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food / travel

Hotels, Museums, Concert Halls: Upcycling Old Train Stations

As Bangkok transitions its iconic Hua Lamphong train station into a museum, here's a look at the other historical train stations around the world that have been kept alive in unusual ways.

A man passes train wagons parked at Hua Lamphong railway station in Bangkok, Thailand
A man passes train wagons parked at Hua Lamphong railway station in Bangkok, Thailand
Genevieve Mansfield

Bangkok's century-old Hua Lamphong train station will arrive at its terminus in November. In its place arrives the state-of-the-art Bang Sue Grand Station, slated to be the largest in Southeast Asia.

But back in 1916, it was Hua Lamphong that modernized the city. Built in the Italian neo-Renaissance style, it was one of the last major projects undertaken by King Chulalongkorn, who died in 1910. With its stained glass windows and bright hall, the Hua Lamphong was seen as an architectural jewel in its hay-day and remains a national treasure. Luckily, the public will not have to say goodbye to this beloved monument as it will remain open as a museum.

However, Hua Lamphong is not the only station that's found an interesting new purpose: Many other iconic train railroad terminals around the world have found creative ways to keep their doors open when trains have been rerouted.

The most famous example is certainly Paris' Musée d'Orsay, with its wide windows and rustic clocks. Similar to the Hua Lamphong station, the Musée d'Orsay was also once a centrally located railway hub. Now, it is home to mostly impressionist and post-impressionist works of art, welcoming over three million visitors per year.

Interior of the Paris Musée d'Orsay Photo — Ville de Paris Facebook Page

Across the ocean from the Musée d'Orsay is Brazil"s Julio Prestes Station, located in São Paulo. Built in 1875 with a hall that reflects the European Louis XVI style, the station was originally used to transport coffee throughout the country. Today, the station serves as concert hall, hosting the São Paulo State Symphonic Orchestra. It maintains its place as a city hub, but for culture instead of transportation.

The São Paulo State Symphonic Orchestra​ — Facebook User

The Estacion Mapocho Station, also located in Latin America, opened in 1913 in Santiago, Chile. It was built to celebrate Chilean Independence, and was commissioned as a civil works project along with several other celebrated buildings in the capital. In its prime, the station was the primary locus for transporting both goods and people to the north of the country. In 1994, the station was remodeled to become a cultural center and is now a popular venue for conferences, exhibits and other such events.

The front of Chile's Mapocho Station in the 1910s — Mary Evans/ ZUMA

In the heartland of the United States of America's rust belt, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is widely known for its history of steel production, which made the city crucial for keeping trains and railways alive. The Grand Concourse, formerly the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad Station, opened in 1898, helping connect the country's Midwest to its East Coast. These days, however, it is one of Pittsburgh's most popular restaurants, attracting an average of 900 diners every Sunday pre-pandemic with its tall, vaulted ceilings and delicate stained glass windows.

The Dining Hall of the Grand Concourse in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — Grand Concourse Facebook Page

South Africa is also home to an inventive, upcycled railway project: the Kruger Shalati Train Lodge. Resting on a bridge in what used to be a train car, a luxury hotel with 31 rooms occupies forgotten tracks. In the 1920s, trains would park at this same location, which is just on the border of the Kruger National Park. Now, hotel guests peer over the deck to see wildlife, as did the passengers of the previous century.

As this international trend continues, who knows what exciting future spaces these old stations will become. But one thing is certain: These bygone centers of transportation shine as destinations in their own right.

The Kruger Shalati Hotel, directly above the Kruger National Park in South Africa — Kruger Shalati Facebook Page

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