The airport was built in 1930 when transatlantic flights became routine, but were still at the limit of aviation, especially westbound against the headwinds. For the next 50 years the airport was a major gateway for military flights, and then for civilian passenger and cargo flights as these expanded post-war. Around it grew a sprawl of related services and industries. Prestwick acted as a rest and re-fueling point on the "Great Circle", the shortest route between Europe and North America via Greenland, and it was seldom foggy. When the rest of Britain and Ireland were socked in by bad weather, Prestwick's big runway was the last hope for transatlantic aircraft. One that didn't make it was a USAAF flight in 1944 that crashed into the town, killing all 20 on board and five on the ground.
The airport lost much of its commercial role in the 1980s when the next generation of aircraft had greater range, so Europe even to Los Angeles non-stop became practical. Those aircraft also had better instrumentation and bad-weather capability, so they weren't disrupted by fog over London. However Prestwick continues to be a major base for aviation services, Atlantic air traffic control, sea-rescue helicopters, air cargo and military flights. That was how it came to be the only place in Britain where Elvis Presley ever set foot (at least in his earthly form), as he returned home in 1960 from US Air Force service in Germany. Foreign VIPs sometimes arrive here for the same reason (plus it's handy for Donald Trump's golf resort at Turnberry), and that big runway means there are proposals for Prestwick to become Europe’s “space port”. This is expected to come into operation about the same time that Elvis next turns up for open-mike night in an Ayrshire pub.
- Glasgow Airport (GLA IATA) is some 30 miles north but is almost always the best airport for reaching Prestwick and the county of Ayrshire, because of its range of UK, European and long-haul destinations. Take the airport bus to Glasgow Buchanan bus station, then bus or train south towards Ayr as described below.
- 1 Prestwick Airport (PIK IATA) (north edge of Prestwick town). The only passenger airline nowadays is Ryanair who mostly fly to holiday destinations in the Med and Canaries. So it's a nice quiet airport, which still has a role in taking Glasgow folk on their holidays, but you'd only use it to get in if you were based near those destinations. (That could mean bargain fares, as you'd travel against the flow eg at Easter or May holiday weekends.) As of Sept 2019 these are Alicante (ALC IATA), Bydgoszcz (BZG IATA), Barcelona El Prat (BCN IATA), Faro (FAO IATA), Fuentaventura (FUE IATA), Girona (GRO IATA), Gran Canaria (LPA IATA), Ibiza (IBZ IATA), Lanzarote (ACE IATA), Malaga (AGP IATA), Malta (MLA IATA), Murcia (MJV IATA), Palma de Mallorca (PMI IATA), Pisa (PSA IATA), Rome Ciampino (CIA IATA), Rzeszow (RZE IATA) and Tenerife South (TFS IATA).
- Ground transport from PIK: Prestwick town is close enough to walk. Buses and trains between Glasgow and Ayr call at the airport, see below. By train, you get half-price on the standard fare (for Glasgow about £9 single, £10 return, so you save £5) by showing your flight confirmation. You can't do this online or at a ticket machine, so buy from a ticket office (eg at Glasgow Central), or from the train conductor if there isn't an ticket office (which includes PIK itself).
Trains run from Glasgow Central via Paisley, Kilwinning, Irvine and Troon to Prestwick Airport, Prestwick Town, Newton-on-Ayr and Ayr. There are four an hour M-Sa but it feels like only two, as a slow train taking 50 min departs just after the faster train taking 40 min; only two per hour on Sunday. The last train is at 23:00. In 2022 an offpeak single is £9.40 - the half-price deal for tickets to and from the airport isn't available for Prestwick Town. Change at Ayr for Kilmarnock, Girvan, Stranraer, and the bus to Cairnryan and Belfast. Change at Kilwinning for Ardrossan (for ferry to Arran), West Kilbride and Largs (for ferry to Great Cumbrae).
2 Prestwick Town station is north side of town. It has a staffed ticket office and machines, toilets and a waiting room. There is level access to Platform 2 (southbound to Ayr) and a steep ramp to Platform 1 (northbound to Glasgow).
Prestwick Airport station is just a platform halt with no ticket office, machines or anything else, but you can use the airport facilities. There is access by lift to both platforms.
Stagecoach West Bus X77 runs from Glasgow Buchanan station to Prestwick airport (45 min), Prestwick town and Ayr. It runs every 30 min M-Sa, hourly Su, from 07:00 to 23:00.
Bus 4 trundles every 30 min from Glasgow via Giffnock, Fenwick and Kilmarnock to Prestwick and Ayr. It takes almost two hours so only use it for local journeys.
Bus 14 runs every 45 min from Irvine to Troon, Prestwick town and Ayr.
Bus 585 runs down the coast from Largs every 30 min via Fairlie, West Kilbride, Ardrossan, Saltcoats and Stevenston to Prestwick airport, Prestwick town and Ayr.
It's easy to walk around town and its limited amusements, and even to the airport if you're not too laden. See above for Buses 4, 14 and 585 along the coast main road.
Taxi operators are Streamline (+44 1292 261010) and Prestwick (+44 330 001 0967) - neither are reliable. They were hoping you were a big party of Americans taking a cab to Trump Turnberry or better still to St Andrews, not a shopping trip to Irvine. See Ayr for more operators there.
- St Nicholas Old Kirk was a 12th century outpost of Paisley Abbey, now a ruin near the railway station. The modern St Nicholas church is a quarter mile south.
- 1 St Ninian's is an Episcopal church, opened in 1926 over the site of a makeshift chapel-cabin for First World War troops stationed locally. Adjacent is Bruce's Well - Robert the Bruce was supposedly cured of leprosy by sploshing in its waters circa 1300. That shouldn't have taken long, as he never did have leprosy or any other destructive skin condition, according to the forensic reconstructions that became possible in the 21st century. A similar miracle cure is needed for the well itself, which has became shabby.
- 2 Shaw Monument is a 50-foot tower built some time before 1775, probably so the laird could watch falconry over the nearby wetlands, now drained. It's described as a "folly" but overlooks the airport so inevitably the story goes that it was an early ATC control tower - maybe for the 1691 Flight of the Wild Geese? It's unsafe to enter so it's fenced off and the doorway is bricked up.
- 3 Macrae Monument can be seen from the farm track that bridges A77 near the Premier Inn. It was built around 1750 as a family mausoleum, promptly collapsed, was rebuilt, collapsed again, and not until 2001 was a reliable brickie hired. Macrae had got stinking rich in Madras, now Chennai, and built Orangefield Hall nearby. Its fate was to become the terminal and control tower of the aiport in 1943, then it was demolished in the 1960s.
- 1 Prestwick Golf Course, Links Rd KA9 1QG. The Links Old Course was host to the first 12 Open Championships 1860 to 1872. The course is 6908 yards, par 71. Combi-package with Turnberry & Royal Troon available. From £200 / round peak, cheaper off-season.
- Open Links of Ayrshire is a combi-package with Prestwick Old Course, Trump Turnberry north of Girvan and Royal Troon. Reckon £2000 for a couple playing all three, plus accommodation and meals at Turnberry. You can't book this online, call +44 1655 333 991 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Prestwick has two other courses suited to the budgets of mere mortals, and there are several more in nearby Troon and Ayr.
- 2 St Nicholas Golf Club, 31 Grangemuir Road KA9 1SN. Course is 5415 yards, par 72, and hazards include the old salt-pan buildings and flooded quarry. May-Sept £75 / round, £250 / four-ball, less in winter.
- 3 St Cuthberts Golf Club, East Road, Prestwick KA9 2SX. This is inland, so it's not machair, but sloping greens to gently roll your ball into trouble. 5993 yards, par 70. Round £60.
- Scottish International Airshow has not been held since 2018. It was supposed to return in Sept 2022 but didn't, and its future is uncertain.
- Heathfield retail park at the south edge of town has ASDA and other major stores.
- A strip of cheap eats along Monkton Rd / Main Street includes Mamma Mia, Spice Cube, Lido, Scruffy Duffy's, and Vito's.
- The Vine, 132 Main Street KA9 1PB, ☏ . Su-Th 09:00-00:00, F Sa 09:00-01:00. Good for light bites, but gets great reviews for its full meals.
- Taj, 141 Main Street KA9 1LA, ☏ . Su-W 14:00-22:30, Th 12:00-22:30, F Sa 12:00-00:00. This family-run Indian restaurant gets good reviews.
- The Prestwick Pioneer, 87 Main Street KA9 1JS, ☏ . Daily 08:00-00:00. Decent JD Wetherspoon pub with meals. The Prestwick Pioneer was an early 3-seater de Havilland intended for light miltary use, but that didn't materialise so it was modified for civilian use such as pilot training.
- Other Main Street pubs are Smugglers, Red Lion, Caprice and the Golf Inn.
- 1 Golf View, 17 Links Rd KA9 1QG, ☏ . Clean comfy welcoming B&B. B&B double £110.
- 2 Carlton Hotel, 187 Ayr Road KA9 1TP, ☏ . Efficient modern hotel, their restaurant gets mixed reviews. B&B double £110.
- 3 Premier Inn Prestwick Airport, Kilmarnock Rd, Monkton KA9 2RJ (jcn A77 with A78), ☏ . Not one of the Premier chain's better offerings. It's tired and dowdy, but if you're even more tired after a long flight it will do as a one-night flop. B&B double £90.
Prestwick town, airport and approach roads have 4G from all UK carriers. As of July 2022, there is 5G from EE and Three but it's patchy.
- Head to Ayr for the Robert Burns Heritage Park at Alloway, 3 miles south of town.
- Ardrossan has ferries to the charming island of Arran.
- Ferries to Cumbrae sail from Largs, and to Bute from Wemyss Bay.