10 Imposing, Beautiful Railway Stations of the World

antwerp-central-railway-station-2 (Image: Paul Hermans; explore some of the world’s most imposing and beautiful railway stations)

There’s a romance about train travel that not many other forms of transport can match. Even in an age where steam is a thing of the past, and we’re run from station to station in identikit capsules, there’s still something moving about a railway journey. When that journey begins in one of these beautiful and imposing stations, that vague feeling can easily give way to awe.

These railway stations represent train travel as more than a way of getting from A to B. They represent it as a way of reconnecting with that lost romance of the rails.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai (India)

Chhatrapati-Shivaji-Terminus-Mumbai-India (Image: Joe Ravi)

Seen from afar, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai looks less like a train station, and more like some ancient Indian temple. Ornate towers spiral away into the heavens. Pillars frame misty views of the teeming city. Remarkable domes jostle for space alongside gargoyles. The whole railway building seems alive with the possibilities of both architecture and train travel.

Yet for all it may seem like some old Indian ruin, the man who designed it was resolutely British. The work of architect F. W. Stevens, the terminus was started in 1878 with the intention that it should be a symbol of Empire. Not that Stevens constrained himself inside the prejudices of the day. He brought in Indian craftsmen to build his masterpiece, and made sure to incorporate design ideas from the country as well as from Britain. The result is a imposing railway station so spectacular, it’s on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

Helsinki Central Station (Finland)

helsinki-central-railway-station (Image: Marcela)

A vast clock tower made of granite looms up over the busy streets. Either side of a grand entrance stands two brooding pairs of angular giants, sternly clutching vast globes. The railway building itself is a hymn to local granite, a rhythm in pink. Welcome to Helsinki Central Station.

Designed by Eliel Saarinen in 1909, and built in 1919, the railway station is today one of the most-admired on Earth. Meant to showcase a modern, rational style, it instead created something almost impossibly imposing. A giant monument to early 20th century architectural ideals. Interestingly, it wasn’t meant to be this way.

The initial design for the train station was a romantic, nationalist one that was ultimately abandoned. And good job it was, too. Today, Helsinki Central Station is an awesome sight, seeming to dwarf the city around it.

Antwerp Central Station (Belgium)

antwerp-central-railway-station (Image: Jules Grandgagnage)

It’s often said that catching a train from Antwerp Station is like stepping into a railway cathedral. Built between 1895 and 1905, the stone-clad building is so grand you could easily be forgiven for making this mistake. The front entrance is an overwhelming cacophony of pillars, arches, domes and wrought-iron. The clock and window alone are masterpieces of beauty. Walking in, it’s hard to shake the feeling that this building is more-beautiful than any station has a right to be.

It’s in the entrance hall that all these different styles really come together. Despite featuring ticket desks, electronic screens and other modern conveniences, the hall seems to have been lifted straight from a Harry Potter novel. The marble floors, ornate decorations and sweeping stone columns seem almost religious in their grandeur. In a way, perhaps they are. The period up to World War One saw a massive expansion of train travel across the world, connecting people in a way that had been impossible only a century before. These new stations were designed to reflect that. Rather than cathedrals for God, they were temples for worshipping the magic of great railway journeys.

CFM Railway Station, Maputo (Mozambique)

CFM-Railway-Station-Maputo (Image: Dumplestilskin)

It looks like a governor’s palace in some grand old colonial town. A great mansion watching over a rural village. Built with help from designs by Gustav Eiffel, the CFM railway station in the heart of Maputo, Mozambique may not be quite as overwhelming as Antwerp Station, but it is certainly no-less beautiful.

Like many other colonies in Africa, Mozambique soaked up the peculiar architectural ideas that gripped the European empires of the time. Bright colors were mixed with stately white pillars. Large windows opened out onto verandahs. In the case of the train station, these same ideas were applied to a railway building ostensibly created for travel and trade. The result is a pistachio green wonder that could just as easily exist in the Caribbean or West Africa. Yet, it doesn’t. Somehow, only Mozambique was gifted a railway station as compelling as this. Today, many consider it one of Africa’s best architectural sights.

Zoloti Vorota Station, Kiev (Ukraine)

Zoloti-Vorota-Station (Image: AMY)

Deep below the bustling city of Kiev, the Ukrainian Metro is home to one of the world’s oddest, most-interesting stations. Opened in 1989 – just before the USSR collapsed – Zoloti Vorota is a meeting point for many different lines across Kiev. But what really marks it out as special is its architecture. The work of Borys Zhezherin, Vadym Zhezherin and Mykola Zharikov, it’s meant to resemble an ancient Kievan Rus’ temple.

The extent to which the designers went to achieve this effect is staggering. Lighting comes in the form of iron chandeliers, and wall-mounted fluorescents disguised as candles. Mosaics in the style of early Christian worship decorate walls and ceilings, and tunnels are designed as a series of arches resting on gigantic stone pillars that commuters must pass through. There’s even an underground vestibule some 96 meters below the surface. The effect is one of slipping backwards through time, to a distant, semi-mythical past.

Formosa Boulevard Station (Taiwan)

Formosa-Boulevard-Station-Taiwan (Image: Peellden)

The result of a 2009 remodeling, Formosa Boulevard Station in Taiwan looks from the outside like just about any other station in the world. Part of the Kaohsiung metro, it nonetheless houses a great secret. A secret that elevates it from being a normal metro station, into one worthy of being placed alongside places like Antwerp Central. Formosa Boulevard is home to the Dome of Light.

The largest work of glass in the world, the dome is a multicoloured wonder. Two glowing pillars support a cacophony of light and colour that depicts traditional imagery of Taiwanese life. Designed by Italian artist Narcissus Quagliata, the whole edifice consists of 4,500 glass panels. The effect is to make wandering through Formosa Boulevard Station feel less like a regular commute, and more like a journey into the sublime.

Novosibirsk Station (Russia)

Novosibirsk-Station-Russia (Image: Oskar Karlin)

Russia’s third-largest city is also one of its most-remote, squatting out on the howling emptiness of Siberia, not too far – relatively speaking – from the Kazakhstan border. An important stop on the Trans-Siberian Express route, it’s home to galleries, nightlife… and one of the most wonderfully-overdone train stations in the world.

Built in the era of Stalinistic architectural excesses, Novosibirsk Station isn’t especially beautiful, sleek or modern. What it is though is imposing and grand on an unlikely scale. A vast, green sweep of a building, it looks more like a Tsar’s palace than a commuter hub. High windows, neo-classical pillars and arches all combine to make it look out of place on the cold Siberian tundra. Yet they also give Novosibirsk a regal edge it would otherwise lack. For travelers taking the great Trans-Siberian route across the vast and groaning continent, this railway station makes for a grand place to alight.

Yerevan Station (Armenia)

Yerevan-Station-Armenia (Image: Wiquijote)

Situated within spitting distance of Mount Ararat, Yerevan, the capital of Armenia is one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities in the world. A beautiful mix of old, low buildings and discreet modern high-rises (at least, away from the industrial areas), it’s an understated, at times slightly-magical place. Part of this magic comes from the city’s wonderfully-understated train station.

Built in 1956, it marked the official home of a railway line that had been in use for over 50 years. Since 1902, trains had run from Yerevan into Georgia and, later, up into Persia. By the time the station was built, though, the global landscape had shifted wildly. Armenia was now under Soviet control. Yet the Communists didn’t stick the city with some unsightly concrete monstrosity. Instead they gave it a railway station of quiet dignity.

Simple, low-rise, but with one grand spire rising into the heavens, Yerevan Station is now a symbol of Armenia. So appreciated is the railway building locally that you can even buy its image on t-shirts.

Michigan Central Station, Detroit (USA)

magnificent-michigan-central-station (Image: Albert Duce)

You can keep your New York Central Stations, your Cincinnati Union Terminals, and your Washington, DC Union Stations. Beautiful and awe-inspiring as they are, there’s only one American railroad station that makes this list for us. Michigan Central Station is possibly the most-imposing, most-tragic, railway building in the whole of the United States.

Opened in 1913 and topping out at a whopping 18 stories, Michigan Central is like something from a dream. With its sheer size and power, it announced to the world that Detroit was a city on the up; a major force in the coming future of the world. Its design was as ostentatious as everything else. The lower floors were constructed like a Greek temple, with enormous arched walkways leading into the ticket office. Above that, a skyscraper seemingly ripped from Fritz Lang’s sci-fi epic Metropolis looked down on the humans scurrying to-and-fro below. It was a temple to travel.

Then it all came tumbling down. When Detroit imploded financially, the station became a ruin. Today it stands in the middle of an empty wasteland; a mirage rising from the troubled city. The windows are broken. The insides are decayed. Yet it almost doesn’t matter. Even as a ruin, Michigan Central Station remains a thing of beauty. Perhaps one day it will be regenerated and become a beacon of hope for a Detroit revival.

Kuala Lumpur Railway Station (Malaysia)

kuala-lumpur-railway-station (Image: Two hundred percent)

Opened to the public in 1910, Kuala Lumpur Railway Station in Malaysia is simply mesmerizing. Like Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai, it was built by the British at the height of their Empire. Like its Indian cousin, it also takes cues from local architecture. Whereas Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus looks like an old Indian temple resurrected from its ruins, Kuala Lumpur Station took its influences from buildings like the local Jamek Mosque.

The result is a glowing white masterpiece of design that seems more like a mirage than a real building. Domes seem to float above their towers, supported only by slender pillars. Grand arches lead commuters into a dazzling maze. With its arched windows, endless corridors and minarets, this beautiful railway station appears almost religious in its scope. Unsurprisingly, this most-romantic of buildings frequently tops polls of the world’s greatest railway stations.

Related – 10 Abandoned (& Repurposed) Railway Stations of the World


About the author: Morris M




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