If you’re visiting Brussels and travelling by plane, you will arrive at either Brussels International Airport or Brussels Charleroi Airport. Here’s what you can expect from both airports and some tips for travellers.
Brussels International Airport is Brussels main airport and much larger than Charleroi, handling over 26 million passengers annually prior to the pandemic, compared with just over 8 million per year at Charleroi, however it’s worth noting that Charleroi is still Belgium’s second busiest airport and is comparable in size with the main airports of many regional European cities.
Brussels International Airport, known as Zaventem after the town it’s based in, is one of Europe’s key hub airports and has connections with over 220 international destinations served by 80 airlines. The most popular routes are to Madrid, Milan Malpensa, London Heathrow and Barcelona, although there are also routes to US and Asian hubs such as New York JFK, Dubai and Beijing.
For a major airport, Brussels International has the infrastructure and facilities that one would expect, including a direct train connection to the city centre and over 20 food and drink outlets including Jupiler bars, Le Pain Quotidien, Bistrot and many international chains, as well as a wide selection of shops in its single large terminal.
Along with the train, which has a journey time of 17 minutes and costs of 12.70€ for a one-way ticket, travellers can also get taxi which takes around 20 minutes and costs between 30€ and 50€. For those driving themselves to the airport, there is plenty of parking on site which starts from 15€ per day at the discount car park.
Charleroi is known mainly as a hub for low-cost carriers Ryanair and Wizz Air and as a departure point for package holiday providers such as Tui. Whilst Brussels Zaventem understandably hosts Belgium’s most prestigious international routes.
Charleroi boasts 139 routes, with the busiest routes being Budapest, Milan Bergamo, Bucharest, Madrid and Copenhagen, whilst other popular routes include Alicante, Manchester, Rome Fiumicino and Venice.
Although Charleroi is technically a Brussels airport, it is located over 60km from the city centre, meaning that it is not ideal for travellers looking to quickly access the city. Regardless of the transport option chosen, journeys take at least an hour.
Whilst this lack of convenience is off putting for many travellers, air fares to the same destination can often be up to 40% less from Charleroi than from Brussels. That said, due to the unusually long transfer time for a city airport, for travellers whose final destination is Brussels centre and who have the choice, it is worth considering whether the savings on your tickets outweigh the additional time and cost of the transfer.
Many travellers from Charleroi come from other Belgian cities or from across the border in France, Germany and the Netherlands, and most choose to drive to the airport. There is a good choice of on site and alternative Charleroi parking options available at a much lower price than would typically be paid at Brussels International airport. The cheapest way of travelling from the airport to the city centre is using the direct Flibco shuttle bus, which costs 17 € for a one-way ticket, also taking around an hour and running every 30 minutes.
There are 2 terminals at CRL, with T2 functioning as an overflow at busier times. In terms of facilities, travellers can expect to find bars, duty free shopping and a good choice of quality food outlets such as La Belgique Gourmande and Dim’s along with popular brands such as Burger King and Starbucks.