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10 of the world's most spectacular airport runways

The Independent logo The Independent 17/04/2018 Travel desk

a body of water with a mountain in the background © Provided by The Independent There’s often much talk of the world’s most beautiful airports, but what of their runways? A survey of 8,500 aviation fans recently put Donegal’s in the top spot, thanks to its position skimming the beach, with breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean.

And while the list isn't bad, there are a few destinations that didn't make the grade. Here are the 10 airports the Independent's travel desk think deserve recognition.

Heathrow and London City

Whether you are landing at London City or Heathrow, if your pilot makes a final turn to line up for the runway over the centre of the capital on a clear day, you are about to enjoy the most impressive city spectacle anywhere in the world. 

The approach to Heathrow from the east is the more impressive: sit on the right to get the best view of Canary Wharf, the Shard, St Pauls and the London Eye, with the capital’s wealth of parkland also more evident from the air than from the ground. 

London City airport gives great views of the capital (Getty) © Provided by The Independent London City airport gives great views of the capital (Getty) For London City from the west, sit on the left as the pilot makes a sharp right turn roughly over Waterloo station, then follows the river to touch down at the Docklands airport.

Simon Calder, travel correspondent


The same reason that makes this Austrian airport notoriously difficult to land at also makes it one of the most beautiful approaches – it’s surrounded by mountains.

Aircraft have to navigate around snowy peaks thousands of metres high before coming to land in the valley, and the views are incredible (as long as they’re not hindered by cloud cover). After you alight, you’ll see towering pinnacles all around – an inspiring way to kick off any trip.

Helen Coffey, deputy head of travel

The dramatic approach to Innsbruck airport (Getty/iStockphoto) © Provided by The Independent The dramatic approach to Innsbruck airport (Getty/iStockphoto)


Apart from London, the best approaches are usually to “Category C” airports, which require extra pilot training: Innsbruck and Salzburg are two great Austrian approaches, while Madeira is always exciting. But the military airfield at Gibraltar is spectacular whichever way you approach and wherever you sit, with the Mediterranean (from the east) or the Atlantic (from the west) providing the overture to the landing on what was previously the sea.

And when you emerge from the aircraft, the Rock dominates everything.

Simon Calder, travel correspondent

Gibraltar airport runway stretches into the sea (Getty/iStockphoto) © Provided by The Independent Gibraltar airport runway stretches into the sea (Getty/iStockphoto)


This airport in the south of France has a runway that sticks right out into the water, making for a pretty descent but even more sensational take-off. It’s right on the edge of Etang de Berre, a 155sq km lagoon, whose blue waters you can admire as the plane powers towards it along the runway and then steadily ascends above it, offering stellar views.

Helen Coffey, deputy head of travel

Marseille’s runway dips into a lagoon (Getty/iStockphoto) © Provided by The Independent Marseille’s runway dips into a lagoon (Getty/iStockphoto)


The approach to Lijiang is a bit like Innsbruck but on a grander scale – you sweep over vast mountains and then start coming down, with no sense that they’re going to end, and you wonder for a second whether the runway is actually on top of the mountain – and then suddenly as you’re so close you can almost make out the grains in the rock, you turn into a valley. It’s beautiful, if terrifying for a nervous flyer like me.

It feels as if the runways is on top of a mountain when you land at Lijiang (Alamy) © Provided by The Independent It feels as if the runways is on top of a mountain when you land at Lijiang (Alamy)


Always sit on the right as you’re flying to Venice – nine times out of 10 (according to a pilot) you’ll fly in across the lagoon, with a peerless view of the Lido, then Giudecca and then the city itself. Then you skim low across the water, and land parallel with the Byzantine belltowers of Torcello. It makes me well up every time.

a large city landscape: venezia-veduta-aerea.jpg © Provided by The Independent venezia-veduta-aerea.jpg


I’m biased because it’s my local airport but there’s nowhere quite like Newquay. Whichever way you land you’ll have sheep either side of the runway, and depending on the wind, you’ll either approach via the china clay pits of St Austell (fascinatingly ugly) or across the sea. Normally it’s the former, which means taking off over a cliff, then following the coastline past Newquay, Bedruthan Steps and the Camel Estuary before heading inland.

newquay-airport.jpg © Provided by The Independent newquay-airport.jpg


Like Marseille and Nice, Genoa’s runway is on reclaimed land cantilevered over the Med, so you get unparalleled sea views coming in and going out. What’s more, the descent from the mountains behind the city makes for a beautiful contrast.

a screenshot of a video game: genovarunway.jpg © Provided by The Independent genovarunway.jpg

Las Vegas

Unlike other big city airports, Vegas’ is right in the centre of sin city, and you get incredible views of the Strip as you’re flying in and out (forget those expensive helicopter sightseeing flights; just book a window seat). Take-off, too, is pretty spectacular – not just the Strip but the national park of Red Rock Canyon, too.

las-vegas-airport.jpg © Provided by The Independent las-vegas-airport.jpg

San Francisco

SFO is nothing to write home about in itself as an airport but the approach and take-off, which usually takes in the Golden Gate Bridge, as well as the city, the Bay and the Marin Headlands, makes my heart sing every time.

Julia Buckley, head of travel

a close up of a reef: ggb.jpg © Provided by The Independent ggb.jpg

Related: The 16 Most Passenger-Friendly Airports in the World (provided by Cheapism)

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