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Where is Your Favorite European Arrival City?

I’m asked this question by friends an family all the time. What city in Europe would you most like to fly into first? Not based on any planned itinerary or flight price, but as a “Wow, I’m back in Europe!” Think about the anticipation of arriving at the airport, shuttling into the city and the excitement around you. Where’s the first sight, activity, restaurant or familiar favorite “happy place”?
We know Rick likes to fly into Amsterdam and burn off jet lag on a bike. Haha
Mine?..........Munich and a “Prost” with a new friend in Viktualienmakt!

Posted by
1071 posts

For me it’s London. It’s big city hustle and bustle and expensive but I can deal with it.

  1. Good walking city
  2. Good transit
  3. No language barrier
  4. Good food
  5. Museums
  6. Shows
  7. Easy to pick up a prepaid SIM card for the rest of my trip
  8. Cheap flights to the rest of Europe.
  9. Can pay for just about everything and everywhere using my phone.

I often stay near Trafalgar Square so if I can get into the room early II take a quick shower and head to the National Gallery. Then grab a bite to eat in Soho. British accents, architecture of the buildings and cars driving on the opposite side of the rode all serve to remind me it’s not San Francisco.

Oops forgot to add nice parks to enjoy the outdoors.

Posted by
7376 posts

Paris. My hometown and where i grew up. It’s always a thrill for me to be back. What you said, that Wow, i’m back home again, I’m really here happy feeling.

Posted by
31137 posts

My first stop in Europe is often Frankfurt as it's a main hub and I can go from there to just about anywhere in Europe. If Italy was the main focus of a trip, I'd start in Milan (but would probably have to fly through a hub city first to get there). I've also used London in the past if travelling mostly in the U.K. and Ireland.

Posted by
2380 posts

Arriving into Venice is nice. Great views of the islands as you land, smaller airport, the bus into town is easy and then...wham! Venice. Sure, it’s Venice and it’s crazy crowded with tourists and if you have heavy luggage it’s a terrible pain. But if you don’t have luggage or can drop it off easily, you can wander off a bit, find a coffee bar away from the crowds, drink your coffee, wander more. I’ve been to Venice several times and at this point the best thing is that I feel zero need to do the crowded places. Once you walk 5 minutes off the beaten path it is very calm and a great place to walk off jet lag.

Munich was easy. Not my favorite city overall, but it was efficient getting in and on the train to the center. Nice to go to beer garden and sit outside first thing. Good parks. Good train connections to a lot of Germany/Austria. When I went I spent 6 hours hanging out in Munich before hopping a train to Salzburg to start my Austria trip.

Rome, taking a car service or taxi right to your hotel, is a great option. The train is good but I personally dislike the train station area and it’s far from where I like to stay. So - car in, there’s nothing like seeing Roman ruins as your welcome to Europe. And you can get great coffee which is a huge jet lag help.

Posted by
4496 posts

If I had my choice it would be London Heathrow, but we usually fly Delta/AF and fly into Europe first at CDG Paris.
CDG is easy to change flights or take the train into the city. Just watch out for pickpockets once exiting the airport.

Posted by
715 posts

I agree with London. Mostly I choose it cause it's a short, usually inexpensive, flight from the US northeast plus between EasyJet and RyanAir you can then go just about anywhere else in Europe. Since I always want to give myself a couple days between the transatlantic flight and the next one, I usually book at least a couple nights.

London is very walkable - important on that first day.

The museums are free so you can do lots of short visits which I prefer to day long visits that you might feel you should do to make an expensive entry fee 'worth it'. And there are so many of them.

Lots of easy day trips.

With all the new 'pod' hotels (eg Premier Hub) there's plenty of inexpensive lodging.

Posted by
420 posts

Frankfurt. I lived in Germany for more than a decade and when the wheels touched down I was home. Usually an early arrival and always some great coffee and a fresh pastry outside the baggage carousels and then home to the hills in the distance from FRA.

This was not excitement just a nice feeling of being back where I wanted to be. Same thing applied to our now grown children who still claim Wiesbaden as their hometown.

Posted by
1868 posts

Like several others (and for the same reasons), I usually fly into London. Back in the "olden days" when I was traveling to Europe, there were nonstop flights from Denver to London, Munich and Frankfurt.

Posted by
7895 posts

I'm with Susan...Paris!

My second choice is London but really either will work, lol.

It is for convenience as well as in Andi's "olden days" there were non-stops from Salt Lake City to both and that is my hub.

Posted by
2320 posts

Like Rick our usual & favorite first stop is Schiphol. Great airport to navigate. Well organized and fun to walk & explore the shops while waiting for our connection.

Posted by
10 posts

Dublin for me. It's smaller than London but also has a lot of things going on.

Posted by
42 posts

I'm glad to see a number of posts for London. We've never been there, but it's our first stop for our upcoming Europe trip for July (fingers crossed, odds look to be improving).

It's my wife and I, along with our 20 year old son. It's tough to find the right combination of things to do when we travel, as the wife and I are good with a relaxed pace and our son understandably likes a little more action. London really seems to fit the bill for all of us in this regard; historic tours for us, Thames River Rocket, London Eye, etc for him. Thank goodness for the Rick Steves forums to hold me over until we can (hopefully) go.

Posted by
4112 posts

For the sheer spectacle of flying into an airport it has to be London Heathrow especially if you're 'lucky' to be in a holding stack, which is almost certain, then the loops above such an iconic city is very impressive even for someone like me who can't wait to get out of it!

My favourite sight that I never tire of is exiting the Rome metro at the Colloseum. No matter where else I've been or how many times I've repeated this journey it still fills me with amazement, one of the great spectacles of the world in my opinion.

For me, the best start to a trip is to land anywhere in southern Spain, preferably Mallorca, drop off the bags and head to a decent bar for a cold beer and some tapas, preferably chiperones with aioli.

Posted by
2099 posts

Though I have no love for the airport, I love flying into Paris. I look forward to walking the streets and enjoying the beautiful architecture, and I try to get to Luxembourg Park the first day to see the flowers. Then, depending on the time of day, I look forward to getting a pain au chocolate or takeout crepes. It’s a great way to start a trip.

Posted by
6477 posts

Amsterdam as it is always quick has a major bank ATM airside ABN Amro by the baggage claim.

I don't think I've used another ATM as much at an international airport as that one.

It has great liquor store selling the Belgian trappist beers airside and lots of trains going to the city and beyond that

Posted by
4394 posts

I'm with Carroll and Susan, give me Paris. Not because of the airport, or the ease (or lack) of getting into the city, but for the "I'm there!" experience. My choices from Seattle are (were) London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Frankfurt. I'd say Amsterdam and Frankfurt are the easiest, best organized airports, and I try to use them as hubs if going somewhere beyond.

Reykjavik deserves an honorable mention, though much smaller than the others. They manage lots of rapid transfers every morning and afternoon, pretty efficiently, and it's a nice place to hang out if time allows.

Posted by
2134 posts

I have two cities that I have been to enough times to now have an arrival routine that fills me with great joy each time without fail:

London--arrive early morning, take the Tube or Express to my hotel--the bit of walking always revives me--then straight over to the Tower to visit with the ravens for a few hours.

Budapest--arrive usually early afternoon, taxi to my hotel near the Oktagon and then right back out on the tram to Margitsziget to sit amongst the storks--even on a rainy day I will do this, even better to have them all to myself. They are there from approximately late March through September, and I prefer to visit in May to see the baby storks. After that it's time for a cold Dreher and some toltott kaposzta :)

Posted by
2865 posts

For Spain, it’s Madrid and London for most of the UK . We tend to have to fly into, or through, Frankfurt too frequently. I don’t like that airport. I really don’t like De Gaulle airport, but will fly into whatever airport gets me to my destination.

Posted by
2669 posts

We’ve flown into a lot of European airports from our west coast hubs. They all instill a sense of excitement, wonder and comfort in me. Our routine from airport A,B,C, etc to our accommodation is usually commuter train or taxi. Upon arrival we ditch our luggage and head out for a walk, drink of the hour and a special site. I don’t have any airport that I prefer or avoid. Just get me back to Europe, please.

Posted by
1473 posts

If you asked from a practical point of view instead of emotional, I'd probably say Amsterdam because it's such a good point of entry for connecting flights. But from purely emotional point of view I'm going with London because I'm so in love with it. My happy place is the bustle of Covent Garden/Soho areas and being close to everything I want to see and do.

Posted by
21 posts

The replies are fantastic. Everyone has their own reasons for that special place. Although we have never experienced London or Paris as our first arrival city, I can only imagine that “We’re in Europe again” feeling. Both have the architecture, street life and ambience that excites the senses.
Mira’s mention of Venice is hard to beat. In late spring of 2018 we flew into Venice’s Marco Polo Airport from the states. It wasn’t our first visit to the magical city so we recognized the various islands out our window as we descended.
What really struck that euphoric European sensation was getting off the airport shuttle bus on Piazzale Roma with arguably the most amazing view on earth. The Grand Canal is one of those surreal picturesque beauties you can’t believe exists. It’s morning and the canal is bustling with vaparetti, gondolas and local merchants. We took a few moments to consume this brewing commotion. Ahh I love Europe!

Posted by
31 posts

I usually start in London and spend a couple of days. Here are the reasons:

1) Inexpensive flights due to increased competition--especially from NY.

2) Choice of morning flights (three) rather than an overnight flight. (Who knows what this will be like after Covid.) No problem with jet lag.

3) Ease of getting into the city from the airport. I prefer the Underground.

4) Inexpensive flights to the rest of Europe. (Or Eurostar if going to France or Belgium).

5) Bangers and Mash, mushy peas and a pint.

Posted by
2593 posts

London Heathrow is my favorite European entry airport. This is because my favorite day flight from home lands there. I stay overnight at the airport and then head to my European connection the next day. I haven't recently spent any transport time in London, but that's because I've spent so much time there in the past. And I do feel a "Wow, I'm on vacation", but because I always start with this night at the Sofitel and room service before traveling onward, not because I'm seeing the city again.

Posted by
562 posts

I too love the Sofitel for a comfy overnight stay at LHR. I prefer to take the 9:00 am flight from Chicago to London arriving at 11:00 pm - just in time to slide into those cozy Sofitel beds and feel refreshed and ready to go the next morning. I never use to do this in my younger years, but as I get older, I really like to add this stop to my itinerary.

I have also tried to go through Dublin twice now (as it is sometimes considerably cheaper) but it's just not the same.

Posted by
1109 posts

We have always flown into London whether on to Paris via the Eurostar, or on to Johannesburg, Istanbul, or many other exotic destinations. We stay at least two nights to acclimate ourselves and enjoy the city, thence on other destinations. We once booked for a trip to Portsmouth for two nights enjoying the naval history, thence onto Quistreham, the ferry port in France via the Brittany Ferries, followed by a short bus ride to Caen where we fetched our rental car to explore Normandy and Brittany. London has always been our central hub to the rest of Europe, and Asia, counting Istanbul and Asia Uskudar across the Bosporus.

Posted by
5452 posts

London. Have done it many times. Fly from overnight from LAX. Do carry on. After immigration
and lengthy walk I board the Heathrow Express.
Ticket purchased months in advance for cost savings and vouchers printed out. Ticket is also on iPhone but I like a paper trail for safety.

Posted by
5370 posts

If the question is about favorite gateway airport, that's different from destination city. I like Frankfurt (FRA) for connections, but I've never actually gone into the city from there.

Posted by
740 posts

Our favorite is Paris CDG. Our final mode of travel is by car and carry-on luggage so we take the RER into the Saint Michel-Notre Dame stop and walk a few blocks to our hotel, then go to our favorite boulangerie for a bite of lunch and start walking And taking in the beautiful city. We stay 2 or 3 nights to get fully de-jet-lagged and take the RER back out to CDG to pick up the car and start the rest of the trip. Basing out of the Latin Quarter for a couple nights at a time we never run out of new places to see and old places to revisit.

Posted by
134 posts

How has no one named Warsaw???

Since the majority of my trips to Europe were during grad school, and thus were language learning and research based, I flew into Warsaw a lot. My first time I was so nervous; our plane had sat on the runway at JFK for hours, the flight was crowded, it was raining, and my checked luggage had not made the trip. I was so tired that, even though my trusty Rick Steves guidebook had told me to only use official taxis, I latched on to the first man who spoke English to me and followed him to his car. Only after he'd popped the trunk did I come to my senses and hightailed it back to the official taxi stand, least I end up at the bottom of the Vistula.

But after that, and after I'd stopped feeling sorry for myself, I grew to really like Warsaw. It became a routine - check into my hotel (Hotel Mazowiecki, cheap, good location, very friendly staff who tolerated my broken Polish and helped find my luggage the first time.). Walk to the train station to purchase tickets to Lublin or Katowice for the next day. Walk down Nowy Swiat and Krakowskie Przedmiescie, eat pizza for dinner at the restaurant under St. Anne's Tower on the Stare Miasto. I usually left the next day, so Warsaw was just a place to recover from jet-lag and make sure my luggage had time to catch up with me if it got lost again. But arriving there always meant I was starting another adventure.

Posted by
144 posts

My favorite gateway airport in Europe is Amsterdam. It is efficient and has great connections to other European cities. One of my favorite destination airports is Venice where we took the fast bus to Piazzale Roma and then the vaporetto to our hotel. I will never forget our first view of the Grand Canal. It was exhilarating and beautiful! Another destination airport that I favor is Nice, France with the view of the French Riviera from the plane on landing. The small size and accessibility to the lovely towns on the Cote d'Azur makes it a winner. London Heathrow is also a great destination airport. It is easy to take the Heathrow Express or the tube to wherever you wish to go. I love the shops at Heathrow and the English signage is helpful.

Posted by
935 posts

I always try to add Paris to my time in Europe, so CDG for at least leaving Europe. If I am able to get a direct flight to the country I am visiting I will attempt that first, if not, I have no issues flying into CDG. For my trip next year, fingers crossed, I'll either be flying directly to Amsterdam or connecting at CDG. I will be return from CDG since my trip will end in Paris. However, Zurich airport in 2019, first time, was such a nice experience. Clean, quite & a smooth process from acquiring bags, to purchasing train pass & getting on the train.

Posted by
2562 posts

London-we tack on a day or two or more to our trip to see more sights in the London area. There are so many good day trips or overnight trips on the train once you're in London.

Posted by
1437 posts

My favourite arrival city in Europe is always from a direct overnight flight.
In order of preference (and intense sense of “Yes!!! I’ve got someplace to head to first, and food to indulge in!”) when I exit the airport:
1. Rome 2. Paris or London 3. Lisbon
Florence would supplant Paris or London in second place, but it cannot be reached by direct flight from any nearby airport from where I live. :(

Posted by
17791 posts

Like someone else on this thread already said, I have to differentiate between my gateway city, i.e., the city where I arrive on a flight from the US, and my destination city, where I spend the first night.

For my two business trips in the 80s, arranged by the company, I flew into Brussels and London, and spent 2 - 5 nights in those cities, but for leisure trips that I have planned on my own (12), in only one case did I spend the first night in the gateway city.

As I've previously stated on this website, I am not a city person. To me, a vacation is getting out of and away from big cities. So my gateway has to be an airport, preferably in my destination country, with good rail connections. For over half of my trips, my gateway has been Frankfurt, but my destination has been the Rhein/Mosel area, the Black Forest, or the Bavarian Alps.

First night of trips:
Fischen iA (2x)
Bad Herrenalb (2x)
Bad Wildbad
St Goar
Rothenburg odT
Poing (Munich suburb)

Hopefully, my gateway city will be one with a direct flight from the US, preferably non-stop from Denver. I have never tried to make a flight connection from my arrival city in Europe. I don't want to be changing planes jetlagged.

Posted by
382 posts

Salzburg! I haven’t actually flown there directly, but it’s a smaller airport close to the old town. Short taxi/train ride and you’re in the old town with a river running through it, a castle on the hill, bakeries on every corner, cobblestone streets, charming buildings, beautiful cathedrals, horse drawn carriages and beautiful gardens. That says Europe to me!

I’m a little biased because Salzburg was the first city in Europe that I visited. It certainly didn’t disappoint.

Posted by
157 posts

My favorite arrival airport is the one that gets me closest to my destination with the fewest airplane changes. Airports are getting fancier all over the world but they are just a means to an end no matter how many amenities are included.

Posted by
761 posts

Since we often fly AF Paris it is but I prefer AMS!!! It's so easy to get off the plane hop on the train and have boots on the ground …. Paris - well it seems it takes WAY longer to be IN Paris