There’s no more elegant way to travel than by train, and taking a rail break in Europe is about as good as it gets. Home to some of the world’s greatest rail stations, the continent is an enthusiast’s paradise. After all, you don’t hear people coming back from a holiday and raving about how stunning the airport was, do you? Nope, a rail break in Europe is the way forward – with that in mind, here are Europe’s most beautiful train stations and the ones you have to see.
Built and opened in the early 20th century, Antwerp Centraal is often described as ‘The Cathedral’ of train stations, and frequently voted amongst the world’s most beautiful. We couldn’t agree more. The stone edifice is singularly impressive and, once you’re done being overawed by it, beyond lies a fascinating train station with an intriguing mix of architectural influences. The whole station is over 1300ft long, and the shopping centre within contains a gallery with a staggering thirty diamond shops.
Berlin Hauptbahnhof is a fascinating train station for its status as the beating cultural heart of the city it serves. Home to a shopping mall with over 80 shops and an urban beach with lots of outdoor bars, the futuristic-looking complex is a vibrant attraction day and night. The current structure – with its distinctive glass and steel domed roof – was completed in 2006, with two sets of terminating tracks running perpendicular to each other on upper and lower levels.
Madrid Puerta de Atocha is without doubt one of the world’s finest train stations. The Spanish capital’s largest, the station is famous for housing over 250 different plant species in a stunning indoor tropical garden that stretches to 4000m2. Whilst the stunning old terminus itself has been taken out of service, the grand old building on Plaza del Emperador Carlos V is now home to dozens of shops, trendy cafes and even a nightclub.
Gorgeous both inside and out, Milano Centrale looks something like an Opera House – the Art Deco windows bathe the monumental train shed in a dreamy light, and the impressive steel structure makes it Italy’s finest train station by far. The marble station hall itself is 200m wide, and features intricate carvings along its sides. The station was opened 1931 after decades of construction, and although initially modelled after Washington DC’s Union Station, the influence of Mussolini’s interventions can be seen throughout.
The second Belgian station on our list is in the country’s third largest city – Liège-Guillemins train station in Liège was reopened in 2009, and couldn’t be more different to Antwerp Centraal. This ultra-modern building looks like something from a Stanley Kubrick film, and it’s a top contender for best modern train station in the world. Designed by controversial Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava in his distinctive neofuturistic style, the €300 million station is constructed from steel, glass and white concrete.
The second largest train station in France, La Gare de Strasbourg is the thinking man’s station. Traditional meets contemporary at Strasbourg train station, which looks something like the architectural love child of the stations in Antwerp and Berlin; the historic main hall, built in its current form in 1883, is protected under a beautiful glass canopy, variously described as its ‘shell’ and a ‘bubble’. A sight to behold, the old meets new structure has been pulling in visitors to the city since 2007.
Whether on a European rail break, flying into the city, or taking a popular minicruise and transferring to the centre, Amsterdam Centraal is most visitor’s first impression of the Dutch capital. The iconic rail station is the most-visited Heritage Site in The Netherlands, and was opened in 1889; be sure to gaze up from the busy plaza outside to take in the breath-taking details of the roof. The architecture of its edifice is Gothic and Renaissance influenced, and is deliberately evocative of medieval cathedrals and palaces.
Special Mention: London St Pancras
Chosen by Newsweek as the world’s best train station, St Pancras International is the gateway to Europe; choosing a Eurostar break to Paris or Brussels, you can travel on to a wealth of top cities right across the continent. Home to an impressively long Champagne Bar, a plethora of delightful shops and beautiful statues The Meeting Place and of John Betjeman, the Grade I listed building has a brilliant mix of Victorian grandeur and contemporary flare.
Any great stations we’ve missed? Let us know what you’d add to our list in the comments section below!