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Long layover? These European airports are close enough for city sightseeing excursions

Plenty of European airports are close enough to city centres that you can organise your own sightseeing trip while waiting for your next flight.
Plenty of European airports are close enough to city centres that you can organise your own sightseeing trip while waiting for your next flight. Copyright Unsplash
Copyright Unsplash
By Rebecca Ann Hughes
Published on Updated
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You can make the most of a long layover by doing a spot of sightseeing.

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Singapore’s Changi Airport is restarting its free layover tours after a three-year pause during the pandemic.

The four daily guided tours, lasting less than three hours each, take transit passengers to see sights in the city such as the National Gallery, Arab Street or Chinatown.

The Jewel Tour also takes travellers around the airport’s attractions like the Shiseido Forest Valley and the HSBC Rain Vortex, and for a tasting of typical Singaporean snacks.

And many travellers choose to take advantage of these sightseeing packages, according to Flight Centre UK. Justin Penny, Head of Aviation, says that a 24 to 48 hour stay over in the city could even save you money - even with the price of a hotel.  

"This is also an interesting way to keep prices lower as it can often give travellers access to more flight options as they don’t need to connect with a few hours."

The travel company sends thousands of people to Singapore each year and many choose to include an extended layover in their trip. 

Istanbul is the only airport in Europe to offer layover tours, put on free by Turkish Airlines.

But plenty of European airports are close enough to city centres that you can organise your own sightseeing trip while waiting for your next flight.

Bear in mind that while flights are always a large proportion of your carbon footprint, one way to reduce their impact is by flying direct to your destination.

How to organise your own layover tour

If you’re going to leave your transfer airport, there are a few tips to remember. First of all, make sure you’re allowed to leave the airport and come back in. If you can, then do plenty of research in advance, particularly about transport.

Give yourself enough time on the return for possible cancelled or delayed public transport - there’s no point in risking missing your flight for a little bit of sightseeing.

Don’t be too ambitious with your itinerary. Decide on a couple of main attractions and have a few backups in case queues for entry are long.

If it’s too early to check in your luggage, leave it in an airport locker.

Amsterdam layover: Famous art and historic buildings

If you’re hanging around in Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, there’s plenty to keep you busy without even leaving the building.

For culture, head to the mini airport branch of the renowned Rijksmuseum. The exhibition changes regularly so frequent visitors get to see a range of masterpieces.

Tobias Kordt
Trains to Amsterdam CS, the city’s central station, take around 20 minutes.Tobias Kordt

Alternatively, you can bet in the casino, have a massage or try Dutch delicacies like sticky stroopwafels.

If your layover is more than five hours, that gives you enough time to head into the centre. Trains to Amsterdam CS, the city’s central station, take around 20 minutes.

From there, you’re within walking distance of barge-lined canals with gabled houses, the baroque Royal Palace and the red light district.

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Paris layover: Croissants and coffee

Layover tours in Paris need to be planned carefully as it’s easy to make a mistake on public transport. But as long as you get on an RER B train from Charles De Gaulle airport to the district of Saint-Michel, it’s only a 40-minute journey into the city centre.

From here, you are a stone’s throw from the gothic glory of Notre Dame Cathedral, which is currently undergoing restoration and will reopen in 2024.

The neighbourhood is also packed with chic cafès and bakeries like Odette Paris and A. Lacroix Patissier.

From Saint-Michel, you can take the yellow line metro to Champ Des Mars for a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower.

Venice layover: Canals and spritz

From Venice’s Marco Polo airport, travellers can hop on the 20-minute ACTV bus to Piazzale Roma, the bus and tram station right by the canal city’s historic centre.

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From here, you’re just a bridge or two away from great art, atmospheric churches and plenty of spritzes.

Ten minutes on foot takes you to the Jewish Ghetto with kosher bakeries, canalside cafès and delightful independent galleries.

Along the Fondamenta della Misericordia, you can catch some sun while drinking a glass of wine with cicchetti - little snacks of fried fish, wedges of cheese or crispy bread piled high with toppings.

For cultural sustenance, visit the Church of San Simeon Piccolo directly opposite the railway station for a spooky crypt or the Church of San Nicola da Tolentino for a staggering ceiling painting.

Tallinn layover: Saunas and a World Heritage site

Tallinn’s airport is one of the closest in Europe to its city centre, requiring just a 15-minute tram ride on route number 4.

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Ilya Orehov
Tallinn’s airport is one of the closest in Europe to its city centre, requiring just a 15 minute tram ride on route number 4.Ilya Orehov

The compact UNESCO World Heritage-listed city centre is perfect for exploring in limited time. Estonia’s capital is ringed by mediaeval walls that enclose a fairytale Old Town of pastel-coloured palaces, onion-domed churches and lush green parks.

Seek out the Masters’ Courtyard, a quiet corner giving a glimpse of Tallinn of another era. The cobbled courtyard is home to craft workshops and the renowned café Chocolaterie.

If you have a few hours, head to one of the city's saunas to destress before your next flight. At Tallinn’s oldest public bath, dating from 1928, you can even rent a private sauna.

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