There are hundreds of subway systems worth exploring. Here are 8 to get you started.
Using public transportation is a necessary means to get to work, to a date, or home. But it is also much more than just getting from A to B. Even though a subway ride is sort of an “in-between” of what happens in our lives, it give us at best room to think, read, or connect with a city. It might help us to form deeper connections with the people living, working, and commuting in a city and to start thinking about the lives they lead and the dreams they might have.
Here are 8 subway systems from around the world worth exploring.
1. New York City
In this city the real action happens underground
If you go to New York and don’t hop onto the A-, L-, Q-, or 6-train you are missing out. If you are lucky you get a life lesson during your morning commute, be it applying extensive make-up with tiny hand-mirrors or a parent reading “The Cat in the Hat” to their child. Sometimes you get a free performance, be it break dance or classical music, all from the relative comfort of your seat. Forget the Statue of Liberty, in this city the real action happens underground!
The New York transit system runs 24 hours, rain or shine, and some stations got wifi a few years ago. It has an impressive 468 stations and is transporting 1.7 billion people every year.
- Union Square (there is always someone performing here, no matter how late or early it is)
- Times Square, if you want to feel like a mouse in a maze
- The old City Hall station (This station has not been in use since 1945, because trains got too big and don’t fit into the quite narrow hall anymore. However, you can get a glimpse of this hidden treasure, when you jump on the downtown 6 train).
- 72nd Street: This station is above ground and on a platform in the middle of a street. It is designed by the architecture company Heins & LaFarge, which was responsible for the designs of many early stations.
If you’re lucky: You get a lesson in manicure/make-up application/shoe cleaning all from the relative comfort of your subway seat.
New York City Subway, L-Train, © mgarabedian.com
A Streetcar Named Schottentor
Having lived in Vienna for eight years now, the main attraction when it comes to public transport are the streetcars (called “Bim” in Austria).
Forget Tennessee Williams: Vienna has a streetcar named Schottentor!
Try to catch one of the stroller-unfriendly old ones, where you can see the city go by and feel like Sigmund Freud dissecting and analyzing his city from afar.
Architect buffs should check out the Karlsplatz above ground station, a former station of the Viennese Stadtbahn, designed by Otto Wagner.
The best part about taking the U-Bahn in Vienna is that it is a comparatively stress-free experience. Dogs are on leashes and cars are not as crowded as they are in other cities.
- Schottentor: this is where one of the gates of the city walls were and it’s also the main station for University of Vienna students.
If you’re lucky: You get to meet a “Schwarzkappler” (ticket controller) and get to wave your ticket in his face.
After you, please!
The London “Tube” is the oldest subway system in the world, dating back to 1863. The yellow “Mind the Gap” print is Instagram-worthy and in London everyone is on the Tube, because traffic is so insane in the city. Riding the Tube is an experience on its own: there are the beautiful tiles along the Victoria line you can explore or you could feel like a double agent or a spy, when riding up the the escalator at Canary Wharf.
So get your Oyster card and hop on the train! After you, please!
- Baker Street (a must for every Sherlock Holmes fan)
- Canary Wharf (feel like a double agent, when riding up the escalator)
- The busiest Tube station is Waterloo, which was used by 95 million people in 2015
- Hang tight on the Metropolitan line, which is with 60mph the fastest line on the Tube.
4. Buenos Aires
Time travel in historic carriages
I was able to explore the Buenos Aires subway system last summer, when visiting my sister in this beautiful city. The subway is called “Subte” and almost every station is artfully designed. Opened in 1913 it is the oldest subway system in South America with 83 stations and six train lines.
During the week it can get extremely crowded. 252 million people ride the subway system every year, most of them are commuting to work during the week. On the weekends, with all the commuters staying home, the subway is basically empty. The same applies also to the streets of Buenos Aires.
- Plaza de Mayo (this is the place, where at the pink government house Evita gave her famous balcony speech!)
You can still ride in historic, 100-year-old carriages of the A-Line. Be prepared for a bumpy (and noisy!) ride, but sitting in the wooden seats and staring at the historic ceiling lights is a real treat!
The Art Nouveau-styled entrances are pure eye-candy
The best thing about the Paris Metro are its entrances. The subway itself is one of the busiest world-wide, but the Art Nouveau-styled entrances, which are designed by Hector Guimard are pure eye-candy for every architect-lover. So skip the Metro, if you can, and just walk around above ground from entrance to entrance.
The Metro started in 1900 and is now fully-automated and with no drivers.
- One station you should not miss is the Arts Et Métiers Station, which was designed by the Belgian artist François Schuiten and is supposed to resemble the fantastical world of writings by Jules Verne.
Don’t wait for a less crowded car
Tokyo’s Metro is one of the busiest in the world, transporting 3.3 billion people every year. The result of this is that it can get very crowded and the city employs oshiya (“pushers”) to make sure that everyone boards the train safely. Don’t make the mistake to wait for a less crowded car. It’s not very likely that a following car will have space for you to stretch your legs.
The Tokyo Metro system is well organized runs smoothly, with trains sometimes leaving every 2 minutes at peak times.
Don’t do it: Enter the subway with your Morning Joe. It’s not polite to bring your beverage onto the subway and well, there might not be room for your to-go cup.
Tokyo Subway Station, © Mitch Altman
Skip the art museum, take the subway
Taking the subway in Athens might feel a bit like time-travelling to ancient Greece. The subway stations are so beautiful and some might make you think you are in an art museum and not just on a subway platform.
Step into Greek history as you are waiting for the train and look at ancient vases, the remains of graves, dwellings, and roads at the Acropolis station.
Interesting to know: The treasures you can see here are exhibited at the exact places, where they were found. For €1.40 (single ride) you can hang out in any subway station for 90-minutes. It’s worth missing one or the other train for that.
The fastest growing metro in the world
The Shanghai Metro system is one of the biggest growing metro systems in the world. It spans 365 miles and is the second biggest metro system after Peking.
Extra security and x-ray-machines are used to check bags and suitcases of passengers. Often times, however, this procedure is not taking very seriously and people just cross the barriers without having their bag checked.
The stations are with glass walls and sliding doors very secure, but as soon as doors open, people simultaneously get in and out. Somehow it works here.
What subway systems or stations have I missed? Let me know in the comments. I hope you enjoyed the ride!