The 5 Most Interesting French Train Stations

Pimsleur Approach • October 25, 2012 • FrenchComments (1)

France is a great place to discover by train, as it has one of the best rail networks in Europe and the ground-breaking high-speed TGV service. You might not notice its stations as you travel around the country, but many are architecturally and historically fascinating and deserve some attention before you continue to your ultimate destination. Here are five to watch out for.

Gare du Nord - French Train Stations

Gare du Nord - Image Via Wikipedia

Gare du Nord, Paris

The Gare du Nord is the busiest railway station in Europe and can be quite daunting. The terminus for the Eurostar service from London and the major hub in Paris, the building itself can be overlooked. Built between 1859 and 1865, the station was designed by German-born Jacques-Ignace (Jakob) Hittorff, a pioneer of the use of cast iron in architecture. This is pretty grand stuff for a railway station, with the façade designed around a triumphal arch and topped with statues representing the cities that the Chemin de Fer du Nord railway company, which commissioned the building, once served. It’s well worth grabbing a coffee or a beer at one of the many cafés facing the station to take in its architectural splendor.

Gare de Strasbourg - French Train Stations

Gare de Strasbourg - Image Via Wikipedia

Gare de Strasbourg

Strasbourg’s main railway station may be only the second largest in France but it certainly wins first prize for the most architecturally bizarre. The original station was designed by Polish-born German architect Johann Eduard Jacobsthal, and opened in 1883. But things got really interesting in 2007 when a cocoon-like glass shell was added, engulfing the old building in its entirety. From outside the building, its 120-meter length seems to ripple like a centipede. This ultra-modern innovation in a town full of historic architecture is typically French in its creative daring.

Gare d’Orsay, Paris

Gare dOrsay - French Train Stations

Gare d'Orsay - Image Via Wikipedia

You won’t be catching any trains here, as the former Gare d’Orsay now houses the world-famous Musée d’Orsay, but this Beaux-Arts masterpiece, built between 1898 and 1900, remains one of the most important railway buildings in France. Commissioned by the Chemin de Fer de Paris à Orléans for the 1900 Exposition Universelle, it was at the cutting edge of architectural innovation when it was built. It became disused as a railway station and was billed for demolition before it was finally saved and opened as the Musée d’Orsay in 1986. Today its huge cavernous spaces can still provoke as much awe as the art they contain.

Gare de Limoges - French Train Stations

Gare de Limoges - Image Via Wikipedia

Gare de Limoges-Bénédictins

Built between 1924 and 1929 and designed by French architect Roger Gonthier, this monumental building has an air of grandeur few other stations can rival. Dominated by its 60-meter high, dome-topped clock tower, the building features a limestone façade and copper-covered dome, and is unusual for having been built over the existing railway lines rather than beside them. The station gets its unusual name from the fact that a Benedictine monastery was located nearby in the time before the French Revolution.

Gare de Canfranc

Gare de Canfranc - French Train Stations

Gare de Canfranc - Image Via Wikipedia

One of the reasons this French station is so interesting is because it’s not actually in France! Just over the border in Spain, Canfranc international railway station was a Franco-Spanish project and most of it was French-owned. Part of a hugely ambitious and expensive project to link the French and Spanish sides of the Pyrénées, Canfranc was destined for great things, but all did not go as planned. The Great Depression and the Spanish Civil War would see this impressive 1920s building, the biggest train station in Europe at the time, fall into disuse and disrepair. Standing in stark contrast to the rugged mountains that form its backdrop, its grandeur from another age is eerily out of place in its deserted surroundings.

One Response to “ The 5 Most Interesting French Train Stations ”

  1. LaToya Lee says:

    The Musée d’Orsay is a museum housed in a grand railway station built in 1900. Home to many sculptures and impressionist paintings, it has become one of Paris’s most popular museums.

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