Home Spotting Resources 10 Plane Spotting Highlights in London

10 Plane Spotting Highlights in London

by Matt Falcus

London is a major part of the UK’s aviation infrastructure, representing the capital city and all its inbound and outbound business and tourism, as well as acting as a hub for connections throughout the rest of the country.

London also has a long history of aviation from the earliest of flying days, and today is home to numerous aviation museums.

For plane spotters visiting the UK, here are the top 10 plane spotting highlights of London:


London City Airport

An absolutely unique airport which has carved a successful, busy operation in an unusual environment.

Built on former docklands in the 1980s, this airport provided a short runway in the middle of the high rise office blocks of the city, to allow commuter airlines to provide services right from the heart of London.

The airport has grown since then, with an extended runway and larger terminal. Despite this it is still hemmed in and aircraft need to perform a steeper than usual approach, with only certain types certified to operate here.

Typically you’ll see types like the Airbus A220, Embraer 170 & 190 and ATR 42/72, with airlines like BA Cityflyer, Loganair, ITA Airways, LOT, Lufthansa and Swissair dominating.

Biz jets are also a common sight.


Myrtle Avenue

Plane spotting at Myrtle Avenue

Heathrow Airport in itself is a major attraction owing to its size and the number and variety of daily flights, but it does not provide much in the way of spotting facilities.

Myrtle Avenue (postcode TW14 9QU) is probably the most popular spot, and is often very busy when arrivals are using runway 27L.

This small residential street, near Hatton Cross Underground station, has an area of open parkland at the end which sits underneath the final approach path seconds before aircraft touch down. Its perfect for photographing aircraft.


Science Museum

Alcock & Brown’s Vickers Vimy at the Science Museum, London

One of the major London museums, located in Knightsbridge alongside the Natural History Museum. The Science Museum has displays on all aspects of science and industry, but the Aviation Hall is the best draw for enthusiasts.

Here you’ll find a variety of historic aircraft on display, including military and wartime types, the Vimy biplane used to cross the Atlantic by Alcock and Brown, a section of a Boeing 747, the cockpit of a Douglas DC-3, and a BAe 125 business jet.

On the ground floor you’ll also find a Beech D18 aircraft.


Biggin Hill Airport

Biggin Hill. Photo (c)

To the south of London is Biggin Hill airport.

This was once a major military airfield with strong links to the Battle of Britain.

Today, however, it is a busy hub for business aviation with many biz jets flying in and out every day, or based here. There are also various historic aircraft restoration companies at Biggin Hill.

The Lookout Coffee Shop offers a place to enjoy a drink whilst watching aircraft movements at Biggin Hill. You can find it on Maitland View (postcode TN16 3BN). From here you will see most movements, particularly on the main runway and nearby parking areas.


BLOC Hotel Gatwick Airport

The view from the BLOC Hotel at London Gatwick airport.

London’s second busiest airport is Gatwick, to the south of the city.

Traditionally serving more of a leisure market, Gatwick still has its fair share of full-service long-haul airlines, in addition to flights operated by low cost carriers and even regional and domestic airlines.

Sadly the viewing areas at Gatwick are long gone and it’s hard to find anywhere to spot.

Situated atop the South Terminal, however, is the BLOC Hotel. This is a great place to spot if you have a room facing the airport. Depending on the room you will usually have a view of both terminals and part of the runway.

See www.blochotels.com


Stansted Airport

London Stansted

Stansted is a fairly busy airport 30 miles north east of London which is popular with low-cost carriers and cargo airlines.

The airport has a single runway. On the north side extensive aprons and hangars for executive aircraft movements can be found.

The passenger terminal has three concourses of gates which are not visible from the rest of the terminal. Further to the west are two areas of cargo aprons and warehouses where the many daily flights park up. These include carriers such as Asiana, Cargolux, China Southern, FedEx Express, Turkish Airlines Cargo and UPS Airlines. Ryanair also has a maintenance base here.

The best place to spot is in the tiny village of Burton End, on the opposite of the runway to the terminal. Follow Belmer Road (use postcode CM24 8UL) from the village. After half a mile find a place to park by the side of the road, and then walk through the paths in the trees to find an official viewing area alongside the fence. You have distant views of the passenger and cargo terminals, but all runway movements are easy to see, with photography through the fence.


Brooklands Museum

Occupying the historic Brooklands race circuit at Weybridge, to the south-west of central London, this was also the former aircraft factory where many British types were built.

Today’s very popular and interesting museum combines aircraft and automotive history. Impressive collection of airliners include the VC-10s, Vanguard, Varsity, Viscount, and Concorde prototype G-BBDG.

There are also many wartime aircraft. Many are open to enter.

Open daily 10am-5pm (March-late October), 10am-4pm (November-February). Adults £18.10, Seniors £17.20, Children £10, Family £29.60/£47.70, Under 5s free.


London Heathrow Renaissance Hotel

Another great spot at Heathrow is the Renaissance Hotel on the northern perimeter.

This is one of the best spotting hotels in the world. Request a room overlooking the airport (you sometimes have to pay more) and you’ll be at close quarters to all movements on the northern runway. These can be read off and photographed easily, but lower floors have lamp posts and the fence in the way.

Movements around the terminals are also easy to spot. Those using flight tracking websites can continue to spot throughout the night. Although this hotel is not the cheapest at Heathrow, the quality of spotting makes up for it and it offers special spotter packages through its website. See www.marriott.com


Luton Airport

Luton is London’s fourth largest airport, and is situated some 30 miles north off the main M1 motorway. It’s the place to be if you’re into biz jets and props as most of this kind of traffic heading to London will use this airport.

Luton is also a busy gateway for low-cost carriers and holiday charter airlines. It is the home base of easyJet, TUI Airways and Wizz Air UK. Ryanair also has a heavy presence. A number of cargo airliners pass through most days.

The airport has many ramps and hangars dedicated to biz jet traffic, which can be a little difficult to navigate around to see everything. However, the quality is often worth it, with aircraft from far off places commonplace.


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Colin Whyte June 26, 2024 - 12:50 pm

What about London Colney !! The DH museum, although known commonly as the Mosquito Museum has quite a few earlier airliners, including a Comet fuselage with the original square windows.

Matt Falcus June 26, 2024 - 1:08 pm

Great suggestion Colin!


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