Train stations are often synonymous with way stations—simple stops along the way that are the gateway to travel, places visitors simply pass through on their way to somewhere else. However, some train stations are destinations unto themselves; cathedral-like in appearance, they carry a historical significance all their own that’s often understated by their dynamic architecture and elaborate design.
To spot these testaments to transportation one only has to visit any number of distinctive spots in Europe—from modern marvels to historical hybrids and everything in between, these European stations prove that sometimes train stations are more than just functional hubs. Impressively ornate and elaborate landmarks representing the golden era of train travel through their architectural magnificence and everlasting charm, these European gems are worth adding to any travel itinerary.
The Stately Strasbourg-Ville
One of France’s busiest train stations and second-largest rail hub, the Gare de Strasbourg-Ville is a time traveler from the 19th century that, despite its 20th-century additions, remains a testament to its historical past. Since 2007, the station has been ensconced in an enclosure composed of a whopping 900 glass panels, making it possible to still view the original landmark building through a more modern lens. Filled with a plethora of both architectural and historical secrets, the Strasburg-Ville remains a cornerstone of transportation that’s also a modern landmark of architectural design. Pl. de la Gare, 67000 Strasbourg, France
Over The Top Style At Milano Centrale
Milan’s Milano Centrale station is large in both its scope and its architectural excesses—twice the size of the world-famous Duomo, the Centrale’s ornate oeuvre is evident both inside and outside the station. With a positively palatial exterior and an interior dominated by a riotous mishmash of architectural styles from art nouveau to art deco, this early 20th-century gem was originally intended to be simplistic but was granted its excess ornamentation by none other than Benito Mussolini himself. Piazza Duca d'Aosta, 1, 20124 Milano MI, Italy
St. Pancras International: A Central London Gem
A standout in central London because of its classic red brick facade; arched windows; and late 19th-century Victorian charm, St. Pancras International is gorgeously Gothic and oh-so-very Victorian—a time-traveling classic straight from the streets of the late 19th century. Though not as glamorous as some of the other stations on the list, St. Pancras’ classy arched windows and imposing clock tower lend it an imposing historical charm; while its plethora of shops, restaurants, onsite five-star hotel, and benches made from the 2012 Olympic rings give it a contemporary and alluring city feel. Euston Rd, London N1C 4QP, United Kingdom
Eclectic Feels At Madrid Atocha
With an architectural pedigree that includes the iconic Gustave Eiffel (yes, the very same visionary responsible for the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty), one can understand why the Madrid Atocha in Spain’s bustling capital is considered a masterpiece of both engineering and architectural design. While the original building dates back to 1892, an annex was added nearly one hundred years later to accommodate the increasing number of travelers through this vast and impressive example of dynamic design—making room for the old platform area to be converted into a lush, indoor garden full of tropical plants from all over the globe. Pl. del Emperador Carlos V, 28045 Madrid, Spain
A Turreted Travel Hub At Amsterdam Centraal Station
Saying that the Amsterdam Centraal Station is palatial would be an understatement—one only has to glimpse its turreted towers and distinctively Gothic/Renaissance revival looks to get a sense of its architectural majesty and signature style mashup. Designed by Dutch architect Pierre Cuypers whose Rijksmuseum is another royally reminiscent Amsterdam institution, the Centraal Station’s aesthetic appeal is only outweighed by its architectural aplomb—namely, the impressive array of over 8,000 wooden tiles over three manmade islands that support the station on its impressive perch over the IJ River. Stationsplein, 1012 AB Amsterdam, Netherlands
Antwerpen-Centraal Station: A Grandiose Gem
With a nickname like Spoorwegkathedraal (“railroad cathedral”), the Antwerpen-Centraal Station’s grandiosity is implicit in its design and highlighted by the glam architectural touches that adorn its main hall. Think luxe marble floors; sinuously constructed iron and glass windows; and a grand staircase centerpiece that lends the wide and airy space the sacred hush of the divine despite the busy bustle of passengers traveling throughout its four levels. Originally built in 1905, the station was restored to its former grandeur during renovations and expansions in the first decade of the 21st century, adding a contemporary mien to the classically adorned yet functional Belgian station. Koningin Astridplein 27, 2018 Antwerpen, Belgium
The hustle and bustle of travel often relegate train stations to the background of travelers’ consciousness; after all, it’s often the functionality and punctuality of transportation that matters most when riding the rails—especially in a strange and unfamiliar place. However, there are a number of train station gems throughout Europe that are renowned as much for their architectural design and distinctive beauty as they are for their train travel that’s both speedy and efficient; places full of historical significance and untold aesthetic charm that are worth a visit—even for travelers who aren’t catching the next train out.