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Railway hotels conjure a sepia-toned, steam-shrouded era of travel, when rival train companies built ever-grander properties to lure passengers. Few of those lodgings survive, but railway hotels seem to be making a comeback, from revitalized grandes dames like Glasgow’s Hotel Grand Central to modern gems like the space-age Barceló Sants in Barcelona.
There’s a practical side to them, too. During a recent trip to my hometown of Montreal, a massive storm wreaked havoc on flight schedules. My hotel, the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth, is built atop Montreal’s central railway station; and suddenly a plan formed in my mind. I returned my airport rental car downtown, canceled my Porter Airlines reservation — fees were waived because of the weather — and bought a Via Rail ticket to Toronto, my destination. The next morning, a 30-second elevator ride and five-minute walk brought me to the train platform. And I arrived in the city on time.
With both history and convenience in mind, here are some of our favorite railway hotels around the world:
Fairmont Queen Elizabeth, Montreal
(Connected to: Montreal Central Station/Gare Centrale)
When I was a kid in Montreal, the Queen Elizabeth was synonymous with the good life. But the 1958 property had grown a bit tatty. Enter Fairmont, which closed the “Queen E” for a year, invested $140 million, and unveiled a jaw-dropping transformation in July 2017. Inspired by 1960s Montreal grooviness and the golden age of travell, the 950-room hotel pulls off sleek retro-opulence without an ounce of kitsch.
Barceló Sants, Barcelona
(Connected to: Sants station)
Built in the ’70s, Barcelona’s sprawling Sants train station has edged out the graceful, 1920s França station as a main railway hub. For travelers, that makes the Barceló Sants a strategic home base, 20 minutes by train from the airport and about 30 minutes on foot to Las Ramblas. But the main attraction here is the space-age decor. If Hal, the errant “2001: A Space Odyssey” computer, designed a hotel, it might look like this, with porthole light fixtures, Jacobson pod chairs, and all-white guest rooms. In fact, a giant portrait of Keir Dullea’s “2001” character, Dave Bowman, glowers over the hotel’s lobby.
Andaz Liverpool Street, London
(Connected to: Liverpool Street Railway Station)
Hyatt snared this enviable spot for its upper-middle Andaz brand, and respectfully snazzed up a building with huge historical significance. Opened as the Great Eastern Hotel in 1884 and one of London’s original railway hotels, the imposing red-brick Victorian pile shares architects with London’s Houses of Parliament. What’s underneath its 267 guest rooms? Liverpool Street Underground Station, with the Circle, Hammersmith & City, and Metropolitan lines, along with National Express East Anglia Railway trains. Bonus: the Andaz hosts weekend yoga brunches in a “secret” Masonic temple deep inside the hotel.
Tokyo Station Hotel
(Connects to: Tokyo Station, Marunouchi)
Supposedly modeled after Amsterdam’s Centraal Station, Tokyo Station is Japan’s busiest railway hub; in this huge red-brick building, opened in 1915, it gets the grand hotel it deserves. The vaguely Mitteleuropean hotel stands alone among Tokyo properties for its old-world grace. Inside, thoroughly modern rooms swaddle you in rich fabrics and muted colors. Narita’s high-speed train comes directly into Tokyo Station itself, as do many of the city’s subway lines; noise, luckily, mostly gets tamped to zero. Marunouchi, a buzzing business district near the Imperial Palace, makes an advantageous home base.
Cosmos Hotel Taipei
(Connected to: MRT Taipei Station)
It’s not Taipei’s splashiest hotel: Rooms look a little ’90s, and though it underwent a redo in 2011, common areas could use a refresh. That said, a location at the M3 exit of the Taipei Metro station is impossible to beat, and room rates can hover below $100 USD. From Taoyuan International Airport, you can take the MRT, Taiwan’s Metro, directly to Taipei station; two airport bus lines also deposit you at the hotel’s front door. Bonus: The top-floor gym here offers panoramic cityscape views.
The Crawford, Denver
(Connects to: Denver Union Station)
You practically expect fedora-wearing gentlemen to escort gowned ladies through the soaring lobby of the Crawford, built on the upper floors of Denver’s breathtaking, 1881 Union Station. This luxury property, with 112 train-inspired guest rooms, comes closest to capturing the spirit of railway hotels of yore; it helps that Union Station itself, a mass transit and Amtrak hub, has been so lavishly restored. Bonus: The Crawford’s dead-central location makes the airport, downtown, and Denver’s 16th St. Mall equally convenient.
Principal Grand Central Hotel, Glasgow
(Connects to Central Station)
A storied British railway hotel, the Grand Central’s housed luminaries from Winston Churchill to Frank Sinatra since its 1883 debut. Now a four-star property run by the UK’s Principal group, the hotel does its heritage proud; modern-classic guest rooms, in blue and cream, complement a woody, clubby lobby and eye-popping, dome-ceilinged champagne bar. Glasgow Central Station, adjacent to the hotel, is the main terminus for ScotRail, the national train system The beyond-central Grand Central also situates you at the foot of Glasgow’s Style Mile, a string of chic shops between Argyle and Buchanan streets.
Feature photo of The Crawford Hotel – Denver Union Station, courtesy The Crawford Hotel
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