Abstract Effects of liquid properties on the hydrodynamics of gas–liquid systems were investigated in lab-scale bubble column (BC) and internal loop airlift (ILA). Alginate solutions, a glycerol solution and a Boger fluid were adopted to separately address the effects of viscosity and of surface tension for Newtonian fluids, and the effects of relaxation time for non-Newtonian fluid characterized by approximately constant viscosity (low shear thinning). Hydrodynamic regimes were characterized in terms of overall gas holdup, gas–liquid mass transfer coefficient, drift-flux and liquid circulation velocity. The superficial gas velocities at the transition between hydrodynamic regimes (homogenous regime–vortical-spiral regime–heterogeneous regime) as a function the liquid viscosity was characterized by a maximum. The same behavior was observed for the maximum stable gas holdup and gas–liquid mass transfer coefficient in BC. Viscosity enhances homogeneous regime stability for μ<4.25 mPa s, in BC, and μ<7.68 mPa s, in ILA. For non-Newtonian fluids the transition velocity increases with liquid elasticity. The stabilization mechanism related to the relaxation time of Boger fluids has been discussed.