I’m in quite a few travel groups on Facebook and a question that comes up often is ‘I have a 4 hour layover at ______, is that enough time to visit the city? What can I do/see that fast?’ A long layover to break up a long haul flight or just because is a great way to see an additional city for much less money. You just have to do a little bit of planning on the front end to make sure things go smoothly because when dealing with airports, security, flights, etc you can’t just wing it. ;-)
First things first, if you have anything less than a 5 hour layover, don’t even try it. You have to go through customs to leave the airport, perhaps grab your luggage, find the transportation to get to the city center, security again when you return…see, it’s all just too much! But if your layover is 5 hours or longer (overnight of course is best) keep reading for ideas if you find yourself with long layover in Europe.
Some General Tips:
- Check the visa requirements for the country you are visiting. There are some countries that require you to have a visa to leave the airport. This can take extra time if you aren’t already prepared and time is not on your side.
- What is the distance from the airport to downtown or the city center? Oftentimes the airport is way out in a suburb somewhere and it takes a while to find the train/bus and then get to the city. Look into private transportation services for convenience and timing. There are also companies that offer layover tours where they pick you up from the airport, drive you around to sites of interest and then return you to the airport in time for your connection.
- The Hop-On, Hop-Off bus is also a great option when you’re short on time. You can ride around the city only going to the key sites, you hear the commentary for each one and can hop off to take pics when something catches your eye, then get back on the next bus to continue your tour.
- Free walking tours are a great way to see a lot in a short period of time also. Since it’s a walking tour, you can hit a few of the key spots, get some history and if you need to leave, just let the tour guide know and dip out. Sandeman’s is a great one and hosts tours in most major cities in Europe.
AMS Airport is 5.6 miles from downtown
Be sure to check out the Anne Frank house and take pics of the canals. If you arrive during the day, walk through the Red Light District that you’ve heard so much about. No pics though! Enjoy a meal at Thai restaurant, Bird, buy a few tulip bulbs and then head back to the airport. Amsterdam City Tours also offers a layover tour in a private, chauffeured vehicle.
BRU Airport is in Zaventem, 7 miles from Brussels
Baggage lockers are on level 0 of the airport – bus station and small lockers are also available on the ground floor and first floor of the shopping area of Pier A.
Some consider Brussels a small city with not much to do in comparison to other European cities, but it makes it perfect as a layover because you can kinda see everything in a few hours. Here is the site of the European Union Headquarters. If the Parliament is in session, you can attend a sitting.
Walk around Old Town with its shops, restaurants and cobblestone streets. And you must visit the famous fountain Mannekin Pis. A trip to Brussels is not complete without sampling some Belgian beers and grabbing a waffle.
BUD Airport is 10 miles from the city center
Budapest is fairly cheap compared to the rest of the European cities mentioned here so if you have a layover here, consider ‘splurging’ for a private city tour. If you just like to be out on your own, head to Gelert Hill for the perfect selfie 430 ft above the sea or the Castle District with its medieval buildings and cobblestone streets to walk around. Be sure to stop by the bridge that separates Buda and Pest. Visit The Tasting Table for Hungarian wine and small plates before heading back to the airport.
FRA Airport is 8 miles from downtown
Frankfurt Klein Markt Halle is a popular produce market with stalls of delicious food, located on Hasengasse. Also stop by Bornheim on Wednesdays and Saturdays, Konstablerwache on Thursdays and Schiller Strasse on Fridays.
A museum that looks like a castle? Visit Liebieghaus and their impressive collection of 5000 years of sculpture from ancient Egypt to classicism. And since I’m Girl Meets Glass, you should definitely try Apfelwein, or hard apple cider, is actually more popular than beer or riesling in Frankfurt. Check out Sachsenhausen, on the south bank, they have a ton of apfelwein taverns. A pine wreath above the door lets you know where to go.
KEF Airport is 31 miles from the city center
For those of you getting the WOW Air deals to Europe, Iceland’s Keflavik airport offers a geothermal spa trip that’s only 20 minutes from the airport. Or in 45 mins you can take the bus into the capital and check out the Blue Lagoon, maybe visit the Golden Circle route or the Fish Market restaurant for some of the freshest seafood available in Iceland.
LHR Airport is 15 miles from the city center
Left Luggage facilities are available at all terminals, this service will run you £4 per item for 24 hours.
Take the Heathrow express train and you can be to the center in 20 minutes! Sights of note (and proximity) are Windsor Castle, Big Ben & Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace. Grab a snack at Marks & Spencer when you get back to the airport.