The most beautiful airports in the world

Written by Joe Ellison

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Say what you will about the downsides of air travel – parking your car so far from the terminal you’re practically in another time zone; jousting for available plug sockets; that eternal slog through security – there’s no denying the allure of airports.

It’s all too easy to forget just what an important role this transport hub of the skies plays in our adventures, transporting us to other nations, other languages, other climates, other cultures, not just physically but spiritually as well.

What’s more, every once and a while you encounter an airport so stunning it reminds you what you knew deep down all along – that there is nothing quite like globetrotting. So, in the hope it might inspire you to venture off to locations anew, here are 11 of the most stunning airports you frankly may never want to leave.

Abu Dhabi, UAE

As wackily opulent as you’d expect for a region that boasts a seven-star hotel with a vending machine of gold bullion in the lobby, it’s an otherworldly experience to disembark at Abu Dhabi, where a giant curved pillar and jazzy lighting greets travellers inside the main concourse. Chances of feeling like an extra in a Star Wars sequel: high.

Tokyo Haneda, Japan

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What Tokyo’s Haneda airport lacks in cramped WHSmith outlets it certainly makes up for in quirky and futuristic appeal. Slightly dated but no less dramatic, sights include a row of traditional wooden-fronted shops giving the impression of a downtown shopping street, and futuristic lighting fixtures throughout. Both will do your Instagram feed no harm at all. The first impressions of Japan are pretty good!

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Bilbao, Spain

One jetlagged glance around Bilbao’s main terminal and you could be forgiven for thinking you’d landed at the city’s Guggenheim Museum. The sleek curvature is actually the brainchild of renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, and since opening in 2000, the terminal has acquired the nickname ‘The Dove’, on account of the two symmetrical wings of the building giving the appearance that the structure itself is lifting upwards and taking off.

Wellington, New Zealand

Considering how you can’t move for Hobbit-related merch in NZ these days, it’s refreshing to know this terminal design comes not from MGM but native architects Studio Pacific and Warren & Mahoney. Rising like The Shire on steroids, the jagged wooden frame is designed to signify the rugged cliffs around the coast, while copper plates reflect light like water on pebbles, or at least that’s the idea. You shall not pass without taking a quick snap first.

Menara, Morocco

Done up in 2008, the exterior of Menara Airport boasts some dazzling frontage which can best be described as a daring blend of old meets new: by day, its design allows the sun’s rays to meld spiral patterns onto its build; by night, moonlight creates a more ethereal effect. Inside, traditional Moroccan architecture continues to compete for space against sweeping modernist designs. In a word: shiny.

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Carrasco, Uruguay

It’s fitting, really, that a nation whose international football team constantly punch above their weight should also produce an airport which evidently happens to resemble a major stadium. Built in 2009 and designed by New York’s Rafael Viñoly architects (Viñoly himself hails from Uruguay) it serves the capital of Montevideo. The curved roof spans over 365 metres and you have to say it’s a truly stunning work of architecture.

Denver, USA

Denver’s International Airport isn’t like most airports. It’s located in Denver for one. Secondly – and admittedly less of a pedantic point this – its horizon-clogging roof has been created to riff on the snow-capped Rocky Mountains. Underneath it all, you’ll find the airport itself festooned with enough interesting artworks and cool design quirks to keep your brain occupied during any blizzard.

Suvarnabhumi, Thailand

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These words, that picture – frankly nothing will quite do justice to the sheer scale of Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi’s airport aside from visiting yourself. For few things could ever truly replicate the giant conveyer belt feel of getting from one side of its biggest (and extremely aesthetically pleasing) terminal to the other until you find yourself in a last-minute dash to a connecting flight. By the time you pass a Leicester City FC store, you’ll think it’s a mirage.

Adolfo Suarez Madrid-Barajas

Regularly cited as one of the best places to touch down in the world, it’s in Terminal 4 where you’ll get the most gawp-worth views at Adolfo Suarez Madrid-Barajas, Europe’s largest airport. Giant yellow beams meet exposed brickwork, twisting ceilings contain vast shuttered skylights, and there’s comfortably enough space to park a 747 should they need it. Why not fly into Adolfo Suarez Madrid-Barajas for Flash Pack’s Spain Vespa adventure.

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Incheon, South Korea

If you were ever confined to a nomad existence inside an airport a la Tom Hanks in The Terminal, as odd as that would be, there would be worse places to be stuck than within the picturesque surroundings of Incheon’s main airport, an utterly resplendent and state-of-the-art achievement. Word to the wise: Terminal 2 is stated to open next year and is shaping up to be something special.

Heathrow, London

Hello my old friend . . . #heathrowt5 #worktrip #travel #britishairways #itstooearly

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Come on, we had to include it, didn’t we? Since opening in 2008 – following 20 years of development and a cool £4bn – Terminal 5’s sprawling concourse is as luxe as it gets, featuring a wealth of upmarket shops and swanky restaurants under an impressively sized roof, itself boasting enough smart acoustic panels to rival the Royal Albert Hall. And much like any British craftmanship, it’s the attention to the little details that so impresses here.


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