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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:

A total refresh of Montreal’s Fairmont Queen Elizabeth hotel pays tribute to the ’60s – and travel’s golden age. (Courtesy Fairmont)

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.

The Barcelo Sants is out of this world — or at least its decor is. (Courtesy Barcelo Hotels)

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 shares architects with the UK’s Houses of Parliament. (Courtesy Andaz)

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.

Rooms at the Tokyo Station Hotel swaddle you in rich fabrics and muted colors. (Courtesy Tokyo Station 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.

Taipei’s Cosmos Hotel occupies a prime spot atop a central train and metro station. (Courtesy Cosmos Hotel)

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.

The Principal Grand Central Hotel
The Principal Grand Central Hotel’s Champagne Bar is a brilliant throwback to the glory days of railway hotels. (Courtesy Principal Hotels)

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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