Our Grand Portal into Washington, DC
July 15, 2013
WASHINGTON, DC, USA- Pragmatically speaking, it is just a train station. A destination for travelers venturing into the nation’s capital, or a starting point for residents making their way out of town. But beyond all that, Union Station holds much more, and is indubitably one of DC’s most impressive pieces of architecture that still serves a vital purpose.
The station first opened in 1907, right when the railway industry was in full bloom spreading tracks up and down the East Coast, eventually snaking its way West. Through many years of history and operation, Amtrak has made Union Station its headquarters, where the family-friendly National Train Day is celebrated each May with games and exhibits. We can’t dream of a more opportune moment to arrive by train in Washington, DC. Imagine—cranky, tired children disembarking after a long ride to find this party at their sights. Joy!
Walking through the landmark of a building, it’s easy to lose sense of yourself. Among the 90,000 daily visitors, an ordered chaos is born and the hustle and bustle is always in full swing. Even in the early morning hours, travelers are hopping on trains to lands far, far away, kissing this beloved city goodbye. The tall, sweeping ceilings and wide open floor areas serve as a reminder that you are merely one passerby in the 100+ year history of a major American travel hub, and just one person in the history of a nation. Don’t feel insignificant, though; landmarks tend to have this effect.
In the best Beaux Arts fashion, the station features classical yet elaborate structures, fancy marble, and granite from Vermont. With regal columns, tall, arching ceilings, a large clock in the main hall, and antique train gates still standing from its original construction, the museum-y feel that pervades throughout makes us feel much fancier than what we would expect from a train station. But then again, it’s not just any old train station— it’s actually quite the opposite. Major events are frequently held in the stations’ Main Hall, like charity dinners and presidential inauguration balls. Mrs. Thatcher (aka The Iron Lady) even celebrated her 70th here!
In the many trips we’ve taken between NYC and DC, the train still proves our favorite mode of transportation for this trip. It’s quick, it’s relaxing, and, best of all, there are no long airport security lines! Fun fact: in 1911, J.P. Morgan broke the fast train speed record for the DC-NYC route by one hour and four minutes. His trip lasted just three hours and 55 minutes, which is around what they take today.
If you’re arriving in the city via the grand portal or are just passing through, then you’ll have enough time to stroll around and marvel at its grandeur. But be careful if you have a trip out—you’ll want the extra time before to explore!
Read more about Union Station and other historic sights in our Washington, DC Guide.