- The Grand Central Terminal in New York is also known as Grand Central, the Terminal, and GCT.
- As of 2020, the 30th Street Station was Amtrak’s third busiest train station in the country.
- The Union Terminal gives an Art Deco vibe when you see the relief carvings on the exterior.
What’s the most appealing thing to you about train travel? Is it the pleasurable offer of a slow travel pace or the absence of hassle often associated with car and air travel? Whatever it is, we all love the more-than-enough legroom that comes with traveling by rail. It’s an automatic goodbye to check-in lines, delays, road rage, and early arrivals.
The beauty of train travel lies more in the journey to the destination than the destination itself. It’s about the sights along the route, the co-travelers you may get to know, and the relaxing aura.
Although the American rail network isn’t as established as you would find in European countries, traveling by train remains one of the most delightful means to explore the country.
In the heydays of train travel in America, major rail lines hired renowned architecture firms to design magnificent stations with sky-high features, grand halls, and gold-draped walls.
Little wonder why these train stations serve as the perfect backdrop for some classic movies. The train stations are also attractive enough to pass as tourist destinations. You can find hotels, planetariums, museums, and other attractions that make them worthwhile stops, even for non-travelers.
The styles of train stations vary widely in the United States. Ranging from the Spanish Colonial Revival style station in San Diego to the contemporary, one-acre sky-lit atrium at the Moynihan Train Hall in Penn Station.
Read through this list to discover 10 of the most beautiful train stations in the country. It might inspire your choice of destination for your next trip.
#1 Grand Central Terminal, New York
The Grand Central Terminal in New York is also known as Grand Central, the Terminal, and GCT. It has transitioned from being the largest construction project in New York’s history at the time to a structure that helped define and, in some ways, shape modern midtown Manhattan.
The iconic landmark was completed in February 1913 in Beaux-arts style after 10 years of construction. It has always been an architectural masterpiece as it was the first station without stairs. Instead, it incorporated the novel use of ramps, making it possible for both local and long-distance passengers to rapidly move from track level to city streets. Moreover, they can do this without carrying their stuff up and down packed stairs.
It’s renowned for its 25,000-square-foot celestial mural across the arch ceiling, four-faced opal clock, enormous chandeliers, spectacular mural paintings, shops, and restaurants.
Unsurprisingly, the GCT is one of New York City’s most popular tourist attractions, coming in second only to Times Square in terms of daily visits with 750,000.
#2 30th Street Station, Philadelphia
As of 2020, the 30th Street Station was Amtrak’s third busiest train station in the country. It became officially known as the William H. Gray III 30th Street Station in 2014. This was after Congress passed a law to rename it in honor of Representative William Herbert Gray III, who represented Pennsylvania in Congress from 1979 to 1991.
The impressive neoclassical structure is distinguished by its 200-yard-long waiting rooms and Art Deco chandeliers. It also features cathedral-style windows, towering ceilings painted in gold, crimson, and cream, and 71-foot-tall Corinthian columns.
One of the station’s most prominent features is a 28-foot-tall bronze sculpture of Michael the Archangel holding a dead soldier. It is called the Pennsylvania Railroad World War II Memorial in respect of the more than 1,300 train workers who perished in WWII.
Philadelphia’s central railroad station was initially developed for the Pennsylvania Railroad. It’s a regular feature in Hollywood movies, including The Burglar, Witness, Unbreakable, The Happening, and Marnie.
Pro tip: Enjoy downtime by people-watching in the waiting area before departure.
#3 The Cincinnati Union Terminal, Ohio
Next, we have one of the widely regarded examples of Art Deco architecture in the United States. The Union Terminal gives an Art Deco vibe when you see the relief carvings on the exterior, the glass entryway, and the terrazzo fountain. It also features a clock that illuminates neon light at night.
As rightly described, the “Temple to Transportation” is iconic from every angle. It’s the largest half-dome building in the whole of the Western Hemisphere. The Sydney Opera House is the only half-dome building in the world more extensive than the Union Terminal in Ohio.
It has a rich history dating back to its completion in 1933, from welcoming returning World War II soldiers to becoming the permanent home of the Cincinnati Museum Center, an OMNIMAX Theater, and the Cincinnati History Library and Archives.
The Cincinnati Museum Center houses the city’s history museum, children’s museum, and Museum of Natural History & Science.
The Rotunda’s interior dome measures 180 feet, with a height of 106 feet. It’s decorated with vast murals depicting American historical events by four artists. The German-American painter Winold Reiss partnered with New York’s Ravenna Tile Company to turn his murals into glass mosaic tiles. The artworks, which cover about 11,908 square feet, remain stunning examples of public art.
The Union Terminal is still open to Amtrak’s passengers. It’s served by Amtrak’s Cardinal line, which passes through Cincinnati three times per week.
#4 Union Station, Washington D.C.
What do you get when you combine the architectural style of Beaux-arts and Roman monuments? Amtrak’s headquarters and one of the most visited public buildings in the nation’s capital.
The Washington Union Station has a magnificent arched main hall with a ceiling covered in 22-karat gold leaf. Its main façade is designed after the Roman Arch of Constantine to symbolize the station as a significant entrance into the city.
The Waiting Room has a 96-foot-high barrel-vaulted ceiling covered in gold leaf, much like the vast vaulted areas of the Baths of Diocletian.
Six limestone statues representing Greek gods, titans, and sages, including Apollo, Archimedes, Ceres, Prometheus, Thales, and Themis, greet guests at the station’s main entrance.
The statues by Louis St. Gaudens are based on the Dacian prisoners of the Arch of Constantine. They are located in the Attic block, above the main cornice of the central block. They are known as “The Progress of Railroading,” as an embodiment of the national confidence of the American Renaissance period.
Not only does the terminal host major cultural events and exhibitions, but it also draws people to its underground commercial area.
#5 Santa Fe Depot, San Diego
This 1915 rail station, built for visitors who attended the Panama-California Exposition, deserves a spot on the list. With its distinctive twin domes and Spanish Revival architectural style typical of 17th-century missions, Santa Fe is one of the historical landmarks in San Diego. It’s common to see contemporary buildings in Downtown San Diego with similar architecture.
The station, where the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner departs from and arrives in San Luis Obispo, California, has a spacious waiting area with a magnificent arched ceiling.
Inside, redwood beam ceilings and colorful walls with Hispano-Moorish patterns retain the Spanish-Moorish architectural elements of the exterior.
#6 Union Station, Los Angeles
There’s a high chance you’ve seen the norm-defying, largest railroad passenger terminal in the Western United States if you’ve watched Catch Me If You Can, Hail Caesar, or Garfield.
The Los Angeles Union Station introduced a unique architectural style known as Mission Moderne; it combines Mission Revival, Art Deco, and Spanish colonial elements.
The interior has leather couches, 1930s-style chandeliers, and wood-inlaid ceilings.
The 110-foot-long ticket counter has a vintage look because it’s made of American black walnut. Gardens and fountains are also present, giving the station a park-like appearance.
#7 Main Street Station, Richmond
Despite being an easy sight on a drive through the busy Interstate 95, this station’s red-orange color and six-story brick clock tower remain as striking as ever.
It’s one of the only existing train stations modeled after the architectural design of the French Renaissance. With its steep roof, the Second Renaissance Revival-inspired station in Richmond would fit in just as well on a grand boulevard in 19th-century France. The interior features a Victorian-era hall painted white, peach, and green. The red clay roof is decorated with Corinthian capital columns and rose carvings on the window arches.
The Main Street station started operating as a thriving transportation hub in 1901. However, the national decline in American train traffic led to its premature closure in 1975. It reopened in 2003 following renovations and the return of passenger service.
#8 Union Station, Kansas City
The regal Union Station in Kansas City isn’t called the “Great Gateway to the West” for nothing. The 850,000-square-foot Beaux-Arts railroad station is charming in every sense of the word. What’s not to love about the beautifully-decorated 95-foot-tall ceiling in the Grand Hall? Not to mention the three chandeliers weighing 3,500 pounds each, the Grand Hall clock, and the terracotta floors.
The historic transit hub isn’t only for the good old-fashioned charm; improvements have given it a more unique vibe. It has a children’s science center, a movie theater, a planetarium, and a display of the history of train travel.
However, the train station’s history isn’t exclusively glamorous. The infamous 1933 Kansas City Massacre, which saw five people slain after a gang shooting, is one of the most notorious incidents in Union Station’s history.
#9 South Station, Boston
Although the depot’s clock is reminiscent of London’s Big Ben, South Station has an absolute American feel. Thanks to an eagle sitting above and the pink granite blocks from New England used in the construction.
The design of the South Station is based on the Neoclassical Revival style. Some notable interior features include arched windows, marble mosaic flooring, and vaulted ceilings.
South Station is the final station for three Amtrak intercity rail services and eight MBTA commuter rail services. It forms a part of the region’s rail network, New England’s second-busiest transit hub.
Although maps and signages still refer to the station as “South Station,” it was renamed in honor of the former Massachusetts governor Michael S. Dukakis in November 2014.
#10 Union Station, Denver
While the interior design may not be as grand as others on the list, the outdoor platform with a curved ceiling is an irresistible architectural masterpiece. Everything about the Union Station in Denver’s Central Business District screams classic 19th-century architecture.
The station has gradually experienced upgrades from the city over the past few years. The 2014 renovation and restoration of Union Station included a hotel, three bars, and a restaurant in Denver. It also has an underground bus terminal, open-air train hall, terminal, and a light rail station to reflect the transformation into a multi-modal transit area.
Summary of the 10 Most Beautiful Train Stations in the US
Let’s review the 10 must-see gorgeous train stations you’ll find in the United States.
|1||Grand Central Terminal||New York City, New York|
|2||30th Street Station||Philadelphia, Pennsylvania|
|3||The Cincinnati Union Terminal||Cincinnati, Ohio|
|4||Union Station||Washington, D.C.|
|5||Santa Fe Depot||San Diego, California|
|6||Union Station||Los Angeles, California|
|7||Main Street Station||Richmond, Virginia|
|8||Union Station||Kansas City, Missouri|
|9||South Station||Boston, Massachusetts|
|10||Union Station||Denver, Colorado|
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Arina P Habich/Shutterstock.com
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.
- Wanderlust, Available here: https://www.wanderlust.co.uk/content/best-train-stations-united-states/
- History, Available here: https://www.history.com/news/grand-central-terminal-an-american-icon-turns-100
- World Atlas, Available here: https://www.worldatlas.com/places/america-s-10-most-beautiful-train-stations.html
- Matador Network, Available here: https://matadornetwork.com/read/7-beautiful-train-stations-us-true-architectural-marvels/