Without even realising it, people travel on a daily basis. True, they might not be embarking on a voyage of self-discovery but they will have still travelled nevertheless. Moving from A to B to reach an intended destination, commuting – much like travel - can be classified as a journey.
In fact, when you delve a little deeper, commuting is perhaps the most frequently made journey of our lives. Just think about it; how many times a day do you hop on the underground, or jump on a subway, simply to get to work, visit a friend or travel across the city? Most likely, too many to count.
So why is it, then, that the sole visual stimulation commuters are offered along their way is a uniform blur of concrete slabs? Interspersed between canoodling couples and well-thumbed newspapers, the life of a train-traveller is renowned for being unbearably dull…
Up until now, of course.
Derailing the dire common commute, 7 subway systems around the globe have paved the way for a new era of exciting undergrounds. Refusing to conform to a lacklustre palette of monochrome tones, these intriguing undergrounds instead jostle with the immediacy of inner-city life.
So, should you find yourself in any of the following destinations, we suggest you head to their undergrounds. There you’ll find a subterranean world, where journeys are truly worth making…
Image Credit: Flickr - Marco Hamersma
Chasing New York City’s crown as the busiest subway system in the US, the Washington Metro is giving the Big Apple a run for its money. Expanding exponentially since its first construction in 1976, today, the Washington Metro forms a complex system of 106 miles of track, 5 lines and approximately 86 stations. Famed for housing daringly striking designs, most of the metro ceilings are covered in the modern adaptions of architect Harry Weese. Examples of 20th century progressive design, these dynamic patchwork quilts have become an instant draw for locals and tourists alike. Attracting crowds to his concrete inverted checkerboards, Weese’s modifications have successfully created one of the most dynamic metro systems in the world.
Image Credit: Flickr - Mou-ikkai
Undoubtedly one of the beautiful (not to mention ornate) subway systems in the world, the Moscow Metro is certainly unusual. Originally planned as part of a socialist regime, the chandelier-clad ceilings, sheened marble floors and classically-sculpted walls speak volumes about their place in history. Designed as opulent ‘palaces for the people’, these elegant undergrounds are filled with the grandeur of the former Soviet Union. Particularly elaborate examples exist, of course, such as Komsomolskaya Metro Station, lavished with sculptures, murals and intricately carved reliefs, however, in true dictatorial fashion; no stone has been left unturned. As the second most used subway in world (with nearly 7,000,000 people riding a day) you’d expect nothing less, however.
Image Credit: Alex Plim
Designed with decorative panache, owed to its Art Nouveau style, the Paris Metro is captivatingly attractive. Turning 112 this year, this old world charm is no coincidence. Flourishing from a history of technological advancement, the city’s first metro line opened in 1900 to coincide with the Exposition Universelle. A world fair to celebrate international accomplishment, the Paris Metro’s inauguration was suitably timed. Blossoming into a stylish icon that has become uniquely synonymous with the city, today the Paris Metro has over 300 stations traversing across 16 different lines. Complemented by the added allure of Hector Guimard’s elaborate Art Nouveau creations (of which 88 entrances are still in existence), the fact that people travel worldwide for the Parisian experience is hardly surprising. Refreshed by a new wave of (controversial) interest, in recent years, the colourful creations of artist Jean-Michel Othoniel, (pictured above), have caused stirrings in the city. Apparently, when it comes to the Parisian Metro, there’s never a dull moment…
Image Credit: Flickr - Dierk Schaefer
Small, compact and shrouded in a cloak of secrecy (much like the rest of North Korea), for most, the Pyongyang Metro remains a wondrous mystery. For the fortunate few who have set foot on this clandestine subway, however, the experience is almost utterly unique. Similar to time travel, riding the Pyongyang Metro today is near identical to a tube-trip back in 1969, when the subway first originated. Militant in its regimented order, clinical design and clockwork-like schedule, the subway’s structure reflects many of the country’s unaffected attitudes. Stretching across 17 stations, and with only 14 miles of track, this compact station offers a very interesting counterpart to western tube travel.
Image Credit: Flickr - John Pavelka
As Kazakhstan ’s largest city (with a population of over a million people) it is somewhat astonishing that the Almaty Metro was installed just last year, in December 2011. Despite being in a listless state of construction for 23 years, however, the world’s youngest subway is now resolutely making up for lost time. State-of-the-art technology, photographic exhibitions and theatrical performances are just a few of the features expected to treat frequent subway travellers. Much like the Moscow Metro, its former Soviet Union counterpart, the Almaty Metro also shot to the top of the most beautiful metros list due to its highly distinct décor. Here, subway riders can expect to see shimmering floors, stained glass windows and twinkling chandeliers interspersed between new-age space design (see Baikonour Station pictured above). Although still in its infancy, with only 7 stations in operation, the Almaty Metro’s arresting design has attracted a wave of global attention.
Heralded as ‘the longest art gallery in the world’, the Stockholm Metro brings tube travel to life with eccentric flair. Offering a window into a rose-tinted world of exuberant colour, at every twist and turn commuters are presented with varying degrees of visual displays. Transforming from crumbling bedrock to eye-popping murals, Romanesque statues to colourful frescos, these swathes of technicoloured installations have proven a huge success in Sweden. Inaugurated in almost every underground station since the 1950s (of which there are 100 currently in existence), the city’s chief concern to revive the daily commute with vigorous colour is being aptly achieved.
Image Credit: Flickr - Raul
Infinitely indebted to the city’s ‘Art in Transit’ programme, Singapore oversaw countless artworks take to the walls of its unadorned metro system (known locally as the MRT). Transforming the underground into an inspirational art gallery, showcasing 23 works, this culturally fulfilling programme revolutionised the once uninspiring underground. Dotted along the North-East and Circle lines with colourful ceramics and intricate mosaics, these ginormous murals form part of a bigger public-art-picture, however. Invested in civic interaction, many of the MRT pieces tapped into the community spirit of Singapore, relying heavily on public contribution to complete their works. Seck Yok Ying's ‘Hands Up for Hougang’, for example, featured the collaged handprints of 3,000 people. Far from an average underground, and with a seamless sense of vitality, the Singapore MRT has set the bar (high) for all other global undergrounds.
"The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page" - Saint Augustine