Flying High: European Aviation Attractions Entice Visitors

It’s hard to imagine a world without airplanes, so it seems incredulous that aviation pioneers Orville Wright and Wilbur Wright made the world’s first successful air flight in 1903, just a little more than a century ago. Today, though, travelers heading to Europe can’t imagine traveling any other way.

Many European visitors are also die-hard aviation enthusiasts who love aviation, airlines and “anything flight.” Fortunately, they’ll discover an enticing array of museums and attractions to indulge their passion. 

Top Aviation Draws

Outside Madrid, Spain, Cuatro Vientos Air Base is home to an aviation jewel, the Museum of Aeronautics and Astronautics (popularly called the Museo del Aire). What’s to see? Visitors can peruse dozens of aircraft—everything from a 1910-built Vilanova Acedo to Spanish Air Force fighter jets. Travelers will delve into Spain’s aviation history and also its aircraft production. In addition, visitors will learn about military technology and weapons (such as missiles and torpedoes) developed in conjunction with military aircraft. United Vacations, Delta Vacations and other companies offer packages that would allow travelers the independent time to explore this aviation museum.

Certainly one of the world’s most gorgeous aviation museums is Red Bull Hangar-7, owned by Dietrich Mateschitz, Red Bull‘s founder, in Salzburg, Austria. Outside, it has the aerodynamic feel of an aircraft wing, while inside it seems as though a “celestial vault” opened above the historic aircraft displayed below.

Constructed of 380 tons of glass and 1,200 ton of steel, the main building is home to Red Bull’s fleet of Flying Bull stunt planes. In addition, travelers can peer at a rare Cessna C337 Skymaster, a Boeing PT-17 Stearman and several Alpha jets that fly at 600 mph and were bought from the German air force. 

And for those with a “need for speed,” this facility also displays some motorbikes and Formula 1 cars.

Located at Rakowice-Czyżyny, one of Europe’s oldest airfields in Krakow, Poland, is the Polish Aviation Museum. Travelers desiring to see Soviet-era aircraft can simply look around outside to see Cold War jets. Inside, though, is a huge aircraft collection. Many aviation buffs find it fascinating to peruse the collection of unrestored, pre-World War I aircraft relics. Another plus? This Krakow museum also has a rare 1970s jet-powered biplane, the PZL M-15 Belphegor.

The PZL M-15 Belphegor, as seen at the Polish Aviation Museum // Photo by Varga Attila – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1991200

With a collection of more than 100 vintage aircraft, Aviodrome Lelystad (south of the runway at Lelystad Airport) in the Netherlands is a place to see everything from a replica of a Wright flyer to a retired Boeing 747 and World War I aircraft. Travelers can even board a Douglas DC-3 and take a look around it interior or try their hand at flying in a simulator.

Not surprisingly, Aviodrome Lelystad places a strong focus on Dutch aviation and visitors will see both Fokker planes spanning the history of aviation from a 1910 Fokker Spin to a 1980s Fokker-100 commercial jet. In addition, historic KLM aircraft are also displayed including Douglas, Boeing and Lockheed planes.

One nifty thing to see is the original 1928 terminal of Amsterdam’s Schiphol International Airport. Taken down and reassembled, this historic terminal gives a sense of what air travel was like back in the day with its architecture and chalkboard of flights. Another draw is the T2 hangar, where volunteers can sometimes be viewed restoring aircraft.

Multiple Experiences, One Country

Luftwaffe Museum Berlin Gatow // Photo by calflier001 – LUFTWAFFEN MUSEUM RAF GATOW BERLIN GERMANY JUNE 2013Uploaded by MainFrame, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28883603

Many European tour operators will design customized vacations focused on a theme or personal interest of the guest’s choosing, such as aviation. Tickets to individual attractions, though, often must be purchased by the guest online or when arriving at the attraction.

With that in mind, Avanti Destinations can set up, for example, a customized tour for aviation buffs. Germany is among the countries with multiple sites of interest, among them the Military History Museum at the Berlin-Gatow Airport, also known as the Luftwaffe Museum Berlin Gatow, Germany.

“Berlin has one of the many aviation museums in Germany,” an Avanti spokesperson tells Travel Agent. “Displays include World War I, World War II and post-war history. The museum is located at Gatow, the former Luftwaffe and Royal Air Force airfield. Planes from the wars, NATO and Warsaw Pact countries are displayed as well as anti-aircraft, radar and unmanned systems.”

Or, in Hamburg, Germany, travelers can take an Airbus Factory Tour to see how the modern planes are manufactured. Visitors can see the single aisle A320neo or a widebody such as an A330 or A350

Croatia also has aviation draws at museums in Karlovac, Vukovar and Zagreb. For example, vintage aircraft are among the artifacts displayed at the Nikola Tesla Technical Museum in Zagreb.

Outdoor Delights

Aeropark in Budapest, Hungary // Photo by Christo – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52852667

On a hilly slope surrounded by greenery is the Parco Tematico dell’Aviazione in Rimini, San Marino, a mostly-outdoor aviation theme park with more than 50 aircraft displayed; it’s a great place for a stroll. Uniforms, medals, memorabilia and artifacts are displayed indoors.  

Adjacent to Terminal 2 at Ferenc Liszt International Airport in Budapest, Hungary, is Aeropark, which is dedicated to the history of Hungarian civil aviation. This open-air aviation museum displays almost all aircraft types flown by the now-defunct national airline, Malev. For example, visitors will see a Lisunov Li-2.

Both a park and a museum, Volandia at Milan-Malpensa International Airport, Italy, reopened on June 2 and offers aviation attractions both inside and outside. Visitors will see exhibits based on different aircraft forms—fixed wing, rotary wing, space, drones, model aircraft and more. Volandia’s travelers also will discover flight simulators, a planetarium, aircraft models and a library. 

More Aviation Draws

A World War II-era Supermarine Spitfire // Photo by Airwolfhound – commons.wikimedia, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=106434178

One of the largest aviation museums in northern Europe, The National Norwegian Aviation Museum in Bodo, Norway, features a top collection of 40 well-displayed historic aircraft and helicopters. It’s a bit of a hidden gem for aviation enthusiasts who’ll see everything from a WWII-era Spitfire to a U-2 spy plane. This is the place to learn the stories of aviation in Norway and how air travel united the country.

In the early days of aviation, the 1930s and 1940s, trans-ocean commercial flights were operated by “flying boats”—essentially planes that could land on water. In Foynes, Ireland, the Pan-American Airways’Clippers” as well as aircraft from British Overseas Airways Corporation and American Export Airlines took off or landed for regular service to/from North America.

Visitors will find the Foynes Flying Boat & Maritime Museum, the world’s only such flying boat museum, situated along the Shannon River and near the Atlantic Ocean. Visitors could think they’ve headed “back in time” as they sit in a 1940s-aura theater to watch “Atlantic Conquest,” a short film compiled from original flying-boat footage. Visitors also can board the world’s only B314 flying boat replica; this type of aircraft had a 14-seat dining room, sleeping berths for all passengers, and even a honeymoon suite. Travelers also will delve into the back stories such as the crews for these flights and ground workers who were Foynes residents. Check out the uniforms, memorabilia and more. 

The list of aviation attractions in Europe is extensive, including the Swedish Air Force Museum at the air base in Malmslaat, showing the development of military aircraft in Sweden. The Danmarks Flymuseum in Skjern, Denmark details the history of Danish flying as well as aircraft production, both civilian and military.

Sometimes, too, visitors find flight artifacts in magnificent settings. Egeskov Castle, located on Denmark’s Funen Island, is a remarkably preserved Renaissance water castle that’s also home to many museums. Among them are a vintage automobile collection, a collection showcasing the history of agriculture, and yes, a collection of aircraft.

Switzerland has a well-integrated transportation system, so not surprisingly, the Swiss Museum of Transport in Luzerne is highly popular with residents and visitors alike. They’ll see a full range of transport vehicles—from automobiles to trains and dozens of historic aircraft.

The National Romanian Aviation Museum, located at the site of the first airfield in Bucharest, Romania, displays documents and objects belonging to Aurel Vlaicu, the pioneer of Romanian aviation, as well as objects belonging to Smaranda Bratescu, world champion in parachuting.

Visitors can peruse more than 7,000 objects and 65 aircraft at the Bulgarian Museum of Aviation, located near the airport southeast of Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Travelers will see a sizable collection of fixed wing aircraft, helicopters, gliders and radio-relay stations.

Perusing multiple hangars of the Malta Aviation Museum at the old air field of Takili, Malta, travelers will discover aircraft, military uniforms, log books, model aircraft and other artifacts. This museum’s main focus is the 1940 to 1943 period and its “Air Battle of Malta Memorial Hangar” displays a WWII-era Supermarine Spitfire MklX and a Hawker Hurricane Mk lla; the latter was recovered from the seabed in 1995 and completely restored to working condition. In addition, it has an airworthy deHavilland Tiger Moth.

At the Museu do Ar (or Air Museum) near Sintra, Portugal, visitors can dive into Portuguese aviation, see historic planes, engines, simulators, propellers and more, and check out a “Pioneers Room” devoted to the great feats of Portuguese aviators.

Desire to see a former Lithuanian Air Force Antonov An-24, a MiG-21 and the world’s smallest glider? Then head for the Lithuanian Aviation Museum in Kaunas, Lithuania, as it has those, plus several dozen other airplanes and other flying machines, as well as models of airplanes, flyers, gliders and helicopters.

It’s an added treat for visitor when an aviation museum is located within a building with some history of its own. The Spilve Airport Museum in Riga, Latvia is located within Riga’s oldest airport and one “plus” is the terminal’s passenger waiting room from the time of Stalin.

Starting as a private collection and now active since 2002, the Estonian Aviation Museum in Veskiog (not far from Tartu) includes 32 aircraft representing aviation technology from Russia, the U.S.A., Ukraine, Poland, Sweden, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, the Czech Republic and other countries. In addition, the museum also displays six helicopters and has anti-aircraft guns and samples of surface-to-air missiles that were positioned in Estonia during the Soviet era.

European travelers can also explore aviation history and see historic aircraft at this sampling of other excellent options for aviation buffs:

  • Finnish Aviation Museum in Veromies, Vantaa, Finland
  • Kbely Aviation Museum in Prague, Czech Republic
  • Museum of Aviation in KosiceSlovakia
  • Brussels Air Museum at Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History in Brussels, Belgium
  • Aeronautical Museum in Belgrade, Serbia
  • National Military Museum in Soest, Netherlands
  • Aviation Museum of Iceland at Akureyi Airport, Iceland
  • Hellenic Air Force Museum at Dekeleia – Tatoi Air Base 

And the list goes on… See each European country’s national website for more options. 

Airships and Aerospace

Zeppelin Museum Friedrichshafen // Photo by Matti Blume – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=75114480

It’s not simply fixed wing aircraft that draw flying buffs. How about places to explore the history of airship travel? Or experiences that replicate space travel?

One airship attraction is the Zeppelin Museum Friedrichshafen in Germany. European travelers will find an extensive collection covering the history of airship travel. Most notably, the famous LZ 129 Hindenburg is displayed, as well as a 1938-era Maybach Zeppelin.

In Tonder, Denmark, the Zeppelin and Garrison Museum reflects the area’s history. In the First World War, the Germany Imperial Navy operated Zeppelin airships from Tonder city.

On the aerospace side, those seeking to really “fly high” who are taking an Abercrombie & Kent “Tailor Made” journey in Europe can become an “astronaut for a day.” A&K’s “Insider Access” experience unfolds at Soesterberg, Netherlands, where Nancy Vermeulen, a commercial airline pilot-instructor who participated in 2008’s European Space Agency astronaut selection, will take travelers on an inspiring theoretical session in space travel

First, A&K’s travelers will learn about the history and future of space flight, followed by a lesson in spatial disorientation. Then it’s off to lunch, before the traveler boards the Desdemona Simulator to experience life as a real astronaut—imitating how it feels to be aboard a commercial spaceflight as a space tourist. Once the person “returns to Earth,” he or she will receive a certificate of completion.

Independent travelers might head to Technik Museum Speyer in Germany, Europe’s largest space exhibition. Look for Space Shuttle BURAN, plus aircraft, locomotives, fire engines, bikes and more.

Finally, some sites reflect the genius of one individual in the aviation field. For example, the Dornier Museum in Friedrichshafen, Germany is dedicated to Claude Dornier, his achievements in aviation and aerospace history.

More Ahead

On the horizon, Aero Park, a multi-purpose entertainment project and the first theme park based on an airport, was announced in 2019 and is planned for Belgium. Aero Park will have an indoor entertainment center that includes a zeppelin, flight simulator, climbable control tower, interactive exhibits and mascots dressed as pilots, flight attendants and air-traffic controllers.

So, heading to Europe, aviation buffs will find plenty of airplane, helicopter and aerospace fun. Many of the above museums are back open with others reopening soon, Check websites for the latest details. But it’s certainly a good time to start thinking about indulging your aviation passion and “take flight” to explore Europe’ enticing aviation museums and attractions. 

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