Union Station, Washington DC: The Complete Guide

This historic train station is both a travel hub and tourist attraction.

Washington Union Station
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You can't help but look up when entering Union Station, Washington DC's historic train station. Even harried commuters and travelers marvel at this stunning Beaux-Arts building, with its barrel-vaulted ceiling covered in gold leaf. Union Station is not only a hub for traveling around D.C. and up and down the East Coast. It's a shopping mall, and a venue for world-class exhibitions and international cultural events.

No wonder Union Station is among the most visited destinations in Washington, DC with more than 40 million visitors each year — that includes both travelers passing through and tourists who make a point to visit this beautiful terminal.

History

Constructed in 1907, Union Station is considered to be one of the finest examples of the Beaux-Arts style of architecture with its 96-foot barrel-vaulted ceilings, stone inscriptions and expensive materials such as white granite, marble and gold leaf. The train station was built in 1907 as part of the McMillan Plan, an architectural plan for the City of Washington that was created to improve upon the original city plan that was designed by Pierre L’Enfant in 1791, to surround public buildings with landscaped parks and open spaces.

At the time there were two train stations that were located within a half a mile of one another.

Union Station was built to consolidate the two stations and make room for the development of the National Mall. In 1912, the Christopher Columbus Memorial Fountain and Statue was built at the front entrance of the station. The train station's construction was a major milestone in the development of the core area of the nation's capital.

As air travel became popular, train travel declined and Union Station began to age and deteriorate. In the 1970s, the building was uninhabitable and in danger of demolition. The building was designated as a historic landmark and completely restored in 1988. It was transformed into a transportation terminal, commercial center and venue for special exhibits as it stands today. In recent years, historic preservation allowed the building's gilded ceiling to shine brightly again. Future plans for improvements to the station continue to evolve, with plans for a renovation to the station's passenger concourse in the works.

The book, "Images of Rail: Union Station in Washington DC," includes 200 historical images of the city of Washington, Union Station and the region’s railroads.

Trains and Waiting Rooms

Union Station is the rail station for Amtrak, MARC Train (Maryland Rail Commuter Service) and VRE (Virginia Railway Express). It's a popular destination for customers traveling north from D.C. to Boston, NYC, and Philadelphia. Midwest routes travel from D.C. to Cincinnati, Indiana, Chicago, or head southbound to Richmond, Raleigh, and Charlotte. Check Amtrack's website for complete schedules and destinations. There's plenty of space within the terminal near the tracks for patrons to wait. Find the MARC train waiting area near the Metro station, with waiting areas for Amtrak train past the Main Hall.

Upstairs in the parking garage, buses like Bolt Bus, Megabus, Greyhound, Peter Pan, DC2NY, and Washington Deluxe depart to destinations like NYC, Boston, Philadelphia, and beyond. Bus patrons can wait upstairs in a new waiting area that's covered from the element.

Location and How to Get There

Union Station is located at 50 Massachusetts Avenue, NE, and it's on the Red Line of the Washington Metro system. Taxis are easy to hail from the front of the station as well. If you prefer to drive, there are more than 2,000 parking spaces, all accessible from H St., NE. Expect to pay anywhere between $4.95 for one hour with a validated pass to $72 for 72 hours. The parking garage is open 24 hours, 7 days a week. .

Shopping, Restaurants and More Things to Do at Union Station

The Food Court at Union Station with outposts like Bojangles is a great place to enjoy a snack or take the whole family for a quick and inexpensive meal. Full service restaurants include Johnny Rockets, Pizzeria Uno, Thunder Grill, and the new Legal Sea Bar, a sophisticated spot for seafood. Fast-casual restaurants like Shake Shack, Cava, Chop't, Roti, and Chipotle are located near the tracks.

Stores at Union Station sell everything from men’s and women’s fashion to jewelry to decorative arts to games and toys. Find a new look at clothing stores like Victoria's Secret, H&M, and Jos. A Bank and or indulge in cosmetics at MAC, Bluemercury, and The Body Shop. Remember your vacation at America! where you can take home a D.C.-themed souvenir. Travelers will appreciate stores like Hudson and EZ Travel Solutions for books and travel essentials.

Where to Stay Nearby

Staying in Capitol Hill is very convenient to Union Station; it's just a quick cab ride away. Here's a rundown of 12 hotels in and around the Capitol Hill neighborhood, from luxury hotels like the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and more budget-friendly options like the Residence Inn.

What to Do Nearby

Union Station is located in the heart of Washington, DC. Conveniently, sightseeing tours like the Gray Line, Big Bus, and DC Ducks depart from Union Station as well. If you don't join a group tour, make your way to nearby tourist attractions like Library of Congress, the National Mall, and the U. S. Capitol Building.

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