March 2024

An aviation lover’s guide to London

From trailblazer Blue Plaques to Concorde replicas, plane-tastic pop art to hot air balloon launch sites, here are some places to get your aviation fix in and around the capital

Many of us like flying, but some of us love flying. If you’re in that category, then get yourself to London. Not only do its airports offer potential for fans to spend happy days spotting jumbos, but there are retro airline logos hiding in plain sight and galleries with early aircraft to contentedly trawl. You can even buy air-themed antiques – if you know where to look.

Imperial Airways mosaics

Where? Hatton Cross, TW6 3RE

Before British Airways there was BOAC, and before BOAC came Imperial Airways. Imitating three airborne avians and created in 1932, Imperial’s elegant Speedbird logo survives in eye-catching mosaic form on platform pillars and as a motif in the atrium windows at Hatton Cross – the Piccadilly Line station next to Heathrow. Replaced by the Landor livery in 1984, ‘Speedbird’ survives as our callsign when communicating with air traffic control.

Royal Air Force Museum

Where? Barnet, NW9 5LL

With six aircraft-lined hangars to roam, a RAF Eurofighter Typhoon flight simulator and the ability to sit in the cockpit of a Spitfire, it’s easy to experience all the thrills and exhilaration of flying with the Royal Air Force in its free museum. The family-friendly space offers interactive and educating trails for all ages, plus digital mission experiences.  


The Sussex Arms

Where? Paddington, W2 1HL

A sister establishment to Sussex Gardens’ boutique Stylotel, the Sussex Arms bar is an ode to air transportation. Either side of a ride on the Heathrow Express train, drinkers can sip their pint or ‘Aviation’ cocktail – London dry gin, crème de violette, lemon juice and a maraschino cherry – in original Concorde seats while admiring an illuminated Airbus engine surround attached to the 19th-century ceiling.

Battersea Park (and Power Station)

Where? Battersea, SW11 8DD

This decommissioned power station is more than just a shopping emporium extravaganza. Each summer (weather permitting), its park hosts the Lord Mayor’s Hot Air Balloon Regatta, London’s only official ballooning event. The floating parade harks back to Battersea’s aviation history. Charles Rolls (of Rolls-Royce fame) and the Short brothers (inspired by the Wright brothers) both used Battersea as a balloon launch site in the early 1900s.


Imperial War Museum

Where? Lambeth, SE1 6HZ

Many aviation fans feel the gravitational pull toward Britain’s iconic symbol of wartime victory: the legendary Spitfire. Dominating the atrium inside the (free to visit) Imperial War Museum, the Spitfire Mk la R6915 served with No. 609 RAF Squadron, completing 57 combat missions during the Battle of Britain in 1940. The first ‘jump jet’ – a fixed-wing aircraft capable of vertical take-off and landing – is also homed here.

Flight exhibit at the Science Museum

Where? Kensington, SW7 2DD

Revisit the pioneering days of flight at this free, permanent gallery at the Science Museum. Overhead walkways lead past the Vickers Vimy, a bomber that completed the inaugural non-stop Atlantic crossing in 1919, and Gipsy Moth, in whose cockpit Amy Johnson became the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia, plus a complete slice of a Boeing 747 jumbo.


Amy Johnson Blue Plaque

Where? Hendon Way, NW2 2PE

Heralded ‘Queen of the Air’ by the British tabloid press, pioneering aviator Amy Johnson became the first woman to fly solo from London to Australia, in 1930, in just 19 days. She continued to break flying records in the decade that followed and was the first British woman to qualify as a ground engineer. Head to Cricklewood to see the house where she lived after moving to London from Yorkshire, her home county

Sir Alan Cobham Blue Plaque

Where? Peckham, SE15 5NR

A pioneering long-distance aviator, Cobham broke aviation records for being the first person to fly from London to Cape Town, and then London to Australia, in 1925 and 1926 respectively. He flew 23,000 miles around Africa for Imperial Airways in 1927, later organising flying tours of the United Kingdom to provide the splendour of flying to the public for the very first time. Visit his birthplace in Peckham.

blue plaque

Brooklands’ Concorde replica

Where? Grosvenor Place, SW1X 7HJ

A fine-dining restaurant atop The Peninsula hotel and offering terrific sunset views over Hyde Park, Brooklands is aviation-obsessed. That explains why it doesn’t only have a scale-model Concorde replica on its ceiling, but also an original Concorde nose cone on display and much furniture from Heathrow’s old Concorde lounge. Equally compelling is Michelin star-winning chef Claude Bosi’s creative European cuisine.

London Transport Museum

Where? Covent Garden, WC2E 7BB

Aviation and Tube lovers unite! Head to the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden for a crowd-pleasing day out celebrating the spectacular development of London over the years via its moving parts. Along the way, witness a parade of more than 5,000 vintage posters spanning 100 years – eagle eyes will spot a Concorde or two. Annual pass from £18.


British Airways Heritage Centre, Waterside

Where? West Drayton, UB7 0GA

Did you know that we have our very own time capsule at our HQ, around the corner from Heathrow T5? The British Airways Heritage Centre displays the vast change in commercial air travel over the last 100 years, and is home to more than 400 uniforms from the 1930s to present day, plus photographs, books and posters, airplane seats and an ode to Concorde exhibition. Keep an eye on Eventbrite to register for upcoming talks and events. Entry is free.


Where? Clerkenwell, EC1V 4PE

Newly published in a magazine format, Direction of Travel is a stylish newspaper devoted to the culture of flying, airports and pressing aviation topics. Historic route maps are paid particular attention, with infographics designer Christian Noelle using them to tell the story of long-lost networks. Magculture, a shop devoted to independent publishers, stocks the latest issue (£16).

Sir George Cayley Blue Plaque

Where? Hertford Street, W1

The eccentric Yorkshire country squire examined birds and the relationship between wing size and body weight to design prototype gliders in the first half of the 19th century. He was full of feasible technological ideas but lacked the means to get them off the ground, both figuratively and literally. Despite this, he was the first person to identify the four-vector forces of flight: thrust, lift, drag and weight, and is now widely championed as ‘The Father of Aeronautics’.


Whaam! 1963, Tate Modern

Where? Bankside, SE1 9TG

A trip to London isn’t complete without a wander around the Tate Modern, especially if your venn diagram sees art and aviation overlap. Head to the free Media Networks: Beyond Pop exhibition and you’ll be rewarded with American pop artist Roy Lichtenstein’s famous Whaam! This 1963 large, two-canvas acrylic and oil painting features an American fighter plane firing a missile hitting an enemy target, rendered in the formal tradition of machine-printing comic strips.  

Plane-spotting at London City Airport

Where? Royal Docks, E16 2PX

Serving European destinations, London City’s solitary 1,508m runway and steep, 5.5° approach path receives planes as big as an Airbus A318, most courtesy of BA CityFlyer services. The website lists several great viewing points for non-passengers, including looking across to photogenic Royal Albert Dock. Be mindful of the airport’s weekend closures.


Sir Frederick Handley Page Blue Plaque

Where? Grosvenor Square, W1K 6LE

Retrace the steps of British aircraft designer Sir Frederick Handley Page in Grosvenor Square, Mayfair. Page founded the first British aircraft manufacturing corporation, Handley Page Ltd, in 1909, which built the Handley Page 0/400, one of the largest heavy bomber planes used in World War I. His company later built the Halifax heavy bomber, used during World War II. He was knighted in 1942.

Pullman Gallery

Where? St James’s, SW1Y 6QU

Arty, late 19th- and 20th-century collectables await at this compact space on King Street, opposite Christie’s auction house, including plenty with an aviation focus. Antiques on show and available for purchase at the time of writing included an Art Deco Zeppelin model ‘smoker’s companion’, its main fuselage doubling as a cigar receptacle, and the spring propeller serving as a cutter.

To discover more aviation hotspots in Greater London – and beyond – check out this guide to AV day trips for all the family

This article has been tagged Adventure, Culture