Tasked with tracking down the coolest subways in the world, our first thought was why a dirty place that smelled like crap and made a god-awful racket might be considered cool. It’s practically an oxymoron. The only thing cool about subways is that they’re all buried underground. Or so we believed. But we’re big men, and willing to admit when we’re wrong. Apparently, we’ve been hanging out down the wrong subway systems, and some of these places are, in fact, very cool. The visually cool Tunnelbana, for example, or Hong Kong’s hi-tech cool with its driverless trains. And there’s historical cool, like the London Tube, the world’s oldest subway which first opened in 1863, about the time Abraham Lincoln was freeing slaves.
And that’s just a taste. For the full orgasmic journey into the bowels of some of the worlds biggest cities, read on. Because here they are, in no particular order, the 12 coolest subways in the world.
The Tunnelbana in Stockholm
Above you the sky is boiling red. A rolling firecloud that spreads out as far as you can see. Of more concern, if it’s possible, is that you are rising with a certain inevitability right up into it. Is this it then? Armageddon? It’s not what you’d imagined. Not exactly. There’s a breeze. It’s actually quite pleasant. Somehow, you’d expected the end of the world to be a bit more toasty. Is this really the end of the line? Not exactly.
You’re on the escalator at Solna Centrum, one of the 110 subway stops on Stockholm’s Tunnelbana, which since the 1950s has been opening its doors to artists like Anders Aberg and Karl-Olov Bjor, where they’ve let their imaginations run riot. The result is what’s often referred to as the longest art gallery in the world, winding some 90 or so stations and 70 miles around Stockholm. More than 150 artists have been involved, and the works include sculptures, mosaics, paintings, and art installations. If you’re ever in Stockholm, it’s a must see. Apparently, the Tunnelbana is also a pretty good way to get around Stockholm, but that hardly seems to be the point. (For the record, that’s also Tunnelbana with the red ceilings in the first photo)
If you like extra technology with your subway ride, Seoul’s the place. Of all the subways listed here and anywhere else, Seoul is the most advanced. It’s also the longest. It offers mobile connections via cellular, 3G, 4G, DMB for on-the-go tv, and WiBro data connections. Driverless trains, climate-controlled seats that switch to auto heat in winter, screens displaying subway information along with stocks and sports updates, touch screen route planners, and multi-language announcements. The subway is quick, clean, passes through undergound shopping malls, and has also trialed automated helper robots.
North Korea cool? Yeah, that’s what we thought. Apparently though, the more paranoid you are, the deeper you dig your subway system. North Korea has dug down 360 feet, further into the ground than anyone else though to put a train. Built in 1965, the Pyongang Metro features ornate architecture, richly muralled walls, as well as, allegedly, some dirty government secrets. It also doubles as a nuclear bunker. So yeah, we think that’s pretty cool.
In addition to giant murals of outdoor scenes that make it look like maybe you wandered outside, and eyes with pillars that might just be keeping an eye on your plans to jump the turnstile, the Madrid Metro is huge. So big, in fact, that public events and festivals are held there. One station contains an archaeological museum.
Hong Kong, MTR
Driverless trains are a fantastic idea because no one can fall asleep while driving. The Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway has them. It also has full 3G phone coverage while underground, free WiFi service, tv monitors, and a co-ed Jacuzzi. Ok, forget the Jacuzzi. But the trains do have dedicated wheelchair space, platform screen doors to prevent harried businessmen from jumping onto the tracks, as well as floor tiles on the platforms to help guide blind people safely. The Hong Kong subway also has the Octupus card, which not only gets you on the train, but also lets you buy food and other stuff.
Shanghai gets a nod because because the Maglev, the quickest subway train on the planet, runs along its tracks. It’s been said to top speeds of 300 mph, which makes us wonder how far apart the stations are in Shanghai. Regardless, it’s pretty cool. Especially if you stick your head out the window. (Please don’t stick your head out the window. We are trained professionals). Shanghai is also home to the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel, which runs under the Huangpu River. It looks like something out of a 1970s science fiction show, one set in a disco. We’re not totally convinced this is cool. It might be dick. Anyway, Shanghai’s in.
Buenos Aires, Subte
Another subway system using art to create what is practically an underground museum is the Subte, in Buenos Aires. Don’t expect anything overly hi-tech – though recently WiFi was installed at the stations – but keep your eyes open and you’re sure to see stained glass windows, wall paintings, and sculptures depicting Argentina’s history or paying tribute to local artists. Some of the stations have been declared national landmarks.
The Dome of Light at the Formosa Boulevard Station on Kaohsiung’s Mass Rapit Transit System in Taiwan is the world’s largest public art installation. Made from thousands of pieces of colored glass by artist Narcissus Quagliata (this guy must fancy himself), the exhibit is basically the ceiling, and tells the story of human life. It’s in the subway, did we mention that? It is impressive, for sure. But recently we were on the subway in New York and they had a hot dog cart.
New York Subway
Speaking of New York, well we couldn’t very well leave it out. It’s got that thing to it, that New Yorkiness. Like rats and the smell of piss. Knuckleheads who sometimes push you onto the tracks. But aside from all that, have you ever been to the City Hall Station stop? Chances are you haven’t, because it’s been closed since 1945. But sources tell us that if you stay on the 6 train after the last stop, the train will turn around at the City Hall Station loop, which is where you may get to see the station. We haven’t tried it, but apparently it’s like stepping back in time. Probably to around 1945.
Stare at the designs on the Prague subway for long enough and you won’t know if the shapes are concave or convex. This kind of thing is fun when you’re messing around at home with optical illusions, but it’s a different matter when you’re trying to get on and off a train. Are you inside the train or outside? In our experience travelling by subway, it helps to know. Even so, we think the designs are kinda cool, kinda spacey.
Like everything else in Dubai, the subway system was installed last week. Some of it is still being unwrapped. Its proximity to the ocean and history of pearl diving practically demand an underwater look, and that’s what you get with ceilings that drip with jelly fish (no, not real ones). It’s high-tech and it’s modern, a kind of Silicon Valley meets MOMA.
London, The Tube
It’s the oldest, the grandaddy of subway systems, and that alone guarantees The Tube a spot on our list. It’s quiet, has cushioned seats, and fits ever so snugly inside the tunnel. Standing on the platform, there’s no need to look at the signs above to tell you when the next train is close. You’ll know because the wind will come. To start, just a gentle buffetting of the air around you. And then it builds, and you feel the wind in your hair, the gathering of speed, pushing from the tunnel ahead of the train. And then the train is there, pulling in alongside, and you never saw it. You only felt the rush of speed. Now that’s a cool friggin’ train. Oh yeah, and mind the gap.
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