Etihad Towers for stunning views of Abu Dhabi before ending our stopover with a visit to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. It took more than 100,000 tonnes of pure white marble to build this stunning mosque, which was built in honour of the UAE’s founder Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
Taxi’s are great value in Abu Dhabi. And the easiest way to navigate your way around the city and to and from the airport.
By Megan of Megan Starr | INSTAGRAM
Astana, Kazakhstan is not a city that is constantly on people’s minds, but lately, it has been popping up in the media over and over. Astana became the capital of the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan in 1997 and is a young city. The city is known for its modern architecture and its status as the second coldest capital city in the world.
In recent times, the national airline, Air Astana, has been offering long layovers in Astana as a gateway from Europe to Asia. Astana and I may not have ever gotten along that well, but I genuinely think that it is ideal for a layover if you’re on an Air Astana flight (they are a great airline).
Getting from the airport into the city is easy with a Yandex taxi or public bus. A taxi will run you less than $5 to the city centre. From there, you can walk around and marvel at the modern architecture and how your expectations of Kazakhstan were completely wrong. There are many things to do in Astana for all travelers – from museums to delicious Central Asian (and international) food to world-class shopping. Be sure you don’t miss Baiterek, the city’s symbol.
You can see quite a bit of Astana in a matter of 6 hours. Hiring a taxi for the day is also an affordable option and one you may want to use if you happen to end up there in the horrific winters!
By Emily Lush of Wander-Lush | INSTAGRAM
Located in the Caucasus region, Azerbaijan has always been at the nexus of East and West. Heydar Aliyev International Airport in the capital, Baku, is one of the biggest airports in the Caucasus and acts as a transit point for flights between Europe, Asia and the Middle East. A layover in Baku gives you a glimpse of one of the most fascinating cities in the region.
The airport is located approximately 15 minutes’ drive from downtown Baku. To get there using public transport, take the H1 bus from terminal one and transfer to the metro line at Koroghlu Street.
Once you arrive, stretch your legs with a walk around the Icherisheher Old City, Baku’s historic heart. You can cover a lot of ground in just a few hours. Two of the city’s most important historical monuments, the Maiden’s Tower and the Palace of the Shirvanshahs, lie within the old city walls. Just beyond, you’ll find a matrix of charming alleyways and the Bulvar, a huge boulevard that runs along the Caspian Sea. Stop at a café to sample some traditional food – perhaps a shashlik kebab or a pot of piti lamb stew – and maybe a slice of halva. If you have time, ascend the Flame Towers for a view of the city.
Note that most nationalities require a tourist visa to enter Azerbaijan, even if it’s just for a few hours. With the country’s newly introduced e-visa system, it’s now easier than ever to plan a layover in Baku.
By Allan of Live Less Ordinary | INSTAGRAM
Bangkok is often seen as the gateway to Asia, and there are two main international airports that make ideal layover destinations before travel further into Asia.
The first airport would be Don Mueang Airport, which has bus routes and cheap taxis to the central areas of Bangkok. Then there is Suvarnabhumi Airport which has an Airport Rail Link connecting directly to the convenient subway (MRT) and Skytrain (BTS) networks. So Suvarnabhumi Airport will always be more convenient given it connects to the lively Sukhumvit and Asoke area (Makkasan Station) and the shopping districts of Siam (Phaya Thai station) with guaranteed timing (since taxis are unpredictable).
But anywhere in Bangkok, even near the airports, is worth exploring. As it’s a cheap layover destination, where one could easily spend hours people watching, eating local street food, and calling in at a nearby temple. Added to that, there are many tourist attractions in Bangkok. Not to mention the obligatory Thai massage to make the onward flights more bearable.
By Rhiannon of Wales to Wherever | INSTAGRAM
What’s the first thing that springs to mind when you think of China? Is it the delicious food? The language? Or that big, long wall it’s really famous for?
The Great Wall of China was the only reason I booked a long layover in Beijing, but now I can’t get enough of the city!
With 53 countries benefiting from China’s relatively new 72-hour visa-free transit rule, Beijing is an awesome city for a long layover in Asia. I’ve been there 3 times and spent 48 hours, 12 hours and 8 hours in the city, all of which gave me plenty of time to get a small taste of everything Beijing has to offer.
With the airport located just 30km from the city centre, the Airport Express costs 25 RMB and takes a mere 15 minutes to get you right in the heart of the city. Alternatively, a taxi will take twice as long and cost almost 5 times as much.
A lot of Beijing’s main attractions such as The Forbidden City, The Summer Palace and Tiananmen Square, are incredibly well-connected by public transport. So, with a bit of planning you can easily see quite a few of these in a day.
Or, if you really want to make sure you get the most out of your layover in Beijing, plenty of tour companies offer “Layover tours”, taking you on a whistle-stop tour of everything Beijing city has to offer and, of course, The Great Wall of China! You can book these tours ahead online and they’ll pick you up right at the airport, eliminating all the stress of having to find your way back to the airport on time for your next flight.
Even though you might not need a visa, the queues to get your visa-free stamp can be absolute hell so it’s really not feasible to leave the airport if you have anything less than 5 hours wait.
By Jackie Szeto & Justin Huynh of Life Of Doing | TWITTER
Brunei is a small, developed country located off of the island of Borneo and seldom gets mentioned as a travel destination. Yet, it’s easy to have a layover in Brunei and to leave the airport to explore for 5+ hours. The main downtown area of the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, is a quick 15 minutes taxi ride from the airport. If you’re taking Royal Brunei Airlines, they offer city transit tours in the morning and evening (extra fee required).
We decided to visit the pedestrian-friendly downtown area on our own. One of the highlights includes taking a water taxi for less than $1 USD to cross the Brunei River from the mainland to Kampong Ayer, also known as the floating village. Visit the Kampong Ayer Culture and Tourism Gallery and walk around the village. You can also hire a water taxi for a private tour to see the mangroves and the proboscis monkeys. Use your bargaining skills to get a good price for the 1.5+ hour tour.
On the mainland, check out the beautiful Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque and several museums that showcase the history of the country. We enjoyed our short stay in Brunei and would love to come back for a longer visit.
By Corinne Vail of Reflections Enroute| TWITTER
Stopping over in Doha is a fantastic way to see a bit of this small Middle Eastern country. We stopped over for only 36 hours in Doha and were able to do and see plenty. We did rent a car, because we wanted to head out to Al Zubarah, the one and only UNESCO World Heritage Site in the country. It’s a fort that used to protect an ancient merchant city which is now buried in many layers of sand.
We also visited many things in and around the city. Our favorite was the I.M. Pei designed Museum of Islamic Art, right off of the famous Corniche. The museum is beautiful inside and out and it’s free. The Corniche, a promenade along the water offers fantastic views of the city and a chance to hire a traditional boat for the afternoon. We took many photos, then headed over to Souq Waqif to wander among the many shops and have a fantastic traditional dinner of appetizers, rice, and lamb.
Take advantage of Doha’s layover policy, you will get a lot out of it.
By Julianna of The Discoveries Of | INSTAGRAM
Dubai is a great layover city as you can see a lot in a short period of time. My last layover in the city was 24 hours – I used to live in Dubai a while ago and decided to use the layover to go and explore the city like a tourist.
So what can you do in Dubai in a day or less? First of all, you should hop on the metro and make a beeline for the Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world. The architecture is stunning, but the views from the top are even better.
Once you’re done, take some time to explore the huge Dubai Mall – even if you’re not into shopping, you can go ice skating, visit the aquarium, go to a virtual reality experience or watch a film at an open-air cinema. Swing by the nearby Dubai Fountain – the largest choreographed fountain in the world.
Dubai isn’t short on a few glitzy and glam places for drinks with a view – but few rival the aptly named Skyview Bar in the Burj Al Arab hotel. The cocktails are wonderful and the views really are superb – it’s the perfect way to say farewell to the city before you hop back in a cab to go to the airport.
During a 6 hour layover in Hong Kong, I was delighted to find I could stow my luggage in a giant airport locker on level two of terminal three, which was only $2 an hour (U.S.). Then we hopped on the A21 route double-decker bus that promised to take us to the Ladies Market on Tung Choi Street in about 40 minutes. We found seats at the front of the top-level and were rewarded by open views of towering skyscrapers, crawling with digital displays, as we traveled across bridges and through city dwellings. The mesmerizing sights must have been the inspiration for Batman’s Gotham City.
The Ladies Market, full of bright food stalls and colorful selections of ornate dry goods, some mass-produced, some designer knock-offs and all an opportunity to hone your bargaining skills and get some great shots.
There are also many tours you can take that will fit into a layover time-frame.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
By James of Travel Collecting | PINTEREST
After traveling through Borneo, I had an eight-hour layover in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It is a great city for a layover in Asia for several reasons. There are actually organized city tours that you can book at the airport that pick up and drop off at the airport, especially designed for layovers. There is also luggage storage at the airport for exactly this situation. Kuala Lumpur also has a great rail system that goes from the airport straight into the city, which makes it easy to travel around to the major sights.
We decided to forego the city tour because it was so easy, and cheaper, to travel by ourselves. We hadn’t done much shopping in Borneo, so we headed to the Central Market, where there are handicrafts from around the country, as well as a few food stalls. After shopping and eating, we hopped back on the train and headed to the Petronas Towers – the twin towers that dominate the city. The plaza in front of the buildings is very festive, with people posing for and taking photos.
I like to check in with several hours to spare, so we headed back to the airport, but you could easily spend another hour or two exploring the city.
Manila, most of the time, is bypassed as a standalone destination. Travellers only transit it, on their way to the islands of the Philippines. But only a few choose to spend more time in the capital. I preferred to have a longer stop here for almost 48 hours, during which I tried to get to know the city as much as possible.
The first thing you need to do in the Philippines capital is to explore the streets and walk in the Baywalk area, the promenade next to the ocean. This will give you an overview of the city. If you have enough time, you have to go to Manila Ocean Park, where you can take part in the sea lion shows or you can stroll through the huge aquarium.
In the 48 hours, I have had time to explore the Makati area, which is a kind of financial district of the Philippines and notice the impressive contrast between the skyscrapers here and the poor neighborhoods in the rest. I went to the Mall of Asia for a shopping session, then, at the end of the stop, I relaxed in Rizal Park. Perhaps it is not the most beautiful capital, but it is a very lively place and has enough to offer for a longer layover.
Penang Island, Malaysia
By Marco Ferrarese of Penang Insider and Monkeyrockworld | TWITTER
Penang island is West Malaysia’s second most important international airport, with long-haul flights to Qatar and many connections throughout Southeast Asia. It’s a great place for a layover as there are many things to do in Penang.
With two days you could spend plenty of time in and around George Town, exploring its street art, hipster cafe’s and nooks and crannies that always offer that perfect shot. But even if you just have a day, or just about eight hours, getting to the city is very straightforward! Get out of the airport arrival gates, cross the underpass, walk 100m left and you’ll bump into a bus bay. Catch any bus bound to Sungai Nibong and George Town. Or, if you feel more attracted to quiet backwoods and some of Penang’s most rural, beautiful areas, catch a bus to Balik Pulau and onwards to Pulau Betong, a fishing village nestled among palm trees, durian plantations, and a few nice and less visited beaches.
You will reach George Town at KOMTAR, the island’s tallest tower, with one of Asia’s highest skywalks, a panoramic restaurant perched on its 56th floor, and plenty of entertainment for children (including 4D cinema and a dinosaur theme park). The UNESCO-inscribed heritage city is in 10 minutes walk, and Chulia Street, the main traveler-oriented thoroughfare, runs straight across town down to the sea, where you shouldn’t miss a stroll at the Chinese Jetties.
For the rest, try the smorgasbord of local food and walk around Little India and Chinatown for as long as you have before hopping back on a bus. It takes about 1hr to reach the airport in normal traffic conditions, so factor this into your travel time or catch a Grab Car for around RM20.
Seoul, South Korea
Seoul’s Incheon International Airport in South Korea is one of the best airports for a layover in Asia. Not only are there free transit tours and free hot showers, there are also regular arts and craft activities to pass the time.
As your plane boards, you can go to the tourist information desk and book a tour to Seoul. Depending on the length of your layover and time of your arrival will decide what tour options are available. You can visit ancient neighbourhoods, go shopping or a number of other things available.
On top of that, there are free hot showers to refresh you after (or before) a long flight. They also include towels and toothbrushes. You can also do a number of complementary arts and crafts activities while you wait, or catch a traditional dance and music performance at the information centre. Waiting for a plane to board can be a tedious and frustrating experience, but it’s much better when there are multiple fun and exciting things to do.
By Claire of Claire’s Footsteps| INSTAGRAM
China used to be completely closed off for layovers without a visa, but today passengers can now enter selected cities, including Shanghai, on a visa exemption during a layover of up to 144 hours.
This is a fantastic way of seeing some of China without an expensive visa; and as Shanghai Pudong is a huge airport with flights going to all over the world and Chinese airlines are generally quite cheap and very good, it’s an ideal place to stop over in.
There’s so much to do in Shanghai – it’s always a staple on anyone’s China itinerary. But the highlights can be enjoyed in just a day if that’s all you have.
First make sure you see The Bund, the cities futuristic skyline. You can also get amongst these buildings, ascending to the top of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower – and down below is the fantastic Shanghai History Museum which will tell you the story of the city.
The other popular place to visit in Shanghai is the French Concession. Here, you’ll learn all about the foreign influence of the city – something that not many Chinese cities have. You’ll stroll down Parisian streets and you absolutely should check out Tian Zi Fang, a cute collection of alleyways with a decidedly European atmosphere.
As the sun starts to go down, make your way over to People’s Square and Nanjing Road. This is the Times Square of Shanghai, with skyscrapers, huge buildings and a seemingly endless array of shops. If you’ve got time, head to the Bund for a night-time view (it’s completely different after the sun goes down!) before you catch your flight.
“Haven’t you heard?” The Singapore Changi Airport is famously known for being one of the most incredible airports in the world! But that’s just a tiny aspect of why Singapore is one of the best layover destinations in Asia!
The city / country (however you want to look at it) is remarkably stunning, and is super well-connected via public transit. While it does take a good 40-minutes to get to the city centre from the airport, it’s extremely easy to navigate.
If you’ve only got a couple of hours, I’d recommend heading straight to the marvelous “Gardens By The Bay” park behind the Marina Bay Sands. It’s free to walk around and explore, but I’d suggest checking out a few of the attractions if you’ve got the time! It’s also nice to walk around the promenade (no matter what time of the day), take a stroll across the Helix Bridge, and take a picture at the iconic Merlion statue. All of this is easily done within a couple of hours outside the airport!
I also think Singapore is great for a layover, because it’s actually a pretty expensive destination! So you can go sight-seeing for the day, without breaking the bank on a longer 2-3 days visit! Oh, and travel tip – if you’re flying with Singapore Airlines – make sure you take advantage of their free layover tour!
By Mariza of Hoponworld | INSTAGRAM
Taipei is an excellent choice if you’re looking to do a layover in Asia. Whether it’s your first visit to Taipei or you’ve been here many times before – there’s always something new to discover.
To get a good glimpse of what the city has to offer, you’ll need at least six hours wait. Although this might not sound like much, you’ll be surprised how much you can do in this timeframe!
The very first step would be to get yourself from the airport to the city centre. Taipei is served by two airports, but it’s most likely that you will be landing at Taoyuan International Airport. Luckily the new MRT line connects you directly to Taipei Main Station in roughly 35 minutes. From here it’s easy to hop on another train to get to all the must-see spots!
First make your way to Taipei 101 – Taiwan’s most iconic landmark. And also the former tallest building in the world. I highly recommend grabbing a priority pass ticket to skip the lines, especially seeing that you might be pressed for time. Once you’ve taking in the panoramic views, head over to Xinyi’s shopping district for some retail therapy or a bit of people watching – the area is home to retailers, high-end boutiques, as well as tons of hipster restaurants. For those looking to sample celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver’s cooking, head to his restaurant in Shin Kong Mitsubishi Xinyi Place.
If you still have a few hours to spare, make your way to Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, which was built in honour of Taiwan’s former leader. Afterwards, head back to the main station where you’ll have no trouble sampling some of Taiwan’s most famous treats. Local specialities such as beef noodles, steamed buns (xiao long bao), pineapple cake and bubble milk tea should not be missed!
Pro Tip: You might need a visa to enter Taiwan – even if it is just on a layover. So remember to check this beforehand.
Are you flying to the islands of the Pacific Ocean? Or coming back from the resorts of Southeast Asia? Use this opportunity and make a transit stop in Tokyo!
You can take advantage of Narita Transit Program which provides free guided tours around the city. Currently, there are 4 guided tours available along with a number of self-guided tours.
How to register for the free tour
You can sign up in person at the Narita Airport Transit & Stay Program counter in Terminal 1 and 2, open from 9 am till 5 pm. Or you can book in advance on their official website. Although the tour itself is free, you will have to pay for your transportation, food, museum entrance tickets.
Tour duration is 3 hours so you have to plan your time accordingly to make it back in time.
Alternatively, explore the city centre by yourself
- Take a train “Narita Express” directly from the airport to “Tokyo Station”, this will take you about one hour.
- Walk around Tokyo Station: the station itself, Marunouchi area (business district, skyscrapers, banks, corporations), the Imperial Palace park, parliament building, etc. This is the very centre of Tokyo, sightseeing can take up to 2 hours.
- Go to “Onarimon station” and climb Tokyo Tower to see the panorama of the city.
- Or go to Shinjuku area – the district of skyscrapers. Here you can go up to the Free Observation Deck of Tokyo City Hall and look at Tokyo from a different angle. This view of Tokyo is one of the most famous, and one you can see in Hollywood films.
- Go to Shibuya to see “Hachiko Exit” and Shibuya intersection.
Each place should take at least one hour including transportation and sightseeing. So, you can plan what places to see depending on your timeframe.
Pro Tip:You might need a transit visa to Japan so it’s better to check it in advance.
Have you had a layover in Asia before? Which cities do you recommend for a layover in Asia? Drop your comments below! We’d love to add to this list.
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