Subways are great feats of design and engineering. When you’re a commuter, it’s easy for these arteries of ingenuity to blend into the background. Yet there is real beauty to be found in the architecture of metro stations, and moments of inspiration to be had inside of them, from the songs of the subway busker to large-scale artworks that fill the space.
And while subway stations are typically places you pass through on your way to somewhere else, here are our picks for the stations that are noteworthy destinations unto themselves.
Arts et Métiers, Paris, France
_Photo of Arts et Métiers station by Emmanuel BROEKS. Published under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license_.
This copper-clad, subterranean submarine was designed in 1994 by Belgian artist Francois Schuiten in homage to the French author Jules Verne. The station, named after the museum it serves, was designed to be reminiscent of Verne’s Nautilus, the submarine described in his 1870 science fiction novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea. Everything in the station was designed to meet this aesthetic, all the way down to the signage and the garbage cans. Portholes lining the platform display tiny miniatures of the machines that you can see in the museum.
_Photo of Arts et Métiers station by Stephen Butterworth. Published under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license._
If your appetite is whetted to visit Arts et Métiers (which translates to Arts and Crafts), you can exit the station and visit its vast collection of scientific and engineering artifacts. Arts et Métiers houses some of the earliest prototypes for the machines and inventions that revolutionized the modern world, from planes, satellites and automobiles to the Lumière Brothers’ motion picture camera, and even an early model of the Statue of Liberty.
Times Square-42nd Street, New York, New York
Yes, the New York City subway has a less-than-savory reputation. Between pizza rat, pole-dancing rat, and really just all the rats in general, it’s a reputation that’s not undeserved. Still, it’s often the fastest mode of transportation in a gridlocked city, and it’s not without its charm, including the iconic tile work that renders the station names. And if you’re traveling through the Times Square-42nd Street subway station, you’ll be able to take in American pop artist Roy Lichtenstein’s_ Times Square Mural_, his last public work — posthumously installed in the subway in 2002 in collaboration with his estate. The retro-futuristic 16-panel mural stretches six feet by 53 feet long, and includes references unique to the city, including New York’s historic subway signage, and the architecture of both the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs. The contrast of the artwork with the bustling crowds of the station only activates the mural further, making it seem more animated and alive alongside the city it depicts.
_Photo of the Moscow Metro by Christophe Meneboeuf. Published under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license._
The Moscow Metro is a destination for anyone interested in both architecture and history. First built in 1935 under Joseph Stalin as a piece of Communist propaganda, the system carried the slogan, “The whole country is building Metro” while it was under construction. It was built to serve as “Palaces for the People,” conveyed by the ornamental features throughout, including chandeliers, bronze columns, and intricate plaster reliefs. While the sense of being in an underground tunnel is inescapable in many cities’ subway systems, the high ceilings and marble walls throughout many of Moscow’s stations are intended to reflect the light and make the stations glow to communicate svetloe budushchee, meaning a “radiant future.”
_Photo of Komsomolskaya station by Lite. Published under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license._
Although the Moscow Metro is regarded as an architectural Russian history museum, it is also the world’s fifth largest subway system, transporting around nine million passengers each day, and is currently undergoing an expansion that is expected to make it the third largest subway system in the world by 2020.
_Photo of Solna Centrum station by Chris M. Forsyth._
You could visit Stockholm and spend the entire time underground and not be disappointed. Over 150 artists have contributed work to the city’s subway system, which has been called “the world’s longest art exhibit.” More than 90 of the city’s 100 subway stations incorporate artwork, which includes sculptures, paintings, mosaics, engravings, reliefs, and large-scale installations. Among the most striking are the red cavernous ceilings of Solna Centrum station, and the rainbow archway of Stadion station, pictured above. We also love the pixelated whimsy of Thorildsplan station.
_Photo of Thorildsplan station by Visit Stockholm._
Bonus: The Cable Cars of La Paz, Bolivia
_Photo of Mi Teleférico by Marco Ebreo. Published under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license._
While not a subway per se, Bolivia’s capital city of La Paz is home to the world’s largest network of urban cable-cars called Mi Teleférico, meaning My Cable Car. The system was installed in 2014 with additional expansions planned for the future. It was designed to address many of La Paz’s most pressing transportation problems, including traffic congestion, noise pollution and emissions along the main highway that connects the capital city with neighboring El Alto, the country’s second-largest city.
Soaring above the cities and providing stunning views of the mountains, it has become popular with locals and tourists alike. Each individual car has a solar panel on its roof that powers its lights, doors, and yes, even a WiFi connection.
Top image of Stadion station in Stockholm by Chris M. Forsyth. Taken as part of The Metro Project, the photographer’s “personal exploration of the art and architecture of metro stations around the world.” See more.