Updated: Aug 25
Layovers can be such a hassle. Either they are way too long or way too short. If you are leaving from the United States and have layovers in Europe then you hate to waste your layover in the airport, when most likely you haven't been to that city before. And if you do try to escape the airport to see a few sights before the next flight, you tend to worry about getting back to the airport late and not enjoying your time in the city. So, with this post I am going to go over some facts about some European airports, navigation to city centers or must-see sights, and basic navigation in the airport. This way you will know the best airports to book a layover in. (Or have me help you book)
First, I will name 2 airports to never book a layover in if you can possibly avoid it. Heathrow (London, England), Charles de'Gaul (Paris, France). Both airports in Europe are large, very busy and far from the city center. If you have a short layover, you run the risk of missing the next flight because you are running a long distance. Also, you would need a real long layover to enjoy these cities. Both airports are further away from city center or major sites. Also, just face it, London and Paris have so much to see you need several days there, they deserve their own trip. I guarantee if you have a 5-hour layover in Paris and you try to check out the Eiffel Tower, you will miss your next flight. It may only be 16 KM away, but that can take an hour.
The TSA in America is called EASA in Europe (European Union Aviation Safety Agency) And they are just overwhelmed at several locations now in Europe (just like in the USA). That can make for some rude agents. (Heathrow, I had one). I had to wait over an hour in one of the lines at Heathrow because it was so busy. This is not good if you visited London on your layover and came back to chaos. In Paris the EASE was great, and I didn't have a long line to stand in. On the downside though, connecting flights at de' Gaul will have you running if you have a short layover.
#1 Reykjavik, Iceland. My favorite airport for a layover in Europe. It is absolutely the best! it is only 5 miles away from the city center. Most people are fluent in English here, so American tourists will not have any problems at the airport or in Reykjavik. They do not have Ubers in Iceland and Taxis tend to be expensive, so be prepared for that. They do have a bus station though which will save you some money. The airport is easy to get around because it is on the smaller side. They also have storage lockers here at the airport, so you will not have to drag your suitcase around with you, but they also have them at the bus terminal too.
Austurstraeti is a great place to walk around in Reykjavik, it's the downtown area with pubs and restaurants. Also streets Laugavegur and Bankastraeti are nearby and I would recommend those also. Check out the Hallgrimskirkja Church and the statue of Leif Errikson near the waterfront.
Now don't get this airport confused with Keflavik. Keflavik is an international airport 45 minutes away, and unfortunately flights from the US will stop at Keflavik instead of Reykjavik. I have been through Keflavik, and it is small and easy to navigate, but way too far away for me to feel comfortable leaving the airport. Unless I extend my layover on IcelandAir. You need at least a 7-hour or 8-hour layover at Keflavik to be able to explore the city without worries of missing the next flight. If you are flying IcelandAir, they will let you extend your layover for up to 7 days at no extra cost to you. So, you could stay for a while and do all sorts of fun things in Iceland, maybe even see the Huldufolk (the hidden people, Icelandic elves). lol. Play airlines is also a good budget airline for you that has layovers in Iceland. Cheap flights from the United States.
#2 Amsterdam. The train ride is about 18 minutes from the airport to the city center and would be the most cost effective for you. Store your luggage at the airport, on level 1, in between arrivals 1 and 2. You do not need to worry about the language, most can speak English here. There are 6 runways at this airport, but you can still get where you are going in 10 minutes. Recent renovations have helped this airport out and opened up Lounge 2 which is really nice.
If you have a 4-hour layover, just give yourself an hour in the city. You must see the canals in this city, and the best place to start is in the Red Light District. You will see beautiful architecture, canals, and outdoor markets in this eccentric area. Check out a cafe, if you have time, there are several great ones in the Red Light district. And yes, the Red Light District is still known for what it's known for. That does not mean you need to participate in that, unless you want to. lol
From there I would go to the Ann Frank House, if you have time. It can be very busy and to tour the house you will have to go up several flights of stairs, one of which is steep. But it is an experience for sure.
#3 Brussels, Belgium. It's only 19 minutes away from the city center. If you have a 4-hour layover, go on into the city for an hour, and you can store your luggage at the airport on level 0, near the exit to the bus station. You can take the train, bus or taxi into the city, but taxis will be most convenient. Check out the Grand Place (a large square that has many buildings from the 1600s), from there it's a short walk to Mary the Chocolatier. When in Belgium you must buy chocolate. You can buy a box or individual pieces here.
Near the Grand Place there are also statues, (peeing boy fountain) Mannecken Pis. (Peeing dog fountain) Het Zinnek, and (peeing girl fountain), Jeanneke Pis. They are all located near the Grand Place area but several blocks apart. There is also a museum dedicated to the costumes for Manecken Pis, but with a 4-hour layover you probably will not have time to visit.
If you have more than 4 hours, check out some of these places. Neighborhood of Saint Jacques, an eclectic area with painted doors and great cafes. It's a really lively area.
Take the Comic Book Art tour, it takes you through several areas of the city, and Saint Jacques is one of them.
Atomium, an art installation you can climb up and get a great view of the city, interesting architecture and history you can learn about. Also, there is a restaurant where you can see the panoramic views. Just next door is Mini Europe
As for the airport itself, it's not large, and easily traveled. English is commonly spoken here so you should have many issues. If you leave the airport, you will notice lots of billboards in 2 languages.
#4 Copenhagen, Denmark. Only a 15-minute ride by car to the city center, and you will be close to Trivoli Gardens, the world's second oldest amusement park, built in 1843. Near Trivoli is the Museum Kobenhavns, Art Museum Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, and an interesting sculpture at Dantes Plads. Other places to check out are Stroget (a large pedestrian street mall), Mermaid sculpture near Langelinie Promenade, Nyhavn historic waterfront area, and Rosenborg Castle built in the 1600s. Lots to see and do in this city, Bike riding is common here, so you can rent a bike to see the sights. For those that can handle lots of stairs, stop by the Church of Our Savior. When you get to the top there is a glorious view of Copenhagen. But it is a hard climb up spiral stairs, some of which are outside.
What I would do if my layover was 4 hours. Walk some Stroget, then walk to Rundetarn (The round tower) nearby. Walk up the ramp and take in the view of the city. From there I would walk some of the Nyhavn area. Then if time permitted a canal ride.
The Copenhagen Airport (Kastrup) is wonderful. It is modern and larger than most in this post, it even has tons of flights daily. It only has 2 terminals, so it makes everything real manageable. Walking between most gates are short walks. P4 Parking house outside of terminal 2 is a place to store your luggage at the airport. taxi's, trains, metros, and buses are the best for getting to the city from the airport, with taxi's being the priciest. Most people are fluent in English here in the airport and in the city too.
#5 Lisbon, Portugal. The airport is only 6 miles away from the city center, about 15 minutes, but lots of the historic sites you want to see are south of city center, putting you at 20 minutes away. A luggage storage area is located next to the arrivals area, and also in car park P2.
My advice is to Uber to Tram 28 in Lisbon, starting at Martim Moniz, and ending at Campo Ourique. The all-day pass is under 7 Euro, so you can get on and off the tram as much as you like. This tram/trolley has been around since the 1930's and will take you close to most city sites. The streets are tiny, and I swear you can touch the buildings at times when you ride by them. The start line can be very long on weekends, or in peak summer season, but even at an hour wait, it is still worth the ride. Starting at Martin Moniz (the beginning of the route gives you the best chance to get a seat on the tram. I have been told that there is not much of a line at around 3pm, but 11AM will have a line. Depending on when you have to be back at the airport, I suggest taking sunset pics if weather is permitting from Senhora de Monte. Be sure to leave yourself 2-2.5 hours to go through security when you get back to the airport.
As for the airport itself, it's simple. Easy to navigate with only 2 terminals and a shuttle bus to take you between both terminals, the shuttle trip is only 3-minutes. English is widely spoken at the airport, and also in the city so tourists will not have an issue. Lots of flights here in Lisbon have long layovers, so there will be plenty of time to go check out the city and get back to the airport. Did you know that Lisbon is one of the safest cities in Europe? Now you know.
I hope you have found this post informative. In my opinion these are the best 5 airports for a layover in Europe. If you need any research, or booking help make an appointment on my site. But if you would like to do the research yourself, use the link, Crystal Travel has been good for me lately.
And if you are looking for a cheap place to lay your head on an overnight layover, check out Hostelworld.
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