4 Most Beautiful Airports In The World

Jeddah Hajj Terminal, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

One of the world's most radical airport terminals is one most Americans are unlikely to ever travel through. The Jeddah Hajj Terminal is unique: it's only active during the "hajj," a religiously mandated pilgrimage to Mecca for Muslims. During that six-week period, it's one of the busiest airport terminals in the world.

The Hajj Terminal received the American Institute of Architects' 25-year award as a design that's stood the test of time: it's made of 210 open-air, white fiberglass tents which create a "chimney effect" that can cool the hot desert air by 50 degrees without expensive, hard-to-maintain air conditioning, according to a profile in the Architectural Record. The tents can contain 80,000 people, with flexible spaces devoted to very unusual activities for an airport terminal, such as changing clothes and ritual foot-washing.

The terminal gets some knocks online for being, as one Skytrax reviewer says, "chaotic and basic." But no other airline terminal has its unique challenges: being literally the gateway to heaven for tens of thousands of people a day, many of whom are making this a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

Seoul Incheon Airport, Incheon, South Korea

Never mind how it looks from the outside: Seoul's airport regularly gets awards for how well-organized, efficient and relaxing it is on the inside. I've been there several times, and Seoul's secret is to make sure that you're never more than a few steps away from an entertaining, enlightening, or amusing bit of Korean culture.

Scattered throughout the terminal like Easter eggs, you'll find hands-on Korean craft workshops, a dress-up area where you can take photos in traditional clothing, the best free Internet cafes you've ever seen (and yes, that's absolutely a bit of Korean culture), a museum, and plenty of places to take a comfortable nap. Want to try a traditional Korean bathhouse? Head to the basement. Plants and flowers keep up the impression that you're in a showplace for Korea's melding of history, art and technology, and not just a mere airport terminal.

Leif Eriksson Air Terminal, Keflavik, Iceland

Iceland's cozy little international airport looks like it arrived in a flat pack from IKEA. It's all blond wood and volcanic-looking stone with big windows looking out on the dramatic Icelandic landscape. There's a lot more wood in this airport than you'll find in most terminals, and instead of being a design accent near the ceiling (as in Madrid), it's on the floor, making the terminal feel much more natural and less sterile than usual.

The best buildings capture a bit of the soul of a place, and the Keflavik terminal does that perfectly: it's cozy (maybe a little too cozy in some of the gate areas), made of local materials, relatively spare and utterly embedded in the landscape. As a greeting to Iceland, it's perfect.

Marrakech Menara Airport Terminal 1, Marrakech, Morocco

This one is another great example of culturally aware terminal design. The new Terminal 1 at Marrakech's airport looks like a Moroccan palace twenty-first-century style, with classic Islamic geometric and nature motifs inscribed into a giant network of concrete diamonds. You could make a strong argument that the whole thing is one giant artwork.

At night, colored lights dance along the front face of the building, illuminating the desert plantings along the arrivals roadway. A lounge inside evokes 19th-century Moroccan luxury, with rugs, chandeliers, and a wrought-metal dome.


I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

~Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear