The most important airports in Europe

airports in europe

More than 30,000 commercial flights either leave from or arrive at a European airport on a typical day, and around 671 million tourists from outside of Europe visit the continent every year. Accordingly, all of the main cities in Europe are equipped with a fully functional international airport which acts as the principal arrivals’ hub for the surrounding area.

Some of the international airports in Europe receive far more traffic than others, as they may handle a great number of connecting flights to destinations outside of the continent. Indeed, many European airports like London Heathrow and Madrid Barajas Airport are included on the list of the 100 busiest airports in the world.

Europe also boasts some of the biggest airports in the world, many with extensive modern facilities that provide a comfortable stay for those passing through in transit. Read on to learn about the most important airports in Europe.

How many international airports are there in Europe?

Most European countries have a large number of international airports, one for each major city. Germany, France, and the United Kingdom have the highest concentration of airports in Europe. The only territories in Europe that do not have an airport within their borders are the microstates of Andorra, Liechtenstein, San Marino, and Monaco.

However, there is a small airfield with a grass runway in San Marino, while Monaco has a heliport complete with Schengen border control. Only flights within the Schengen Area are permitted for Liechtenstein, San Marino and Vatican City due to a lack of border controls.

Some of the best airports in Europe, based on the quality of their facilities, include:

  • Cologne Bonn Airport in France – Facilities include extensive duty-free shopping facilities and an observation tower over the runway
  • Copenhagen Airport in Denmark – One of the oldest international airports in Europe, Copenhagen, boasts renowned business facilities, a spa, and a family area
  • Helsinki Airport in Finland – Located 20 kilometres north of the Finish capital, Helsinki Airport boasts a scenic terrace, an art gallery and even an on-site aviation museum
  • Vienna International Airport in Austria – Ideal for those who have a long time to wait between connecting flights, Vienna airport is outfitted with an abundance of comfortable couches and lounges
  • Zurich Airport in Switzerland – Modern and comfortable design and an abundance of relaxing lounges define this airport outside the Swiss capital. Transit passengers with long layovers are also able to make use of the on-site bicycle and inline skate rental service.

Which is the biggest airport in Europe?

Some of the biggest airports in Europe by surface area include:

  • Leonardo da Vinci International Airport, Italy – 29km². Located just over 20 kilometres outside of central Rome, this airport was first opened in 1960 to deal with the large influx of tourists for the Rome Olympics. It boasts 3 runways and 3 terminals, 2 of which are currently operational.
  • Lyon Saint-Exupéry Airport, France – 21km². This airport in the south of France already offers 3 passenger terminals and plans are already in motion to extend the number of runways to four. The airport also has an additional 9km² of undeveloped space on which a new terminal building is planned.
  • Paris Orly Airport, France – 15.3km². The second-biggest airport in France, Paris Orly was previously the main entry point to the French capital but has since been replaced in that function by Charles de Gaulle Airport.

The biggest airport in the whole of Europe is currently Charles de Gaulle, located 25 kilometres outside of Paris. Named after the former Prime Minister of France and opened in 1974, the airport has a total area of 32.37km², consisting of 3 terminals (including 7 sub-terminals inside terminal 2), and 4 runways.

As the airport is currently undergoing renovations and expansions, Charles de Gaulle could become even bigger in the near future. One of the projects under development is a high-speed rail link to Paris that will cut the travel time from the airport to the city centre by 25 minutes. The new train line is expected to be implemented by 2023.

What are the busiest airports in Europe?

Although it is the largest airport in Europe, Charles de Gaulle Airport is the second-busiest in the European Union, with 72 million passengers passing through in 2017.

The busiest airport in Europe is actually Heathrow International, located 23 kilometres west of London in the United Kingdom. The second busiest airport in the world by international traffic after Dubai International, Heathrow welcomed over 80 million passengers in 2018. Heathrow is also one of the largest airports in Europe, with a surface area of 12.27km².

After Charles de Gaulle and Heathrow, the busiest airports in Europe are as follows:

  • Amsterdam Airport Schiphol in The Netherlands – over 71 million passengers in 2018
  • Frankfurt am Main Airport in Germany – over 69 million passengers in 2018
  • Istanbul Airport in Turkey – over 67 million passengers in 2018
  • Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport in Spain – over 57 million passengers in 2018.

Foreign travellers planning to arrive at one of the major airports in Europe should first check if they require a visa or an ETIAS visa waiver to travel to Schengen Area countries. Please note ETIAS is not a visa, but a special travel authorization used for tourism, business or transit purposes to visit EU member states up to 90 days.

Visitors from visa waiver countries do not need ETIAS if entering Europe by land or sea: it is only necessary to register for ETIAS if arriving at a European Airport within the Schengen Area.