5 of the best hotels in vintage train stations

The joy of train travel is often about the journey – unless you’re at these revamped rail stations, where the destination is the prize. 

Train travel’s golden age, which lasted from the mid-1800s through the early 1930s, inspired ritzy rail companies to build palatial railroad stations worldwide. Architects designed these massive travel monuments to dazzle. In addition to luring potential customers with eye-popping architecture, they became the gateways to major metropoles and a city’s first chance to wow new arrivals. But as the 20th century chugged forward, trains fell out of favor, and their grand stations were abandoned, if not destroyed.

Today, many remaining rail stations are getting a second lease on life as hotels. Reignite the romance of train travel’s heyday by staying at one of these historic sites across the globe, each an exquisite example of historic preservation and industrial reuse.

Venture beyond the station hotel with these incredible train journeys

The hotel in the former Canfranc Estación combines original features with modern amenities © Nandi Estevez / Shutterstock

1. Canfranc Estación in Canfranc, Spain

When this concrete-and-glass colossus opened in 1928, it was Europe’s second-largest railway station – a beaux-arts train temple backed by the snow-capped Aragonese Pyrenees along the Spanish-French border. But poor timing plagued the fledgling transport hub, with 1929’s global financial disaster and WWII derailing its success. After shutting its doors in 1970, the site was dubbed the “Titanic of the Mountains” – a rotting ocean liner-sized relic from days when trains reigned supreme.

Fresh off a multimillion dollar renovation, it’s hard to imagine decades of disrepair. The former booking hall, complete with a cathedral-worthy ceiling, is now the hotel lobby, where you’ll find original touches – including century-old flourishes of marble and brass. There are plenty of modern amenities, too – a dedicated spa, wellness center, plush mattresses – turning this 20th-century stunner into a 21st-century palace.

Where to eat: Book a table at Canfranc Express – the hotel’s Michelin-starred fine diner housed in two historic train cars. Expect an element of privacy while nibbling regional delicacies – one car has only three tables. 

What to do: Hike abandoned WWII bunkers, hit winter slopes at ski resort Candanchú and stroll through mountains covered in carpets of summer wildflowers.

A spacious lounge area with white walls and people sat at benches and on leather couches
Denver’s Union Station is now home to Crawford Hotel, with the main hall as a central meeting place © Arina P Habich / Shutterstock

2. Crawford Hotel in Denver, Colorado 

Denver’s Union Station is more than tracks and trains – it’s the city’s public living room, housed inside an imposing granite beaux-arts facade from 1914. By the 1940s, the Colorado station welcomed roughly 50,000 visitors daily, but as the 20th-century travelers traded train tickets for car rides, the station fell into disuse. A 2014 reboot saved the architectural triumph, transforming the ground level’s main hall into a central meeting place – comfy leather couches included – with cafes, boutiques and restaurants peppered throughout the building. 

Upstairs from the “living room” is one of Denver’s greatest sleeping pads – the 112-room Crawford Hotel, marrying architectural preservation (brick walls, arched windows) with upscale vintage design (art deco headboards, old train ads as art). The best part? While staying here, there’s no need for a car. Union Station links directly to the airport, and light-rail lines can zip visitors around the city. 

Where to eat: Plenty of tasty outposts ply wares downstairs, like swanky tapas bar Ultreia and Saturday’s outdoors farmers market. Keep it train-themed at Terminal Bar, which pours brews in the historic ticketing office. 

What to do: If you’re willing to leave the station’s buzzy barrel-vaulted Great Hall, walk 5 minutes to the kaleidoscopic Museum of Contemporary Art Denver or hop on the Denver Trolley for a breezy tour of the Platte River Greenway.

Continue making your list of things to do in Denver with these mile high experiences

Night shot of the exterior of a large red-brick station building
Rooms at Tokyo Station Hotel have views of the skyline or down to the station below © Princess_Anmitsu  / Shutterstock

3. Tokyo Station Hotel in Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo’s red-brick central station and upstairs hotel, which opened in 1914 and 1915, respectively, starkly contrast the city’s slick skyscrapers and glassy facades. It’s one of the few glorious yesteryear structures to survive a devastating 1923 earthquake, painstakingly rebuilt following WWII bombings. The hotel, refurbished in 2012, is unlike most Tokyo lodgings, where popular rooms feature large windows facing the cityscape. Here, desired views look toward the station’s interior, where guests can watch commuters zip under buttercream domes in the morning and enjoy the serene stillness once the station closes at night.

History aside, one major reason to stay here is what you’ll find downstairs: a bustling public transit and retail center packed with sizzling food counters, shops and a democratic hodgepodge of Tokyo’s on-the-go rail riders. 

Where to eat: Don’t miss the dozens of breakfast dishes served in the hotel’s fourth-floor Atrium, located under soaring ceilings and only open to guests. 

What to do: Peek inside the Tokyo Station Gallery, which features rotating artworks alongside permanent displays, including a model of its namesake transit hub.

Continue your tour of Tokyo with these must-see art museums

The facade of a grand station building at dusk as lights pass by
St Louis Union Station was converted to a hotel and entertainment center in the 1980s © Allan Baxter / Getty Images

4. St Louis Union Station Hotel in St Louis, Missouri 

It’s a wonder travelers got anywhere when passing through St Louis Union Station, the world’s largest train station upon completion in 1894. Even today, it’s impossible to skip through the Romanesque revival building without stopping in awe. There’s the Grand Hall’s 65-ft-high barrel-vaulted ceiling, arched windows lined with sage terracotta bricks – and perhaps most splendid – the Allegorical Window, a preserved Tiffany glass artwork with three classically-rendered women representing New York City, St Louis and San Francisco. While the last passenger train left the station in 1978, it wasn’t long before the beloved building was remodeled. By the 1980s, it became a hotel and entertainment center.  

If you stay here today (perhaps in the 280ft clock tower), you might never leave. A 3D light show turns the Grand Hall’s high ceilings into a visual feast every night from 5pm to 10pm. Then there’s the 200-ft-tall Wheel, an on-site Ferris wheel with glass-floored gondolas. Don’t forget the aquarium, either – filled with 13,000 marine creatures splashing around 120,000 sq ft of the former transit center. And that’s just the short list of activities. 

Where to eat: Order Oysters Rockefeller and a cocktail from the Grand Hall Lounge – a good guise if you want to spend hours admiring gold leaf detailing and mosaics. 

What to do: Architecture buffs should beeline to the nearby Gateway Arch – a 630-ft-high inverted catenary curve, celebrating a time when St Louis earned the nickname “Gateway to the West.” 

St Louis makes an amazing long weekend destination especially with these experiences

Exterior of a red-brick hotel building
Memphis’ Central Station Hotel, with mid-century designs, includes some original station signage © Jim Williams Photography / Shutterstock

5. Central Station Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee

The Grand Central Memphis was certainly gawk-worthy when it opened on Main Street in 1914. Two-story Doric columns wrap around the base, with five floors stretching above like a brick-and-terracotta top hat. It’s arguably even more magnificent as its latest iteration – the Central Station Hotel, which offers sleek lodging in mid-century mod surrounds. There are still a few nods to its railroad heyday, including some original station signage, given a neon light glow-up. Although it hasn’t been a major transport hub since the ’60s, the City of New Orleans Amtrak line still stops here on its route between Louisiana and Chicago.

While trains might be the building’s raison d’etre, Memphis is a blues town – and this timepiece hotel leans into its musical pedigree with a picture-perfect, 30ft wall of EgglestonWorks speakers in the lobby. Check on-site bar Eight & Sand’s event schedule – DJs spin Memphis originals and remixes on select evenings. 

Where to eat: Bishop, the on-site restaurant headed by James Beard-nominated chefs Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman, seasons the Parisian palate with Southern style. Try the fried escargot or foie gras sweetened with maple syrup. 

What to do: Walk five minutes to the National Civil Rights Museum, packed with absorbing exhibits at the former Lorraine Motel, where movement leader Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. 

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