A string quintet plays at Incheon Airport's transit area.

Why Incheon is the world’s best airport (and why not)

By Jeremy, February 18, 2018

On my first trip to Korea, I flew budget airline AirAsia and ended up arriving at 11pm in winter. Heading into Seoul to look for accommodation in the freezing cold was not a good idea, so I opted to sleep over in the airport. I’ve slept in many airports and even in most first-world countries (eg. Australia, Spain etc) the best you can expect is a nap on a row of chairs and maybe a wipe-down in the toilet. Unless you want to fork out big money for the posh airport hotel. But Incheon Airport actually has a Spa on Air where you get a nice hot shower and sauna in luxurious clubhouse-style facilities, clean clothes to sleep in and a warm sleeping area, all for 20,000won or US$20. Read more here.

In the morning, have Korean-style porridge at the basement food court or take away pastries from the first floor bakeries. Don’t forget to buy a local SIM Card before catching a bus or train to Seoul.

When you’re leaving Korea, the main attraction has to be the live performances. After checking in and clearing the security checks, head towards the centre of the transit area where the shuttle train is located. A classical string quartet (plus piano) performs there all year round. They might even do Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

A string quartet performs at fixed intervals daily at Incheon Airport's departure area

A string quartet performs at fixed intervals daily at Incheon Airport's departure area

Here are the performance times. Each set is 15 minutes.

A string quartet performs at fixed intervals daily at Incheon Airport's departure area

Still got time to spare? Incheon Airport has recently opened a little Museum of Korean Culture in the transit area. It’s nothing like the massive National Museum of Korea, but has some neat digital animation interpretations of traditional paintings, and a corner for teaching yourself to read Korean. To get there, you have to take the shuttle train to Gates 100+.

The Seokgatap pagoda in this museum is a replica, so if you’d like to see the real thing in its historical setting, take the KTX bullet train down to the ancient capital of Gyeongju. Or just go there for the most gorgeous cherry blossoms in Korea.

Don't think the sleeping passengers will appreciate you hitting the bell at the Incheon Airport museum

A replica of the Seokgatap pagoda inside the Bulguksa temple grounds in Gyeongju

A tourist destination in itself, Incheon might be deserving of the title Best Airport in the World. But it can get a little frustrating when crowded. Incheon does not handle as much traffic as some of the bigger airports, and often struggles to deal with a sudden influx of passengers. The three places where you are likely to get stuck are the check in counter, the shuttle train and the immigration area for arrivals. Here are some tips to relieve your travel stress.

1) Check in counter

There’s little you can do here except arrive early and be patient. It helps that the staff are generally very friendly and forgiving (if you exceed the baggage allowance slightly). Taking the train from Seoul instead of a bus/taxi can help to guarantee that your journey to the airport is not affected by traffic conditions.

A crowded check-in counter at Incheon aiport

2) Shuttle train

If your plane is at Gate 100-132 you have to factor in an extra 15 minutes for the shuttle train. There will be a mad rush for the escalator, but not many passengers know that you can also take a lift (behind the escalators) to get out of the platform area quickly. When all else fails, follow the cabin crew!

Long queues for the shuttle train at Incheon aiport

3) Immigration

When arriving at Incheon immigration, there are separate queues for Koreans and foreigners. Be sure to get into the right queue to avoid wasting time. Also, there are usually at least 3 immigration areas open for business. If the nearest one has a long queue, it is often worth walking to the next one to try your luck.

I maintain this site as a hobby and have personally verified or experienced most of the information posted here. However, prices and conditions may have changed since my last visit. Please double check with other sources such as official tourist hotlines to avoid disappointment. If you’d like to contribute an update or additional useful information for other travelers, please comment below!

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