Train journeys, most certainly, offer breathtaking scenery, but get ready for spectacular sights when you pull into some of the world’s most amazing train stations – symbols of past empires that have survived wars and the onslaught of urban development.
Words: Efi Eqbal Images: Inmagine, Getty Images & Corbis
SIRKECI STATION (ISTANBUL, TURKEY)
This art-nouveau train station was built in 1890 for the luxurious and ambitious Orient Express journey from Paris to Istanbul. The façade of this Ottoman building is a sight to behold with its immense red brick entrance. Each step you take from then on is gloriously lit by colourful splashes of light streaming in through the massive and intricate stained-glass windows. This original main entrance is no longer used, but many will make it a point to visit this part of the train station where Turkish heritage performances and exhibitions are held; if you’re lucky, you might even catch whirling dervishes in action!
Revelling in the beauty of the station is one thing, but if time and money are on your side, do experience the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express journey that retraces the historical train route in restored coaches from the 1930s once a year. Besides departing from the stunning Sirkeci Station, it also departs from Brussels, Budapest, London, Prague, Venice and Vienna. Passage is often sold out up to the following year, so it’s never too early to book your seat. www.vsoe.com.
CHHATRAPATI SHIVAJI TERMINUS (MUMBAI, INDIA)
This awe-inspiring station is a blend of Indian architectural traditions and a Victorian Gothic Revival style. Its palatial design makes it one of the most recognisable stations in India, and every visitor who sets foot in this station, experiences a small glimpse of the majesty of old India. The turrets and elaborate ornamentation are similar to that of the Mughal and Indian palaces that were built across the subcontinent. The station was originally called the Empress of India, named for England’s then-reigning monarch, Queen Victoria. It remains an iconic landmark of Mumbai and a transit hub for at least three million commuters daily. The station was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.
There are hidden details to seek out as you walk through this station. Sculptures carved into the tops of columns at the entrance are examples of the great architectural symbolism to be found here – for example, a lion to represent Britain and a tiger to symbolise India. whc.unesco.org/en/list/945.
KUALA LUMPUR RAILWAY STATION (KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA)
Built by English architect A.B. Hubback, this station of neo-Moorish and Mughal design elements opened in 1910. It replaced the old Resident Station – so named due to its close proximity to the British Resident’s home in British Malaya. The tracks that passed through Kuala Lumpur Railway Station linked Kuala Lumpur to Singapore. In 2001, a new railway hub, KL Sentral, was built nearby, and now functions as the country’s main railway hub. However, the ‘old station’, as the historic white structure is fondly called, still serves travellers journeying from one end of Peninsular Malaysia to the other, with tracks that cross into Singapore in the south, and into Thailand in the north. It is also one of the main stations for intercity travellers on the KTM Komuter train. This station’s architecture remains a historical marvel with intricate white minarets and elaborate domed roofs of Mughal influence.
The station mainly serves local commuters, but many tourists make it a point to appreciate its beauty when in Kuala Lumpur. Another noteworthy attraction is the KTM headquarters (the railway administration building) across the road. With architectural design elements that mirror the old station, it is also considered an important heritage building. www.ktmb.com.my.
ANTWERP CENTRAL STATION (ANTWERP, BELGIUM)
Antwerpen-Centraal, as it’s called in Flemish, is often regarded by architects as one of the finest examples of railway architecture that draws from an extensive array of designs. Turrets frame a dome above the grand hall with marble, glass and gold finishing, while large, iron-framed, glass-vaulted domes hover above the main waiting area. When work began on the station, there was substantial criticism over the extravagant use of 20 different types of marble and stone, but when this neo-Baroque station was completed in 1905, its beauty silenced even the harshest of critics.
After refurbishment, the station now has three levels of train tracks, but the best viewsof the glorious glass-vaulted, iron-framed dome ceilings are from the original uppermost platform. http://goo.gl/kYdeE6.
GRAND CENTRAL TERMINAL (NEW YORK, USA)
This beaux-arts terminal, constructed at the beginning of the 20th century, celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. Grand Central Terminal is New York’s hub for commuter transit to the suburban towns of the tri-state area and the most famous train station in North America – with good reason – it is one of the top 10 most visited tourist destinations in the world! Its domed gold and cerulean blue ceilings with symbols of astronomy, four-faced clock at the main concourse and 42nd Street entrance façade with the giant Tiffany clock are but some of the most iconic elements to take in at this station. But more than mere function, this station provides a lifestyle, with 68 outlets for shopping and dining while waiting for your train.
Pick a dining spot, order a cocktail and enjoy people watching at one of the great bars on the palatial mezzanines. Better yet, take the self-guided audio tour and discover lesser-known gems of the terminal on your own! www.grandcentralterminal.com.
ATOCHA STATION (MADRID, SPAIN)
Modern, high-speed trains pass through this station connecting Barcelona and Sevilla to Madrid. Atocha Station is the pride of Spain; its design, which features a lush indoor garden of tropical palms, ferns and flora, brings life into the main concourse. Travellers who arrive by train find themselves in a botanical garden where trees reach up to the steel and glass roof. Since 1992, this part of the original building no longer functions as a terminal, and the station has since undergone massive renovations. The main concourse now serves as a waiting area where you can buy tickets, and hop from cafés to shops and even a nightclub, so you can party all night long before catching your early morning train.
The station became the target of a series of bombings on March 11, 2004. Some 191 people were killed and another 1,800 were injured. It was determined by the Spanish judiciary that the attacks were launched by a terrorist cell in Spain. Visitors can pay their respects to the bomb victims at the memorial just outside the station; a 36-foot-tall glass cylinder is inscribed with messages of condolences from the days following the attacks. www.gomadrid.com.
KANAZAWA STATION (KANAZAWA, JAPAN)
This station has undergone a series of transformations and facelifts since it opened on April 1, 1898. It is now a modern architectural wonder elevated above street level. Traditionalists were initially dismayed by the modern entrance to the station when it was unveiled in 2005. The design of the Tsuzumi Gate, a wooden hand-drum shaped gate with a glass dome, became a controversy as it clashed with the traditional architecture of this old castle town – Japan’s best preserved, as it was spared the bombings of WWII. However, in recent years, with the approval of tourists and artists worldwide, sceptics have learnt to embrace the beauty of Kanazawa’s sleek, modern design.
While visiting the futuristic Tsuzumi Gate is a must, there’s also the must-see, über-cool fountain clock that displays time as a digital clock would, just outside the main entrance. www.kanazawa-tourism.com.
SOUTHERN CROSS STATION (MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA)
What was once called the Spencer Street Station became the Southern Cross Station in 2005 as part of an elaborate modernisation project in Melbourne. Parts of this station were refurbished with the exception of the roof, which was rebuilt, mimicking undulating waves; in coverage size alone, it stretches an entire city block! Its design, more than mere aesthetics, serves a practical purpose: To ventilate the train platforms by drawing out train exhaust and fumes through its pitched domes. This station is one of Melbourne’s must-see landmarks.
Make your way to the western end of the station and behold an extensive and colourful mural on the history of transport. This 27-panel frieze was originally installed in 1978, but was removed and restored during renovations. www.southerncrossstation.net.au.
ST PANCRAS INTERNATIONAL (LONDON, ENGLAND)
Design critics raved about the beauty of this neo-Gothic red-bricked station when it was unveiled in 1868. In the 20th century, when the novelty of train travel began to wear off, so did the popularity of St. Pancras. In the early 2000s, it received a USD1.3 billion makeover where almost 140,000 kgs of dirt from the dilapidated red bricks were removed, the broken bricks were replaced, and the roof’s 8,000 glass panes were restored. This central London railway station is one of the finest Victorian landmarks in England today, and is home to the Eurostar Rail that traverses Europe. It boasts Victorian Gothic design elements that have often earned it a description as ‘the cathedral of the railways’ despite a refurbishment that has infused its design with a more modern and sleek feel.
This is more than a station; it’s a train station-cum-mall, if anything. Expect art, shops, restaurants and even events and music performances. This station has hosted live gigs by top international singers and musicians like Jamie Cullum, Ed Sheeran and Urban Voices Collective. If you have the luxury to splurge, book the Chamber Suite at the newly-restored St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel, which is part of the station’s structure, for a stunning view of the blue Barlow train shed; it’ll be worth the money. www.stpancras.com.
The first movie to be set on a train was the 1903 fi lm The Great Train Robbery starring Gilbert M. ‘Broncho Billy’ Anderson. It was a 12-minutelong silent fi lm about four bandits who rob train passengers of their valuables, only to be killed in a shootout afterwards. It was the first film to show a villain shooting at the feet of a man, forcing him to ‘dance’ – a concept that continued to be featured in later Westerns.
TRANS-SIBERIAN RAILWAY, ASIA
The route plied by the Trans-Siberian offers the longest train ride on earth cutting across 10 time zones as it travels through Russia, China and Mongolia. In Russia alone, the journey from Moscow to Vladivostok is 9,297 kms long! www.trans-siberian.co.uk.
WHITE PASS & YUKON ROUTE, ALASKA
Adventurers will appreciate this journey through narrow passes that climbs up to 3,000 feet over undulating hills with views of snow capped mountains. www.wpyr.com.
DEVIL’S NOSE LINE (NARIZ DEL DIABLO), ECUADOR
The journey starts at the city of Riobamba and zigzags down the shockingly steep Devil’s Nose mountain to the beautiful highland town of Alausi; it’s a real thrill as you ride backwards! www.trenecuador.com.
DARJEELING HIMALAYA RAILWAY, INDIA
This is one of three Indian railway routes designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site; the train runs from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling, providing views of lush mountainous countryside and tea plantations. dhr. indianrailways.gov.in
ROCKY MOUNTAINEER, CANADA
Passengers enjoy gourmet meals, luxurious climate-controlled two storey coaches and panoramic views of snow-capped mountain ranges, alpine forests and clear rivers. www.rockymountaineer.com/en/.
Get great flexibility and perks with Hi-Flyer!
Enjoy two flight changes (up to 2hrs before), Xpress Boarding, Pick A Seat, complimentary 20kg baggage allowance and earn 2x BIG Points!