Riding public transit, whether at home or abroad, is mostly thought of as a utilitarian activity. Something to get from point A to point B and back again.
But there are some subway systems offering much more than transportation. From eye-popping architecture to museum-worthy art, from Moscow to Madrid, going underground for a ride on the metro can be a cultural experience well worth seeking out.
Often referred to as the longest art gallery in the world, Stockholm’s stunning subway system is filled with works by more than 150 artists, including sculptures, mosaics, paintings and art installations.
Cave-like Kungsträdgården subway station, for example, painted in vibrant swaths of red and green, is meant to evoke an underground garden. The station also houses a small archeological museum containing artefacts on loan from Sweden’s National Art Museums collective. During summer, from June to August, there are guided art walks in English every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday starting at 3 p.m. from T-Centralen Metro station.
There’s a lot to love about Madrid’s metro, aside from the fact that it makes for an efficient means of getting around the city. For starters, 12 of Madrid’s metro stations offer libraries, courtesy of Bibliometro, a free service allowing passengers to check out books using a touch screen.
In terms of stations, Carpetana contains an archeological museum housing paleontological remains found in Madrid. It also contains replicas of some of the animals that inhabited the area some 15 million years ago. Other stations contain murals, mosaics and sculptures.
You might be visiting Naples for the pizza, but there’s a whole underground world to explore in between bites of authentic Neapolitan pie.
The city’s metro lines 1 and 6 together feature more than 180 works of art by 90 renowned architects, designers and contemporary artists. There are mosaics, installations, sculptures and photographs.
But this isn’t just art being exhibited underground—the stations themselves are full-on installations. Case in point: Toledo station, one of the deepest in the city. As you descend towards the tracks, it feels as if you’re submerging yourself into the ocean.
There’s no denying that the City of Light is an architecturally stunning city. That style extends to the extensive metro system spanning 214 kilometres and 303 stations.
Many station stops drop you off within steps of many of Paris’ must-see sights and attractions. In addition to those iconic art nouveau entrances, designed by Hector Guimard, many of the stations display art, sculptures and other ornate details.
A stop at Louvre-Rivoli (Line 1) means getting a glimpse of replicas of some of the works of art found within the Louvre. Similarly, Varenne (Line 13), close to the Rodin Museum, is home to a number of replicas of Rodin’s works, including the iconic statue The Thinker.
Riders on Toronto’s subway system (dubbed the TTC) have access to an entire underground maze of shops, services and restaurants from six stations that connect directly to the PATH, the largest underground shopping complex in the world.
Toronto’s PATH stretches more than 30 kilometres and connects riders to 1,200 restaurants, shops and services, as well as three major department stores, nine hotels and Union Station, Toronto’s main transit hub.
The PATH provides links to some of the city’s most popular tourist and entertainment attractions, including the Hockey Hall of Fame, Roy Thomson Hall, Scotiabank Arena and CF Toronto Eaton Centre.
At a whopping 434 kilometres long, Shanghai’s metro system is the longest in the world. Not only is it an effective means of traversing the bustling city, the system also incorporates the world’s only tourist tunnel, the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel, which travels under the city’s Huangpu River between East Nanjing Road station and Pudong station. The 647-metre-long tunnel is encased in a glass capsule, which houses an eye-popping system of strobe lighting that throws vivid, psychedelic patterns upon the tunnel walls.
Athens is a city well known for its rich history, something that extends to the city’s metro system. Here you’ll find displays of archaeological remains in several stations, making it feel as if you’re in a museum rather than on a subway platform.
Artefacts of archaeological significance, discovered when the metro was being constructed, were preserved, and many of them can be found in exhibitions at several station stops, including Syntagma, Monastiraki, Acropolis, Elaionas and Aigaleo.
Mexico City Subway System
You’ll find murals and large-scale mosaics at various stations that make waiting for the next train easy on the eyes. In addition, a scale model of the city’s zócalo, or main square, showing how it has changed over the years, can be found at the aptly named Zócalo station.
Travellers on Dubai’s clean, driverless metro system are just a ride away from some of the city’s top attractions.
Ibn Battuta station puts passengers just steps from the mall of the same name. Split into six “worlds” to reflect the travels of famous adventurer Ibn Battuta, the themed mall is home to more than 275 retailers and 50 dining outlets.
Mall of the Emirates station is in easy reach of the city’s second-biggest mall, complete with indoor ski slope.
And then there’s BurJuman station, also attached to a mall of the same name, but this time with a twist. The station itself is home to a fantastical opulent blue-hued atmosphere and massive jellyfish-shaped chandeliers.
Getting around Russia’s capital is not only easy using the city’s extensive metro system, it’s a visual treat, thanks to the architecturally stunning stations that look more like rooms in a grand palace than places to wait for the next train.
A tourist attraction in its own right, stations here have sky-high ceilings and are adorned with stained glass, Baroque plasterwork, mosaics, marble walls and ornate chandeliers, each one decorated differently. In some stations, you’ll even find dedicated “sele spots” designed to help passengers get the best photo.
You might even catch a performance when you visit: a ballet version of Dostoyevsky’s novel The Idiot was recently performed in the metro station named after the author.by