One of the many things I enjoy observing during my travels is the urban planning of major cities. Public transport systems vary widely; some focus more on being modern and efficient, others more on extravagance. I’m drawn to Metro systems with distinct beauty and charm, and find an abundance of great photo ops in subway stations near and far. Here are a few of my favorites.
The Moscow Metro is truly amazing! It’s one of the biggest, busiest, and deepest Metro systems in the world, featuring over 200 stations and over 330 kilometers of underground rails. Over six million passengers commute on the Metro each day, making it one of the world’s busiest.
The Moscow Metro uses both new and old carriages. The older ones are obviously the nicest to look at and feel more authentic. Occasionally, there are standing-only wagons which feature art exhibits or other special themes.
But the best part of the Moscow Metro are the amazing stations! Many are elaborately decorated, giving the feel of being inside an old mansion or art museum. There is a strong historical element as well. To this day, many stations still boast Communist murals or the famous hammer-and-sickle Soviet Union emblems. The Metro system is an undeniable tribute to past Communist glory. Check out Mayakovskaya station, or the wonderful statues dotting Ploschad Revolyutsii, among my favorites.
The Metro systems of other Russian cities such as St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Kazan, and Novosibirsk, among others, are also architectural splendors. They are like poor man’s versions of the Moscow Metro, but also unique in their own right.
Attachment: Gallery of Russia
The street-level entrances to Paris Metro stations themselves are gothic marvels. The Art Noveau architecture is unique and unforgettable. Once you get down to the cavernous, often labyrinthine underground parts, the real fun begins. Many stations feature high-arched ceilings and all are unique in their own right. A lot of effort was taken to constructing not only public transport hubs, but living works of art. This effort was not in vain.
With over 240 stations, the Paris Metro has more stations than Moscow
, but fewer daily passengers and therefore the crowds are usually not as bad. It’s actually one of the most efficient Metro systems in the world, despite being one of the largest. It’s also one of the oldest Metros in the world, having opened at the turn of the twentieth century.
Chicago, United States
The Chicago Metro is known as the “El”, because most of its stations are elevated above the roadways, traversing a series of ancient, rusting arches which extend over the thoroughfares throughout the city. Although some of the subway system is underground, the elevated sections are easily the most memorable.
Riding along above street-level, you can be provided with spectacular views of the downtown skyline, Lake Michigan, or better yet, the everyday life of the locals right beneath you. The El stations and passengers alike elicit a rugged, homey feel which radiates the distinct vibe of the Windy City.
Opened in 1896, the El system is also one of the oldest in the world, and the oldest in North America.
Shanghai and Beijing, China
At over 570 kilometers of tracks, they are the two longest Metro systems in the world
With over 3 billion riders per year, they are the two busiest Metro systems in the world.
Both Shanghai and Beijing Metros are clean, modern, and strikingly efficient. Despite their abundance of stations they are incredibly crowded, often with lengthy cues to wait for trains. Another complaint is like nearly all Metro systems in China, the stations are generic and sterile; pretty much every station looks exactly the same. However, there is a lively vibe going on at all times, a good way to people watch as you efficiently shuttle your way around the cities.
Of the two, I prefer the Shanghai system because it seems to have more outdoor lines which can provide unique city views. However, both are too similar to include one on this list while leaving one out. Sprawling, busy, efficient and effective.
The Bangkok MRT
(underground subway) is modern and efficient enough, but its stations are impossibly bland and sterile. However, the BTS
Skytrain is an elevated train which is exclusively outdoors and quite high above the streets below.
I enjoy the BTS for the unique city views. It’s a good place to go if you like panoramic photos. Stop at some of the many stations, especially around sunset, to get good views of the expansive skyline. The air-conditioned trains are also an effective way to escape the often-smoldering Thai heat! I’ve also heard that local Thais prefer the Skytrain for spiritual and cultural reasons; they’d rather travel above the streets than beneath them. Therefore, the BTS is often busier and more vibrant than the MRT.
Mexico City, Mexico
I found the Mexico City Metro to be highly entertaining. The stations themselves have a relatively unique charm, but are nothing overly special. The primary memories I have of this subway system are the abundance of entertaining performers I constantly encountered during rides.
Break-dancing groups and freestyle reggae-ton rappers. Clowns and pantomimists. Elaborate costumes galore, sometimes full bands setting up their tiny sets in the corner of the train for a ‘concert’. Fun entertainment options for all on this Metro!
As the capital of the Kazakh Autonomous Territory in the former USSR, this Metro system is heavily influenced by Soviet architectural and artistic style
. During a Metro tour, you can see the striking similarities of this Metro with its bigger Moscow counterpart. However, look closer and you can see some unique Kazakh-influenced traits, which adds to the charm of this relatively small yet delightful Metro system.
Berlin’s Metro system is unique in that there are two entirely different systems, run by different companie
s, intertwining throughout the city. Riders must buy separate tickets for each system, although there are some transfer stations making it somewhat convenient. The Metro traverses a mix of underground and elevated tracks, providing a feel of both a subway and a sky-train. I likened many of its outdoor stations, particularly those in diverse neighborhoods around the old bridge, to be like a Euro version of Chicago’s El system.
London, UK and New York, USA
No Metro list can be complete without these two, widely considered the granddaddies of them all.
London was the first Metro system in the world and remains one of the busiest and most iconic. New York has by far the most stations and is constantly expanding. Both reflect the incredible diversity and vibrancy of their cities.
- Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
- Seoul, South Korea
- Budapest, Hungary
- Istanbul, Turkey
- Buenos Aires, Argentina
Thanks for reading! Any Metro systems you might add or disagree with? Leave a comment and share!