You can tell a lot about a city by the network of tunnels and stations that spreads out beneath its streets. The subways in each major metropolis are bespoke and unique, and they offer an intriguing window into the truth of that city and the collective consciousness of its inhabitants.
The atmosphere, the station architecture, the state of the trains, the demeanor of staff (as well as fellow travelers, buskers, beggars, and pickpockets), the content of the graffiti, the efficiency of the service – all of these things tell you much about the reality of the city you’re in (details that may well be omitted from that city’s tourist industry propaganda).
A subway tends to be a mirror image of its mother city. Moscow’s antiquated grandeur, New York’s brash bullishness, Seoul’s space-age efficiency, and London’s cheeky charm are all reflected in the subway systems that pulse, hum, and scream beneath their streets.
Here is our BUCKiTDREAM list of six cities with iconic subway systems (that are absolutely fascinating attractions in their own right). Don’t forget to put the cities and subways that excite you the most in your BUCKiTDREAM planner!
London People have been ‘minding the gap’ beneath London for over 150 years. The London Underground is the oldest metro system in the world, and without doubt one of the most iconic. Its famous map looks like a plate of multicolored spaghetti, and visitors to the city can take a while to get their bearings and find their way through the Underground’s complex warren of adjoining, interlocking tunnels. Despite its age, the London subway system is clean, safe, and efficient. The fact that Londoners grumble and moan when they reach a platform and the digital display reads that the next train won’t be arriving for a whole… four minutes(!!!), shows you how frequently and efficiently trains usually operate on London’s famous old subway!
Seoul The South Korean capital has one of the most crowded but technically sophisticated metros on Earth. Fast wifi, TVs, and heated seats make riding in Seoul’s often densely packed subway cars more fun than you’d imagine! The Seoul subway is extremely busy but the space-age technology utilized on the network means it runs speedily, efficiently, and usually without any hitches.
New York City The New York Subway keeps the city ticking 24/7, 365. It truly is ‘the subway that never sleeps’! New York relies heavily on it much-loved (by some, and much-hated by others!) subway system. Many millions of locals and visitors ride it day and night, and many of the city’s homeless live in semi-permanent settlements they have fashioned in abandoned tunnels and stations. The New York subway is the quintessential American metro system – it has the biggest rats, the craziest buskers, and more unusual characters than any other subway on the continent, hands down!
Moscow If you like your underground networks lit by rows of huge, ornate chandeliers, make for the Russian capital! The Moscow Metro is very big, very beautiful, and very old. Seven million people use the Moscow subway system each day, riding through 190 miles of deep tunnels. Many of the stations are masterworks of spectacular, classical architecture – wonderfully ornate subterranean museums with trains running through them every two minutes! Komsomolskaya Station has opulent chandeliers, granite pillars, and detailed plasterwork that would not look out of place in some of the greatest cathedrals, concert halls, or art galleries of Europe.
Paris The Paris Metro drips with European romance and intrigue. For over 110 years the tunnels and stations beneath Paris have echoed with the sounds of sophisticated French footsteps, lyrical Francophone voices, and romantic melodies performed by the network’s generations of buskers. The stations of the Paris Metro are a varied bunch – some are modern and experimental; some are dowdy and dangerous; and many are old, grand, ornate movie sets that exude a magic, mystery, and charm that you could only ever find deep beneath the most romantic city on Earth!
Pyongyang Secretive Pyongyang has a busy, well-functioning metro system… Apparently. Rumor has it there are 17 stations below the North Korean capital. The system is busy and supposedly works well. The trains are rather funky (and unsurprisingly retro) green and red striped ‘bone-rattlers’, a universe away from the intergalactic spacecraft-like trains that silently glide around the Seoul subway system only a few miles to the south. The Pyongyang metro is certainly the world’s most mysterious subway, and if you ever get a chance to visit it, it will certainly be an unforgettable experience!
That was our BUCKiTDREAM list of six cities with iconic subway systems. Whether you are screeching below Big Ben in a red, white, and blue Tube, warming your bum on a heated Seoul subway seat, or even being shown around by some friendly government-appointed ‘tour guides’ in Pyongyang, don’t forget to share your iconic subway experiences on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (although this may not be so wise in the case of Pyongyang)!