Fly Here, Not There: Don't Be Misled by these European Airports

Even if you aced all your Geography exams in high school, some cleverly named European airports could mislead flyers who only take them at their name value. With lower operation costs, many of these airports are home to Europe’s ever-growing list of low-cost carriers, allowing them to offer amazingly low prices. Most times, those budget prices come with a hitch. You may find yourself over an hour and a half away from your intended destination once you touch down on the tarmac. After you factor in time lost transferring and a potential wallet-thinning taxi ride, you might negate any savings on the airfare altogether. 

A Guide on Which European Airports to Avoid if Visiting the City Center

While airport names in the States are relatively straightforward, a handful in Europe can really stretch it. Think you’ve got a fantastic deal to Brussels? It says Brussels South right in the airport field on the booking website - wrong, Brussels Charleroi is closer to France than it is the Belgian Capital. Now that deal you thought you scored might result in a €100 cab ride or being crammed on an hour-long bus to the city center; just for flying to the misleadingly named airport. As a traveler who's made some of these gaffes myself, I don’t want you to make similar mistakes, so I’ve compiled a list of airports to avoid and which options are the best when flying throughout Europe. 

Frankfurt

Fly here: FRA – Frankfurt Airport

Located just 12 km/7.5 mi southwest of central Frankfurt, odds are this will be the airport you’ll arrive/depart from if traveling through Frankfurt. As Germany’s busiest airport, over 100 airlines offer service to Frankfurt (FRA). Transportation to the city center couldn’t be easier. FRA has dedicated regional and long-distance rail stations and its direct connection to the Autobahn allows for drivers and taxis to reach the city center in 10–15 minutes. 

Not here: HHN – Frankfurt-Hahn

This airport’s name was so deceptive its title was even challenged in court, but the case was lost. With its location of 120 km/75 mi away from downtown, HHN is as close to Luxembourg as it is Frankfurt. Mainly served by Ryanair and Wizz Air, you’ll want to avoid flying here if your intentions are to visit Frankfurt city center. 

Milan

Fly here: LIN – Linate

Considered the secondary airport in Milan, it’s the first in my heart. Just 7km/4mi east of the city center the airport is also part of Milan’s ring road, making it reachable by any direction. Unfortunately, there is no metro or rail service to LIN, but it’s simple to get to with local buses, coaches, and of course Italian taxi drivers.

If you have to: MXP – Milan Malpensa  

Milan’s primary airport, Malpensa (MXP) is located 49 km/30 mi northwest of the city center. With the largest flight network and the only area airport offering nonstop flights to the U.S., MXP is the airport most will arrive/depart from. Even though the airport has a reliable rail network to the city center (30 minutes) and busses (60 minutes), I’d still recommend flying into Linate (LIN) if given the opportunity. Malpensa, however, is the best option to fly to if you plan on visiting Lake Como or other destinations in the Italian Lake District.

Not here: BGY – Milan/Bergamo Orio al Serio

Mainly served by low-cost carriers, Milan/Bergamo (BGY) is 45 km/28 mi northeast from the center of Milan. While BGY is almost equidistant from the city center as MXP, the airport doesn’t have the public transport network that the other two area airports do. There is a limited bus system but the ride is over an hour, and if you're thinking of taking a taxi expect to fork over in the neighborhood of 80 euro. Ouch. 

London

Fly here: LCY – London City 

London City Airport (LCY) is the only airport that is actually within a borough of London. Located just 11 km / 7 mi east of the heart of the city, LCY is the best option when flying into London. Unfortunately, it’s a small operation and doesn’t have the sprawling destination list that other area airports boast. From the airport downtown is reachable in 20 minutes by taking the Docklands Light Rail, allowing to connection points to the Underground and Overground network.

LHR – Heathrow

London’s largest airport is located 23 km / 14 mi west of the capital. As the busiest airport in Europe by passenger traffic, this is the airport you’ll most likely find yourself at. Connected to the London Underground via the Piccadilly line, this is your cheapest and best option for getting into downtown.  If you are in more of a hurry, the Heathrow Express’s nonstop service to Paddington station only takes 21 minutes but can be on the pricey side if you don’t purchase in advance.

If you have to: LGW - Gatwick

As the only airport to the south, Gatwick is only a better option than the other two airports above if you are heading down to Brighton area or staying in South London. Situated 47.5 km / 29.5 mi south of Central London, if traveling by road, Gatwick requires a little over an hour and a half travel time to downtown, if you're lucky. Although it is not reachable by the underground, LGW has a decent rail network. The Gatwick Express travels nonstop to Victoria in 30 minutes while other rail services will take from 35 to 45 minutes to reach Central London.

Not here: LTN - Luton

Luton Airport just claimed the top spot as Britain’s worst airport for delayed flights. And delayed you’ll be if you are flying from this far out airport located 47 km / 29 mi northwest of Londontown. Another stronghold for low-cost carriers, LTN, should be avoided if you are hoping for a quick connection to downtown. While there is a train station nearby, it requires shuttle service from the airport, and from my experience, the trains to Central London run on a sporadic schedule that isn’t always conducive to the arrival times on many flights. A few coach companies offer transfers to the city at reasonable prices but travel times can easily take over an hour with traffic. 

STN - London Stansted

At 68 km / 42 mi away from Central London, Stansted wins the award for being the furthest away. While the deals from this low-cost carrier stronghold are tempting, the transit and hassle of getting to this airport are not worth the discounts. There is a Stansted “express” service to/from London’s Liverpool Street station but that journey time is just shy of an hour long. If you are flying from Stansted, beware of your arrival/departure times. After a flight delay on Ryanair, I arrived at the airport only to find out that the trains and buses had ceased operations for the night, leaving me to dish out for a costly taxi ride.

SEN - London Southend

Southend is the only London area airport I’ve never flown into, and for a good reason: its location! At a distant 58 km / 36 mi away from Central London and its hour-long train ride to downtown has crossed this airport off the list for me. Don’t be tripped up by its name either, located due east of London; Southend (SEN) isn’t south of the city at all, it gets its name after the nearby town Southend-on-Sea.

Brussels

Fly here: BRU – Brussels Airport

Located just 12 km/7.5 miles from Brussels city center, BRU is the airport that most travelers will use. With multiple options to downtown, including trains, trams, buses, and even a dedicated bike lane, Brussels Airport is the only airport you’ll want to fly into when planning a trip to the capital of the EU.

Not here: CRL – Brussels South Charleroi

When they say south, they mean it when it comes to Brussels South Charleroi Airport. Situated 46 km/29 mi south from downtown Brussels, you can get to the French border faster than you can to the city center. Served by low-cost carriers, don’t fall victim to the Brussels title in the airport’s name it’s a 45- minute drive and about €100 taxi ride to the city it’s supposed to serve. I should mention, there are bus options to Brussels city center from CRL for about €15, but they take close to an hour. And if your flight gets delayed like mine did and you arrive after midnight, the next one isn’t until 4:30 am.

Stockholm

Fly here: ARN – Stockholm Arlanda

While this airport is still pretty far from the city center at 37 km/23 mi away, it’s the best option compared to the other airports that serve the Swedish capital. The Arlanda Express high-speed train service will take you to downtown in 20 minutes for 280 SEK ($32 USD) one-way. Fixed taxi rates start at 450 SEK, which is a little over $50, not the cheapest option but fairly reasonable for pricey Scandinavia. If you want to cut some other costs in Stockholm have a look at our handy list of cheap eats in the city.

Not here: NYO – Stockholm Skavsta 

Marketing at its finest, this airport uses Stockholm in its title despite being 100 km/ 62 mi away from the city center. Served by low-cost carriers Ryanair and Wizz Air, Skavsta is a long hour and a half bus ride to downtown Stockholm.

VST - Stockholm Vasteras

Like Skavsta, Vasteras is about an hour and a half from Stockholm proper. Situated 110 km / 68 mi west of downtown this airport really stretches out the Stockholm name in its official title. It’s a minor airport and only has flights on Ryanair from London (STN), but still, don’t think of flying here as a cost-saving option unless you want to spend most of your trip riding on a bus.

Oslo

Fly here: OSL – Oslo Airport

Oslo Airport is located 35 km / 22 mi northeast of the Norwegian capital. A hub for both Scandinavian Airlines and Norwegian Air Shuttle, OSL is the airport of choice if you are planning a trip to Oslo. With a railway station beneath the airport, connections to downtown are easy using the Flytoget express trains that whisk you to the city center in about 20 minutes.

Not here: TRF – Oslo Sandefjord/Torp

Sandefjord Torp (TRF) airport is a staggering 110 km / 68 mi away from Oslo's city center. Travelers arriving at TRF airport will find themselves two hours away by bus or train from downtown Oslo. Mainly used by low-cost carriers, buyers beware. Along with that super cheap flight deal, you must budget extra time getting to/from this out of the way airport.

Venice

Fly here: VCE – Venice Marco Polo

At only 8 km / 5 mi away from the hustle and bustle of Piazza San Marco, Venice’s main airport Marco Polo (VCE) is the choice arrival spot for visitors. From the airport, you can travel in style to the floating city by water taxi. If water taxis aren’t your thing, VCE also has rail and bus options that will take you to the city center in about 20 minutes.

Not here: TSF – Venice-Treviso

Served by low-cost carriers, this airport is unofficially called Venice-Treviso, which is a bit misleading as the airport is 31 km/ 19 mi away from the city center. While this isn’t as bad as some other airports on this list, if planning a trip to Venice you’ll have a much easier time flying to its main airport Marco Polo (VCE).

Belfast

Fly here: BHD – George Best Belfast City

At just 5 km / 3 mi from the Belfast city center, this airport is one of the most convenient in all of Europe. Unfortunately, this single runway airport doesn’t have a vast network of flight options, but if given the choice, try to fly here over Belfast International (BFS).

Not here: BFS – Belfast International Airport

Belfast International Airport is situated 21 km / 13 mi west of downtown. Overall, it's not too far away compared to many of the other airports listed here. However, I prefer BHD as my choice when flying into Belfast. As far as public transportation goes, Translink operates an express bus service that will get you to the city center in just over a half hour. 

Warsaw

Fly here: WAW – Warsaw Chopin

Odds are, you’ll already be flying into convenient Warsaw Chopin (WAW). Just a short 10 km / 6 mi separates the arrivals hall from downtown Warsaw. Trains, local buses, or taxis can easily reach the city center in a little over 20 minutes. After that quick trip into downtown, there's no shortage of sights and events going on in ECentral Europe's best city for frugal travelers.

Not here: WMI – Warsaw Modlin

Warsaw Modlin Airport is 35 km / 22 mi northwest from Warsaw proper. Since Ryanair exclusively serves this airport, it’s pretty easy to avoid flying to. If you do choose to fly to WMI, the only option to travel to the city center is by taxi or bus coach, with travel times taking about an hour.

Header image by gopixa via Shutterstock

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