The world's 10 most scenic airport approaches

By Chris C., May 19 2015
The world's 10 most scenic airport approaches

There are views, and then there are views – and these are the airports which make a window seat is a must.

Private jet booking service PrivateFly recently polled over 3,000 high flyers on their favourite spot to land. And the winner? It's just across the Tasman.

#1: Queenstown Airport, New Zealand

Topping PrivateFly’s list is none other than New Zealand’s own Queenstown Airport, with views of the snow-capped Southern Alps, pristine lakes and national parks welcoming its guests – along with an approach which skirts jagged mountain peaks.

Arriving at Queenstown Airport – postcard perfect. Vaughan Brookfield
Arriving at Queenstown Airport – postcard perfect
Vaughan Brookfield

One traveller commented that “I've flown to many beautiful locations worldwide but nothing even comes close to comparing with the thrill and beauty that stuns you as you come in to land at Queenstown.”

Watch this cockpit video shot by a pilot to showcase the stunning approach and landing to Queenstown:

#2: Las Vegas McCarran Airport, USA

Lucky travellers can spot the glitz and glamour of the Las Vegas Strip as they descend into Sin City, which looks all the more impressive at night.

And let’s not forget mountain ranges so close that you could put your arm out and be close to touching them.

#3: Nice Cote D'Azur Airport, France

Move aside Paris, it’s Nice’s turn to shine.

Gateway to the French Riviera, enjoy the views of the sparkling blue water and distant hills, which can sometimes be snow-capped.

#4: Barra Airport, Scotland, UK

As one of the world’s only beach airstrips, the runway here disappears twice per day with the comings and goings of the tide.

Now boarding for London Heathrow.... Sue Jackson
Now boarding for London Heathrow...
Sue Jackson

The approach itself isn’t too shabby either, says PrivateFly, with aircraft passing majestic mountains, stunning coastline and a historic harbour castle. Australia’s own Gold Coast Airport just isn’t the same.

#5: Princess Juliana International, Caribbean

Better-known as Sint Maarten Airport on the Dutch side of Saint Martin island, the airport approach here speaks for itself.

Be sure to wave out the window as you land.... Martial Dekker
Be sure to wave out the window as you land...
Martial Dekker

Whether a plane nut or a regular beachgoer, it’s sure to feel as if the incoming aircraft are landing right on top of you.

#6: Juancho E Yrausquin Airport, Caribbean

Close behind and also from the Caribbean, Saba Airport – one of the most challenging landings a commercial airline pilot can accomplish.

“You seem to fly straight into the cliffs, correcting at the very last minute before touchdown,” said one traveller surveyed. “Even then, it's not over, with the sea ready to meet you as the plane stops just short of the end of the runway and the open sea!"

#7: Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, Canada

Forget the usual taxi lines, airport trains or expensive chauffeur-driven transfers: the CBD is quite literally a moment away from Toronto City Airport.

With breathtaking views of Lake Ontario, Toronto’s skyscrapers and Canadian parkland, skip Pearson International and have your private jet land here instead.

#8: Gibraltar Airport, UK

Similar to Billy Bishop Airport, Gibraltar Airport is just 500 metres from the city’s centre – but with an interesting twist.

One of the island’s main roads actually crosses paths with the runway, so you’ll see motorists waiting to cross as your aircraft arrives.

#9: London City Airport, UK

Heathrow. Gatwick. Two airports that don’t provide London travellers with picturesque views of the River Thames and downtown London as you touch down, which awaits at London City Airport.

You won't need the Heathrow Express from London City. Andrew Holt
You won't need the Heathrow Express from London City
Andrew Holt

"The cockpit windows frame the perfect shot of the world's financial hub, appreciated by many, but adored only by pilots,” said one respondent. “Come rain or shine, the city pulses beneath you during every landing."

#10: Cape Town Airport, South Africa

Rounding out the top 10 is Cape Town Airport and its view of Table Mountain and False Bay.

Add to that Robben Island and the beaches of the Cape Peninsula and you’ll wish Qantas flew straight to Cape Town rather than Johannesburg.

Have you experienced any of the ‘top 10’ landings? Is there another airport more deserving than one above? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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Chris C.

Chris is a a former contributor to Executive Traveller.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Jan 2013

Total posts 240

I don't mind flying onto Cairns airport. You see the tropical rainforest on the hills.

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2561

I love flying into London (best view from right side of the plane) - a good approach line takes you right over the city with The Thames, London Eye and Houses of Parliament right below!

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

27 Jan 2015

Total posts 29

Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto is fantastic, I dont know why more people dont know about it.

Sure you have to fly in on a propellor aircraft, but with Porter flying in a Q400 from many US cities it is a very good choice.

Also, the immigration queues are almost non existant here. You can be off the plane and in the middle of Toronto in less than 20 minutes

21 Jul 2012

Total posts 128

I think it's the lack of service.  Porter's the only real carrier, unless you count Air Canada's token flights to Montreal.

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2561

Also, had a great arrival path into Vienna some years ago - flying in winter, the ground below totally blanketed in snow except for the Schönbrunn Palace and grounds - a true 'picture postcard' view.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Jan 2014

Total posts 15

Beirut Airport is also a great airport with a view of the snow capped mouintains

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

19 Mar 2014

Total posts 569

LCY is not only scenic, but you're out of the terminal and into a cab in 10-15 minutes. It's like landing at Kalgoorlie! I cannot recommend it highly enough to those travelling for Europe to London.


Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

08 Aug 2012

Total posts 33

Ditto - LCY is my preferred airport for London with great connections to Europe financial hubs..

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Aug 2014

Total posts 217

Only downside is LCY airfares are tens or hundreds of pounds more expensive than LHR or LGW, for the same routes!

01 Feb 2012

Total posts 370

Surely Laguardia ? On the left, an incredible view of the manhattan skyline. Makes the empire state building look like lego.

10 Mar 2015

Total posts 7

Great view after being held up in the air for ~45min :)

Thai Airways International - Royal Orchid Plus

15 Jan 2013

Total posts 470

Hong Kong approaches are amazing.You see the Island and lantau coming in.Not the same as Kaitak for those of us old enough to remember those days but just as good.

landing at HK's old airport (Kai Tak) was much more dramatic. you approached towards Checkerboard Hill, made a sharp turn, flew over old chinese-style residential building, saw people hanging laundry, then landed on the runway.

12 Feb 2015

Total posts 3

Some of the approaches into Sydney are very nice, especially coming into the airport in the early morning, when mist sits in the valleys around the Hawkesbury and the morning sun shimmers off the sea as you fly past the landmarks of the Harbour and CBD.

On a good day flying up the Thames and into Heathrow and into the Gold Coast can also be gorgeous.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Mar 2013

Total posts 134

Definitely Milford Sound. Like flying into Jurassic Park!

19 May 2015

Total posts 22

How did Innsbruck not make this list? 


You fly up a valley surrounded by 3000metre peaks. It's an incredible approach, and one for which Pilots must do a specific annual qualifying course.

There is something quite magical about arriving into LAX at the break of dawn, as the aircraft descend and breaks into the clouds. The view of the Pacific Ocean giving way to the orderly rows of human habitation interspersed with the long, seemingly unending highways. Your eyes transfixed on the airflow over wing; the air heavy with mist. Just then from corner of your eyes, as if greeting the landing aircraft, are the numerous hotels surrounding the airport. With the sound of the wheels touching ground, you catch a glimpse of all the other aircrafts come in from across the dead night of the Pacific. Each travelling back in time to arrive once again to the morning that has been.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

27 Jan 2015

Total posts 29

And then you are snapped back into reality when you get off the plane and realise that you are a non US citizen going through immigration at LAX.

Not to worry though, in 2 hours you will be out and on your way!

05 Sep 2011

Total posts 66

In my experience a westbound approach into LHR is far more scenic than than approaching LCY, chance to fly past all of central London, stunning.

Barcelona El Prat airport can also offer some wonderful views on approach.


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

19 May 2015

Total posts 1

Santos Dumont, downtown Rio de Janeiro. One of the approaches is stunning (via the Christ Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain).

it's also the one that came up to my mind. similar to Toronto City Airport, but surrounding is even more scenic with Christ the Redeemer, etc.

BA Gold

01 Apr 2012

Total posts 188

Totally agree with David.  The approach into Heathrow is amazing especially if you are sat on the right hand side.  The approach basically follows the Thames all the way to LHR so you fly over LCY, then the city of London followed by Tower Bridge, St Pauls, The Shard, Houses of Westminster/Buckingham Palace etc etc.  

18 Nov 2013

Total posts 46

Aitutaki in the Cook Islands. For most it won't be a business destination, but the approach is great., over the lagoon with impossibly blue water from turquoise to ultramarine.

For business trips, I quite like Hong Kong. Even the new airport.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

31 Jan 2012

Total posts 107

Cocos Island is in the top 10 for me

Cathay Pacific - The Marco Polo Club

19 Apr 2014

Total posts 47

SFO is amzing as well, with the full view of the bay area nad the golden gate bridge.


10 Sep 2011

Total posts 162

Glad to see Queenstown on the list.  I have to agree.  Also note that it is awesome being in the bus going up to the Remarkables and seeing what appear to be wee little A320s and B737s coming into land below.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Sep 2012

Total posts 132

MLE does it for me! Just keep dropping out of the sky with nothing but ocean beneath. And then you see the airport.


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 Oct 2014

Total posts 7

Innsbruck is a pretty cool approach a bit like Queenstown.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

13 Jun 2013

Total posts 28

What about Wellington?  Especially from the north and seeing the city out to the right.  But also coming in low over Cook Strait from the South is pretty amazing on a windy day.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 May 2015

Total posts 8

It has to be Lukla (Tenzing - Hillary) Airport, Nepal. Although probably not right now.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 Apr 2015

Total posts 55

St Barts is definitely one that gets the blood pumping. Not one for the faint-hearted!

12 Sep 2014

Total posts 5

Don't forget the scenery you get flying in and out of Paro Airport, Bhutan. If the Himalayas and the local mountains don't impress you, I don't know what will.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

14 Jan 2014

Total posts 342

Gibraltar isn't an island as stated in the article.

Qatar Airways

04 Apr 2014

Total posts 25

Doing #1 for the first time in August. I've driven there, but can't wait to fly in. Moreover, I'd love to be flying in to play a game at the Queenstown Cricket Club.

Qatar Airways

04 Apr 2014

Total posts 25

Doing #1 for the first time in August. I've driven there, but can't wait to fly in. Moreover, I'd love to be flying in to play a game at the Queenstown Cricket Club.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Aug 2012

Total posts 74

I think you will find that #5 is on the French side of the island which is called Sint Maarten. The Dutch side is called Saint Martin and has its own airport.

21 Jul 2012

Total posts 128

Wrong.  Sint Maarten is Dutch; Saint Martin is French.  You can tell from the spelling.  The international airport is on the Dutch side and is named after a former Dutch queen.  The French side only has a tiny airport with local flights to other French islands.

04 Apr 2012

Total posts 10

Rio's second airport, Santos Dumont, has to be up there. Take off involves flying straight at Sugar Loaf Mountain followed by a hard bank to the right to avoid it! Landing is pretty crazy too!!


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Sep 2013

Total posts 186

I reckon the best airport view is the one you call home, especially when you've been away for 3 or 4 weeks.  Perth is not the best looking airport around, but it's always good to land there.

Singapore Airlines - The PPS Club

14 Nov 2013

Total posts 40

I remember flying into Buenos Aires on a Qf flight and we flew over the Monumental stadium at night while there was a game on, seeing the lights, flares and smoke rising from the stadium still gives me chills.

14 Jan 2016

Total posts 1

Nice. Philippines have a lot of airports too. You can see green forest and grass land. Come visit us :)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 695

1. Santiago, Chile (SCL) to Buenos Aires, Argentina (EZE) - takeoff from SCL on a hot, clear day and soaring over ice-capped Andes mountains within 15 minutes at lower atltitude is pretty spectacular and provides great photo ops.

2. Let's not forget taking off from Honolulu HNL and the immediate turn to miss Diamond Head can be a bit confronting if you've not done it before. Seeing the large 'Turn right, now' sign on the Diamond Head headland always provides a bit of a chuckle, for me.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 695

.. a couple of other that I should have added above:

3. Flying over the dormant caldera of the extinct volcano surrounding downtown Caracas,Venezuela (CCS) is a sight to see. And after landing, taking ground transport into the city which has multiple significant tunnels through the edge is a bit mind-blowing.

4. Hong Kong (HKG) has always been a sight, whether the current new airport or the older one, which inspires photographs. Highrise, high-density cityscape certainly meets nature.

5. Landing into either Santorini or Mykonos, Greece (JMK) always provides a snapshop of how insignificant a small island hosting glorious nature sites in a sea of blue can be a real eye-opener of how vast this earth is.

6. Landing on an uphill runway (or taking off downhill on a mountain-perched runway in Lae, New Guinea in the late 1960's as a young lad is also one that I won't forget in a hurry. Ah, the days of DC-3's and 'jungle transport'.

30 Mar 2016

Total posts 5

Don't forget your own back yard. I've been lucky enough to fly into many of those mentioned in the article and the comments, but few will go near arriving over Sydney at dawn on a clear morning, like recently being vectored towards 16R (so saw all the northern beaches) before sent around to land on 34L (so a nice view of the City and Royal National Park. Gorgeous. Happy to post photos!

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