A guide to the fifty most beautiful subway systems in the world. With star rating.
Subways need not be boring or dreary! On the contrary, many operators of metros, subways or underground railways want to attract passengers with good station design. This often means extra effort and cost for the metro operators, but it seems to pay off when a metro is more than just a means of transport but something the residents can be proud of.
See below which subway system is a Unesco World Heritage site, which subway lines double as the world's longest art galleries, or in which networks you can find stunning baroque-style underground palaces, museums, aquariums, comical statues, grand architecture from art-deco to modernist to futuristic... or just passenger-friendly and beautiful underground stations.
Do you like to spend your waiting time standing in a smelly narrow box with tons of advertising posters on grimy tiled walls? Most subway systems tend to be filthy and rather dull from an aesthetic point of view. But there are cities that explicitly foster arts and/or good architecture in subways. The photos in the list below are examples from those cities. The list includes:
Works of art or sophisticated architecture can be delightful, inspiring and thought-provoking for daily commuters as well as an attraction for visitors. Distinctive colour schemes and works of art help passengers for orientation, especially, but not only, in countries with a high level of illiteracy. Furthermore, there is evidence that vandalism diminishes in appealing stations because works of art and good designs are widely respected.
The star rating in this list takes into account the appearance of the best stations of the metro system, the overall quality, and the effort of its operator to provide beautiful and passenger-friendly stations. The asterisks can also be interpreted in a way some travel guide books use them:
Worth a detour
Worth a journey
A word about the photos: Each city is represented by one to three images. They are showing examples of good station design, possibly the best stations in that city. If there's more than one photo, they are ordered chronologically and meant as a humble attempt to show the diversity of styles found. The photos have been picked to show excellence, so they do not necessarily indicate the average appearance of a metro system.
So here's a selection of about fifty remarkable metro and light rail systems, which is less than a third of all existing systems. More information can be obtained by following the external links provided in each city section below.
*Almaty, **Athens, *Barcelona, **Berlin, **Bilbao, **Brussels, *Budapest, *Frankfurt, **Dubai, *Genoa, *Hamburg, *Hanover, *Hong Kong, **Kaohsiung, **Kazan, *Kharkov, **Kiev, **Lille, **Lisbon, **London, *Los Angeles, *Lyon, *Madrid, *Minsk, **Montreal, ***Moscow, **Munich, **Naples, *Newcastle, *New York, **Oporto, ***Paris, *Perugia, *Portland, **Prague, *Pyongyang, *Rhine-Ruhr, *Rio de Janeiro, *Rotterdam, ***Saint Petersburg, **Santiago de Chile, *Sao Paulo, *Shanghai, *Singapore, ***Stockholm, *Suzhou, **Tashkent, **Tehran, *Tokyo, *Toronto, **Toulouse, *Valencia, *Vancouver, **Vienna, **Washington, *Xi'an.
A few more beautiful stations can be found on the One-Hit Wonders page which lists cities that have one or only a few of them.
Do you know of other cities which should be added or want to argue about the rating? Please go to the Metro Bits Forum. Last update to this page: 7 Jan 2015 (Suzhou added).
Photo [almatymetro.kz]: Concourse of Zhibek Zholy station (opened in 2011), marble floor ornamented like an Oriental rug.
Photo [untergrundbahnen.de]: The large upper concourse hall of Syntagma station (opened in the year 2000) with its murals and lots of archaeological displays.
|Photo: Replica of Parthenon friezes in the entrance hall of Akropoli station, which has been opened in 2000.|
|Photo [untergrundbahnen.de]: Ethniki Amyna station (line L3), opened in the year 2000, with the art installation Underground Park by Kostas Tsoklis.|
Photo [DavoR, urbanrail.net]: Fondo station from 2010 on Line 9.
More Barcelona photos...
Photo: Refurbished entrance building of Wittenbergplatz station, built in 1913 by Alfred Grenander.
|The co-financing of the U-Bahn line to Dahlem (called U3 today) by the posh district of Wilmersdorf facilitated a prestigious architecture in some stations.
Photo [Daniel Erler, absence-of-fear.de]: Heidelberger Platz station from 1913 by Wilhelm Leitgebel.
|Most of the newer stations in Berlin are by Rainer G. Rümmler. Designs range from 1960s Minimalist style and colourful 1970s Pop Art design to Postmodernism.
Photo [u-bahnbilder.de]: Postmodernist-style Rathaus Spandau station from 1984 by Rainer G. Rümmler.
More Berlin photos...
|arcspace.com], [metrobilbao.net], [urbanrail.fotopic.net]. The corporate logo as well as the Rotis typeface, which is
used for all signs and paperwork, are by Otl Aicher, 1989 [metrobilbao.net].
Photo: A fosterito at Abando station.
|Foster about his spacious concrete vaults: "A tunnel dug by man through earth and rock is a very special place. Its shape is a reaction to the forces of nature and the texture of its construction bears the seal of man. This must be respected, not covered up to make the place look like any other building. One must be able to feel being underground, and make it a good, special experience" (quoted from Metro Bilbao's Touristic Guide Map).
Photo: Barakaldo station built in 2002.
More Bilbao photos...
Photo [C.A.I.D.]: Art installation with flying figures by Paul van Hoeydonck in Comte de Flandre station.
|Photo [stib.irisnet.be]: "De Odyssee" sculpture by Martin Guyaux in Kruidtuin station.
More Brussels photos...
|unesco.org]. Old stations have been beautifully restored and some of the modern stations on the other lines are also worth a look.
Photo [natureblink.com]: Hösök Tere station, built in 1896.
Photo [momentaryawe.com, flickr.com]: Mall of the Emirates station.
|Conceptual design of some stations includes traditional architectural ingredients used in antique Arab buildings such as wind towers, oriels, alleyways or internal arches.
Photo [Imre Solt, imresolt.com]: Al Jafiliya station.
|Photo [Nepenthes, wikipedia.org]: Khalid Bin Al Waleed transfer station with its blue interior and jellyfish-shaped chandeliers.|
|neuer-weg.com]. Some other stations have interesting designs as well [vgf-ffm.de (PDF)].
Photo: Bockenheimer Warte station entrance from 1986.
More Frankfurt photos...
Photo: Brin station, which was opened in 1990.
More Genoa photos...
Photo: Klosterstern station from 1929 on line U1, accurately restored in 1986 back to its original style.
|Some historic stations have been preserved, and a few featureless stations have recently been transformed into spaces with interesting design and less advertising [100-jahre-hochbahn.de].
Photo: St. Pauli station from 1912. Since 1999, a deconstructivist glass roof contrasts with the historic sandstone entrance and shelters it from weather influences. The historic design at platform level has not been preserved, however.
More Hamburg photos...
|uestra.de (PDF)]. Jasper Morrison has designed new trains in 1997, and Uestra's headquarters is a twisted cuboid by Frank O. Gehry.
Photo: Kröpcke station from 1975, once dreary, was completely refurbished in 2000 with designs by Massimo Iosa Ghini.
More Hanover photos...
Photo: Upper platform level of Tsing Yi station with the huge yet inconspicious 'Birds of a Feather' installation by Neil Dawson.
More Hong Kong photos...
Photo [Hiroshiken, flickr.com]: Entrance of Central Park station on the Red Line by Richard Rogers, 2008.
|Photo [Hiroshiken, flickr.com]: One of four symmetrically arranged entrance structures at Formosa Boulevard station in Kaohsiung.|
|Metro operator KRTC is also taking public art in metro stations seriously [krtco.com.tw]. Kaohsiung International Airport station bears a glass artwork by artist Lutz Haufschild.
Photo [Hiroshiken, flickr.com]: Formosa Boulevard station with its huge Dome of Light by artist Narcissus Quagliata.
Photo [Parovoza; skyscrapercity.com]: Kremlyovskaya station from 2005.
|Photo [skyscrapercity.com]: Prospekt Pobedy ('Victory Avenue') station from 2008.|
Photo [Alexei Bobko, urbanrail.fotopic.net]: Sovetskoj Armii station from 1978.
Photo [Daniel Erler, absence-of-fear.de]: Platform level of Zoloti Vorota (Golden Gate) station.
|Kiev's stations are diverse in design. Apart from those in traditional soviet-style magnificence there are a couple of rather futuristic ones.
Photo [metropoliten.kiev.ua]: Platform level of Pecherskaya station.
Photo: Porte de Valenciennes station.
|All metro stations in Lille are designed distinctly and come in a wide variety of architectural shapes. Most of the stations are underground. Many works of art can be found in Lille's VAL system, including sculptures and murals.
Photo: Platform level of Gare Lille Europe station with huge murals and a reflecting pool.
|Building materials include different kinds of natural stone, stainless steel, wood, bricks or tiles. In one station (Montebello), live fish in aquariums at platform level provide an interesting distraction for waiting passengers.
Photo: Platform level of Montebello station with aquariums on the walls and wooden parquet flooring.
More Lille photos...
|metrolisboa.pt 1]. Often are Portuguese tiles involved in
some way [metrolisboa.pt 2].
Photo [David Pirman, nycsubway.org]: Platform level of Olaias station, which has been designed by the architect Tomás Taveira and a group of artists.
|Some stations in Lisbon are dedicated to themes. Parque station symbolizes the achievements of the Portuguese discoverers [inscrire.com].
Photo [unknown origin]: Parque station from 1994 on the Blue Line.
|Cabo Ruivo station in Lisbon looks like a space station with its skeleton-like arches. The wall decoration, in contrast, resembles caveman paintings.
Photo [unknown origin]: The walls above the platform of Cabo Ruivo station on the Red Line.
|diagrammatic map (Henry C. Beck 1933). This groundbreaking concept is still in use today almost unmodified [ltmuseum.co.uk] and has influenced many other metros.
Photo: Notting Hill Gate station on the Circle Line, dating back to 1868.
|There are some examples of interesting station
architecture in London outside the city centre. Charles Holden is
responsible for the design of fifty underground stations as well as London
Transport's headquarters at 55 Broadway [tube.tfl.gov.uk].
For the Piccadilly Line stretch to Cockfosters, Holden
developed a modernist approach in the 1930's. The original art deco furnishing of that time is surviving in some of the stations.
Photo: Cylindrical entrance building of Southgate station, built in 1933.
|There are works of art in some of London's tube stations [tube.tfl.gov.uk].
The Jubilee Line Extension's spacious stations built in 1999
have been distinctly designed by a couple of famous architects,
including Foster & Partners, Ian Ritchie and Michael Hopkins [tube.tfl.gov.uk], [lrb.co.uk], [trainweb.org], [wilson].
Photo: The daylit intermediate concourse of Southwark station (1999) by McCormac Jamieson Prichard architects.
More London photos...
|metro.net], [mta.net], [usc.edu].
Photo [Eric Haas, nycsubway.org]: Hollywood/Highland station by Dworsky Associates architects and artist Sheila Klein.
|Hollywood/Vine station on the Red Line features Hollywood's golden history with original theater projectors from the 1930s presented like sculptures. Film reels cover the vaulted ceiling all over.
Photo: Hollywood/Vine station from 1999 by artist Gilbert Lujan and architect Adolfo Miralles.
More Los Angeles photos...
Photo [wikimedia.org]: Valmy station from 1997 on the fully automated line D with a platform illuminated from below.
Photo [wikimedia.org]: Entrance building of Lago station of 1961.
|Photo [unknown origin, skyscrapercity.com]: Nuevos Ministerios station in Madrid, inaugurated in 2002.|
Photo [Alexei Bobko, urbanrail.fotopic.net]: Traktorny Zavod station.
|Several of the stations in Minsk seem to have a certain 'light-weight' feel that makes one forget that they are underground.
Photo [Alexei Bobko, urbanrail.fotopic.net]: Molodezhnaya station.
Photo: Huge sculptures by Germain Bergeron on the concourse level of Monk station on the Green Line. Monk station was opened in 1978.
|Some of Montreal's stations seem to be works of modern art themselves, and many reflect the zeitgeist of the decades they were built in.
Photo: Platform level of La Salle station (1978) on the Green Line.
|Entrance buildings are often as well designed as the underground parts of the stations [metrodemontreal.com].
Photo: Concourse of Namur from 1984 station on the Orange Line.
More Montréal photos...
Photo [metro.ru]: Entrance building of Arbatskaya station on the first metro stretch from 1935.
|Moscow's metro stations are a heritage of the socialist regime, originally intended to be 'palaces for the people'. With their marble-clad walls, chandelier lighting, and other precious interior, many indeed resemble palaces or cathedrals [metro.ru], [metrowalks.ru], [beeflowers].
Photo [cla.purdue.edu]: Central part of the platform of Komsomolskaya station built in 1952 on the circle line.
|Many sculptures, reliefs and murals are found in the stations [metrosoyuza.net]. Besides Moscow, some other cities of the former Soviet Union have metro stations of similar grandeur. However, the ones in Moscow are the most numerous and the most spectacular. Fortunately, even the new stations opened in the 21st century are of good architectural quality.
Photo: The platform of Kropotkinskaya station built in 1935.
More Moscow photos...
Photo: Dülferstraße station from 1993 by Peter Lanz and Jürgen Rauch.
|Photo: Westfriedhof station from 1998 with its simple concrete walls and its exceptional lighting concept by Ingo Maurer.
More Munich photos...
|danpiz.net]. Museo station accommodates an archaeological exhibit of many objects found during metro construction [umuc.edu].
Photo [metro.na.it]: Museo station, opened in 2001.
|There are more interesting stations to follow when line M1 will be extended to finally become a circle line [contexttravel.com], [floornature.com].
Photo: Vanvitelli station, opened in 1993.
More Naples photos...
Photo [rwa.org.uk]: Interactive sculpture 'Pulse' of the year 2000 by Andrew Stonyer in the atrium of Four Lane Ends station: approaching trains cause the neon light to pulse.
More Newcastle photos...
Photo: Reproduction of a historic stairway entrance kiosk at Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall station. It now houses an elevator to the station concourse.
|NYC's subway became a little neglected in the following decades and earned a reputation of crime and grime. But besides significantly improving all stations, trains, and the safety since the 1980's, MTA started to thoroughly refurbish 15 historic stations to their original appearance, e.g. 33rd Street. Ceramic wall decors and mosaic signs are present in most underground stations and come in a wide variety [Stookey, see Reference].
Photo: Ceramic station name mosaic at the refurbished 33rd Street station.
|MTA's 'Arts for Transit' program, founded in 1985, hosts more than 150 modern works of site-specific public art in stations [tfaoi.com], [nycsubway.org], [mta.info], [steelcase.com (PDF)].
Photo: Some of many humourous bronze sculptures, this is 'Life Underground' by Tom Otterness [tomostudio.com] in 14th Street station installed in 2004.
Photo [Nuno Fonseca, fotopic.net]: Entrance of Pólo Universitário station (2004).
|Underground station architecture, surface-station furniture, signage and typography are quite consistent in their cool minimalistic elegance. Predominant materials are concrete, glass, and steel. Architect of all stations is Eduardo Souto de Moura, a former student of Alvaro Siza.
Photo [Paulo, skyscrapercity.com]: Casa da Musica station.
More Oporto photos...
|parisinconnu.com]. RATP has given reproductions to the subways in Chicago, Lisbon, Mexico City and the MoMA in New York, and an original entrance to Montreal [metrodemontreal.com].
Photo [Daniel Alhadeff]: The entrance at Porte Dauphine station, opened in 1900, is one of the larger ones.
|The elegant metro stations in Paris are mostly column-free vaults with white bevelled tiles that look similar throughout. The system was inaugurated in 1900. Everything has been refurbished for its 100th anniversary.
Photo [Mike Nguyen]: Cité station on line 4.
|An enjoyable architecture has also been implemented in Paris's
newest RER stations as well as in the stations of the new driverless metro line 14 (Météor).
Photo: Magenta RER station with its interesting lighting.
More Paris photos...
Photo [Alessio Monini, urbanrail.net]: Entrance structure at Cupa station of 2008, the only underground station in the system.
Photo [trimet.org]: Illuminated metal trees designed by Portland artist Brian Borrello generate their own electricity from solar panels at Interstate/Rose Quarter station (opened 2004) on the Yellow Line.
Photo: Jinonice station, built in 1988 on line B. Walls are covered with tube-shaped glass tiles.
|On line A, which was
opened in 1978, station walls are covered with aluminium tiles which
come in three versions (convex, concave or flat) and in different
shades of colour. The designers thus managed to create a stunning,
Photo: Flora station built in 1980 on line A.
More Prague photos...
|pyongyang-metro.com], [biglobe.ne.jp]. However, only two or three stations are open to tourists.
Photo [Wooolf, flickr.com]: Platform level of Puhung station.
Rhine-RuhrThe unique suspended monorail in the city of Wuppertal runs above the Wupper river and was opened in 1901. Some historic stations have been carefully restored and contrast in a nice way with rebuilt, architecturally interesting stations from the 1990's.
Photo: Landgericht station from 1903.
|Rhine-Ruhr area is an agglomeration of about 30 cities in western Germany with some 20 metro-tram lines and 9 S-Bahn lines [jochen-schoenfisch.de].
Photo: The combined metro-tram and bus station Neue Mitte, built in 1996 in the city of Oberhausen, was obviously influenced by deconstructivist architecture.
|There are at least a few remarkable stations in each of the cities of Bochum, Bonn, Cologne, Dortmund, Duesseldorf, Duisburg, Essen, Mulheim, and Wuppertal.
Photo: Lohring metro tram station from 2006 in the city of Bochum with a platform made of frosted glass, illuminated from below.
More Rhine-Ruhr photos...
Photo: Cardeal Arcoverde station in Copacabana, built in 2002.
More Rio de Janeiro photos...
RotterdamThis metro was opened in 1968 and has some stations which are as futuristic as the city itself. Some stations contain works of art.
Photo [Denis Kabanov, urbanrail.net]: Entrance building of Blaak station (lines A, B, C).
|Other examples of interesting stations are Stadhuis (water flowing along vertical glass panels), Oostplein (glass windows in the floor) and some stations on line D between Marconiplein and Tussenwater [xs4all.nl/~kazil].
Photo: Wilhelminaplein station, built in 1997.
More Rotterdam photos...
|metrowalks.ru], [metrosoyuza.net]. Some of the older metro entrances are elaborate round buildings.
Photo [spb.metro.ru]: Entrance building of Ploshchad Vosstaniya station from 1955.
|Most stations in Saint Petersburg are of excellent architectural quality. Dazzling, themed metro stations are on the first metro stretch between Avtovo and Ploshchad Vosstaniya, which opened in 1955.
Photo: Platform of Avtovo station with 30 marble columns and 16 glass columns.
|The metro is the world's deepest with an average station being 60 meters below ground. Some stations double as bomb shelters.
Photo [metrowalks.ru]: Platform level of Krestovskiy Ostrov station from 1999.
More Saint Petersburg photos...
Photo [railway-technology.com]: Mirador station built in 1997.
|There are also lots of works of art in Santiago's metro, like giant murals and sculptures, especially on line 5 [metrosantiago.cl].
Photo [skyscrapercity.com]: Baquedano station holds the 15 m wide sculpture "El Puente" from 1999 by Osvaldo Peńa.
|metro.sp.gov.br]. There's a collection of contemporary sculptures, installations and large murals in 30 of the 52 stations.
Photo [metro.sp.gov.br]: The mezzanine level of Brás station boasts 25 curved steel and polyurethane plates (2.2 m x 1 m each) which form the art installation 'Kaleidoscope' from 1999 by Amélia Toledo.
More Sao Paulo photos...
Photo: The Bund Sightseeing Tunnel provides a spectacular ride under the river. Here's the view out of the front of one of the automated cabins.
More Shanghai photos...
Photo [Calvin Teo, wikipedia.org]: Exterior of Expo station, opened in 2002, on the East-West Line. The station has been designed by Foster and Partners in collaboration with Arup.
|Many stations are intricately landscaped to reflect Singapore's reputation as a Garden City. Some underground stations are decorated with flowering orchids, tropical palms, or shrubs. City Hall and Raffles Place stations are good examples. On the North-East Line, which was inaugurated in 2003, all stations have individual architecture, and works of art have been integrated in every station [app-stg.lta.gov.sg].
Photo [deliarts.net]: Ceramic murals and floor mosaics in the concourse level of Dhoby Ghaut station.
Photo: Entrance of Odenplan station from 1952.
|Works of art can be found in 90 of the 100 stations. 140 artists have contributed so far.
Photo [from SL's free metro art booklet, see Reference]: Platform of T-Centralen station on the Blue Line, designed by Per Olof Ultvedt in 1975.
|Many stations in Stockholm, especially on the Blue Line, have been left as rock caverns, which gives them an outstanding, unique atmosphere.
Photo: Rinkeby station, built in 1975 on the Blue Line with gold mosaics, paintings, and sculptures.
More Stockholm photos...
Photo [Official website, sz-mtr.com]: Suzhou Railway Station on metro line 2 hosts displays of life-size garden scenes.
Photo [ilkhom.ferghana.ru]: Ceiling of Navoiy station from 1984.
|Enduring materials have been used for Tashkent's station interiors, like engraved metal, glass, granite, marble, or carved alabaster. Each station's design is distinct and devoted to a certain theme.
Photo [crafts.freenet.uz]: Mustaqilik Maidoni station from 1977.
Photo [u-bahn-blog.de]: Entrance of Imam Khomeini station, opened in 2000.
|Works of art have been integrated in many stations [tehranmetro.com], [iranchamber.com] as well as some stunning architectural features.
Photo [tehranmetro.com]: Platform level of Mirdamad station from 2002.
|Photo [Hossein Mosavi Faraz, Fars News Agency]: Entrance structure of Vali-E Asr station from 2010.|
|g-mark.org], [makoto-architect.com], [jrtr.net (PDF)]. The organic designs on platform and street levels of Iidabashi station are the world's first examples of computer-generated "evolutionary architecture", as architect Makoto Watanabe describes it in his book (see Reference).
Photo [gandamu]: Entrance of Iidabashi station.
Photo [Craig James White, flickr.com]: Dupont station from 1978 on the Yonge-University-Spadina Line.
|Especially the new Sheppard Line has some interesting stations [city.toronto.on.ca]. Furthermore, the Arts on Track Project aims to revitalize a couple of older stations through donations [tcf.ca].
Photo [Craig James White, flickr.com]: One of the many optical illusions by Toronto artist Panya Clark Espinal at Bayview station from 2002 on the Sheppard Line [haha.nu].
Photo: Mirail Université station of 1993 on line A with a tall tree-like sculpture and other works of art by Daniel Coulet.
|Stations are spacious and of varied architecture.
Photo: Carmes station of 2007 on line B with a huge 'sky' by Jean-Paul Marcheschi. This piece of art is a staggering 14 x 35 m (46 x 115 ft) and curves along the ceiling and wall.
More Toulouse photos...
Photo [calatrava.com]: Alameda station, designed by the architect Santiago Calatrava.
Photo [archiseek.com]: Brentwood station, designed by Peter Busby and Associates architects.
|wiennet.at]. Most stations have been beautifully renovated and integrated into the metro system.
Photo [bigfoto.com]: Karlsplatz station pavilion built in 1898.
|Some of Vienna's elegant modern metro stations are decorated with works of art.
Photo [hs-st-paul.ksn.at]: Volkstheater station with mosaic friezes by Anton Lehmden.
Photo: Capitol South station, built in 1977.
|Works of art can be found in many stations
All stations above ground in Washington, as well as the underground ones, have been constructed using the same selection of materials consistently throughout the system. A useful feature are the rows of lamps on all platform edges which start flashing when a train approaches.
Photo: Arlington Cemetery station from 1977.
Photo [ditiezu.com]: Yuxiangmen station from 2013.
|Photo [ditiezu.com]: Banpo station from 2013.|
Photos by M. Rohde except where indicated otherwise.
ReferenceBennett, David: Metro: The Story of the Underground Railway. Octopus 2004.
Hackelsberger, Christoph: U-Bahn-Architektur in München. Prestel 1997.
Junction '96. Lisbon Worldwide Conference on Art and Public Transport (Proceedings). Metropolitano de Lisboa, E.P., 1996.
Powell, Kenneth: The Jubilee Line Extension. Laurence King 2000.
Railway Technical Web Pages: Station Design.
Rauch, Jürgen: The Architecture of Underground Railway Stations. Krämer 1996.
Stockholm SL: Art in the Stockholm Metro (PDF). 2010 (free booklet).
Stookey, Lee: Subway Ceramics. A History and Iconography. 1992.
Ström, Marianne: Metro-Art in the Metro-Polis. ACR Edition 1996.
USA Today 9/2/2004: 10 Great Places to Stop for Subway Art.
Watanabe, Makoto Sei: Induction Design. A Method for Evolutionary Design. Birkhäuser 2002.
include "footer.php"; ?>