Awful. Ugly, dirty, with two sets of platforms so that you’re never quite sure which side of this vast charm vacuum you’re meant to be on, and jammed between the most depressing shopping mall in London and a playpark for buses. The world beyond has been in the middle of building work since before any living human can remember. And if you find yourself in Victoria then there’s a reasonable chance you are soon to find yourself in Gatwick, London’s worst airport.
It was going to be 11th, but having written this I’ve realised I was kidding myself and have re-ordered the list. It’s just the worst.
It would be unfair to compare Euston to hell as it does at least present an opportunity to go to a better place (Manchester, say, or Glasgow). Then again, it would be unfair to compare it to purgatory, too, as unlike that corner of Catholic mythology it also presents a risk of ending up somewhere worse. So, officially: Euston is worse than purgatory.
Not quite hell. Image: Getty.
It is, at any rate, a cramped and dirty product of the worst era of British architecture: its dirty poor quality facilities besides particularly depressing loos stand as a “fuck you” from London to those who visit it from large parts of the country. It ranks so near the bottom not just because of these qualities but because of the frequency with which any regular train passenger will find themselves encountering them. There are worse stations – but there are few this bad in which you are this likely to regularly find yourself at some ungodly hour of the morning.
As dark and dirty as the grave, and only marginally bigger. What’s worse, the furthest you can get is Letchworth. Letchworth, for heaven’s sake.
This isn’t a rail terminal: it’s a tube station going through an awkward goth phase.
11. Fenchurch Street
Geographically not much more ambitious than Moorgate – the trains only run as far as Southend, although to be fair if they went any further they’d fall into the North Sea.
Looks nice, though. Image: Getty.
This one is a proper rail terminal, at least, although the retail and refreshment facilities are second to literally everywhere and, worse, it doesn’t even have a tube station. Its inclusion on the Monopoly Board baffles me to this day.
10. Cannon Street
Strangely pointless: seems to exist entirely to complicate track arrangements out of London Bridge, a hilariously nearby station at which every train leaving Cannon Street is also destined to call.
Bloody office blocks. Image: Sunil060209/Wikimedia Commons.
On the upside, it’s clean rather than filthy, and cosy rather than cramped. On the down, it inserts an entirely unnecessary station onto the District and Circle lines from which you can literally see the next stop up the line. Not awful, exactly, just… why?
Fenchurch Street’s nicer brother: the one your mum secretly wishes you’d brought home instead.
The newest platforms at Marylebone. Image: Wikimedia Commons.
Again, it’s out of the way, its trains go to nowhere very much and it’s poorly hooked into the tube network (although not quite as poorly). But it has a decent pub, and if you don’t mind going the slow way, it provides cheaper, more comfortable and more scenic trains to Oxford and Birmingham than its larger, brasher rivals. It’s alright, really.
8. Charing Cross
Charing Cross has many of the problems of the smaller stations I’ve already talked about – it’s cramped and it’s dirty in exactly the way Simon Bradley’s mum’s house was the morning after some prick posted word of his 17th birthday party to an open group on Facebook.
Charing Cross, from the Strand. Image: Bernard Gagnon/Wikimedia Commons.
It’s right in the heart if things. You can walk out one way and hit Trafalgar Square. Walk out the other and you’re crossing the Golden Jubilee Bridges to the South Bank. It’s a shithole. Yet, somehow, I can’t bring myself to hate it.
Then again, I never use it, so perhaps this is just Euston syndrome in reverse.
So big and so busy – It’s the busiest station in Britain and possibly, depending on how you count, the busiest in Europe.
A particularly busy day at the busiest station. Image: Getty.
That scale is a double edged sword, though. On the one hand it feels bustling and important and like you’re really setting our somewhere. On the other, it’s overcrowded and you’re inevitably 20 platforms from the one you want, and you’re not really setting our somewhere at all because, despite being the busiest station on an entire continent, it’s served by no really long distance trains: Exeter is about the limit, and even that is reached more quickly from Paddington.
On the upside, the way London snottily pretended that the Thames didn’t have a south bank for so long means that it’s incredibly well located. The name is a nice riposte to the existence of Paris’ Gare D’Austerlitz, too.
You know, a lot of people have told me they hate Paddington, and I can’t entirely see why. It’s nothing special, I guess, but there’s a certain grandeur to the scale of that glazed roof, and that, plus the lack of major barriers between concourse and platforms, gives journeys through Paddington a sense of occasion. All that, and there’s a statue of a tiny fictional Peruvian bear, too.
The concourse on a snow day. Image: Getty.
That said, it’s miles from anywhere useful, west London is generally awful, the area outside the station is particularly so, and the whole tube situation here is completely fucked up. So no way am I putting this higher than 6th place.
5. Liverpool Street
Fine, basically? Clean. Bright. Decent enough facilities. Decent enough shops. Good scale – you’re never more than about two minutes from your platform. It works.
Alright, basically. Image: Diliff/Wikimedia Commons.
I don’t think it’s a spectacular place to transit through or anything, it’s more that I just can’t think of anything grounds on which to slag it off. It’s okay. The vanilla ice cream of London rail terminals.
Okay, now were getting to the good shit.
Blackfriars by night. Image: Andrew Dupont/Flickr/creative commons.
Blackfriars is a station that’s also a bridge. It’s literally on both sides of the river. Okay the name is annoying and its train services have been screwed since slightly before Henry II ascended the throne in 1154. But it’s a motherfucking station that crosses a motherfucking bridge. Come on, that is badass.
3. Kings Cross
A little under a decade ago, Kings Cross was awful. A tiny concourse for a huge number of long distance trains. A temporary facade that had been there 40 years. Its main purpose was to give visitors from Scotland and Yorkshire some basis for their lifelong prejudice against That London.
The hawk is not always in attendance. Image: Getty.
But then, they fixed it. The new concourse is light and airy. The curved concourse roof is a thing of beauty, and the bridge which carries departing passengers to their platform is a clever way to stop them and arrivals from getting in each other’s way. And the trains will, if you’re so minded, take you to real faraway places like Aberdeen and Edinburgh. It’s glorious.
My one slight criticism is that the public square out front which opened with such fanfare doesn’t work because it is, fundamentally, next to the closest thing you’ll find in central London to a motorway. But the station itself? Glorious.
2. London Bridge
London Bridge was a mess even more recently than Kings Cross. Months, rather than years, ago, the concourse was the size of a postage stamp and roughly as sticky, and to get to the platforms you had to walk up dark, sloping concrete corridors like a member of Spinal Tap lost in the world’s worst multi-storey car park. On, and the main entrance was through a bus shelter.
The new concourse. Image: Network Rail.
No longer. In January, the station finally opened a cavernous new ground-level concourse, which opens to the street on two sides, and takes passengers directly up to every platform via escalator. More shops and cafes are still on their way in the various arches around the station.
It’s lovely – functional and beautiful, the closest thing you’ll find in London to the greatness of New York’s Grand Central. After years of work, London Bridge has gone from being London’s worst rail terminal to a candidate for its best.
If they could just make the trains run okay, then it’d be pretty much perfect.
1. St Pancras
I mean it’s just brilliant isn’t it? The outside is beautiful. The inside is beautiful. The giant clock that looks down on the concourse is beautiful. Even the roof, for heaven’s sake, is beautiful – the blue of the arches automatically bringing to mind joyful days and cloudless skies.
Obviously the best one. Image: Getty.
All that, and you can get on a train that will take you under the sea to different countries entirely. It’s just magical: the only London station that doesn’t feel even slightly disappointing.
Praise is so much harder to write than snark, and I’m quite lazy, so I’ll leave it there, except to say: you know that they nearly demolished this place? The past was completely mad.
This article first appeared on our sister site, the New Statesman.