Atocha Station Is a Historical Landmark and Destination in Itself
It’s so easy to just rush through a train station, gazing longingly at timetables and chewing on a crumbled granola bar from the bottom of your suitcase. Train stations are often seen as little more than pitstops on the way to somewhere better. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Just about everyone who has visited Spain has passed through Atocha Station in Madrid at some point—but if you stopped to look around, you’d notice that Atocha should be a destination in itself. In fact, The Guardian just named it the site of one of the 10 best train station cafés and bars anywhere in the world. Here’s what one traveler shared:
Atocha station is one of the most beautiful in Europe. The 19th-century masterpiece of wrought-iron and glass has been turned into a botanical garden, with huge palm trees and a pond full of terrapins. The best place for an overview is the Samarkanda on the terrace. It’s pricey (three courses €30) if you want to eat but a glass of wine in the bar is €3. —BarbaraEF, Via theguardian.comAtocha is a sprawling, gorgeous structure at the heart of Madrid. The first station in Madrid was founded on this same site in 1851. When that building was destroyed by fire, a new structure designed by architect Alberto de Palacio y Elissagne was opened in 1892. Palacio, a collaborator of Gustave Eiffel, built the new station in renewal style, hearkening back in some ways to the eighteenth century. But it was also a place to show off the accomplishments of the Industrial Revolution. The vaulted roof is a criss-cross of steel and glass, letting light pour into the station below, where luscious palms grow 20 feet high. The vaulted ceiling is 89 feet (27 meters) high. The station takes its name from a nearby basilica, Our Lady of Atocha.
Want to put that two-hour wait to good use? Slow down and enjoy. Sure, you can try out a three-course meal at Samarkanda—or just grab a cocktail at their gastrobar. But it’s easy enough to find a place to sit for a quick coffee or snack right in the middle of the action, below the vaulted ceiling and broad leaves of the miniature jungle that makes Atocha so memorable. It’s just one way to slow down and enjoy where you are.
The author Erin L. McCoy
Erin L. McCoy is an award-winning photojournalist who holds an MA in Hispanic studies from the University of Washington. She's traveled to 20+ countries, five continents, and 45 U.S. states, but she's starting to lose count of how many times she's visited Spain.