The 8 best aviation and aerospace museums in Europe

Aeroplane museums are incredibly popular attractions, but with so many to choose from, where do you start?

If you’re looking for a unique visitor experience, an aircraft museum can be the perfect destination for hands-on history. Whether scrambling round cockpits, observing take-off and landing, or simply browsing exhibitions at your leisure, an airplane museum is a fantastic way to spend the day. The enduring appeal of these attractions is evidenced by their number: there really are so many to choose from, so where to begin?

This article will break down some of the prime contenders, helping you to tailor your visit and have the best day possible at the air museum of your choice. If your interest really is in the aeronautic, why not go a step further and make the journey part of the attraction? Few modes of transport to an aviation museum are as on-brand for the avid enthusiast as private jet charter, and some airport museums even have on-site runways – how efficient!

The Imperial War Museum, England

Let’s start with the largest aviation museum in Europe and work our way back from there. The Imperial War Museum in Duxford, Cambridgeshire, is the jewel in the crown of the UK aircraft museums, and a must-visit for anyone with an interest in aerospace. Although, as the name might suggest, the focus here is on mainly military aeronautics, the sheer number of aircraft on offer is sure to please any enthusiast.

Moreover, the Imperial War Museum’s status as the best air museum in the UK is a reputation not earned lightly: the rotating calendar of unique exhibitions and events ensures that the history on show is kept refreshed with unique, ever-evolving methods of presentation. If you’re looking for an aerospace museum that presents fascinating military heritage in a modern, accessible manner, then look no further than IWM Duxford.

Runway Visitor Park, England

If you and your fellow enthusiasts find the concept of a rigid, somewhat formal museum a little off-putting, then Manchester Airport’s Runway Visitor Park might be the perfect aircraft museum for you. In contrast to IWM’s historical approach, this airplane museum in Manchester is a little more up-to-date in its focus, with a flight simulator, Concorde tours, and even a viewing platform where the runways from Manchester Airport can be observed – you can’t get much more current in aviation terms than planes literally taking off in front of you!

Runway Visitor Park is an aviation museum for those looking for something more than the traditional, often stuffy manner of museums. If you’re keen on aeronautics but don’t want to spend hours fastidiously studying exhibits and reading information cards – you’d rather see, hear, and feel – then Runway Visitor Park might just be the aircraft museum for you.

National Air and Space Museum of France

In contrast, some love nothing more than a good, well-written placard explaining the history that surrounds an exhibit. If that’s the case, then for you the best air museums are the most comprehensive, and few can stake a claim on that title as strongly as the National Air and Space Museum of France.

This aerospace museum has all angles covered, whatever your unique niche of interest. Helicopters, commercial airplanes, spacecraft – even a planetarium – this plane museum has got it all and much more besides, guaranteeing that anyone who visits is sure to find something to scratch that aerospace itch.

South Wales Aviation Museum, Wales

For families, the thoroughness on which the National Air and Space Museum of France prides itself might seem a little off-putting. If you’re bringing the kids along, you’re likely looking for something a little more interactive, accessible, and – dare we say it – fun. While the latter of these adjectives might not seem like a word traditionally associated with airplane museums, South Wales Aviation Museum would beg to differ.

The hands-on nature of the cockpit experiences on offer at the South Wales Aircraft Museum provides children with a tangible way to get up-close-and-personal with these museum aircraft. Whilst it offers a fun day out in the short term, South Wales Air Museum also fosters an appreciation of aviation history that’s sure to see them return one day with their own kids!

Cornwall Aviation Heritage Centre, England

Another key entry in the vein of family-friendly aviation museums in the UK is the Cornwall Aviation Heritage Centre, or the Cornwall Aviation Museum, as it’s otherwise known. Perhaps a little more educational than its cousin across the border, the Cornwall Air Museum offers guided tours from local volunteers who take pride in telling the stories of the exhibits on show.

This personal, narrative-driven approach can resonate with children, but the provision of key educational opportunities guarantees that this day out is more than just a bit of fun. Any parent who’s ever helped their child with homework will attest to the fact that education aimed at children can often be enlightening for adults, too, so don’t be put off by the family-friendly label – this is among the best UK air museums for education, whatever your age!

Barcelona Aviation Museum, Spain

The Centro Cultural Aeronáutic, or Aeronautical Cultural Center, is perhaps not one of Barcelona’s best-known attractions. If the Sagrada Família, the Camp Nou, and Gaudí’s buildings aren’t doing the trick, though, this often-overlooked aviation museum really is worth considering. Relics from the history of Spanish aviation sit alongside modern, airworthy classics in this impressive collection, and any enthusiast is sure to be awed by what’s on display.

If you’re travelling to Barcelona with a view towards the Aeronautical Cultural Centre at Barcelona-El Prat Josep Tarradellas Airport, then it would be rude not to take in the Aeronautical Museum of Catalonia at Sabadell Airport, too. This two-for-the-price-of-one offer makes Barcelona a fantastic option for aviation tourism, and the journey could be refined even further by telling your private jet provider to arrive at one airport and depart from the other – allowing you to take in both of these aviation museums as part of your journey.

Aviation Museum Kbely, Czech Republic

If the thought of air museums further afield has sparked your intrigue, then how does Prague sound? The aviation museum at Kbely, one of the largest of its kind in Europe, includes 275 aircraft from across the last century. It’s not just quantity, however – there’s serious quality on offer too, as Kbely boasts a number of aircraft that you won’t find in any other airplane museum in the world.

With military, commercial, and historical exhibits on display, anyone with at least a passing interest in aviation is sure to enjoy time spent in this world-renowned museum and, as with Barcelona’s offerings, Kbely is conveniently situated next to an airport. Holidaying in the Czech Republic is easily accompanied by dropping into this nearby museum, as you’re sure to be at the airport anyway. For those more dedicated to their pursuit of planes, though, it might be worth a visit in itself – you could even arrive and depart on the same day! 

Euro Space Center, Belgium

What’s further afield than “further afield”? How about outer space? The Euro Space Center – disappointingly located in Belgium, and not on mars as one might have hoped – is one of the world’s most famous space museums, and for good reason. Its blend of informative content, interactive exhibits, and traditional museum-plaque-in-front-of-object setups ensure an appeal across the age spectrum.

While a glance at the Euro Space Center seems to suggest a more child-focused affair, their selection of adult programmes – including a cheese tasting experience – cements their cross-generational approach. They also offer overnight education camps for children, where they can learn, have fun, and – crucially – give their parents a day or two off to enjoy their holiday. Genius!

When do you leave?

Now that you’ve chosen the perfect air museum for your holiday – whether family-friendly, hyper informative, or packed with military history – you’re all set for the perfect aeronautical vacation. If your chief interest is aviation, you’ve chosen your destination because of its aviation appeal, and the entire purpose of your holiday is devoted to aviation, then why not extend that logic to the way you travel?

When designing every facet of your holiday around an interest in aerospace, you might be tempted to forget about arrival and departure, but fear not: customizing the entire experience is within touching distance! If you’ve got a favourite type of aircraft, let your charter provider know, and it can all be arranged so that you touch down in style before immersing yourself in some of the best aircraft museums that Europe has to offer.

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