It should be no surprise that Europe is at the top of the list of dream destinations for most travelers. According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), 588 million tourists visited the continent in 2014, or 52% of all tourism-related travel. In addition to the culture-filled capitals and marvelous cuisine, for U.S.-based passengers, European cities also act as major hubs for connections on to Africa or the Middle East.
Travelers usually choose which European airport to fly into based on their choice of destination. Reflecting their popularity as tourist destinations as well as business capitals, cities like London and Paris easily top the list of busiest European airports, which is comprised mostly of airports located in western Europe. The only outlier is Istanbul, which has seen double digit growth the last few years due to aggressive fares and lower operating costs.
Despite the high amount of traffic at these airports, delays are mixed: Rome, Paris, and Istanbul all rank among the world’s top ten airports with the most delays, while Amsterdam, Madrid, Frankfurt, and Munich are all comparatively punctual.
Map of European Airports
Busiest European Airports
Here are the top ten busiest European international airports, along with their airport codes (European airport codes also use the three-letter IATA standard):
London Heathrow (LHR)
2014 Passenger Count: 73,405,330
Receiving over 73 million passengers in 2014 and still the busiest of the European airports, Heathrow is also the third busiest airport in the world in terms of passenger traffic and the home of British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. It also mainly serves international passengers – 93% in 2014 – and is the largest of the six airports serving the London area.
Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG)
2014 Passenger Count: 63,813,756
Topping the list of largest European airports in terms of size, CDG is home to Air France and a hub of Delta Airlines. It is also the world’s eighth busiest airport, with its most popular U.S. route to New York JFK.
Frankfurt Airport (FRA)
2014 Passenger Count: 59,566,132
Hub for Germany’s Lufthansa and Condor airlines, Frankfurt is a busy financial hub and gateway/connecting city for passengers on the way to Europe, Africa, or the Middle East. Most of the airport traffic consists of Lufthansa and Star Alliance carriers, and the Frankfurt-Rhine Main region is Germany’s third largest metropolitan region behind Berlin/Brandenburg and Rhine-Ruhr.
Istanbul Atatürk Airport (IST)
2014 Passenger Count: 56,954,790
Istanbul Atatürk climbed into fourth place in 2014 with double digit growth from Turkish Airlines and is closing in on Frankfurt for third place. With the explosive surge, projections are already for passenger traffic to outstrip capacity. The Istanbul New Airport broke ground in 2014 and the first phase is planned for completion in 2017. It is planned to replace Atatürk and be the largest airport in the world once complete, handling 150 million passengers annually.
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS)
2014 Passenger Count: 54,978,023
Amsterdam continues to be a hub for no less than nine different airlines, including KLM, Delta, and Easyjet. While its most popular routes to the U.S. are to New York JFK, Atlanta, Detroit, and Minneapolis, Delta recently began nonstop flights from Salt Lake City.
Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport (MAD)
2014 Passenger Count: 41,833,374
Madrid is the home of national carrier Iberia and is the key hub for connections between Europe and Latin America. The main direct flights to the U.S. are New York JFK and Miami, while the domestic route between Barcelona, previously the world’s busiest flight path, has now shrunk a bit due to the opening of a high-speed rail line.
Munich Airport (MUC)
2014 Passenger Count: 39,700,515
Munich is the gateway to the Bavarian region and also a hub for Lufthansa and Condor Airlines. It is the sole European airport to receive a prestigious five-star rating by Skytrax, with the busiest routes to the U.S. being Newark, Chacago O’Hare, and Washington Dulles.
Leonardo Da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport (FCO)
2014 Passenger Count: 38,506,908
The capital of il bel paese, Rome’s airport is a hub for national carrier Alitalia and Spanish budget airline Vueling. Recently, the airport announced plans to invest €12 billion in enhancing capacity, technology, and passenger experience.
London Gatwick Airport (LGW)
2014 Passenger Count: 38,103,667
London’s second international airport, Gatwick sees about half the traffic of Heathrow, all on a single-use runway. Unfortunately, this also makes it the airport most prone to delays in the UK. British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, and Norwegian Air Shuttle all fly from the U.S. to Gatwick, although currently no U.S.-based barriers do.
Barcelona El Prat Airport (BCN)
2014 Passenger Count: 37,559,044
The second largest airport in Spain, Barcelona is a hub for homegrown airlines Iberia (regional) and Vueling. Though most traffic is intercontinental, U.S. carriers offer direct flights from Miami, New York JFK, Atlanta, and Newark. The top three airlines operating out of the airport are low cost carriers: Vueling, RyanAir, and EasyJet.
*All passenger count and carrier information courtesy of Wikipedia.
With the value of the dollar rising, now is a great time to hit those dream destinations. Use this list of major European airports to find the most popular hubs close to your desired destination, whereupon you can explore to your heart’s contentment by rental car, rail, or by traveling Europe on a budget airline booked with 1-800-Fly-Europe. Time to get packing!