London with kids,  Travel

Free plane spotting at London City Airport – a day out with kids

Both my kids love planes. Before he was 1, my son saw a soft toy in a petrol station while we were fueling the car. He fell in love with it: a blue aeroplane from the movie “Planes” (which we hadn’t yet seen). When we moved to London, he kept showing us the planes in the sky (there are quite a few!).

When my daughter started pointing to things, the first things she would point to were the planes in the sky. And when the grandparents came to visit, she asked them to draw planes for her with every occasion she got (indeed my father draws pretty nice aeroplanes). Since she has started drawing, she draws… planes, of course!

So yesterday, while having lunch, an idea came to their minds. Why don’t we go to see the aeroplanes landing and taking off? Let’s go to London City Airport to enjoy some plane spotting with the kids!

I wasn’t ready for this, it was not what I had in mind for a cloudy windy rainy day like yesterday. On the other hand, I too wanted to go out with them. I also knew all museums and indoor spaces would be really crowded because of the “holiday + cold day” combo… While at the airport you are outdoors, yet protected from wind or rain, need be, and it is quite fun… So yeah, why not? Let’s go!

Wind checked (will tell you later where and why), water bottles, backpack, some melon and cereal bars, helmets, scooters, and off we go! It took us about 1 hour to get there by train to London Bridge, underground (Jubilee Line) to Canning Town and DRL to London City Airport. We have been there several times before (maybe 7?) so we knew our way around the airport.

Where can we watch planes at London City Airport?

The airport in itself doesn’t have a viewing area. Yet you get a great view from this area next to the on site car park.

After getting off the DLR, head towards the airport entrance. Go pass by it, and head to the car park (or car rentals if you want to follow arrows). This is how you get to this area which has a great view of taking offs and landings. There, you are protected from wind and rain and the kids have a great area to run or ride their scooters (when it’s not crowded, of course). So, on the left, there are the water and the plane tracks, and on the right, there is the car park.

Children spotting planes landing and taking off at London City Airport

One important thing you might want to check before you take a trip to see the planes: the wind. Depending on its direction, the planes can take off towards the airport building (which is really fun) or from the airport building (which is not that exciting as you can hardly see anything). And planes take off and land against the wind. Therefore, since the single 1,199 m runaway is built from west to east, if the wind blows from the west you get to see the fun takeoffs. I usually check the wind direction on windy.com.

I took the two photos below as soon as we arrived in the area. The plane speeds up, you can hear the engines, and then the front wheel lifts off the ground and yey! The plane takes off!

Watch the planes taking off at London City Airport
Free plane spotting in London with kids on a day out

And then, if you look towards the east, you might see a plane getting ready to land. In the next photos, you can see (well, hardly see in the first one) a plane landing.

Kids spotting planes landing - London City Airport
Plane is approaching the airport, getting ready to land
The plane has landed at London City Airport

And another one is heading to the end of the runaway, getting ready to take off.

Then turns around and speeds up and takes off.

And this is my son, watching every move the plane does. We were heading back to the DLR but we would still stop on our way to see planes taking off. This was a really fun afternoon as we spent there around an hour and a half.

In my opinion, plane spotting at London City Airport is a lovely idea for a day out with kids. It’s independent of the weather, kids love the experience, it’s not crowded and you can see many planes in action (I think we saw 7 taking off and 3 landings or something like this). And you can easily check to see when more planes land or take off, just by visiting the London City Airport website.

Have you ever been there or are you thinking of going? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

PS. If you’re looking for more ideas for days out with kids in London, here are some idea you might like.

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6 Comments

  • Ashley Lavoie

    I’m in the United States, so I am nowhere near you, but this post and just the idea itself is fantastic! On cold days off, the last place I want to go is indoor playgrounds where they are typically coated in germs. I’ll definitely keep going to our local airport in mind – that would be a great field trip! Our closest large airport is about an hour away as well, so it would become a fun day trip. Thanks for the tip, hope your kids had an amazing time!

    • raluca

      I’m not a big fan of indoor play areas either. And if one day you come to London, keep this spot in mind 😉 In the meantime, hope you find a great viewpoint at your closest large airport – one hour away is the perfect distance for a day trip, isn’t it?

  • Live Learn Better

    This brings back my memories of living in London. My commute from Abbeywood to London Bridge, then Jubilee Line to Canary Wharf are priceless to me now. That is a cheap fun that keep the kids occupied and engaged at the same time.
    I Miss LONDON!!!!

  • Chelsae

    My daughter has recently started to love planes! I have been wanting to take her to an airport so she can watch them land and take off. I wish we lived in London to use this airport.

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