If you prefer subway systems with ornate architecture and chandelier lighting, then Moscow is your city. Like many former Soviet transportation systems, the Moscow Metro oozes architectural grandeur (both inside and out). By European standards, the subway is super-cheap and relatively fast. With more than 180 miles of track serving 177 stations, it is also one of the largest and most efficient, operating from 6 am to 1 daily.
The London Underground system (also known as the Tube) is as much a part of the city as the iconic double-decker buses—the trains are just a lot faster and used by more people. Considering that the system has been running for over 150 years, the Tube is doing pretty well. Illuminated digital signs let you know that your train is approaching, and lines interlink for effortless transfers. Tall people may have to stoop over a bit if they’re standing near the doors since the tube-shaped tunnels mean that the trains themselves have curved sides. And, of course, don’t forget to ‘mind the gap’.
Of the 100 or so stations that make up the Tunnelbana (or T-bana) network, more than 90 have works of art, making it ostensibly the longest art gallery in the world. With pieces by 140 artists, the stations also have unique features such as huge murals and cave-like rough-hewn wall surfaces.
You’ve got to love a city that has women-only carriages on its subway trains. Sure, there are stations where men in little white gloves nudge you on to the train, especially during rush hour. That aside, the Tokyo Metro is a sensible option for making your way around the city. In fact, you can reach many shops, malls, restaurants, and commercial buildings without ever surfacing.
New York City
Crowds aside, the extensive New York City subway system has to be among the world’s best. In general, the system is easy to navigate with its colour-coded and letter- or number-named lines. Below ground, you’ll find entertaining street (or should we say platform) performers, period tile work, funky art installations and occasionally a newspaper/candy stand. The MTA network has 468 stops over four boroughs. In the city that never sleeps, the subway is definitely quicker than taking a cab.
The 110-year-old Paris Métro consists of 16 colour-coded lines plus the RER train lines which criss-cross the city. Many stations feature historic and distinct Art Nouveau signage and ornate entrances designed by Hector Guimard. Stations like Musée du Louvre have museum exhibits and others feature tiled vaulted ceilings and minimalist designs.
Bigger is not always better, as seen with the pocket-size Dubai Metro system. Technically, only part of the network goes underground. It also links to a monorail with the best train views over Dubai and the Gulf. Operational for little over five years, this modern train network is pretty glamorous for public transportation. Each station has Wi-Fi access (for an additional cost), a cellphone signal and elevator access to all platforms.
One of the crowning achievements of this city’s Olympic bid was the creation of Attiko Metro, a system with stations housing archaeological exhibits and items that were uncovered while digging (walls, cisterns, urns and even sarcophagi). Even if you don’t need to get to any of the 50-plus stations, it’s well worth a visit to Syntagma Square or Akropoli stations to see the relics or Ethniki Amyna station for more contemporary art installations. Though the trains aren’t that modern or efficient, the visual surroundings make it all worthwhile.
Hong Kong, China
Clean, efficient and almost sterile in its appearance, Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway (MTR) should be emulated by more cities. Passengers wait in orderly lines and approach glass-barrier screens, meaning you don’t have to worry about pushing or shoving. The signs (written in Chinese and English) cater to most users, and the colour-coded lines and illuminated routes are easy to decipher. As for the noise, you’ll hear more cellphone ringtones than anything else.
As with Hong Kong’s MTR network, you’ll never miss a cellphone call while riding on Beijing’s new subway system. A legacy of the Beijing Olympic Games, the Beijing Metro trains are pristine. Announcements are made in Mandarin and English, there are television monitors to keep you informed and entertained. You can also find shopping malls, entertainment hubs, and restaurants in many of the major stations. Although already quite extensive, there are plans to extend the lines and create several dozen more stations within the next few years.