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Railway and subway stations aren't just places to pass through. Well, they might be, but sometimes the journey and the stops along the way can be every bit as impressive as the sights you're on your way to see. We always like to take a good look around as we travel, so here we've rounded up ten of our favourite stations from in and around our Virgin Atlantic destinations…
New York - Grand Central Terminal
Obvious maybe, but while it's America's largest and probably the world's most famous station, many international visitors to New York are unlikely to use Grand Central Terminal. If you want the complete movie-like NY experience though, you really have to take in the full grandeur of this most important emblem of the city. Set aside a little time and take a self-guided walking tour, admire the astronomical mural and gold-plated chandeliers on its 125 feet high ceiling, its iconic clock and staircases. And if you really need another excuse to be there, have a bite at the famous Oyster Bar down on the dining concourse.
LA - Hollywood/Highland
You can, like many, arrive at LAX and jump straight in a hire car, but the Los Angeles transit system really shouldn't be missed. Barely twenty years old, the LA County Metro isn't just new and efficient, it's also home to the work of around 300 artists. The Red Line has some of the best artwork: Hollywood/Vine Station's interior is multi-faceted tribute to the film industry, while Hollywood/Highland's curvy, organic structural supports take you into another world altogether.
Chicago – Union Station
Like Grand Central, Chicago's Union Station is somewhere visitors are unlikely to pass through unless they're travelling out of town by rail. It's a shame as even in a city bursting with incredible architecture, this beautiful building shouldn't be overlooked. Often used to host distinguished special events, the enormous neo-classical Great Hall with its soaring columns and palatial marble flooring makes this a truly iconic stop. The location for several big movie scenes, one of its two grand staircases was most famously used in Brian De Palma's The Untouchables.
Washington DC – Washington Metro
Completed in 1976 only after approval from the US Commission of Fine Arts, DC's Metro is a citywide artwork that really has to be appreciated as a whole. The heavy concrete modernism of the system may point to the era in which it was made, but it's still easy to imagine these tunnels transporting you far into the future. Designer Harry Weese's coffered ceiling vaults have even earned it a place on the American Institute of Architects 2007 list of 'America's Favorite Architecture'. And to think we used to laugh at seventies style.
United Arab Emirates
As with the DC subway system, the dazzling design of the (fully automated) Dubai Metro is all about modernity and consistency. There is a hint of tradition in the world's newest transit system though: the space station-like appearance of the stations' exteriors is actually modelled on a seashell, referencing the UAE's fishing heritage. Interiors meanwhile depict each of the four elements air, earth, fire and water – check out the bonkers jellyfish-shaped chandeliers at Khalid Bin Al Waleed station.
Mumbai - Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus
One of the oldest stations on our list and the only one to be afforded UNESCO World Heritage status, Mumbai's CST appears more like a palace than a railway terminal. It was of course originally named after Queen Victoria and opened during the year of her Golden Jubilee. A masterful mixture of Gothic Revival and more traditional Indian styles with (at the time) state-of-the-art engineering, its myriad decorative elements and exquisite details make it as worthy of a good tour as any royal residence.
Tokyo – Iidabashi (Oedo Line)
There's plenty to marvel at on Tokyo's Oedo Line; the design of its 26 stations was split across fifteen different firms and each stop has a unique artwork (a mural or sculpture). Makoto Sei Watanabe's computer-generated "evolutionary architecture" at Iidabashi Station is the clear highlight though. Where many stations are subtle in their beauty, Iidabashi is bold and bug-like. A bright green 'web frame' hangs above the escalator and its street level ventilation tower 'wing' looks like some kind of alien chrysalis.
While the city is famously home to many centuries old shrines and temples, Kyoto's main station is more of a monument to the future. Extremely controversial at the time of opening in 1997, its fifteen storeys of shiny steel and glass stand in huge contrast to its traditional neighbours. Something of a city within a city, there's a shopping mall, museums, a cinema, a department store and more to explore, but if you have time to kill there, don't miss the Sky Garden and suspended walkways for great views of the city.
For those exploring more of the country, Kanazawa, one of Japan's many 'Little Kyotos', is well worth a visit, not least of all for its magnificent station. In another great example of Japanese design extremes, the glass-fronted modern building is mostly eclipsed by a gigantic red wooden 'torii' gate at its entrance. Once you've been wowed by this futuristic take on a traditional structure, turn around and check out the fountain clock whose display looks like a water-powered digital watch.
London – Jubilee Line Extension
Closer to home, we've already covered the magnificent St Pancras International in our London Icons, but the Jubilee Line extension stations definitely deserve an honourable mention. Completed in 1999, the polished metal panels, spaciously designed interiors and platform edge doors set these stations completely apart from the rest of the tube. This contemporary architecture is especially apt in the case of Southwark, the nearest stop for the Tate Modern gallery.
Thanks to Flickr photographers Herr Hans Gruber, keith011764, OiMax, switchstyle, Paul Mannix and Travis_Simon, and Jameswest, Typhoonski, Kurtwilliams and Andrew Kazmierski on Dreamstime. Header image of Dubai Metro © Creativei | Dreamstime.com.
Hop over to virgin-atlantic.com for the best fares to New York, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Tokyo, Dubai, and Delhi. Our Flying Club partner JetAirways fly to Mumbai and many other destinations around India. Find out more about Flying Club membership.
Have you been passed through any special stations in our destinations? Any architectural icons to add? Share with us in the comments below.
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About the author: andrewAndrew Bowman
Andrew is an occasional contributor to the Virgin Atlantic blog. He lived in the Japanese countryside for two years until he could no longer resist the pull of London's galleries, pubs and clubs. He likes to pretend he can speak Japanese and also sometimes writes about music.