Top Ten Most Iconic Airport Buildings

Written by Mark Avery on Wednesday, 21 December 2011. Posted in Features, News from 2011

Not every airport is a sprawling concrete jungle

Airport terminals can often be dingy, overcrowded and unwelcoming places. We believe flying should be a pleasure and not a chore, so we have put together a list of the ten most inspirational airport buildings in the world

10. Washington Dulles, USA – A timeless classic designed by legendary Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen (Gateway Arch, the Tulip chair), the 'hanging' roof takes its cue from the wings of a bird in flight.

  • Direct flights to Washington Dulles are available from London, with new flights from Manchester and Dublin also starting this summer.

9. Beijing Capital (Terminal 3), China – A Lord Foster triumph highlighting that big can be beautiful (it is larger than all of Heathrow's five terminals combined).

  • Direct flights to Beijing are available from London Heathrow, with new flights from Gatwick also starting in March.

8. Kuala Lumpur International (Satellite Terminal A), Malaysia – Home to most international arrivals and departures at this ultra-modern airport, Satellite Terminal A features its very own mini-rainforest.

  • Direct flights to Kuala Lumpur are available from London Heathrow.

7. Helsinki (Terminal 2), Finland – A classic example of Finnish simplicity, Helsinki Airport's Terminal 2 is a perfect marriage of style and substance.

  • Flights to Helsinki are available from London, Edinburgh and Manchester, and also from Dublin.

6. Denver International, USA – This airport's dramatic tented roof reflects the magnificent peaks of the nearby Rocky Mountains. A unique passenger bridge over the taxiway provides great views for plane spotter geeks like the Flightmapping crew.

  • Direct flights to Denver are available from London Heathrow.

5. London Stansted, UK – Lord Foster's forest of steel is a marvel of symmetry and clean lines. What a pity airport operator BAA has desecrated the integrity of the building by developing it into an overcrowded shopping mall.

  • Flights from Stansted operate to numerous destinations throughout the UK, Ireland and Europe.

4. Paris Charles De Gaulle (Terminal 2), France – It is little wonder U2 shot large chunks of their 'Beautiful Day' video inside this terminal building. The epic sweeping roof is simply breathtaking.

  • Flights to Paris Charles De Gaulle are available from most major airports in the UK & Ireland.

3. Jeddah King Abdulaziz (Hajj Terminal), Saudi Arabia – Only used during the annual Hajj pilgrimage to nearby Mecca, this truly stunning structure is topped by a sea of peaks resembling traditional Arab tents.

  • Direct flights to Jeddah are available from London Heathrow.

2. Riyadh King Khalid International, Saudi Arabia – Opulent even by oil-rich Middle Eastern standards, this terminal's roof structure was designed to resemble the interior of a vast mosque. Back at ground level, a host of water features makes it easy to forget that the airport is surrounded by scorching desert.

  • Direct flights to Riyadh are available from London Heathrow. Visa required for entry into Saudi Arabia unless in transit.

1. Madrid Barajas (Terminal 4), Spain – The flowing roof structure and usage of vibrant colour is Lord Rogers at his best. The exposed workings take inspiration from two of the British architect's other most famous works, the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Lloyd's Building in London. What a pity that Heathrow Terminal 5, which was also designed by Lord Rogers, is so sterile in comparison.

  • Flights to Madrid are available from many airports in the UK, and also from Dublin - see listings for full details.

About the Author

Mark Avery

Mark Avery

Mark Avery wanted to be a Concorde pilot, but being colour blind put a halt to that particular career path. The demise of Concorde didn't help matters either! He took up journalism instead. Following a stint moaning about Coventry City's plight for a living, the dad of two girls is now is in charge of all things editorial at

Comments (4)

  • Liam Finn

    Liam Finn

    21 December 2011 at 21:41 |
    Well at least you didn't include Dublin's monstrosity Terminal 2 in that list, but I think Denver deserves a better rating.
  • David Knowles

    David Knowles

    21 December 2011 at 21:47 |
    You have clearly never been to any of these airports, as, if you had, you would realise that many passengers take a different view.

    Barajas might look wonderful, but passengers hate it, and it is stuck out there on its own, a nuisance to get to and through.
  • James Avery

    James Avery

    29 December 2011 at 23:33 |
    David, this list was all about the airports being architecturally stunning, user friendliness is a different topic, which Mark will no doubt cover at length in the New Year.
  • Fumbletrumpet


    28 July 2012 at 17:13 |
    Detroit Wayne looked good (inside) to me also Stockholm was pleasant (in an Ikea goes better quality way)
    Agree with you on Stansted (nicest looking UK airport but the attitude of budget carriers spoil it a little for me)
    LHR T5 should be good, looks okay, but felt weird and complex as a user
    The Encounter restaurant at LAX is a wacky throwback to fifities (sixties ?) space-y-ness and a fun visit if there's time
    But, generally, although there's good intentions by their original designers, the throughput and wear and tear does seem to take the shine off a terminal quite quickly

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