The World's Most Beautiful Airport Approaches from Above
As any passenger preferring the window seat knows, looking at a destination from above can be the most rewarding way to experience it. That’s especially true for travelers flying into airports built on tropical islands, near active volcanoes, or in the middle of bustling cities.
To that end, private jet charter PrivateFly asked a panel of judges (myself included) and more than 3,000 fliers to vote for airports with the most scenic landings in its Airport Approaches Poll 2015. Out of 147 airports worldwide, here are the top 15.
15. Santos Dumont Airport in Rio de Janeiro
On flying into Santos Dumont Airport – close to downtown Rio de Janeiro – travelers can bask in unobstructed views of Guanabara Bay and Rio’s iconic, 1,299-foot-high Sugarloaf Mountain, without having to hike or take a cable car to the top.
14. Courchevel Airport in France
A chairlift is one way to see the French Alps. But another, more exhilarating method is to fly into Courchevel Airport. From above, passengers can gaze upon a magnificent view of the region’s snow-dusted peaks and experience a thrilling landing on the airport’s uphill runway, pitched at a gradient of 18.5 percent.
13. Malé International Airport in the Maldives
Located on the Maldivian atoll of Hulhulé and bordered by azure-colored reefs and beaches strewn with palm trees, Malé Airport looks like a mini-paradise adrift in the Indian Ocean. If you’re lucky, you might even spot dolphins and other sea creatures as you descend.
12. Los Angeles International Airport
Frequent fliers know that the best view of the City of Angels is not from the Hollywood sign, but from the air. On a clear day, landing at LAX yields an unparalleled vista of the city spread before mountains and desert land; and in the dark, the metropolis virtually shimmers beneath you.
11. Queen Beatrix International Airport in Oranjestad, Aruba
Before even touching down in the Caribbean, travelers flying to Aruba can see the entire island from coast to coast, with phenomenal aerial views of the countryside, slivers of white-sand beach, and turquoise ocean.
10. Cape Town Airport
City and countryside meet beautifully in the South African capital, and landing at Cape Town Airport offers the best of both. From above, fliers can glimpse an unforgettable panorama comprising the Cape Peninsula, rolling green fields, and city buildings sprawled out before Table Mountain.
9. London City Airport
Unlike landing at Heathrow or Gatwick, planes touching down at London City Airport boast spectacular views of the city center. Indeed, you’ll be able to tick off many bucket-list spots sprinkled along the Thames before your arrival—Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Canary Wharf: all can be found right outside the plane window.
8. Gibraltar Airport in Gibraltar
Travelers landing in Gibraltar can marvel over a vista that spans two continents and three countries, with North Africa, Spain, and the nearly 1,400-foot-tall Rock of Gibraltar all on display.
7. Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport
Few city airports are built in a prime downtown location, but fliers landing at the island-based Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport find themselves just minutes from the metro’s center. After cruising over Lake Ontario, incoming planes yield a glorious view of the city skyline, including the city’s tallest skyscraper, the 1,814- foot-high CN Tower.
6. Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport in Saba
The 1,299-foot-long runway at Saba’s airport stretches across high cliffs that plummet into the Caribbean Sea, making it the world’s shortest and steepest airstrip, suitable only for small aircraft. What the runway lacks in size, it makes up for in location, with a breathtaking view of the island’s active volcano, Mount Scenery—which, thankfully, you can appreciate from a distance.
5. Princess Juliana International Airport in Saint Martin
Travelers eager to hit the beach can get a head start on flying into this Caribbean island. With Princess Juliana International Airport adjacent to Maho Beach, incoming jets glide over sea, white sand, and even sunbathers before landing on the runway. Planes can get as close as 15 feet over beachgoers, making for an interesting—if not, petrifying—view from below as well as above.
4. Barra Airport in Scotland
Touching down on this Scottish isle is always an adventure—especially at high tide, when the runways are plunged under water; Barra Airport is the only beach airport in the world to permit scheduled flights. And though landing on sand may be daunting, the sight of a pristine silver shoreline leading into the ocean should calm even the most nervous fliers.
3. Nice Côte d'Azur International Airport in France
You’re not going to land in the sea, but it certainly feels like it as you skim over the Mediterranean on approaching Cote d’Azur Airport. At least you’ll have a gorgeous view of the French Riviera outside your plane window, though—from sweeping coastline to tumbling hills to the snow-topped Alps spread along the horizon, there’s plenty to feast your eyes on.
2. McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas
For the most scenic landing in the U.S., fly into McCarran International Airport. As you descend, watch Sin City emerge as though out of nowhere from desert and mountain land. And by night, cast your eyes over the cluster of neon lights along the Strip before trying your luck on the airport’s slot machines.
1. Queenstown Airport in New Zealand
On approaching Queenstown Airport, Lord of the Rings nerds can enjoy a sublime view of South Island (a.k.a. Middle-earth), complete with rivers, lakes, lush green fields, and snowcapped mountains—just like the ones frequented by Gandalf and co.