True Awe Inspiring Stations part three

Awe Inspiring Stations part three

16. MILANO CENTRALE
Milano Centrale station

Forgive our clumsy attempts at being metaphorical, but Milano Centrale is a jewel box of a station.
We're not huge admirers of its exterior designed by Ulisse Stacchini, but his interior is superbly dramatic.

The passage from street to train involves progressing through a series of halls, each more wonderful than that which preceded it - the station speaks to its travellers and what it says is, "sorry for the need to climb these staircases, but I'll make sure it's worth the effort".

As can be seen above the staircases are wonderfully evocative, but thankfully they're no longer the only means of accessing the trains.


Milano Centrale station is so enormous that the coming of high speed age of trains didn’t present a challenge, so the station could retain its sense of being a celebration of the glories of train travel.

All of the trains depart from arrive under the undeniably dramatic glass roofs which span the tracks, though it is these which cast a shadow over the station, as they are direct result of an intervention into the station's design by Mussolini.

We have justified Milano Centrale's inclusion as we share the attitude to such matters expressed by the rather marvellous BeautyOfTransport - namely, 'if you can take it as read that finding the terminal interesting isn’t the same thing as approving of the regime which commissioned it, there is much about the building that still impresses'.

17. PADDNGTON (LONDON) more info coming soon
Paddington station at night
As we mentioned in part one, the UK station guides are very much on the way, so you will be soon be able to 'Read More' about Paddington - which will be useful as it can be a bewildering station to navigate.

We're honestly not submitting to hometown bias by including three of London's major railway terminals on this list, but Paddington couldn't be set aside.

The station isn't aesthetically perfect, Isambard Kingdom Brunel influenced the design of the station's glass roof, which to this day is largely unaltered since the station's opening in 1854, but the station has never had a spectacular departure hall, ticket office or other associated buildings.

What wowed us and we suspect many of our fellow travellers, is that Paddington must be a contender for Europe's best lit station.

The beautifully restored original train sheds are a magnificent sight by day, but when darkness falls the station truly sparkles.
A fantastic welcome to London for everyone disembarking on a train from Heathrow Airport.
 

18. RIGI-STAFFELL


The terminus stations on Swiss Mountain Railways are rarely as spectacular as the lines built to serve them - they can get away with being basic, as they don’t need to fulfil a role of enticing people on to the trains.
 

Rigi-Kulm, the terminus of the Rigibahn, is an exception, but the views are even more incredible from the preceding station, Rigi-Staffell.
 

Wait here for a train and on a clear day you can almost literally see forever.

19. ROTTERDAM CENTRAAL
Rotterdam Centraal station
Sweeping statement alert, but Dutch trains don't travel comparatively long distances so have no need to be particularly exciting, therefore the national rail operator NS seems to strive to use its major stations to proclaim that travelling by train is the way to go.

Dutch stations also tend to be exceptionally user friendly, but Rotterdam Centraal wasn’t meeting this criteria, hence a new station which harmonizes with a city that already hosts multiple outstanding examples of iconic modern architecture.

What we particularly admire is that the letters and clock pictured above also adorned the previous station building, a nice recognition that some examples of post WW II industrial design are worth preserving

Rotterdam is a great base for exploring The Netherlands and Benelux by train - and it now has an irresistible magnet for attracting travellers to make those journeys.


20.  SEVILLA SANTA-JUSTA (more info coming soon)

On a recent rail pass adventure we made a four hour detour in order to see Sevilla Santa-Justa station for ourselves, but we instantly decided it was worth the effort.

Those epic glass roofs that soar above many stations aren’t needed anymore - now that there’s no need to capture the smoke from steam engines, but they have been largely preserved elsewhere due to their ability to flood a station’s tracks with light.
 

A technique that was adapted for the 21st century at Sevilla-Santa Justa, but admittedly the sense of wonder here, is amplified by the contrast with the rather dark and not particularly exciting, main station building.
 

21.  ST. PANCRAS INTERNATIONAL (LONDON)

St Pancras International station

Technically St. Pancras shouldn't be on this list, as we admire, but don't adore, the station building itself.

When it was constructed in 1868 the beautifully restored roof, which spans the older part of the station, was the widest such structure in the world, but Barlow's creation was ultimately eclipsed in terms of awe, by the later larger buildings which it inspired.

The roof can only be seen at its best from the lesser used upper level of the station, though it makes for a splendid arrival spectacle when stepping off of a Eurostar.

However, if you arrive at St Pancras International by taxi or Underground and head straight for the Eurostar check-in you’ll miss out on the star of the St. Pancras show, namely George Gilbert Scott's magnificent hotel - and it is this which is pictured above.

The company which commissioned it, the Midland Railway, was a late arrival on the London railway scene and its direct competitors for the destinations it serves, had already established their London terminals either side of St. Pancras.

The hotel was to be the public face of the station so a statement was required which suggested an aura of superiority, hence the spectacle which can now be miraculously enjoyed today.
But only if you make the effort to step outside the station, or take the same route to the station that once the preserve of horse-drawn cabs.



22.  STOCKHOLM CENTRAL

Stockholm C station

If you arrive at Stockholm Central by Metro or commuter trains and immediately transfer to an express train heading south, you’ll understandably question why the station deserves its place on this list – as the platforms that the long distance trains depart from are frankly eyesores.

However, they’re a complete contrast to the station's main hall which is staggeringly wonderful – beautiful and enormous.

Its dimensions are due to the fact that it once housed the trains and their tracks/platforms, it wasn't originally supposed to be Europe's most magnificent station waiting-room.

The hall you pass through when using the main street entrance is also fabulous - and by way of contrast, as is the part of the metro station that serves the blue line!


23.  TORINO PORTA-SUSA

Turin Porta Susa station

Accommodating high speed trains often requires a transformation of a station and at Torino Porta Susa the option taken was a complete rebuild - in order to create a space with a 21st century aura and on a huge scale.

Whether you think it is good architecture or not, the dimensions and sense of space are impossible to ignore.

Though from the street the station is unremarkable and it seems to squat, but that's because the tracks are below ground level.

Upon entering the station the multiple levels and bridges, stairwells and escalators seem bewildering, but when you take a train from the station their purpose becomes clear - namely to make the transfer from street to train and vice versa as simple and as elegant as possible.

 
24.  VALENCIA NORD (more info coming soon)

This isn’t a list of Europe’s Most Beautiful Stations as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but a sense of wonder is hopefully more tangible - good or ill, the stations on this list can’t help provoke a reaction.

But at Valencia-Nord, that reaction surely can’t be anything but positive because it has been claimed by some as the most beautiful station in Europe - and when viewed both inside and out, it’s easy to appreciate why.

When the high speed line reached Valencia, its trains couldn't be accommodated in this masterpiece of art-nouveau architecture, which opened its doors in 1917.

Somebody made a brave decision to preserve Valencia Nord's majesty by accepting that the high speed trains would have to be housed in a more awkward location down the street - and we should be forever grateful.

25.  VENEZIA SANTA LUCIA

Venice Santa Lucia station

Art Deco swept like a wave across the Italian rail network in the 1930s, but Venezia Santa Lucia isn’t even the best example of the style - Firenze S.M. Novella takes those honours.
 

It’s Santa Lucia’s location which provides the station with its wow factor, stepping out of its exit and seeing the Grand Canal before you, never fails to be a jaw-dropping experience.


26.  YORK more info coming soon
Wonderful York station
Criticising the railways can verge on being a national obsession in Britain, but it won't be a huge surprise to discover that here at ShowMeTheJourney we're willing to stand up and defend many aspects of our national rail networrk.

And one of the more fantastic aspects of travelling around by Britain by train is the profusion of wonderfully preserved gems of early railway architecture, which have been largely updated to meet the needs of modern day travellers.

Arguably the best example of such a station outside of London is at York. Opened by the North Eastern Railway in 1877 it was clearly intended from day one to be the main rival to the city's 13th century minster in terms of architectural splendour.

Take away the intrusive overhead wires used by the electric trains and the station has been refurbished so it looks as splendid as it did on the day it opened.

If you're not burdened by luggage and have more than a passing interest in railway history, then time your journey, so that you have time to visit Britain's National Railway Museum. It's free to enter, though any voluntary donations are most welcome, and is only a 5 min walk from York station - the footbridge which spans the station leads to the footpath.

PART ONE

PART TWO

This isn't a list of user friendly stations (that's on the 'to do list'), when designing these statement pieces, the architects sometimes seemingly give scant attention to the ease of navigating or station, or what it feels like to wait for a train in bad weather.

It’s also not a comprehensive list, some stations such as Naploli Afragiola, Lisboa Garo Do Oriente and Helsinki Central remain on our must-see list – and we were prevented from taking pictures of Roma Tiburtina – which was a shame as we loved what we saw.

We hope to add them - and your contributions, in time.