15 of the world’s most spectacular airport landings

Julia Buckley, CNN

There is a lot to love about traveling. Live a new culture. Eat good food. Stay in top-notch hotels… and land at a new airport.

Of course, not all airports are created equal. Some have incredible amenities. Some offer easy access to the city. Some make connections a dream.

And some have really dreamy approaches.

There are many spectacular airstrips, but often the best known are located in remote destinations. So we’ve rounded up some of the most beautiful approaches in major destinations here, as well as which side of the plane you should sit on to best appreciate them.

Rio de Janeiro (SDU)

Roller coasters on rolling hills, backed by lush mountains and bordered by sandy beaches and the Atlantic Ocean beyond, Rio has one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the world.

While international flights land at Galeão International Airport, outside the city center, Santos Dumont – the city’s smallest airport – serves many domestic destinations (including shuttle flights to São Paulo).

Not only is it in the city center, but it is also in Guanabara Bay, on reclaimed land, offering incredible views as you enter or exit. Try the right side for a glimpse of the icons of Rio, including Sugar Loaf Mountain.

Sit right

Male (VIA)

You would expect a spectacular approach to the Maldives; and that’s what you get here at Velana International Airport, just off Malé on Hulhule Island.

When it was first built in the 1960s, it had a steel slat track; these days it is a standard asphalt surface, although there is nothing standard about the view of the Indian Ocean dotted with atolls when you get ashore.

Sit on either side

Venice (VCE)

Seen from the sky, Venice looks like a fish, swimming towards the mainland with its tail flapping against the Adriatic Sea. You don’t see it from the ground, but you do see it as you enter to land at Marco Polo Airport, north of downtown on the mainland.

Sit to the right of the plane and you’ll see the city unfold beneath your feet, from MOSE flood barriers and Lido Island to terra-cotta rooftops, squat spiers and even the lightning bolts of the Grand Canal. In the last seconds of the flight you will see the Burano and Torcello Islands, before landing in the middle of the salt marshes of the North Lagoon.

Sit right

Cape Town (CPT)

Enveloped by two oceans – the Indian and the Atlantic – and with Table Mountain looming behind, Cape Town is up there with Rio de Janeiro for a spectacular natural setting.

Sit on the right side and, if you’re on a northwest approach, you should be hovering over Table Mountain, pointing above the clouds. You can also spot Simon’s Town on the Cape Peninsula, or fly directly over the ocean and return to town – in which case, you’ll have water views from either side.

Sit right

San Francisco (OFS)

With its mix of coastline and hills, San Francisco is up there with Cape Town and Rio for stunning natural beauty, and you’ll have plenty of views when you land at SFO.

Best to take off, when the left side can often give you a view of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge before heading east. Upon landing, each side should give you a view of the water – with a glimpse of the ocean to the left and the bay area to the right.

Sit on the left

Genoa (GOA)

There are few better ways to enter the Mediterranean than with a landing at Genoa Airport, whose runway is a peninsula of reclaimed land floating in the Ligurian Sea, just outside the city center. .

Which side to choose depends on whether you’re a fan of sea or city views: to see the brightly colored houses of downtown Genoa curl up along the cliff face, with mountains towering behind them, sit back. -you on the right; if you prefer the glittering Med and the feeling of landing on the water, choose the left – you’ll see the tarmac just before you hit it.

Sit right for the city, left for the water view

London Heathrow (LHR)

Heathrow Airport may be a way out of central London, but if you arrive via the often-used eastern approach you’ll get a bird’s-eye view of the British capital on the right side as you fly over its points benchmark in the final. approach.

You will follow the Thames through central London, passing Greenwich and Canary Wharf, over London Bridge and St Paul’s, and finally past Buckingham Palace and the Royal Parks that surround it. You will see Wembley Stadium just before the touchdown. Another, less used, approach is through Windsor – although the best views for this are from the left.

Sit right

Kigali (KGL)

Rwanda is beautiful from the sky, and the descent into the capital Kigali shows the country at its best.

Passing from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Rwanda, you’ll descend over verdant hills, dotted with houses and red streaks of local dirt roads – all backed by mountains in the distance for added drama. On the right side, you should see Lake Kivu, which serves as the border between Rwanda and DRC, before descending back down to the hills.

Sit right

Nice (NCE)

Like Genoa along the coast and Santos Dumont in Rio, Nice airport is built on water, with the runway on reclaimed land. On the left side you will likely pass along the coastline of the Côte d’Azur as you enter, while on the right you will see the sparkling sea. Sitting on the left for take off, you will also have a breathtaking view of Monaco.

Sit on the left

São Paulo (GRU)

The largest Portuguese-speaking city in the world, with an impressive population of 12.3 million, São Paulo may seem intimidating on the ground, but flying is a whole other thing.

Take an evening flight to see the ultimate cityscape unfold below you – a galaxy of lights radiating so brightly that even in the cloud cover, those same clouds glow as if they were alive. No matter where you sit (as long as it’s not over the wing) you’ll have a sparkling view.

Sit on either side

Innsbruck (DCI)

Nervous travelers may want a drink before starting their descent to Innsbruck. The main airport in Austria’s Tyrol region, it is surrounded by mountains on all sides – mountains that planes must pass on the final descent before heading into the valley to land.

That said, it’s a spectacular entrance, especially in winter when those same mountains are blanketed in snow. Both sides are spectacular, although in the valley the mountains on the left, dotted with villages, are arguably more interesting to watch.

Sit on the left

Queenstown (ZQN)

Weather is the main problem with flights to New Zealand’s South Island’s main airport – and means you can barely get a view.

But if the clouds are playing ball, landing here means spectacular views of the Southern Alps. The left side should give you the best views of the mountains and the South Island coastline unfolding in front of you.

Sit on the left

Hong Kong (HKG)

Hong Kong International Airport (also known as Chep Lak Kok) is built on reclaimed land from the South China Sea, so you already know it’s going to be another big landing. Visibility is generally not great, but you will still have a great view of the South China Sea and its islands as you descend below cloud level.

You’ll fly over container ships, fishing boats, and junks, before descending near Lantau Island (usually to the right) and onto the tarmac.

Sit right

Santiago de Chile (SCL)

If snow capped mountains are your thing, this is the destination for you. You will have a lovely view of the Andes as you enter Santiago, giving way to arid hills and then to plains, these mountains rising in the distance, as you enter the basin to land.

Stay on the left side to keep the Andes in sight all the way down.

Sit on the left

Las Vegas (LAS)

Sit to the right of the plane and look north as you arrive in Sin City for a spectacular view of the famous Strip. Make it an evening flight to see the neon lights at their best, or take to the skies during the day to take in the view of the endless Mojave Desert that surrounds it.

You’ll typically approach over Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam, while takeoffs take you over the sandstone “hills” of Red Rock Canyon.

Sit right

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