When you’re racing from city to city on a grand rail adventure, it can be easy to overlook Europe’s beautiful train stations. These impressive structures date back hundreds of years, and they’re much more than just functional arrivals halls – many hold fascinating histories and are examples of the continent’s best architecture. Next time you’re training it through Europe, stop and look up if you’re lucky enough to enter one of these iconic stations.
Antwerp Centraal Station | Antwerp, Belgium
Antwerp’s Central Station dates back to the turn of the century. It’s quite easily one of the most opulent and impressive railway stations in Europe. This neo-Baroque station has at least 20 different types of stone and marble, and the iconic antique clock still serves as the station’s dramatic centerpiece. It functions primarily as a through-station, and connects Amsterdam to Paris and Lille.
Good to know: Want to back up one of Europe’s most beautiful train stations with some literature? Read W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz, which opens in the main hall of Antwerp Centraal.
Gare du Nord | Paris, France
Paris’ famous Gare du Nord is possibly more impressive outside than in, so don’t forget to take a walk outside if you’re just passing through. This Beaux-Arts style building is adorned in statutes signifying where many of Nord’s trains are heading or coming from. The massive arched windows let in copious amounts of light onto the platforms inside. If you’re coming on the Eurostar from London, this is the station you’ll arrive at.
Good to know: The station has appeared in several famous films, including Amélie, The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Ultimatum, and Ocean’s Twelve.
Estação de São Bento | Porto, Portugal
Porto’s Estação de São Bento is a tourist attraction in its own right. This beautiful station, built on the site of a former convent, is adorned in vast blue and white tile murals that depict important moments in Portugal’s history. It took more than 14 years to complete. Legend has it there are more than 20,000 ceramic tiles making up the various masterpieces.
Good to know: Don’t forget to catch a view of this station from the outside. The mansard roof and stone front offer a fascinating nod to Parisian architecture.
Estación De Madrid Atocha | Madrid, Spain
Madrid’s Atocha station is more jungle, less train station. When a fire gutted the original building, Alberto de Palacio Elissagne and Gustave Eiffel replaced it with a dramatic wrought-iron structure. In the early 90s, city officials decided Madrid needed a more modern and efficient station, and built a modern terminal adjacent to the original building. This meant that the original station was no longer needed as a transport hub. However, it paved the way for it to become a beautiful destination in its own right, complete with large trees, ponds, cafés, shops, and even a nightclub.
Good to know: This station was the site of a terrorist bombing in 2004. There is a moving memorial to the event and the victims inside.
Amsterdam Centraal Station | Amsterdam, Netherlands
Amsterdam’s Central Station is a beautiful building conveniently located in the heart of the Dutch capital. While it may have signaled an end to the city’s seafaring past by blocking the view of the waterfront, it is now a popular attraction for many visitors. Many regard it as one of the best examples of Dutch neo-Renaissance architecture. It’s a beautiful and bustling transit hub more than worthy of a few photographs.
Good to know: If you’re looking for another famous building by designer Pierre Cuypers, head to the famous Rijksmuseum.
Gare De Lyon | Paris, France
Paris’ Gare de Lyon is well worth a visit, even if you do not intend departing from it. This beautiful station with its large clock tower, impressive stone façade, and glass ceiling was commissioned for the 1900 World Exposition. Its celebrated restaurant – Le Train Bleu – has served countless famous guests, including Coco Chanel, Salvador Dali, and Bridget Bardot.
Good to know: The station only services routes to the south and east of the country. Unless you’re heading to or from Switzerland, Germany, Italy, or Spain, you may have to make a special trip here.
Budapest-Nyugati Pályaudvar | Budapest, Hungary
Budapest’s Western railway station, or Budapest-Nyugati pályaudvar, is one of the city’s famous structures. The station was built by the Eiffel Company in 1877, and it is suitably impressive both inside and out. It is one of the city’s three main railway stations. Chances are you’ll pass through here on a journey north or west of the country.
Good to know: If you’re looking to stock up before or after a trip, the large WestEnd City Center shopping mall adjacent to the station should have you covered.
When you’re racing around trying to catch trains, it can be difficult to stop and fully appreciate Europe’s beautiful train stations. But if you’re traveling Europe by train, there’s a good chance you’ll cross paths with more than one of these famous stations. Plan ahead and arrive with extra time to spare.
Originally written for Eurail.com