Dining In (And Around) Europe’s Train Stations

Food dilemmas at train stations: You’re waiting at Amsterdam Central station to catch the night train to Munich, and you suddenly realize there’s no dining car on the train. Or bakeries in Spain don’t open before 9 a.m., and your train from Madrid departs at the crack of dawn. So you’re starving – and out of sheer desperation you just might consider grabbing a bite at the train station…

It remains a travel cliché. If you’re dying for a decent meal – not to mention an authentic local one – skip airports and train stations. Actually, skip anything remotely around airports and train stations. But as clichés go, this one’s thankfully no longer always true.

Many European trains feature bar cars that sell sandwiches, drinks and snacks, but the majority of them no longer offer dining cars with full meals. While longer-haul routes and night trains are more likely to offer dining facilities, you’ll want to check in advance. I’ve boarded night trains in the evening only to find no dining or bar car service available, making me wish I’d hunted down a proper meal at the station.

Here’s a dining guide to a handful of Europe’s biggest and busiest train stations – both within and just beyond. Everything listed here is within a 10-minute walk – or a 5-minute sprint, if you’re living dangerously – to the train platforms.

Amsterdam Central Station

Amsterdam Central train station

In the station

Yep, there’s a Burger King. But why not head to Julia’s? It’s a Dutch chain that offers made-to-order pastas with your choice of sauces, plus tasty salads? For sandwiches on fresh bread under €5, try Broodzaak. If you have time to kill, the Starbucks on the second floor is a hidden gem that hints to the station’s original architectural splendor. Order a latte from the trilingual baristas and perch on balcony seat overlooking the madness of the Station Hall.

Near the station

The closest dine-and-dash spots lie on Prins Hendrikkade, the busy street that runs parallel to the station. If you miss your train and need consoling, the bartenders at historic Bar Batavia are happy to do it for the price of a Heineken. Architecture buffs will appreciate the building. It’s a classic example of the Amsterdam School. For strong coffee and organic, vegetarian-friendly fare that ranges from omelettes to curries, head to Dwaze Zaken. On Monday nights, there’s a bargain “potluck” dinner with live music.

Explore Amsterdam’s neighborhoods.

Antwerp Central Station

Antwerpen-Centraal train station

In the station

I confess to having sampled many – too many – frites in the Netherlands, France and Belgium. Holding a firm spot on my top ten list is Frituur Centraal. Just remember it’s Belgium, so don’t ask for “French fries”.

For koffie verkeerd (“coffee wrong”, or with too much milk) and a reasonably priced lunch in startlingly opulent environs, head to the aptly named Grand Café. After a few minutes wandering around Antwerp Central’s stupendous marble and stone architecture, you’ll understand why it was dubbed “the Railway Cathedral”.

Near the station

If you have an hour or more to kill, go left out of the main entrance and stroll down De Keyserlei. It’s a street packed with terrace cafes. Beer fanatics, don’t miss Bier Central at De Keyserlei 25. Over 300 draughts and bottles are all catalogued in a beer encyclopedia. Expect Belgian classics and pub food on the menu.

Berlin Main Station

Berlin Hauptbahnhof train station

In the station

If this is your first trip to Berlin Hauptbahnhof, expect to be disoriented. The hyper-modern station, nicknamed the “Cathedral of Traffic,” is the largest station in Europe. Serving more than 300,000 people a day on multiple platforms bisected by escalators and elevators, it’s urban planning at its most impressive. If you’re in a rush, grab a giant pretzel or a fresh sandwich from one of several bakeries. For a sit-down meal, Asia Gourmet is an airy spot to dine on pan-Asian classics – curries, Pad Thai, and sushi, with plenty of vegetarian choices – for under €10. For German classics like currywurst and roast pork, plus giant beers in a brewpub atmosphere, check out Hopfinger Brau.

Near the station

In summer months, walk out of the southern end of the station and across the bridge of the River Spree. On the riverbank you’ll find the Capital Beach Bar, which makes “waiting for the train” a downright hedonistic affair. Plunk down in a deck chair on the grassy bank and order a cocktail…but skip the food.

Got more time? Read 24 hours in Berlin.

Zurich Main Station

Zurich train station

In the station

It’s no surprise that one of the busiest railway stations in the world also has a staggering number of places to eat and drink. If you can’t find anything that tempts you on the main level near the platforms, go underground. Here, more than 200 shops and eateries make up one of the largest shopping malls in Switzerland.

The 19th century Neo-Renaissance main concourse (the Haupthalle) is flat-out gorgeous, especially if you dig the soaring iron and stone elegance of old train stations. There’s always something going on: an open-air cinema, produce markets, or orchestra performances. In winter, the charming Christmas Market features a decorated tree and an Alpine-themed bar where you can snuggle up in (fake) furs while sipping Riesling. For decent pizza under ornate ceilings, head to Atrio. A newcomer to the station, Sora Sushi gets high marks for sushi, service, and ambience. As Swiss and German train dining cars tend to feature decidedly carnivorous offerings, vegetarians will appreciate the veggie Indian buffet at Bona Dea.

Near the station

On Schützengasse 15, Manzoni Bar is an excellent place to kill time. Look forward to excellent cocktails, Italian coffee, and an antipasti buffet on some evenings. If you’re hankering for traditional Swiss food, keep in mind that the Hauptbahnhof lies in the Altstadt (Old Town). You’ll find everything from schnitzel and rosti to fondue restaurants. For Swiss classics in a festive beer hall atmosphere, try Zeughauskeller at Bahnhofstrasse 28.

Prague Central Station

Prague train station

In the station

In the past decade, Prague’s busiest train station has come a long way – much like the city itself – in terms of its culinary options. The takeaway options in this Art Nouveau monument now include American fast food, a market, a bakery, and a coffee shop. But venture out of the station if you have sufficient time.

Near the station

At Senovážné náměstí 23, you’ll find Vinograf Wine Bar, part of a welcome new trend in this traditionally beer-crazed city. In addition to Czech and European wines, it serves creative salads (think baked pumpkin and Halloumi cheese), pastas, and a hearty poledni menu (a changing daily dish).

Want to see more? Check out 24 hours in Prague.