When we think of what amazes us, a train station isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Many of us take a train every day. And even if we don’t, we’ve all been in a train station at some time. If they were amazing, we’d know about it. Wouldn’t we? Maybe not. Most of the time we go charging through, head down, phone in hand, and never give them a thought. Not so long ago, during the golden age of rail when most of these train stations were being built, it wasn’t like this. Back then the train signaled a new and exciting way to travel. It came with new architectures and new technologies, it stank of romance and adventure. Architects went all out to build the grandest buildings they could. More than a hundred years later, many of those buildings are still with us. So to try and recapture that golden age, here are 20 of the most amazing train stations in the world.
Grand Central Station, New York
You know it’s going to be here, so let’s jump the line and get it out of the way. New York’s Grand Central Station is iconic, grand, frenetic. The beating heart of the capital of the world. This wasn’t always the case. When Grand Central Depot opened in 1871, 42nd Street was upstate. The station may be the first to have referenced Air Rights. The selling of empty space above the site helped to finance its construction. When you arrive, be sure to visit the Grand Central Market, The Oyster Bar that lists over 250 varieties of oyster, and to look up 125 feet at the astrological murals that adorn the ceiling.
Lyon Airport Station, France
Opened in 1994 and designed to look like a bird in flight, the Airport Station at Lyon is in fact a Klingon warship. The station was built primarily to serve the high speed TGV train with connections to the Saint-Exupery airport. While appealing to look at both inside and out, it’s turned out not to be all that practical. Located about 15 miles outside of Lyon, it’s proven easier and cheaper for residents to use stations within the city. And that’s what they tend to do.
Dunedin Train Station, New Zealand
Dunedin used to be the busiest train station in New Zealand, but as times changed and interest in rail travel and the economy declined, so did the Station. Since opening back in 1906 it has reincarnated itself. The ground floor is now a restaurant, while the upper level is home to both the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame, and the Otago Art Society.
Luz Station, Sao Paulo
An early rail version of today’s modular homes. The station was assembled in Glasgow, Scotland during the 19th century, and then moved to Sao Paulo and re-built. It seems like there might have been an easier way, but having never built a railway station, what do we know? Once there it was left to fall into gradual ruin until people suddenly remembered what a beautiful building it was, a classic of Victorian design. Renovations began in the 1990s. The station also houses the Museum of the Portuguese Language.
St. Pancras International, London
After a hundred years of no one paying it much attention, St. Pancras had started to look like someone’s slightly batty grandmother. A bit shabby, a bit disheveled, and liable to say something embarrassing in public. That was a decade ago, before the station went in for a tummy tuck and 150 tons of wall-dirt lipo-suction. The result was a head-turner, a vision of Victorian restoration. This is rail’s bikini babe, a stunner of a station with the before-and-after pictures to prove it. The Barlow Shed is unlike any shed you’ve seen. An engineering marvel capped with two and a half acres of glass roof, and the largest enclosed station covering in the world. Visit the Champagne Bar, the longest bar in Europe. Take the Eurostar and wake to croissants, a demi-tasse, and the French.
Tanggula Mountain Railway Station, Tibet
If you’re looking to get high on a train without doing anything illegal, the Tanggula Mountain Railway Station might be your best option. At 16,627 feet above sea level, it is the world’s highest railway station. The waiting room here is equipped with oxygen. You may well need it. The Qinghai Tibet Railway, where the station stands, is 1215 miles long. But great views of the Tanggula Mountain range.
Gare do Oriente Station, Lisbon
Built for Expo 98’s World’s Fair, in addition to being an architectural wonder the Gare do Oriente Station is giant party-favor for train enthusiasts, a grab-bag of locomotion. Inside there’s metro, high-speed regional and commuter trains, a bus station, police station, and a shopping center. 75 million passengers pass through each year. The Gothic-influence design is by Santiago Calatrava, who also designed the new World Trade Center Hub in New York, which is due to open in 2015. He designed the Lyon Airport Station, too.
Jungfraujoch Railway Station, Switzerland
It may not look like much, but don’t worry because it’s underground and you won’t be able to see anything anyway. And even if you could, you wouldn’t want to spend the time. Your only interest on arriving at Europe’s highest rail station is to rush outside and rake your eyes across the great titty triumvirate, the triple-peak cleavage of the Monch, Jungfrau, and Eiger. You’re so close up here you could practically leapfrog each one, or reach across the crevasse to tweak a stiff Alpine nipple.
Kuala Lumpur Railway Station, Malaysia
If you have to get out of Kuala Lumpur on a train fast, the Heritage Station Hotel is the place to stay. It’s inside the train station. It’s like having the washer and dryer right there in your bedroom. Built in 1910 the train station features both east and west styles of architecture.
Atocha Station, Madrid
If you’re wandering around Madrid and struck with the sudden urge to visit a tropical garden, there’s 43,000 square feet of one at the train station. It was put there after the original building got out of the train business in 1992 and moved into shopping malls, nightclubs, and the tropics. The original was made predominantly of wrought iron, dragged south by Gustave Eiffel from the leftovers of his other structure. It was mostly destroyed in a fire in the early 1890s. In 2004 191 people were killed in a terrorist attack. A memorial has since been built at the station.
Amsterdam Central Station, Holland
Back in the 1800s, Amsterdam had a water front. You’d have really it. In what appears to have been universally considered a bad idea – catastrophic, according to some – the train station was built on it. It opened 1889 with a cast iron roof spanning 125 feet. For the past thirty years, the station has been under reconstruction. If you’re looking for evidence that smoking pot may affect clarity and focus, Amsterdam’s Central Station might be what you’re after.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai
You may know it as the Victoria Terminus. You may not know it at all. It was renamed. Chhatrapati Shivaji was a Maratha king from the 17th century, which is more fitting than Victoria. Opened in 1887 and completed in 1888, the style is Vicky Gothic Revival and traditional Indian, an architectural sweet and sour. Over a hundred years later the station was featured in the film Slumdog Millionaire. In 2004 UNESCO nominated it a world heritage site. In 2008 terrorists opened fire in an attack that killed fifty people.
Limoges-Benedictins Station, France
It has been named the most beautiful station in Europe. When the station first opened in 1950 it was made of wood. In 1860 it was made of stone. In 1929 another one was built. After a fire in 1998 and a bout of nostalgia, the copper and metal dome was rebuilt to its original design.
Hungerburg Station, Nordpark, Innsbruck
The Nordpark Railway comprises four stations leading to the spectacular mountain range north above Innsbruck. The unique designs by architects Zaha Hadid are said to have been influenced by glacial movements. We know this problem. We once owned a car influenced by glacial movements.
Antwerp Central Station, Belgium
Regarded as the prime example of Belgian railway architecture, train sheds don’t get much more sumptuous than this one. But more importantly, in 2009 a video at the station featuring the Rodgers and Hammerstein song “Do Re Mi” from the Sound Of Music went viral after passengers just happened to join in with the regular dancers.
Kanazawa Station, Japan
The station is above street level and features three island platforms. It’s dominated at the east entrance by the Tsuzumi drum Gate. It’s so big you might actually miss it, and not realize you just walked under a giant drum.
Union Station, Chicago
No one seems to have told Union Station that it’s a train station. It’s an event and wedding venue, a 20,000 foot Beaux Arts room with Corinthian columns and marble floors, it’s multiple-restaurant space with a shopping center a five-storey vaulted ceiling.Does it even know it’s got trains rumbling around underneath it? It’s a movie location as well – My Best Friend’s Wedding was filmed here. Are there any trains? We’re not sure. Who cares? Why would you want to go anywhere? The man who envisioned all this, architect Daniel Burnham, died before construction was completed.
Hua Hin, Thailand
The uniquely Thai station at Hua Hin was built during the reign of King Rama VI, 1910-1925. The Royal Waiting Room at the station is where he and his court would have been welcomed upon their arrival into the city. Not where he would have been standing around with his ticket waiting for the next train to arrive.
King’s Cross, London
This is where Harry went with Dumbledore after Voldemort zapped him with the fatal curse, so how could it not make the list of most amazing train stations? Aside from the fact it’s where the Hogwart’s Express left from at the beginning of every book. Beyond Harry, King’s Cross is one of London’s main rail stations. It opened for business in 1852, and like it’s neighbor St. Pancras has recently been renovated. Be sure to check out the new spacey departures concourse. Well, you can hardly miss it.
Cascada de la Macarena, Argentina
We’ve all heard of end of the line, few of us have actually been there. The fatally nicknamed ‘End of the World Station’ is in Patagonia and is the last stop on the world’s most southerly railway line. If you don’t get out here, there is nowhere else. It was originally a steam railway built to serve the Ushuaia prison. The end of the line.
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