Five of the World’s Best Airport Viewing Areas

When NYCAviation heard about the opening of the viewing area at Rydges Sydney Airport Hotel, I thought I’d look further into what made this hotel so plane spotter-friendly. And, as it turns out, the Rydges Sydney Airport hotel has a pretty cool thing going on, which inspired me to research other airport viewing areas around the world, too.

What I found included a few all-time spotter favorites but also a couple of less familiar – but pretty spectacular – spotting locations that I thought deserved a mention. Here are five pretty awesome airports for aviation enthusiasts to consider visiting.

Plane Spotters-Rydges SydneyMost Spotter-Friendly: Rydges Sydney Airport Hotel, Sydney International Airport (SYD)

Aviation enthusiasts staying at the Rydges Sydney Airport Hotel don’t even have to leave their hotel rooms for amazing views of the Sydney International Airport, but the view only gets better if they do – the hotel has a special outdoor viewing deck adjacent to its Dreamliner conference room on the ninth floor that serves as a perfect place for plane spotters to relax, have a drink and watch airplanes take off.  The viewing deck is subject to availability, but the staff members at Rydges Sydney do an awesome job keeping spotters updated on the upcoming availability of the viewing area via their Facebook page.

Even if the ninth floor viewing deck happens to be closed for an event, the Rydges Sydney hotel staff will provide enthusiasts with information and maps to other viewing areas around Sydney International. The hotel also offers a plane spotters package- a promotion that includes a deluxe king room with a view, a food & drink voucher, a pair of binoculars, a plane spotter fact sheet and late checkout.

Other guests can pay $10 for the drink and plane spotter fact sheet, but the real advantage here is that this is a hotel staffed with people that not only cater to plane spotters, but they encourage them!  Plane spotting tips and maps can be found on their website, and local spotters may find themselves being interviewed and highlighted in an occasional post on the hotel’s Facebook page.

Plane spotter and blogger Rah Gardiner, who frequents Sydney International, says that the Sydney Rydges Hotel is a great location for viewing the main runway and the Sydney skyline. “The main downside is the cost of parking, but Rydges offer half price parking if you pay the $10 to get access to their boardroom.”

Bonus: According to Gardiner, there are plenty of power points for charging laptops and batteries.

Polderbaan- AMS Schiphol- Carlos BarceloUp Close & Personal: Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS)

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol was ranked the fourth largest airport for passengers and aircraft movements in 2013, with over 52.6 million passengers and 425,000 air transport movements. It also ranked as Europe’s third largest airport for cargo operations in 2013, so it’s no wonder that it’s a favorite for aviation enthusiasts like Carlos Barcelo, who reached out to us on Facebook to tell us that AMS is a perfect spot for catching a wide variety of aircraft.

Barcelo likes spotting at the Polderbaan location at Runway 18L, but he says the Panorama Terrace on the terminal roof is great for getting up close to hundreds of aircraft at AMS. Another Facebook fan and plane spotter agrees that the Polderbaan is the place to go, noting that there’s a nice road with unobstructed views.

The bonus for spotters at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol? There’s no fence!

sxm_schlechter_dl737-620x413Sun, Sand and Excitement: Maho Beach, St. Maarten, Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM)

Maho Beach, St. Maarten wins the vote for most exciting plane spotting location. After all, what’s better than sand, surf, seafood and low-flying airliners? Nothing.

By now you’ve heard about the infamous Maho Beach (NYCAviation contributor Justin Schlecter wrote about it here). You’ve seen the photos of airliners landing scarily close to people standing nearby on the beach. There aren’t many other places where plane spotters can get this close to airliners flying directly overhead on final approach. It’s exciting, to say the least, which is why the area attracts not only plane spotters, but the general public as well.

At the Sunset Bar & Grill, aviation enthusiasts can grab a bite to eat, check the flight schedule and listen to ATC over a loudspeaker, all just yards from the runway threshold. Watching airplanes take off and land at Princess Juliana International from Maho Beach is what most would consider an avgeek paradise.

Bonus: While you watch the airplanes land from the infamous Maho Beach, you can also watch tourists try to win in a game called “Humans vs. Jet Blast,” in which the humans try to hang on to the fence while heavy aircraft depart,  blasting them off of the fence and into the ocean. Fun!

LAX In-n-OutCasual Fun: In-N-Out Burger, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)

A quick social media poll found what might be obvious to many plane spotters: The In-N-Out Burger restaurant might actually be the most-loved plane spotting location in the world. Maybe it’s because it’s easy, casual fun – just grab a burger and a soda and watch- or maybe it’s the low-flying arrivals coming into LAX’s 24R overhead.  Either way, it’s a definite favorite among NYCAviation followers.

You can walk from the terminal to the restaurant on a layover, or there’s parking available along the street. The restaurant is a popular hangout for spotters and local airport traffic alike, so it can get a little busy at times. There’s a grassy area across the road for anyone wanting extra space or a different angle, and for those with extra time on their hands, LAX has a few other great spotting locations as well, like Imperial Hill and Proud Bird Restaurant.

Bonus: There are restrooms inside of In-N-Out Burger. But be polite and at least indulge in a tasty cheeseburger after you use the facilities.

visitors park - MUCAn Airport, or a City? Munich International Airport (MUC)

Skytrax voted Munich International Airport the best airport in central Europe in 2013. Munich International is an example of an airport that’s much more than just an airport- it’s reminiscent of a small city, actually. The Munich Airport Center houses offices, shopping, a winter market even an ice rink. There’s a medical center, more than 50 bars and restaurants, and of course, hotels.

What makes the Munich Airport amazing is that it also caters to aviation enthusiasts, with a variety of viewing areas and an entire visitor’s park. Static aircraft sit on display at the bottom of an outdoor viewing hill – a climb up 172 steps to an elevation almost 100 feet higher. The trek up the hill costs one Euro but is available at all times and visitors can stay as long as they’d like.

But wait – that’s not all. The Munich Airport offers tours of the airport to the public. There’s a 50-minute bus tour that take visitors to Terminal 1 and 2 aprons, the fire department, runways, cargo facilities , hush house and fuel farm.

And if the weather doesn’t cooperate or you don’t have time for a trip outside, the viewing terrace in level 7 of Terminal 2 is over 9,000 square feet, and offers excellent views of both runways, with telescopes on hand for a closer view.

Bonus: This is one of the most kid-friendly airports in existence. With a mini-golf course and a theater, you can be sure the children will be occupied while you snap photos of airplanes.

Have a favorite plane spotting location we didn’t mention? Tell us about it in the comments!

Founder’s Note: In the interest of full disclosure, this is a sponsored article from Rydges Sydney Airport Hotel. While sponsored, we accepted this sponsorship because we stand behind it being a great place for enthusiasts. We wouldn’t steer you wrong! -Phil

Sarina Houston, Assignment Editor, is a commercial pilot and certified flight instructor who works full time as an aviation writer. You can find her at About.com or on Twitter.  

About the Author

Sarina Houston



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  • Jim Cooley

    The pedestrian bridge between the terminal and concourse A at Denver, is a good spot to watch planes, but it is past the TSA checkpoint, so you have to have a ticket to get to it.

  • Judge

    Orlando International you can spot from the top of the parking garage

  • tbird20955 .

    I have been to 3 of the 5.

  • FriendlySkies

    Spotting from the roof of the PDX parking garage is fun. Some great shots are possible, depending on the light.

  • Luke McConville

    Perth Airport’s Viewing Platform provides ample view on Runway 21 departures and Runway 03 arrivals and is situated west of the threshold of runway 03.

  • Nick Akers

    Charlotte Douglas, there’s an official overlook and the new hourly decks are much taller than the old ones and give an excellent view of the Regional, International, and mixed use concourses, not to mention the runways.