If you are visiting Washington D.C., you are likely arriving via Union Station or the airport. The conveniently located transportation center provides you with easy access to the METRO, Amtrak, MARC and VRE railroads, and is the main bus terminal for Bolt Bus, Greyhound, Megabus, DC2NY and Washington Deluxe. Union Station remains one of Washington D.C.'s most iconic attractions and shopping centers. The transportation hub is visited by over 40 million people every year and is centrally located to give you access to many of the must-see attractions, including the U.S. Capitol Building, U.S. Supreme Court, National Mall, and Library of Congress.
Union Station was built as the first great union railroad terminal in the country, opening in October 1907. It was designed by architect Daniel Burnham and represents the Beaux-Arts style of architecture, which is characterized by order, symmetry, and elaborate design. The marble floors, columns, balconies, and 22 karat gold decoration of Union Station showcase this style and must be seen in person to appreciate. In the 1940s, Union Station served over 42,000 passengers daily. It was said to have many amenities including a movie theater, a bowling alley, Turkish baths, liquor store, butcher shop, and a bakery, making it a "city within a city."
However, the onset of WWII and the great demand for transportation impacted the condition of Union Station. When public transportation changed from trains to cars and airplane in the 1950s and 1960s, Union Station saw less use and was designated as a historic landmark in 1964 and was converted into a National Visitor Center. It was not until 1981 when the U.S. Government passed the Union Station Redevelopment Act to restore Union Station to its former glory after the roof collapsed from a rainstorm. The Act would preserve the exterior facade, restore the building to a transportation center, and add commercial retail space. The $160 million project was completed in 1988, with multiple additions and renovations completed in 2008, 2011 and 2016 to add more retail space, repair damage from an earthquake, and remove the fountains in the Main Hall.
Today, Union Station serves its original function as a transportation center to catch a bus or train. A variety of retail spaces provide an opportunity to find a souvenir or shop like a local during your visit. You can also take advantage of the meal voucher program which allows travelers and non-travelers to purchase vouchers for breakfast/small bites or lunch/dinner to present at participating restaurants in Union Station. Union Station's elegant design and expansive size make it more than just a transportation center but also a place to eat, drink, shop, and catch a ride. If you are spending 24 hours in the city, plan to arrive and depart at Union Station. You'll get the chance to experience this unique gem in Washington D.C. and also have time to visit must-see attractions.
Cover image by Gerald L. Campbell, Flickr Images.