Great train stations: Antwerp Central
You have a Eurail pass. You know you’re going to go through a lot of European cities, and you’re probably keen to get to the sights as quickly as possible. But have you considered the train stations themselves?
Welcome to Antwerp Central station.
Some stations are mere gateways to their cities – nothing special in their own right. Others, such as Amsterdam Centraal or Milano Centrale, have their own qualities – monumental architecture and maybe a fascinating history. Antwerp goes a step further. Antwerp Centraal is a city within a city.
The station has been known as the railway cathedral for decades. But after an extensive and award-winning renovation finished in 2010, the early 20th-century station has added a healthy dose of 21st-century substance to its belle époque style. Two layers below ground, trains passing between Brussels and Amsterdam let off their passengers, while at the top track, regional Belgian trains whisk you off to the Flanders region’s most romantic cities – Ghent, Bruges – basically, this is where Belgium meets the world. When you arrive on the lower deck, you are struck by the mix of neon signals and natural light splashing down from above. Everything is new, modern, polished. As you move up, the modern touches are replaced and you’re surrounded by marble halls, columns and steel-framed glass.
The station seems to go on for miles, and the galleries leading to the main hall are lined with the city’s jewelry shops, as well as places to eat and wile away the time between trips. If you need a quiet place to sit, the Starbucks nestled by the entrance of the station is ideal. It’s quiet with high ceilings and friendly staff. This is one of the best stations in Europe for people-watching. And you see the locals doing it, leaning on the rails of the upper levels to watch the tourists and admire the trains. Do yourself a favor before you go into the city, and join them. Buy a Belgian waffle or some chocolate-covered strawberries, sit on a bench, and watch life go by at one of Europe’s most breathtaking train stations.