Since we moved out to Australia from the UK we’ve completed many long haul flights between the two countries.
I completed the last trip alone, and it involved a long stop in Singapore. As I explored this vast airport, I started to wonder if I was actually able to leave. So I did some research ready for next time to answer my question.
Yes, you can leave the airport during a layover, provided your passport allows you visa-free entry to the country you’re in and you have enough time between flights. In fact, some people intentionally book flights with longer layovers (which are often cheaper) so they get to see a new city.
How Much Time Do You Need to Leave the Airport on a Layover?
Most airlines require you to show up for an international flight two hours in advance, and it is probably going to take around an hour to get out of the airport once you arrive.
Adding in additional time for travel to and from a city (which can vary hugely) I would say the very minimum time you’d need to leave the airport and explore on a layover is five hours, with eight hours or more being ideal.
Either way you need to leave yourself plenty of time on your return to the airport to make sure you don’t miss your next flight.
Time of Day
The timing of you layover is also a big factor in whether or not you would leave the airport during a layover. It is unwise to explore most cities at night and is probably better to use sleepinginairports.net to find the best place for a kip!
Do You Need a Visa for a Layover?
The visa requirements for a layover will depend on your country of citizenship and the agreements with the location you are having the layover.
For domestic flights, such as an American citizen travelling within the USA, the answer is no, you won’t need a visa and will be able to travel outside the airport freely.
For international travel, many countries have what is known as a transit visa, which is a short-term visa with conditions. These are only issued if you have proof of an onward booking to another country within the timeframe specified and if the correct documentation is shown. They also require a passport valid for at least a month from the date of entry.
Examples of transit visa regulations from a few countries are below:
- Australia (72 hours)
- Countries in the EU (The transit visa for the EU does not allow you to leave the airport, but a short-stay Schengen visa does)
- Singapore (96 hours)
- United Arab Emirates (48 hours for free, 96 hours for a fee)
- United Kingdom (48 hours)
- United States (Not available)
What About Luggage?
Leaving the airport on a layover is ideal if you have your most vital possessions for a city exploration in your hand luggage (think camera, guidebooks, currency).
If you have hold luggage, then you’ll have to wait for this before leaving the airport and may need to store it in a locker.
Connecting flights with the same airline should automatically transfer your hold luggage onto your next flight, so that will give you one less thing to worry about.
What’s the Difference Between a Layover and a Stopover?
A layover is a shorter period of time (generally less than 12 hours) between flights.
A stopover is a period of up to three days, which are often offered by airlines at no extra cost. This allows you to build an additional stop into your travel and is a great way to see an additional city for a few days. See the stopover program from Icelandair as an example.
Best Cities to Explore on a Layover
There are a number of cities which are perfect to explore on a long layover as they are close to the main airport.
Singapore Airport is a major hub for services across Asia, Europe and Oceania and is the perfect place to explore on a layover.
One advantage of being both a country and a city is that wherever you stick an airport it’s not going to take long to get into town. The train service (MRT) will get you into the city in around an hour, but if you’re in a hurry the taxis will take less than 25 minutes.
A 12-hour layover is sufficient to see popular attractions such as the Gardens by the Bay, Chinatown and Kampong Glam. They are so well set up for layovers there is even do a free 5.5 hour tour from the airport.
To be honest, the airport itself is pretty good – with everything from a movie theatre to a swimming pool!
Ok, I know it’s not a city but I include Iceland on this list as IcelandAir have a stopover policy encouraging travellers to spend a few days in the city at no extra cost.
On this list I am focusing purely on short layovers, but it is still possible to get out and see some of Iceland in this time.
With a stopover of less than 8 hours, you’re probably best to stick to the capital city of Rekyjavik, but anything up to 12 hours could mean seeing some significantly more spectacular sights.
This post suggests 10-12 hours could be enough to see all three major attractions of the Golden Circle sightseeing route Þingvellir National Park, Haukadalur Geothermal Valley and the waterfall Gullfoss.
You’ll need to hire a car, but what an incredible way to spend half a day on a layover!
London has two major international airports – Heathrow and Gatwick. Both airports have train services that will take you directly into the city, with a travel time of around 45 minutes from either to Green Park underground station (which I think is the best one to start exploring the sights of London, but there are lots of others nearby).
You have a couple of options for a short(ish) layover.
Head to a tube station such as Green Park to explore the area around Buckingham Palace, Westminster, Big Ben, Covent Garden, the London Eye and Big Ben.
You could instead head slightly further west and get off at a station such as Monument, taking in Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, The Shard, a Southbank walk past the Globe Theatre and St Paul’s Cathedral.
There is loads to do in London, so a layover is of course going to mean compromise, but if you set out with a couple of clear goals in mind you can see some of the biggest attractions.
The distance between Dubai Airport and the city is the shortest on this list at only 10km, meaning you can be in town using the public transport system in less than 15 minutes.
Many flights pass through Dubai, with some allowing a stopover in the city for up to 24 hours at no extra cost (Emirates were even offering free hotel rooms at one point). This is a city trying to become the layover capital of the world!
An 8-hour layover would allow you to get to the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building), the Souks and even a beach or two. A longer layover even gives you the chance to get out on a tour into the desert and a camel ride.
TIME SAVING TIP: Click Here to buy tickets to Burj Khalifa in advance and skip the queues
Amsterdam Schiphol is one of the busiest airports in the world and a hub for transfers out of Europe.
It is also handily located 17km away from Amsterdam’s city centre and can be easily accessed by bus or a 15-minute train journey.
With so many of the great attractions near the city centre, seeing the sights of Amsterdam is a very realistic goal for a layover. The main street of the city, Damrak, is right in front of the station with the National War Memorial, Royal Palace, Anne Frank Museum and infamous Red Light District all close by.
The canals are my highlight though, with their narrow waterways and quirky buildings. I’d suggest getting out on a canal boat tour to see the city in quick time.
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