Today is International Civil Aviation Day, which makes it the perfect time to celebrate some of the globe’s most amazing places to land. These 15 airports and airstrips are worthy destinations in their own right.
1. Copalis State Airport
Why fly to a beach vacation when you can literally land on a beach? This sand airstrip on the Pacific Ocean in Washington stretches between the Copalis River to the south and a line of rocks on the north. Plan your trip ahead of time, though—it’s only accessible during low tide.
2. Courchevel Altiport
This airport in the French Alps is one of the world’s most dangerous. Its runway is insanely short (just 537 meters) and there are no lights to guide pilots in fog or stormy weather. Oh, and watch out for skiers—the airport sits next to an active ski run. Once you’ve landed safely, the airport offers amazing access to views of the Alps and the slopes.
3. Gibraltar Airport
This airport servicing British-controlled Gibraltar offers incredible views of the famous rock that shares its name. Keep your eyes on the road if you’re driving in Gibraltar, though—a street intersects the runway.
4. Matekane Air Strip
This tiny strip in Lesotho abruptly ends at the edge of a 2,000-foot cliff. Good thing planes can fly!
5. Williams Field, Antarctica
Naturally, conditions are icy here, and ski-equipped planes have to land on deep snow that sits atop a floating layer of ice.
6. Daocheng Yading Airport
When this Chinese airport opened in 2013, it became the highest civilian airport in the world at 14,472 feet above sea level.
7. Barra Airport
This airport, located on a beach in Western Scotland, is made up of three sand runways. Much like the Copalis State Airport, take-offs and landings have to be scheduled around the tides.
8. Madeira Airport
This Portuguese airport had to extend its runway in order to accommodate larger aircraft. The existing strip ended on the water, so the designers had to be clever. The solution: A runway on stilts, jutting out past the island’s edge.
9. Paro Airport
Only eight pilots in the world are certified to land at this extremely dangerous airport nestled in the Himalayas in Bhutan. The approach is so perilous, weather has to be perfectly clear in order to land.
10. Kansai International Airport
Osaka’s international airport is on a man-made island three miles off the coast in Osaka Bay. It was built in 1994 to ease overcrowding within Osaka proper.
If you want to climb Mt. Everest, chances are you’ll fly into this Nepalese airport, which is susceptible to such wild weather shifts and terrible visibility that mountaineers’ adventures often begin while they’re still on their planes.
12. Princess Juliana International
Beachgoers can almost touch planes as they fly overhead on the way to this St. Maarten airport. The low approach and scenic views make it one of the world’s best spots for plane watching.
13. Don Mueang International
A private 18-hole golf course is nestled between two runways at this Thai airport. Fore!
14. King Fahd International
At 780 square kilometers, this Saudi Arabian airport is by far the biggest airport in the world. It’s larger than the entire country of Bahrain!
15. Juancho E. Yrausquin
There is little room for error on this tiny airstrip. Shoehorned in the Dutch Antilles, the lone runway is surrounded by steep cliffs and high hills on all sides.