Most of the trip ideas that I have on my radar are to some wonderful and beautiful places around the world. The short list includes Switzerland, Armenia, New Zealand’s south island, and Alaska (yes, I love mountains). But there is also the side of me that loves all things commercial aviation. Travel for me isn’t just the destination at times. Hanging out at the airport is one of my favorite things to do. Along those lines, I’ve made a list of airports worth visiting for their own right, as cool destinations in and of themselves.
Of course, a trip to any of them would likely involve visiting the country as well. Here are the seven airports I’ve like to visit most:
Singapore Changi Airport
Singapore Changi Airport is at the top of the list for many international travelers. The array of amenities available to travelers is ridiculous. With two movie theaters, a butterfly garden, and the world’s tallest indoor waterfall (featured photo), you might want to plan an all-day layover here just to see it all!
The entire airport design is stunning. With tons of glass and indoor greenery, you can forget for a moment that you’re at an airport. Complement this with tons of airport shopping and dining, and Changi is an entire Singapore vacation all by itself. Okay, there is more to see in this city-state. But they don’t call the landside nature-themed shopping complex the “Jewel” for nothing! If there is any airport worth visiting just because, this should be the first on the list.
Beijing Daxing International Airport
Beijing’s brand new “starfish” airport located to the south of the Chinese capital opened late last year with much fanfare. The airport is purported to be the world’s largest single-building terminal. The flowing curves of the airport terminal structure, both inside and outside, make it one of the most beautiful in the world.
Many carriers already fly into Daxing (PKX) rather than the old Beijing Capital Airport (PEK), although usage is currently split between the two. All three U.S. carriers have plans to fly to Daxing in the future. The list of airlines that will serve the airport is very extensive.
I would love to visit China again, not just to see this airport, though. There is a whole lot more the country has to offer.
Paine Field in Everett, Washington
Paine Field (PAE) is one of only a handful of domestic airports worth really worth visiting in my opinion. The terminal building is beautiful, with high ceilings, wood finishes, and lots of glass. It’s also cozy, with only a couple gates.
The airport is used heavily by Boeing, as their Everett assembly facility is right next door. You may see wide-body aircraft taking off and landing that aren’t scheduled commercial departures. I highly recommend the Boeing factory tour of the Everett facility.
I’d hoped to visit Paine Field as a long day trip or single overnight (there is a Hilton Garden Inn right there next to the Boeing facility entrance) just to see the airport. But the fact that United suspended their SFO-PAE service makes this a bit more challenging for me.
London City Airport
You may not realize that there is an airport just a 20-minute tram ride from the historic center of London. But there is! London City Airport is close to the heart, and a popular choice for business travelers due to its ease of access. Flights into LCY soundly beat other airport options, as the other major ones in the London area (Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted) are all a good distance from the city.
British Airways operated a all-business-class service from London City Airport to New York for years using a special Airbus A318 aircraft configured for the flight. The plane would make a technical stop in Shannon, Ireland where passengers would go through pre-clearance, arriving into the U.S. as a domestic arrival. Even though it wasn’t a wide-body, the ease of the service was appealing for many. The route is a casualty of the pandemic and will be missed.
Doha Hamad International Airport
The Qatar Airways hub is the only one on my list that I currently have plans to visit. I’ll be connecting in Doha on a return from South Africa, as long as travel has reopened and the pandemic is under control early next year.
Doha Hamad International Airport is a perennial favorite among travelers, and it has been voted the best airport in the Middle East. The facility is modern, opening is just 2014. And there are so many amenities you’ll want to enjoy, with high-end shopping and amazing lounges. It is one of the best airports worth visiting from a luxury travel perspective.
It’s a horrific bummer that my connection time is a mere 90 minutes. I’ll visit DOH, but not get to experience it. Next time, Al Safwa Lounge, next time.
Gibraltar International Airport
Want an airport landing that will rock your socks off? Look no further than Gibraltar. This British territory at the end of the Iberian Peninsula had little room for an airport. The runway literally crosses a road, so traffic has to be stopped each time an aircraft takes off or lands.
The views of the Rock of Gibraltar are excellent, as it is a mere 1,200 feet from the runway. I doubt I’ll end up here anytime soon, but visiting Gibraltar, if only for the flight experience and a quick hike to the top, is quite appealing.
Munich International Airport
Munich International Airport has been awarded as the nicest in Europe for several years. It’s no surprise, given that the airport has its own brewery, a number of nice lounges, and an excellent array of shops. I’d love to fly Lufthansa business class on one of their new A350s from San Francisco and enjoy the airport on a long connection.
Bringing the kids? They can enjoy Kinderland, a place designed specifically for youngsters to enjoy during their time at the airport (although it is still currently closed during the COVID-19 pandemic). You can also visit an enclosed observation deck that provides views of the runways. It is pre-security, and there is an admission charge. But it is currently closed, likely through the end of the year.
Final Thoughts on Airports Worth Visiting
There is, of course, tiny Tenzing-Hillary airport in the Himalayas that offers you a quintessential white-knuckle experience. With a short runway, one end of which is perched at the edge of a cliff, arriving or departing here isn’t for the faint of heart.
Another that always intrigued me was Helsinki Vantaa Airport. I had the opportunity to visit Finland in late 2019, and the airport did not disappoint. The Nordic style, cleanliness, and views of the airfield are superb. The airport is getting a serious face lift and will be even more impressive in years to come. Even though I’ve checked it off the list, I’ll have to pay another visit to Finland. 😉
What airports do you consider worth visiting?