Hlavni station in Praha is a contender for the somewhat dubious status of Europe’s most bizarre main city station.
This is partially because the rather literally named Brutalist style or architecture, much favoured by Eastern Bloc regimes, came very close to totally destroying the charming main station building, which had been constructed in an Art Nouveau style back in the first decade of the 20th century.
Though the remains of the beautiful original station are being restored, and outside what was once the main entrance there is now a taxi rank and some stops for local buses.
In the 1970s the city planners decided to build a new highway beside station, but not with the intention of making the Hlavni station easier to access by bus and taxi.
Until recently the road doesn’t didn’t serve the station at all, so cars and trucks race right by the upper storeys of the station building at more than 50 km/h.
To provide access by vehicles, a bus station and taxi rank were placed opposite the station, on the other side of the highway
Though fortunately prospective train travellers who find themselves here, don’t have to risk life and limb by dodging the speeding cars, because there are fancy lifts (elevators) with a Star Trek vibe, which convey those arriving by bus and taxi into the building below the highway.
The highway is in effect the roof of a shopping mall, but despite seeming at face value to look like any other mall opened in the 1970s, with its retro aura and groovy moving walkways linking the different levels, it’s actually a fairly exceptional location from which to catch a train
When I stepped out of the elevator, I initially thought I’d taken the wrong route into the station, because it didn’t seem as though I was in a railway terminal at all.
But then I realised that the store with the blue and white signage, wasn’t the only shop still open on a Saturday evening, and was instead the ticket office at Hlavni.
And the steps leading down from the lowest level in the mall, didn’t lead to a car park, but to the Metro station.
Hlavni isn’t wholly unique in having a mall, as a substitute for a waiting rooms or departure concourses, as environments in which to wait for a train.
Once I allowed myself to be guided by the comparatively clear signage, I was able to conclude ‘oh it’s like a taking a train from Elephant & Castle’, admittedly a fairly obscure reference point, but anyone who has ever used that station in south London prior to its shopping center’s demolition will see the parallels.
The signs guided me to the left luggage facility, which was cheap enough for me to willingly pay up for the luxury of not having to drag my case on and off the metro on route to the hotel.
I hadn’t lucked out in finding a good rate in any of the relatively few hotels in the vicinity of Hlavni and that was partially because the station occupies an otherwise quiet area of the city, somewhat removed from the primary tourist and retail areas; though the Nadrono Muzeum is only a 10 min walk from the station.
If you will be travelling alone and arriving at Hlavni after nightfall, double check the location of any accommodation.
Hlavni station's main entrance, pictured at the top of the page, is beside a small park, it’s on the other side of the highway mentioned above, so virtually all of the pedestrian access to the surrounding streets involves walking through this park, rather charming by day, but disconcerting after dark.
A path way through this park leads to the closest tram stops to Hlavni.
So Hlavni station is a tad awkwardly sighted and the public transport connections to the city centre, particularly the Old Town aren’t particularly convenient, but depending on where you’ll be travelling to and from, there can be an alternative available, which overcomes these obstacles.
Trains to Praha on the route from Germany via Decin call at Holešovice station before continuing on to Hlvani station.
These trains also travel beyond the city on the route to Budapest, so when heading to Praha from Budapest there are direct trains to Holešovice station.
The suggestion to use Holešovice station instead of Hlvani can seem bonkers, as it’s located even further from the city centre, on the north bank of the River Vltava.
However, Holešovicee is on the same Metro Line C as Hlavni and the interchange there is closer to the main line trains.
It also takes a while for the trains to reach Hlavni, as they have to take a route which loops around the city centre, so if you take the Metro from Holešovice instead, you can be at ‘Namesti Republik’ station in the heart of the city, before your train will be arriving at Hlavni.
Also another tick in the box for Holešovice is that unlike Hlavni, it has a direct tram route/line 17, to the Old Town area, take it to the stop named ‘Starometska’.
It’s why when previously taking the train to Praha I had only used Holešovice station, but by doing so I had missed out on experiencing the one true wonder of Hlavni station, its café-bar.
It’s a contender for the honour of Europe’s most beautiful location in which to have a bite to eat before hopping on to a train, but for first time users of the station, it’s easy to miss.
It’s located in the glorious former main station building and it’s stunning art-nouveau interior hints at what a fabulous experience it once would have been to depart from Hlvani by train.
I paid homage to the café after I deposited my bags, because the main access to the café is by some stairs, off to the right in the passage way which leads to the trains, the sign reads ‘to the old station’.
So if you’ll be taking a train and have luggage with you, you’ll need to heave it up and down the stairs.
Though it can be worth the effort, because not only is it a lovely location, it almost certainly serves the best coffee and cakes available in Hlavni station.
Having refreshed myself I then heading off to the Metro and discovered another tip for using Hlavni is that each platform (track) at Hlvani metro station has its own separate entrance, so working out which entrance you’ll need to use, before you make your way down to the train, can save some hassle.
A lesson I learned the hard way when I assumed that any entrance to the metro would lead me towards a northbound train.
I wanted to share my passion for train travel and explain how anyone can take the fantastic journeys I have taken.
This is one of more than 100 train travel guides available on ShowMeTheJourney, which will make it easier to take the train journeys you want or need to make. As always, all images were captured on trips taken by ShowMeTheJourney.
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