“Antwerp central station is master piece of railway architecture. The monumental building successfully preserves the 19th century architecture while combining it with modern technology and amenities to serve the 21st century traveller. This landmark of Antwerp should be on your must do list while visiting the city.”
Antwerp central station: a perfect combination of old and new
I have been to Antwerp central station many times en route to/from somewhere in Belgium and have always been stunned by its beauty. Officially called Antwerpen Centraal, this station is a grand beauty with trains shooting in and out at three levels. The best part for me is how they have managed to combine the old architecture along with new age modernity.
I remember the first time we were en-route to some place and had to change our trains at Antwerp, i was stunned by its size and grandeur. I had just expected any other run of the mill station but little did i know that we would be running up and down between four floors. Yep, its not an easy station to change trains in a jiffy. I have always admired the station while waiting to catch other trains. So this time during our Easter weekend trip to Antwerp we decided to give the monumental station its fair share of attention. We went a little earlier to the station so that we could walk around and explore the station before catching our train back to Amsterdam.
Entering the Antwerp central station from “De Keyserlei” street we landed into the main hall of the station. If it were not for the ticket booths, cafes and stalls you could very well be under the cupola of a cathedral. The imposing staircase leads you to the waiting rooms and the heart of the station, the train shed. The imposing cast iron vault combined with sheaths of glass creates an awe inspiring train shed. The semi-circular glass panel with the clock and the gilted court of arms at the main level and the lavishly decorated station will leave you taking many a picture. As a visitor to Antwerp city the chances are high that this train station will be your first point of introduction to the city. This station does its best in giving you the first flavours of the power and clout the city had in its yesteryears. More than 20 different types of marbles and stones have been used to build the palatial station hall. The marvelous hall was designed by the Bruges architect “Louis Delacenserie” in an eclectic style. Owing to the station’s huge dome, eight smaller towers and its luxurious interiors, it is often fondly referred to as the “Railway Cathedral”. The viaduct into the station looks like its been plucked right out of a fairytale as well. The via duct is another gem of architecture designed by Jan van Asperen.
This central station of Antwerp was built between 1895 and 1905 but it ran into a state of neglect following WWII. In the sixties there were even plans of demolishing the monumental station to build a newer and modern train station. But thankfully the authorities decided to give the station a new life. When they embarked on renovating the station they couldn’t go any wider as they had to preserve the monumental building. So instead they dug deeper and made the station ready for handling the high speed trains like Thalys. Prior to the modernization, Antwerp station was an end point station but now it has become an important hub on the north-south line connecting cities like Amsterdam and Paris. The extensive restoration project was completed in 2009, returning the monumental building to its former glory.
The station offers plenty of options for drinking and eating including a restaurant and other usual suspects like Starbucks. There is an entire floor dedicated to many cafes and fast food chains. But if you still can’t find something to appease your senses then just head outside the station. You will find plenty of options in and around Koningin Astridplein or on De Keyserlei. You can also charge your phone in the station while getting some exercise done. I always find large railway stations an excellent place for people watching. Just grab a cup of coffee and a comfy seat. Then watch the trains zip by quickly, travelers rushing to their platforms, tourists going crazy taking pictures or the giant clock ticking. Somehow these stations have a life and rhythm of their own that fascinates me. But make sure you don’t miss your train ;).
The neighbourhood of Antwerp station is kind of touristy and run-down. But i guess that is true for most central stations in Europe. Antwerp central station is very close to the diamond district and in fact houses a diamond gallery within the station itself. Unfortunately(for me)/fortunately(for Sridhar) we were there on Easter weekend and hence most of the shops were closed. The station is also very close to the china town in Antwerp. I was actually surprised to find a China town there. I was aware of the sizable Indian community in Antwerp due to the merchants involved in the diamond trade but was not aware of the Chinese community in Antwerp.
There are many 19th century railway stations across the world that are grand in their own way. So what is it that sets this station apart? For me the most impressive thing about Antwerp central station is how it combines the old world architecture with the new age modernity and somehow they seem to blend together dynamically and co-exist in perfect harmony. By saying this, i by no means want to take away any credit from the awe inspiring eclectic architecture of Louis Delacenserie. But it was the engineering feat of having a multi-level train station in a historic monument that appealed to me the most. Another feature that i really liked about this station is the use of light. The deepest level serving the high speed trains is 20m below the ground and yet it isn’t cut off from natural light completely. Even from the lowest level you can get a glimpse of the size and the grandeur that awaits you as you head up the escalators.
This “Railway Cathedral” regularly features on the list of best railway stations in the world and rightly so. This should be on your must do lists while you are in Antwerp and i promise you won’t be disappointed!