If you’re headed to Europe for a vacation or on a business trip, you’re not alone—millions of other people travel to Europe each year. Chances are, you might pass through some of the European continent’s busiest airports. Here are the airports in Europe where you can expect the most crowds.
Table of Contents
- 15. Athens International Airport
- 14. Munich Airport
- 13. Palma de Mallorca Airport
- 12. Orly Airport
- 11. Vnukovo International Airport
- 10. Pulkovo Airport
- 9. Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat Airport
- 8. Heathrow Airport
- 7. Adolfo Suarez Madrid—Barajas Airport
- 6. Frankfurt am Main Airport
- 5. Domodedovo International Airport
- 4. Amsterdam Airport Schiphol
- 3. Charles de Gaulle Airport
- 2. Sheremetyevo International Airport
- 1. Istanbul Airport
From a global perspective, Europe doesn’t have very busy airports. Most of the world’s busiest airports are located in North America or in East Asia. That’s only relatively speaking—Europe’s biggest airports still move millions of passengers and millions of tons of freight a year.
Many of the continent’s busiest airports are near popular tourist destinations that see millions of visitors a year. Others serve as hubs for international travel and see millions of transferring passengers a year, whether they’re preparing for longer intercontinental flights or taking smaller flights to less connected destinations within the continent.
This list uses passenger numbers for 2021 to give you the most up-to-date information. Historically this ranking has looked a bit different, and the rankings for 2022 will probably be different as international tourism fully recover.
15. Athens International Airport
Athens International Airport is Greece’s biggest airport and one of the busiest in Europe. According to data released by the airport itself, in 2021 it saw 12.35 million passengers despite international travel restrictions.
This is the highest Athens International Airport has landed on the list in a while, jumping 4 places from the rankings of Europe’s busiest airports in 2019. However, 2021 was one of the worst years for the airport in terms of total passenger numbers, with nearly half the number of people who traveled there in 2019. As international travel recovers, people will start coming back to Greece again.
Greece’s amazing tourist attractions are responsible for many of the passenger numbers coming into Athens International Airport. Every year, millions of people come to Athens hoping to see the Acropolis and move to other places in the country (often reached by plane) to bask on the beach.
14. Munich Airport
Munich Airport, located in the state of Bavaria, is one of the busiest airports in Central Europe and the second-busiest airport in Germany. According to the airport’s own statistics, in 2021 it moved 12.5 million passengers.
For Munich Airport, 2021 was a rough year. Before the pandemic affected international travel, it would move nearly 50 million passengers annually and was routinely among the top 10 busiest European airports. However, statistics from the first part of 2022 show that it is well on the way to recovery.
Although Munich and southern Germany have plenty of tourist attractions, that is not the only reason why so many passengers fly through here. Lufthansa, Germany’s biggest airline, and the international Star Alliance use Munich as their hubs. More and more airlines offer connections through Munich because passengers prefer the modern, easy-to-navigate layout of this airport.
13. Palma de Mallorca Airport
Palma de Mallorca Airport is an airport that definitely punches above its weight. Even though it serves Palma, a relatively small city in Spain’s Balearic Islands with a population of only 477,000 people, it is one of the biggest airports on the continent.
In 2021, even with international travel restrictions, Palma de Mallorca Airport saw 14,497 million passengers!
Palma de Mallorca Airport has so many passengers because it serves Mallorca, one of Spain’s most popular tourist destinations due to its beautiful beaches and nightlife. People come from all over the world to vacation here, particularly from northern European countries such as the United Kingdom and Germany.
12. Orly Airport
Orly Airport is one of the biggest airports in France and in Europe. In 2021, it served 15,719 million passengers. These are impressive numbers, but still not enough to make Orly the biggest airport in France or in Paris.
Many of these passengers came to visit Paris, the City of Light, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. However, Orly is also an important hub for connections thanks to its status as Air France’s secondary hub and Transavia France’s primary hub.
While Orly has a few long-haul flights leaving for different continents, it functions primarily as a hub for connecting onwards within Europe and to other destinations in France. It is well-connected to the center of Paris.
11. Vnukovo International Airport
Russia is home to some of Europe’s biggest airports, which makes sense since it is Europe’s biggest country. Vnukovo International Airport, one of the four airports serving Moscow, reported a little under 18 million passengers in 2021.
Vnukovo Airport boasts many domestic and international flights. It is Moscow’s oldest airport, but a recent renovation means that it still feels modern—in fact, the airport won the ACI Europe Best Airport Award in 2021.
Vnukovo Airport also serves as a hub for private charter planes. According to some statistics, it is the busiest airport in all of Europe for private planes.
10. Pulkovo Airport
Pulkovo Airport is another of Russia’s busiest airports and the only one on this list that is not located in Moscow—it is the biggest airport serving St. Petersburg. Even with travel restrictions, in 2021 Pulkovo Airport served 18.1 million people, narrowly edging out Vnukovo Airport for the top 10.
Many of the people coming into Pulkovo Airport are residents of St. Petersburg and the wider Leningrad Oblast, an area that counts nearly 6 million residents. St. Petersburg is also one of Russia’s most popular tourist destinations as it boasts glorious attractions such as the Hermitage.
Pulkovo Airport is also an important hub for international and domestic travel. Although it has only one terminal, it is a hub for Rossiya Airlines and a focus city for Smartavia.
9. Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat Airport
Barcelona’s Josep Tarradellas-El Prat Airport is one of the busiest in Europe, routinely ranking in the top 10 busiest airports on the continent. In 2021, it welcomed 18.9 million passengers.
Many of these people are coming to visit Barcelona, which saw 4.8 million overnight visitors in 2021. People from all over the world want to see the gorgeous architecture and vibrant culture, including the nightlife, of Catalonia’s biggest city.
El Prat Airport is also an important hub for travel within Spain and Europe as a whole (although it does offer intercontinental flights as well). It used to be home to the busiest airplane route in the world, the “Puente Aereo” Barcelona-Madrid shuttle.
8. Heathrow Airport
Heathrow Airport, London’s biggest airport, is at a respectable 8th place on the list of Europe’s busiest airports. In 2021 it welcomed 19.4 million passengers.
For Heathrow Airport, those numbers represent a downgrade. For years Heathrow was comfortably the busiest airport in Europe. Its numbers in 2021 were even lower than they were in 2020, which was the worst travel year for most global airports.
There are a few reasons behind Heathrow’s decline. UK travel restrictions were stricter than those in other countries, meaning tourism is still recovering. Brexit and stricter entry requirements also affected the number of travelers coming to Heathrow.
7. Adolfo Suarez Madrid—Barajas Airport
Adolfo Suarez Madrid—Barajas Airport is Spain’s busiest airport. In 2021, 24.1 million passengers came through the airport.
Many of these passengers are internationals either traveling to Spain for vacation or transiting through the airport. Madrid Barajas Airport is also an important hub for domestic travel. Spain’s national carrier Iberia uses Madrid airport as its primary hub, particularly for international flights to Latin America and beyond.
In terms of surface area, Madrid-Barajas Airport is actually Europe’s second-largest airport.
6. Frankfurt am Main Airport
Frankfurt am Main Airport is Germany’s biggest airport and the biggest in Central Europe. Even though 2021 greatly reduced international travel, this airport saw a whopping 24.8 million passengers.
Frankfurt is a major city for international business and Germany’s finance industry, but it is not exactly Germany’s top international tourism destination. Many of the passengers passing through the airport don’t actually stay in Frankfurt but connect onwards to other German destinations and beyond. Frankfurt is one of Europe’s most important airports for connecting flights. Lufthansa uses this airport as its primary hub.
Not all of the passengers that pass through Frankfurt am Main Airport leave happy. The airport routinely ranks among the most frustrating airports in the world thanks to its confusing layout and massive size, meaning connecting passengers often have to sprint to reach their flight.
5. Domodedovo International Airport
Moscow’s Domodedovo International Airport is one of the busiest in Europe. In 2021, 25 million passengers passed through its modern halls, some of the newest in Russia.
Domodedovo International Airport has many international and domestic connections. Several airlines use Domodedovo Airport as their hub, including Red Wings Airlines, a Russian regional carrier, and Smartavia, a popular Russian low-budget airline.
In early 2022, following the war in Ukraine, many countries leveraged sanctions against Russia, and international airlines suspended flights to local airports, including Domodedovo. This airport will probably fall in the rankings next year.
4. Amsterdam Airport Schiphol
The Netherlands is a small country, but its main airport punches above its weight. Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is one of Europe’s busiest airports, handling 25.5 million passengers in 2021.
Schiphol is the biggest airport serving the entire country of The Netherlands, which helps to explain its busy nature. Amsterdam is also a very popular international tourist destination. However, most of Schiphol’s traffic comes from its status as a major hub for international travel. It is a hub both for the main Dutch airline KLM and its budget counterpart, Transavia.
Schiphol also sees considerable cargo traffic, which is fitting considering the Netherlands’ historic reputation as a hub for trade. The combined cargo and passenger traffic makes it the busiest airport in Europe in terms of total airplane movement.
3. Charles de Gaulle Airport
France’s biggest airport and one of Europe’s busiest is Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. In 2021, this airport saw a whopping 26.2 million passengers pass through its halls. For Charles de Gaulle Airport, this represents a big drop as before the pandemic, it would welcome nearly 80 million passengers a year.
While the glorious tourist attractions of Paris certainly play a role in how many people travel through Charles de Gaulle Airport annually, they are by no means the only reason behind such impressive passenger numbers. The airport is the primary hub for Air France, France’s national carrier which serves countless domestic and international destinations, and is an important destination within the Star Alliance Network.
Like Frankfurt am Main Airport, Charles de Gaulle Airport is one of Europe’s biggest and most despised airports. Passengers hate the confusing layout and slow shuttle links between terminals, a problem when you have a tight connection on the other side of this massive airport.
2. Sheremetyevo International Airport
Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport is the busiest airport in Moscow’s massive airport system and in Russia. It is the second-busiest airport in Europe according to 2021 numbers, with about 31 million passengers.
Some of these passengers are residents of Moscow’s massive metro area or excited tourists, but many are connecting onward to other destinations. Sheremetyevo is an important global hub, particularly because it acts as the main airport for the massive Russian national airline Aeroflot. It has flights to international destinations, mostly in the Central Asian and Eastern European regions, as well as domestic flights to Russia’s far-flung cities.
In 2022, Sheremetyevo International Airport will probably fall in the rankings due to sanctions against Russian airspace and airlines.
1. Istanbul Airport
For the past two years, Istanbul Airport has been the busiest airport in Europe, taking the title from previous years-long champion Heathrow Airport. In 2021, it served over 37 million passengers, including 26.4 million international passengers.
Istanbul Airport’s passenger numbers skyrocketed after the Turkish government closed Ataturk Airport, also in Istanbul, to passenger flights and transferred all connections to the main Istanbul Airport.
Istanbul Airport is the second-busiest international travel hub in the world, meaning that most of its passengers are connecting onwards to other flights. Thanks to planned construction, the airport will only grow in the future.