A spotting trip to Europe can be a great experience whatever your interest.
The continent is home to a good selection of busy hubs, and you’ll also find a good selection of cargo, storage and general aviation airports if that’s what you’re into.
It’s also really easy to travel between airports in Europe, with good connectivity and affordable prices. Europe is also home to Ryanair – one of the cheapest ways to fly, covering hundreds of routes.
The essential European spotting airports are:
Paris Charles de Gaulle
The busiest airport in France is a mega-hub for national carrier Air France, and is also visited by most major airlines around the world.
The airport is split into the older Terminal 1, and the more modern Terminal 2 complex.
There are also large areas set aside for cargo operators (it is a hub for FedEx Express), and the low-cost Terminal 3.
The best airport to visit in the UK for spotting. Heathrow is the busiest, with worldwide connections and many interesting airlines.
Germany is thankfully on the side of spotters and here, at its busiest airport, they are provided for.
This huge hub is home to Lufthansa and visited by passenger and cargo airlines from around the world. It’s really busy.
Around the perimeter you’ll find a number of spotting platforms giving you views of the action (as well as on top of Terminal 2).
A relatively new airport, Teruel is a growing storage location half-way between Madrid and Valencia in Spain. Here you’ll find airliners coming for storage and also to be scrapped.
The sun and dry air helps in their preservation.
You can usually find plenty of viewpoints around the perimeter, but you’ll need a car.
Palma de Mallorca
Located on the Balearic island of Mallorca, Palma is one of Spain’s busiest airports thanks to the endless stream of holidaymakers.
The airport sees a lot of low-cost and leisure airlines, particularly from Germany, France, the UK and Scandinavia.
There are a few good viewing locations along the southern perimeter where you can take good photographs.
Schiphol is an amazing airport. It has six runways, handles over 70 million passengers per year, and still only has one passenger terminal!
The airport is home to KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. It is also a hub for Delta, Transavia, TUI and many cargo carriers.
There are a number of spotting locations around the perimeter, as well as the Panorama Terrace on top of the terminal.
This is one of the two major production sites for Europe’s airliner manufacturer, Airbus. The other is at the smaller Hamburg Finkenwerder airport in Germany.
Toulouse sees the production of Airbus A320, A330, A350 and (for now) A380 aircraft, as well as ATR turboprops.
There’s the amazing Aeroscopia museum to visit at the airport, and you’ll also see plenty of regular airliner traffic using the airport terminal.
The airport of Funchal on the Portuguese island of Madeira out in the Atlantic Ocean is a fantastic little holiday destination.
The runway here is built on the side of a mountain, with part of it extending out over the sea on stilts!
The location means that crosswinds are prevalent, and the curved approach makes life even more difficult for pilots. It’s amazing to watch from the viewing area on the hill above the airport.
Another airport which embraces spotters is Zurich in Switzerland.
It provides viewing terraces atop its terminal, putting you in among the action around the gates.
There are also viewing platforms to the north which are great for runway and arrival shots.
Each January Zurich is flooded with various government and VIP aircraft as world leaders descend on nearby Davos for the World Economic Forum. Spotters flock to the airport for this, despite the cold weather!
Another Spanish airport to visit. Madrid is the capital and a busy hub for the IAG airlines like Air Europa, Air Nostrum, Iberia and Vueling. It’s also one of the few European airports to see some of the rarer South American airlines visiting.
The best spotting location at Madrid is ‘the Mound’ between the terminals at the heart of the airport. This raised ground gives you a good vantage point for spotting and photographs.
Northern England’s busiest hub is Manchester. It has been growing in stature recently and, in addition to the usual leisure and low-cost airlines, it now offers more long-haul links to Asia, North America and the Middle East.
The airport provides the Runway Visitor Park, which has some interesting attractions and a shop. It is not the best for photography, so you might want to use some of the unofficial spotting locations. Here’s our video guide.
Europe’s answer to Maho Beach at St Maarten is at Skiathos Airport in Greece.
This is not a busy airport, and only really comes alive in the summer. But for sheer spectacle, you’ll find it hard to beat.
Aircraft pass incredibly low overhead before landing, as the video above demonstrates.
For a complete guide on where to spot at hundreds of airports across Europe, get your copy of our new book Airport Spotting Guides Europe.
It includes descriptions, maps, tips on what you’ll see and also good spotting hotels to stay at.