In our modern-day where flying is done for pleasure just as much as it’s done for business, airports and airplanes can be found in just about every corner of the world as the demand to reach far-off destinations only increases. Through this shift from flying as a necessity to flying for fun, designs for airports have shifted from simply practical and functional, to highly unique and culturally reflective in design. For visitors to a country, an airport can play a massively impactful role on the perception of the country as the airport creates that first taste of a nation, and countries now know how a great airport can play an important role in tourism. Below is a look at 10 of the most beautiful airports in the world:
10. Carrasco International Airport -Montevideo, Uruguay
The airport named after a suburb just outside of Montevideo, Uruguay gained a fair amount of international acclaim in 2009 following the opening of a brand new terminal. The refined, classy and elegant design garnered Uruguayan-born architect Rafael Vinoly a great deal of praise for his impressive work. The functionalities of the terminal are all enclosed under one sweeping 365-meter curved roof. The interior of the airport is covered in daylight as a result of the design, and visitors can look out the windows to behold the rolling landscape, which lies beyond the planes taking off.
The original passenger terminal – which is now used as the cargo terminal – was opened in 1947. In 2003 the Uruguayan government transferred the administration, operation and maintenance to a private company, which then invested heavily in the airport. The new capacity for the upgraded Carrasco International Airport can handle around 6-million travelers a year through their doors.
9. King Fahd International Airport -Dammam, Saudi Arabia
The world’s largest airport in terms of land area, King Fahd International Airport in Dammam, Saudi Arabia first saw use in 1991 during the first Gulf War as a storage site for allied aircraft and machinery. Fast-forward to 1999 and the airport was finally opened for commercial traffic. Dammam is one of the most oil-rich cities in the world, though the airport sits some 50km away from the city, and is reached by a road that features camels, Bedouin tents and other traditional Arab imagery.
The massive airport also features an extremely lavish and cushy royal terminal that sees surprisingly little use. One of the more defining characteristics of the airport is how quiet it seems relative to its massive size. In 2013 King Fahd International Airport saw approximately 7-million visitors pass through its terminals, which given the scale of the facility seems like a small number to justify its size.
8. Princess Juliana International Airport -Saint Martin
The Princess Juliana International Airport located on the Dutch half of the island of Saint Martin is most famous for its extremely low-altitude flyover landing approach. The approach is a scene that looks nearly too fantastical to be true, as huge aircraft touch down on a runway just feet from the shores of Maho Beach which is capable of placing worry in the minds of passengers. However, not only are tourists treated to a tropical paradise, but also get to witness the majesty of a massive Boeing 747 touching down just overhead.
The airport was initially started as a military airstrip in 1942. In 1964, the airport was remodeled and relocated before receiving significant upgrades in 1985 and 2001. The airport is capable of handling around 2.5-million passengers, and is ranked by the History Channel as the 4th most dangerous airport in the world because of its circumstances. Added warnings for those over 6’5″.
7. Giovanni Nicelli Airport -Venice, Italy
Located on the Venice Lido, the Giovanni Nicelli Airport is a small airport that is considered one of the most delightful city airports in Europe, even though it serves as the little-brother to Marco Polo International Airport. The building’s design features a very unique look that dates back to 1935. The arrival and departure lounge features a grand piano that will have an impromptu pianist take a seat and perform for passersby and a number of murals of 1930’s aircraft.
The airport sits just 13-feet above sea level, and features a small grass surface runway. The area surrounding the airport features the Venetian lagoon, a medieval-era church and other historic buildings that are sure to catch the eye of tourists. Visitors to the airport can reach Nicelli on foot, by bike, or by boat (which is often the preferred and most picturesque way to get around in any Italian city).
6. Kansai International Airport -Osaka, Japan
Located on an artificial island in the middle of Osaka Bay, the Kansai International Airport first opened in 1994 to relieve overcrowding at Osaka International Airport. The complexities of the project meant that it was a hugely ambitious and expensive development to undertake even for this technologically forward-thinking country. The length of Terminal 1 is almost 2km and is one of the longest buildings in the world. The airport is also built to withstand earthquakes and typhoons, which are features that are more important than ever (especially for an airport on the water).
In 1995 an earthquake struck the epicenter not far from Kansai International Airport. The airport remained undamaged, with its acres of glass unbroken, and not a single casualty inside the building. In 2001 the airport was awarded with the honor of being one of just 10 buildings given the American Society of Engineers Civil Engineering Monuments of the Millennium. Needless to say, it’s a grand structure worthy of recognition.
5. Wellington International Airport -Wellington, New Zealand
Sometimes criticized as being one of the ugliest airports in the world, the “Rock” terminal of Wellington International Airport is an incredibly unique design and is subjective to the opinion of the onlooker. Though some may be critical, the airport has won a number of awards for its design. The airport is only the third busiest in New Zealand but still handled more than 5-million passengers in 2013.
The airport is an important link for connecting many regional and national New Zealand flights, and also has major links to eastern Australian cities. Wellington International Airport comprises just 270-acres of land, and has a reputation for rough and turbulent landings because of strong winds created by the Cook Strait. The surrounding area however is typical of New Zealand (or even Lord of the Rings) with rolling hills and lush greens, which compliment the unique dome-like structure of the inside which certainly lives up to its ‘Rock’ nickname.
4. Marrakech Menara Airport -Marrakech, Morocco
Another airport known for its culturally unique design, Marrakech Menara Airport in Morocco was created to resemble classic Islamic geometric design and features nature motifs inscribed into a massive network of giant concrete diamond shapes. At its core, the airport is essentially one giant piece of artwork. The structure almost resembles a soccer or football stadium from the outside, presenting itself like a massive steel grating with planes flying in and out. However, the appeal is surprisingly welcoming and pleasing to the eye. The facility serves as a receiving point for a number of European flights from Casablanca, as well as from Arab nations.
The airport was used as a military base during World War 2 and acted as a command hub and stopover for allied cargo, supplies, and personnel. Currently, there are two passenger terminals, with a capacity for handling around 4.5-million passengers a year. A third terminal is currently under construction as the site continues to expand.
3. Courchevel Altiport -Courchevel, France
Opened in 1961 as a means to boost the number of visitors to this high-class French Alpine ski resort, Courchevel is one of the most demanding airports for pilots. Pilots must negotiate their way through deep mountain valleys and a notoriously short runway that slopes into the mountainside at an 18.5-degree angle.
At over 6,500 feet in elevation, this airport is fit for a movie. In fact, the airport has been featured in the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies. This location is as picturesque in the daytime as it is at night, especially when snow-covered. If tourists manage to land on the short 1,762-foot runway, the pricey-ness of the aforementioned resorts are definitely worth the trip, as this is the type of area only seen once in a lifetime. Along with its movie appearance, the Courchevel Altiport has more claims to fame having been featured on the History Channel’s Most Extreme Airports in 2010.
2. King Abdul Aziz Airport, Jeddah -Saudi Arabia
The massive King Abdul Aziz Airport is the busiest in Saudi Arabia as well as the third-largest in the country. Taking up an area of over 15 kilometers, it includes a Royal Terminal, housing facilities for staff, as well as facilities used by the Royal Saudi Air Force.
King Abdul Aziz is capable of accommodating 80,000 travelers at once in the Hajj terminal. This 10-module area is covered by 21 “tents” of white Teflon-coated fiberglass to house those on a pilgrimage to nearby Mecca. The Hajj terminal received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 1983 due to “the brilliant and imaginative design of the roofing system met the awesome challenge of covering this vast space with incomparable elegance and beauty”. Servicing 27 million passengers per year, it is interesting to note that the Jeddah airport was voted as the second-worst airport in the world by SleepinginAirports.net.
1. Keflavik International Airport -Keflavik, Iceland
Almost all international visitors arrive through Keflavik International Airport, which is about 31 miles outside Reykjavik. Iceland’s proximity to Greenland makes a trip to both countries in the same day a distinct and rare possibility.
Along with its excellent scenery of Iceland’s flatlands, mountains and bodies of water the Keflavik International Airport offers a unique history. Keflavik was built during World War II by the United States military specifically to hold American planes capable of dishing out heavy bombers. After the war in 1947, the airport was given to Iceland and changed to its current name. Despite a relatively small population (300,000) the Icelandic airport schedules flights from 10 U.S. cities, four Canadian and 31 across Europe. It may be important to note that while prices of alcohol are very high at this airport, they are much lower in the rest of the country. As well, customs limits travelers to “just” six liters of beer and one liter of spirits. Don’t forget to take in all the beautiful scenery which can be seen from the terminal windows, including Iceland’s famous hot springs.