5 European Airports That Are Perfect For Stopovers
Explore these cities and be back in time for your flight's final call.
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You are tired. Maybe you slept a little on the last plane, but you’re still a wreck. You’ve got nine hours stretching out between you and your next flight and it’s tempting to just find a cold patch of floor, somewhere to call your own. But even though it doesn’t feel like it, you’re actually in a foreign country. Really! A whole different place with people who speak a different language and eat strange regional foods. You owe it to your passport to do something about it.
Here are five European airports where a short stopover is an adventure, not a quarantine. Where you can explore the city, grab a drink, hit up a local museum and be back just in time for your flight’s final call.
#1 Amsterdam Airport Schiphol
Let’s kick off with The Netherlands’ main international airport which sits a breezy nine kilometres southwest of Amsterdam. There’s a train underneath that gets you into the city centre in about 15 minutes and lockers throughout the terminal for you to ditch your bags. They even have special airport layover tours with direct pick up and return to the airport.
Rent a bike or take a canal boat to gastro pub Hannekes Boom for a beer; take a quick peep at the Anne Frank House and the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh museum; or wander through the red-light district because it really is just such a hot mess.
Like most airports it takes about half-an-hour to exit the terminal so factor that in. You may need a short stay visa to leave the airport depending on the passport you carry and whether or not your destination is within the EU.
#2 Charles De Gaulle, Paris
Any layover over four hours is enough time to comfortably flee De Gaulle. Because everything takes a million years in Paris you probably won’t see much but it’s worth it to stretch your legs and get some decent food. Plus the Wi-Fi in CDG only works in 15-minute intervals, which is obviously totally barbaric.
There’s a train from the airport that runs to all the major arrondissements, with the uber hip Châtelet les Halles its second stop. This is the perfect suburb to perch, drink breakfast wine, watch Parisians and crib Wi-Fi. If it’s a nice day head over to Canal Saint-Martin and hang by the river or to Luxembourg Gardens to just chill.
#3 Flughafen Stuttgart, Germany
For whatever reason deemed by those in charge, heaps of flight routes seem to include stopovers in Stuttgart. Not likely to be on anyone’s bucket list, Flughafen Stuttgart sounds like the noise you make when you swallow water wrong and is about as much fun. However, downtown Stuttgart is hipster friendly and close to the airport. Get off the airport train at Königstraße (about 17 minutes away) for good coffee and bars or hang out in Schlossplatz Palace Square – it’s one of those parks you can doze comfortably in without feeling like you’re on an episode of Crimewatch. Stuttgart airport also has the fastest moving customs lines you’ve ever seen and super clean showers. Ahhh cold German efficiency, so unattractive in a lover yet so convenient in an airport.
#4 Lisbon Portela Airport
This guy is my favourite stopover airport. Just five miles from Lisbon proper, there’s a free baggage storage area that’s open 24/7 and a super cheap bus that shuttles between that airport and the city centre. You can go for a walk up winding back lanes to St George’s Castle, eat the meal of your life at Restaurante Santo André, drink some Ginja at Os Amigos da Severa, or – and I cannot recommend this enough – go to The Oceanarium. You think you’re too cool to hang out in one of the biggest and best aquariums in the world? You’re not. Also I once took a bike tour from the airport and saw Ethan Hawke walking around Barrio Alto with his fly down.
#5 Sofia, Bulgaria
Saying Sofia is the biggest airport in Bulgaria is kind of like saying Taylor is still the best looking Hanson. True, but who cares right? Sofia Airport is fine. You know, it’s got good Wi-Fi, working bathrooms and … seats – it’s just fine. But if you have time to get out, then do. If churches and monasteries are your thing then you are in for the time of your life in Sofia. If not, catch the number 84 bus from the airport to Sofia University. Eat some Bulgarian barbeque (that’s a thing) and make your way to Hambara (6 Septemvri) – it was a secret hangout for artists and intellectuals during the Communist regime and is now full of hipsters swigging Pirinsko by candlelight.
A:part:mental (68 Neofit Rilski Street) is also a good spot to kill time. A century-old residence turned African embassy turned gallery-cafe-bar which showcases local artwork and serves a mean raspberry wine. There’s also a really great, free Sofia Walking tour that leaves from the fantastically named Palace of Justice at 11am and 5pm daily.
Pro tip: Always remember that you’re going to have to go through customs, even if you’re connecting and most airports will want you to get a short-stay visa to leave the airport on stopover. It’s worth it. Even a couple of hours out of the whole travel lighting, food and bathroom situation will make a mile of difference.
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