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Unreal Underground: the World’s 10 Coolest Subway Systems

In urban life, the subway is synonymous with the spirit of the city.  It frees the city dweller from the automobile, it moves from point to point with speed while capturing the curiosity of its passenger.  From Moscow to Montreal, Paris to Pyongyang, these 10 transit systems house truly stunning subway stations across all aspects of design.  So grab your transit card and head underground– get ready to explore the 10 coolest subway systems in the modern world.

The Washington Metro

We contend that the Washington Metro is the most iconic and visually progressive subway system in the United States.  First built in 1976, this 100-mile network of tunnels includes 28 stations, most of which are the work of architect Harry Weese.  These massive, concrete caverns feature an egg carton texture that stretches from one side to the other in a split cylinder design.  The walls are out of reach, there are no thick pillars breaking up the view and the whole expanse is awash in indirect light.  These features are as much as aspect of design as they are safety, as the Washington Metro subway stations provide few if any dark crannies in which crime can hide.  First time riders will also be amazed at the sheer depth of these Metro stations.  Some stations reach down 200 feet below the surface, providing for one heck of a long, slow ride into the caverns below. [images © thecoolist.com]

Washington Metro Gallery

The Moscow Metro Subway System

The world’s second most used subway system is also amongst its most beautiful.  Nearly 7,000,000 people ride the Moscow Metro Subway each day, zipping through 190 miles of tunnels that stretch as low as 276-feet below the surface.  While some of its stations are nondescript, others are magnificent, ornate works of classically-influenced design.  Take for example the Komsomolskaya Metro Station in Moscow, shown above.  This gem of underground architecture was built in the 1930s and remains one of the world’s most lasting, most beautiful subway stations.  [image credits: 1,2,3,4,5,6]

The Moscow Metro Gallery

The Taipei Metro Subway System

Nearly 2,000,000 passengers ride the Taipei Metro subway system every day, cruising at speeds of up to 56mph across Taiwan’s capitol city.  The clean and vibrant design of Taipei Metro’s stations has attracted many riders to the subway, a movement which has helped curb traffic congestion and spark urban renewal.  Glass and light art cover the ceiling and columns of the station above, while fine art grace the walls of others.  Is it a subway station, or is it an art gallery?  More cities across the world should ask subway riders the same question.  [image credits: 1,2,3,4,5,6]

The Taipei City Metro Gallery

The Paris Metro

When it comes to old world subway stations, this is as old world as it gets.  The Paris Metro subway system will turn 112 years old this year, its history reflecting Parisian pride with an Art Nouveau sense of style.  The design character of its stations span the whole reach of classical to modern, separated by basic designs that are purely functional.  The city of Paris has maintained the allure of many of the original stations that have an almost storybook character.  But those of modern Paris reflect the city’s evolution of culture throughout the centuries.  [image credits: 1,2,3,4,5,6]

The Paris Metro Gallery

Montreal Metropolitan

Another great French-speaking city is home to another great subway, the Montreal Metropolitan subway system.  The Montreal Metro was born in 1966, in time for the world expo held the following year in this city.  This was a vibrant time in Montreal, and the subway stations that dot this system reflect that vibrancy.  Like the stations of the Moscow Metro and the Taipei Metro, this subway system is host to a collection of art galleries throughout its network.  Public art ranging from fine to performance is welcomed here, far below the city it services.  And with 1,100,000 riders a day, that makes it one of the most popular art galleries in the world.  From the design of its subway stations to the culture it embraces, the Montreal Metro is high on our list for the world’s most beautiful subway systems.  [image credits: 1,2,3,4,5,6]

Montreal Metropolitan Gallery

Frankfurt U-Bahn Subway System

Since 1968, the Frankfurt U-Bahn subway system has served passengers traversing through Germany’s 5th largest city.  Nearly have of the city’s population rides the U-Bahn every day, passing through 86 stations over 40 miles of track.  Its stations are a wonder to experience, ranging from playful to progressive and everything in between.  One features an entryway that looks like a runaway subway car has crashed through the surface.  Another features symmetrical shapes that feels almost otherworldly.  While Germany itself has its fair share of attractive subway systems, Frankfurt’s U-Bahn may be the country’s pearl.  [image credits: 1,2,3,4,5,6]

Frankfurt Underground Gallery

Pyongyang Metro

Yes, that Pyongyang.  This short, busy and out-dated subway system might be the world’s most mysterious.  Rarely seen by eyes foreign to North Korea, the Pyongyang Metro subway system stretches across 14 miles and 17 stations.  Despite its relatively short length, it serves even more daily travelers than Frankfurt’s U-Bahn.  Its design hasn’t likely changed much since it was first revealed back in 1969.  For a country as troubled as this one, a lack of change doesn’t come as a surprise.  Still, it must be wild to travel on this subway as a westerner.  Not only would it feel like walking into a different country, but a decade long since passed.  [image credits: 1,2,3,4,5,6]

Pyongyang Metro Gallery

Kazakhstan’s Almaty Subway

After 23 years in construction, punctuated by a very long break, Kazakhstan’s Almaty Subway opened its doors on December 1st, 2011.  The world’s youngest subway is immediately amongst the world’s most beautiful, featuring a design character that is at once modern and classical.  Stained glass windows, geometric paint patterns, glossy floors and ornate chandeliers make this subway system a destination in its own right.

Kazakhstan’s Almaty Subway Gallery

NYC’s Abandoned City Hall Subway Station

You could have ridden the Metra a thousand times and completely missed this station.  NYC’s Abandoned City Hall Subway Station is closed to the public, accessible only during a very rare tour or an illegal entry.  It was first closed in 1945, opened just once for public viewing since.  It is a rare glimpse back to the early days of New York’s subway system, a look at turn-of-the-century design in the greatest of American cities.  Want to see more like this?  Check out TheCoolist’s exploration of the 10 most beautiful abandoned places in the world.

NYC’s Abandoned City Hall Subway Station Gallery

Stockholm Subway

The Stockholm Subway may be the most beautiful subway system in the world.  It features over 100 stations, some above ground and others below, and has been called the “longest art gallery in the world”.  The blue line subway stations feature exposed bedrock as part of the design, giving a natural appeal to the otherwise modern designs.  With carefully placed lights and stylish paint jobs, the stations are absolutely stunning to the eyes, reflecting a world class design sensibility that should make the people of Sweden proud.  Upon a visit to Stockholm, the subway isn’t just a great way to get around, it’s also a must-see destination for travelers in Sweden.  [image credits: alexander dragunov and 1,3,4,6]

Stockholm Subway Gallery

Is there a subway station in your city that you think we should have included?  Let us know in the comments, or tweet us @thecoolist.  In the mean time, be sure to check out these other features that explore the world of cool: