Railway hotels: Fast track

29 Oct 2009 by Alex McWhirter
Sofitel Munich Bayerpost

They may not be fashionable, but a number of European hotels next to rail stations offer great business facilities and speedy transport links, says Alex McWhirter

Hotels fall over themselves to be associated with airports, yet the reverse is often true when it comes to railway stations. First class hotels continue to believe air travel is more fashionable than rail, and their publicity blurb will invariably play down the convenience of their location for a mainline station, while seldom providing walking directions.

Some grand railway hotels dating back to the steam age even changed their names to disassociate themselves from the train firms that originally owned them. Witness Edinburgh’s Balmoral (formerly the North British) or London Marylebone’s Landmark (formerly the Great Central).

This is strange – while it might have been the done thing when these properties were modernised in the 1990s, at which time rail travel had a poor image, that’s hardly true today. We are now in the age of the high-speed train, and executives are being wooed from the high road. That trend is set to continue, with Eurostar recently announcing that its European high-speed network was set to triple by 2020.

As business people return to the train, they will demand hotels close to mainline stations to save time and temper after alighting. Provided the station has a good link with the airport, you can get to your hotel almost as quickly and for a fraction of the price of a cab.

The problem is finding somewhere to stay. The area surrounding every mainline station is different, which is why some cities cannot boast a single good option for business travellers. Some station locations are acceptable, while others can be considered down at heel, which has discouraged the development of good hotels offering the sort of facilities required by business people. A prime example is Brussels Midi, the arrival point for high-speed trains from London, Paris, Amsterdam and Cologne, which is in a rather sleazy area.

Matters will change as rail travel grows, which in turn will prompt city authorities to regenerate the areas near their main stations. Brussels Midi is expected to gain one of Rezidor’s value-for-money Park Inn properties in a few years as part of a new urban development.

Regeneration around Munich’s hauptbahnhof (central station) has enticed three modern business hotels (Le Méridien, Sofitel and Courtyard by Marriott) to open. In general, Germany tends to lead the way in this area, with main stations in cities such as Cologne, Leipzig and Frankfurt being a hive of activity. This is partly historical – shops at train stations avoid the country’s restrictive opening hours, meaning there are more good railway hotels here than elsewhere.

Probably the best example of a European railway hotel will be Marriott’s Renaissance St Pancras in London when it opens in early 2011. St Pancras is the London terminus for Eurostar, and this 244-room property is being constructed within the former Midland Grand hotel. Passengers will be able to alight from their trains and walk straight into the lobby. So railway hotels may become fashionable once again.

Here are a selection of first class hotels either at, or close to, mainline stations:

London Paddington

Hilton London Paddington

This used to be the Great Western and was extensively refurbished before joining the Hilton chain. The 364-room property is within the main Paddington station building – passengers take the escalator opposite platforms six and seven and use the footbridge to enter. Paddington is the departure point for trains heading to Wales and the West Country, as well as the London terminus for the Heathrow Express and Heathrow Connect trains. The Heathrow Express takes only 15 minutes to reach the airport and beats any black taxi for speed.

– Rooms from £217

– 146 Praed Street; tel +44 (0)20 7850 0500; hilton.co.uk

Edinburgh Waverley

The Balmoral

This traditional 188-room hotel, originally the North British, opened in 1902 on Princes Street atop the Waverley Steps, which connect the property with the station platforms below. Some guests take a taxi to the hotel, even though it’s quicker to mount the steps, although it can be a struggle with luggage. Network Rail, which owns the Waverley Steps, plans to add an escalator and lifts and is seeking planning permission. From Edinburgh there are regular fast trains to cities including Glasgow, London, Newcastle, Leeds and Manchester.

– Rooms from £135

– 1 Princes Street; tel +44 (0)131 556 2414; thebalmoralhotel.com

Paris Montparnasse

Le Meridien Montparnasse

Located along Rue du Commandant Mouchotte and beside the station can be found the mammoth 953-room Le Méridien Montparnasse hotel. This terminus is the city’s departure point to west and south-west France, covering cities such as Bordeaux, Tours and Nantes. The Air France bus from Orly stops outside.

– Rooms from €169

– 19 Rue du Commandant Mouchotte; tel +33 144 364 436 starwoodhotels.com

Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof

Le Meridien Parkhotel

This 297-room property is a few minutes’ walk from the city’s main station in a quiet square called Wiesenhuettenplatz – use one of the subterranean passageways to reach the hotel from the station concourse. Frankfurt is one of Germany’s main stations, with an S-Bahn link to the airport and high-speed ICE (the German equivalent of France’s TGV) trains connecting the country’s major cities, including Cologne, Berlin, Munich and Stuttgart. International services operate to France, Switzerland and Austria, some by ICE/TGV.

– Rooms from €150

– 28-38 Wiesenhuettenplatz; tel +49 692 6970; starwoodhotels.com

Hamburg Dammtor

Radisson Blu

Passengers arriving into Dammtor (one of Hamburg’s four mainline stations) can’t miss the 106-metre-high Radisson Blu.

This 556-room hotel overlooks Dammtor on one side and the scenic Planten and Bloemen gardens on the other. It has just been completely renovated, with guest rooms designed by Swedish architect Christian Lundwall. Dammtor is situated just outside the city centre and from here, ICE trains operate to Berlin, Frankfurt and Stuttgart. Hamburg also boasts some of the best public transport in Europe – from Dammtor, frequent S-Bahn trains can take you all over the city in minutes.

– Rooms from €130

– 2 Marseiller Strasse; tel +49 403 5020; radissonblu.com

Cologne Hauptbahnhof

Cologne Marriott

This newish 312-room property (it opened in January 2006) is about 200 metres south of the main station – take the Breslauer Platz exit. Cologne is a major transportation hub with trains departing for most domestic destinations, and an S-Bahn to the airport. International high-speed Thalys trains run to Brussels and Paris, while international ICE services operate to Amsterdam.

– Rooms from €130

– 76-80 Johannisstrasse; tel +49 221 942 220; marriott.com

Munich Hauptbahnhof

Sofitel Munich Bayerpost

Take the Bayerstrasse exit at the station and you’ll see the Sofitel facing you on your right about 100 metres away. In fact, this 396-room property is built within the city’s heritage post office.The S-Bahn from the airport calls at the hauptbahnhof. From this busy station there are ICE trains heading for a multitude of cities, including Stuttgart, Nuremberg and Frankfurt, and points further north. International trains run to Austria and Switzerland.

– Rooms from £163

– Bayerstrasse 12; tel +49 8959 9480; sofitel.com

Leipzig Hauptbahnhof

leipzig Marriott

Europe’s largest terminus is also one of its most impressive, with trains heading to cities including Berlin, Dresden and Frankfurt. There’s also an airport S-Bahn service. The 231-room Marriott is a five-minute walk along Am Hallischen Tor, a side turning off the wide Richard-Wagner-Strasse in front of the station.

– Rooms from €97

– Am Hallischen Tor 1; tel +49 3419 6530; marriott.com

Stockholm Central

Radisson SAS Royal Viking

This 459-room hotel is next to the city’s main station, one of the busiest in the Nordic region. The Arlanda Express will take you to the airport in 20 minutes, while X2000s (Sweden’s fast trains) operate to Malmo and Gothenburg, among others.

– Rooms from 2,195 kr (£193)

– 1 Vasagatan; tel +46 850 654 000; radissonblu.com

Zurich Hauptbahnhof

Hotel Schweizerhof

Here’s one property that’s happy to be listed as a railway hotel. The Schweizerhof is a traditional Swiss hotel across from the main station and located at the beginning of Bahnhofstrasse, Zurich’s main shopping street. The airport is 12 minutes away by train, while longer distance services also operate to Bern and Geneva. International routes include Munich, Vienna and Milan.

– Rooms from Fr 473 (£285) including breakfast

– 7 Bahnhofplatz; +41 442 188 888; hotelschweizerhof.com

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