When we think about adventure, travel and exploration, we think about train stations as a means to an end. Most of the time we go charging through these often necessary yet unremarkable structures, head down, phone in hand, and never give them a second glance.
But there are some train stations across the globe which offer something more than newspaper stands and hot beverages. In fact, some of these stations are so epic and surprising, that you may not even mind if your train is delayed
During the golden age of rail, the train signalled a new and exciting way to travel and the stations built at the time reflect that enthusiasm and sense of awe. Even today, architects go all out to build mesmerising structures that will amaze anyone who takes the time to stop and stare.
Not all of the world’s most epic stations are grand structures or architectural masterpieces, though. Some let the grandeur or significance of their location take centre stage, while others are keepers of an eccentric past and are fascinating for their quirks.
From the futuristic Gare de Liege-Guillemins in Belgium to the Victorian Chhaatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, some stations can be an attraction in their own right. Read our list of 20 of the world’s most epic train stations and discover the cool surprises that lie within.
20 20. A UNESCO World Heritage Wonder: Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai, India
Like the Pyramids of Giza or Persepolis, this place is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Originally constructed in the late 1870s, it took ten years to complete, and cost £260,000 when it was finished in 1888, which by today's standards was probably around half a billion pounds.
Designed by Frederick William Stevens and originally named in honour of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, it features a stunning blend of Victorian Italianate Gothic Revival and traditional Indian Mughal styles. It also houses a few surprises, like the relics of firefighting equipment and a secret tunnel basement treasury room. And if the station looks familiar to you, that’s because you probably saw it in the movie Slumdog Millionaire.
19 19. A Modern And Traditional Mash-Up At Kanazawa Station, Japan
The ultra-modern entrance to the Kanazawa Station was unveiled in 2005 and it definitely make you want to stop and stare. The station’s hand-drum-shaped wooden Tsuzumi Gate and glass and steel Motenashi dome were designed to represent the fusion of modern technology with traditional forms. Outside, a futuristic fountain displays the time like a digital clock.
It’s all very cool but not everyone was impressed at first. Kanazawa is an historic town and some criticised the station for not representing that. But time passes, and the station has come to be much-admired the world over.
18 18. The Masterpiece Mural At Estacao De Sao Bento, Portugal
Occupying the site of the former convent of S. Bento de Avé-Maria in Porto, the Estacao de Sao Bento was opened to the public in 1916, and although the train station is very striking from outside, with its Parisian-inspired design, the real beauty lies inside.
Its main hall features an exquisite blue and white mural depicting scenes from Portugal’s history. It took artist Jorge Colaço 14 years to complete the masterpiece, using 20,000 tin-glazed ceramic tiles. However, what few people know about this beautiful station is the legend of the sweet and stubborn ghost, that, according to the legend, roams the halls at night.
17 17. An Oasis in Central Madrid: Estacion De Madrid Atocha
Originally assembled in 1851, the first iteration of this station burnt down in the 1880s but was re-built using leftover wrought iron dragged south by Gustave Eiffel, the architect of a certain Parisian tower.
Also, because tropical gardens are all the rage, they decided to place one smack dab in the middle of the terminal, and it’s still there today, in case your wandering Madrid and get struck with the sudden urge to visit tropical flora.
A sombre and minimalist Atocha station memorial, which includes a virtual shrine, was built to remember the victims of a 2004 attack.
16 16. The World's Highest Train Station: Tanggula Mountain Railway Station, Tibet
Located at a staggering 16,627 feet above sea level, the Tanggula Mountain Railway Station in the Tibet Autonomous Zone is the highest train station in the world. The waiting room here is equipped with oxygen, and you may well need it. The Qinghai Tibet Railway, on which the station stands, is 1215 miles long and has the most spectacular views of the Tanggula Mountain range.
Although passengers are not permitted to board or alight at this station as of 2010, many routes on the China railway network still pass through here, and it is not uncommon for trains to occasionally stop here to wait for other trains to pass, allowing passengers to take in their mountainous surroundings.
15 15. One Of The World’s Most Visited Attractions: Grand Central Terminal, New York, NY
While most people call it Grand Central Station, this New York landmark is actually officially titled Grand Central Terminal. Either way, it is arguably the most famous train station in the US and it’s the sixth most visited tourist attraction in the world, bringing in over 26,000,000 visitors annually.
It also has the most platforms of any station in the world. And on top of that, there's also a top secret basement, coined ‘M42,’ that you can't find on any map, and it has one of the coolest ceiling murals you’ll see outside the Sistine Chapel.
14 14. East Meets West At The Kuala Lumpur Railway, Malaysia
The striking building, completed in 1910, incorporates a variety of design elements from all over the East and West, sometimes referred to as Neo-Moorish/Mughal/Indio-Saracenic/Neo-Saracenic. The unique blend of styles was meshed together by architect Arthur Benison Hubback.
Weirdly, considering the country’s climate, Kuala Lumpur Railway Station was built to withstand up to a depth of two feet of snow. Even the roof above the train station platform was also built to accommodate heavy snow. That’s next level planning for all eventualities.
13 13. The Gateway To Japan’s Capital: Tokyo Station
The starting point of the country's railway network, travellers in Japan are likely to pass through this landmark at least once. Situated in the historic and political centre of Tokyo, the station is a destination in its own right, and more than 350,000 passengers pass through its turnstiles on a daily basis.
At its centre is the red brick Marunouchi Building, featuring reconstructions of two roof domes that were were destroyed in WWII bombings. Eight zodiac symbols are featured on the interior of its octagonal domes, representing points on a compass - the tiger, for instance, points northeast - and a subterranean network is rumoured to exist, linking the station to government buildings.
The station is one of the safest places to be in an earthquake, as the entire station is protected by a seismic isolation structure.
12 12. A Must-See For Design Junkies: Southern Cross Station, Australia
Melbourne’s Southern Cross attracts tourists and design-lovers from all over the world, who admire the station for its innovative and beautiful design. While the station in this spot dates back to 1859, the undulating, sand dune-shaped roof designed by Grimshaw Architects was completed in 2006 and covers an entire city block of over 60,000 square meters. The roof was designed to allow for cooling through natural ventilation, and to allow fumes and exhaust from trains to leave the station.
11 11. When Environmental Meets Artsy: Uelzen Railway Station, Germany
This railway station is located in the northern town of Uelzen, at the eastern edge of the Lüneburg Heath Nature Park, and was redecorated in 2000 by famous Austrian artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who spent his career championing the curve of organic nature against the straight line.
With its toy-box pillars and giant gold orbs, and very cool public bathrooms, the station has become a tourist attraction in its own right and welcomes over 450,000 visitors every year. The station also aims to be environmentally and culturally oriented and has photovoltaic cells on its roof.
10 10. Tinkle Elton John’s Ivories At St Pancras Station, United Kingdom
Often called the “cathedral of the railways,” when this London station was opened in 1868, its arched train shed, designed by William Henry Barlow, had the largest single-span roof in the entire world. Its flamboyant design was also considered not just old fashioned but vulgar.
Threatened several times with demolition, St Pancras has done more than survive: these days, the station has 15 platforms, is a Eurostar terminus, a London Underground stop, a shopping centre and a bus station. And for anyone passing through who may have noticed the Yamaha piano that sits in the concourse - Elton John left it there as a donation after surprising members of the public with a performance back in February 2016, but not before signing it with the words: ‘Enjoy this piano. It’s a gift. Love, Elton John.’
9 9. The Station At The End Of The World - Cascada De La Macarena, Argentina
We’ve all heard of end of the line, few of us have actually been there. The ‘End of the World Station’ is in Patagonia and it is the last stop on the world’s most southerly railway line.
It was originally a steam railway built to serve the former Ushuaia prison, which was the most southerly penal colony in the world. The prison population then went on to become some of the area’s first settlers. If you don’t get out at this station, there is literally nowhere else to go.
8 8. One Of The Most Beautiful Stations In The Southern Hemisphere - Dunedin Railway Station, New Zealand
George Troup designed the Dunedin Railway Station in a revived Flemish renaissance style and the building features white Oamaru limestone facings on black basalt rock. The sheer size, grandiose style and rich embellishments of the station earned the architect the nickname of Gingerbread George. The building was completed in 1906 and cost £340,000 at the time.
The booking hall features a mosaic floor of almost 750,000 tiles of Royal Doulton porcelain, and the one kilometre main platform is the country's longest. Every October, it is transformed into what is probably the world's longest catwalk as it’s home to a major South Island fashion event.
7 7. The Highest Station In Europe: Jungfraujoch Railway Station, Switzerland
Many of the stations are on this list because of their spectacular facades and architectural aesthetic. Not this one. It’s underground. It’s not grand, or especially beautiful. However, it’s everything going on above ground that will make you want to visit.
Jungfraujoch is the highest-altitude railway station in Europe at is at 3,454 metres, and it offers splendid views of the Jungfrau and Mönch Alpine peaks, glaciers, valleys, and on a clear day you can see all the way to the Black Forest in Germany and the Vosges in France. It’s one epic location.
6 6. Africa's Beaux-Arts Masterpiece: Maputo Railway Station, Mozambique
Maputo’s landmark train station is one of the city’s most imposing buildings and since its construction in 1916, it has been wowing passengers with its impressive copper dome, wrought iron latticework, grand verandas and pillars, gracing the dark-green exterior.
Different features of the building were designed separately - the dome was designed by an associate of Alexandre Gustav Eiffel, of Eiffel Tower fame, with Mario Veiga, José Ferreira da Costa, and Alfredo Lisboa de Lima also having contributed.
Inside is the Kulungwana Espaço Artístico, with a small exhibition of works by local and visiting artists, and sculptures and paintings for sale.
5 5. A Mishmash Of Styles: The Milano Centrale, Italy
One of the busiest stations in all of Europe, King Victor Emmanuel II laid the cornerstone for the building in 1906, though it opened much later in 1931. Architect Ulisse Stacchini based his design for the building on Washington DC’s Union Station, but after Italy suffered a serious economic crisis during WWI, construction on the building proceeded extremely slowly, and the original simple building design started to become more and more elaborate as time passed.
When he came to power, Benito Mussolini pushed for the building to become a symbol of strength for the fascist regime. The end result is a gorgeous and original blend of a variety of architectural styles, including Modernism, Art Nouveau and Art Deco.
4 4. The Futuristic Station Liege-Guillemins, Belgium
This sleek, curvy train station in Liege looks like something from a sci-fi film and has earned the contemporary architect, Santiago Calatrava, countless accolades. The station is strikingly modern, with a monumental arch that reaches 105 feet tall consisting of steel, glass, and white concrete. The canopy covers five platforms and extends over 145 meters
While the station only houses five platforms, it is one of the most important hubs in Belgium because all of the tracks are compatible with high speed trains. The main concourse has plenty of shops, cafés, and restaurants, plus a tourist information office and ticket office.
3 3. The Icy Glaciers Of Hungerburg Station, Austria
Architect Zaha Hadid set new international standards for modern architecture when she designed the Nordpark Cable Railway, a four-station funicular line that replaced a 100-year-old tram and transports passengers up a vertiginous incline for 1.1 miles above Innsbruck.
The extraordinary design of the stations is said to have been influenced by glacial movements. Each station, capped with swooping glass shapes, resemble ice floes and snowdrifts. The contrast between the arched shape of the roofs and the firmly anchored concrete bases make the stations unique, and gives them an almost magical sense of weightlessness.
2 2. Brazil In Scotland - The Estacao Da Luz
Created at the end of the 19th century as the main hub for the newly founded São Paulo railway, the Estação da Luz was actually built in Glasgow, disassembled, and then reassembled in São Paulo. At the time, coffee was shipped by railroad, making the station an important throughway for commerce.
Neglected for many years, it was restored in the 1990s and now houses the Museum of the Portuguese Language.
1 1. A Wait At Hua Hin Railway Station, Thailand
This beautifully colourful station, fit for royalty, might not be epic on a big small, but the beauty is in the small details. Built in the reign of King Rama VI , 1910, the station is one of Thailand's oldest railway stations, and merges traditional Thai aesthetics with Victorian architecture, making for a truly unique structure. Its most striking feature is the splendid Royal Waiting Room, which was relocated from Sanam Chan Palace in Nakhon Pathom province during the reign of King's reign.
References: condenastetravler.com, fodors.com