Beneath a city’s streets lie endless tunnels that transport people from A to B seamlessly and efficiently. Some tunnels lie deeper than others, crisscrossing each other like veins in the ground. Some of these tunnels are wide, some narrow, some strewn with rubbish and lonely, partnerless winter gloves, some polished and endlessly captivating. Depending on where your travels take you, you'll come across infinite subway stops on your journey — and some may even leave you a lasting impression. Subway stations are designed to serve public transit users in the most effective way possible, but there are some that also captivate their audience of migrants on their journeys of work and pleasure. Here are some of the most beautiful and breathtaking subway stops in the world.
Bockenheimer Warte Station (Frankfurt, Germany)
This subway station will drive your senses wild! Originally constructed in 1986 but expanded by architect Zbiginiew Peter Pininski in 2001, the entrance to this station baffles locals and tourists alike on a daily basis. It appears as a vintage train spewing itself out of the concrete, evoking some sort of horrific transit crash. Pininski has stated that he was strongly influenced by popular surrealist artist René Magritte — and the influence shows! Upon entering the bowels of the decrepit train on street level, transit users are carried downwards into the station proper, where they're greeted by a straight-lined, minimalist environment evocative of a space-age laboratory. Blue tinted glass, polished steel frames, and porcelain-white subway tiles lend the space a really clean and powerful edge.
City Hall Station (New York City, United States)
Not all subway stops are dark and foreboding. Some can be exceptional and blessed with actual rays of sunlight penetrating the tunnel ceilings. How do designers achieve this effect? City Hall subway station in New York City is located closer to ground level and incorporates steel-rimmed glass skylights on the tunnel’s ceiling, bathing the station in natural light during the day. It makes a nice change and calms those transit users who feel uncomfortable in confined spaces. Constructed in October 1904, City Hall Station was designed with Victorian architecture in mind — and many of its original fittings remain in place to this day.
Formosa Boulevard Station (Kaohsiuna, Taiwan)
Chances are if you’ve had the pleasure of visiting Taiwan’s Formosa Boulevard subway station, you‘ve walked away knowing that you'll never see anything quite like it again. This transit stop underwent extensive remodelling in the late 2000s in time for the 2009 World Games. It’s best known for its massive Dome of Light, designed by Italian artist Narcissus Quagliata. The dome is the largest piece of glass work in the world and now hosts weddings underneath its spectacular scenes of nature and wildlife. Vivid colours and stunning wrap-around views grace the station’s ceiling, and circular columns offer a splendid feast for the eyes during both day and night.
Kirovsky Zavod Station (St. Petersburg, Russia)
Stepping into Kirovsky Zavod subway station feels as if you're stepping into a marbleized crypt dedicated to the memory of Russian revolutionary and communist leader Vladimir Lenin. Natural light floods the marble and porcelain station, where skylights running along the tunnel’s roof ultimately guide all transit users to a giant bust of Lenin sitting proudly at the end of a hallway. A museum-like hush fills the station’s busy platforms as locals and tourists navigate their way in and out of Kirovsky Zavod station. This particular subway stop is an architect’s symmetrical dream in that all archways, columns, and floor tiles line up precisely, forming clear passageways through the underground mecca. Opened in November 1955, Kirovsky Zavod station is part of the St. Petersburg Metro line.
Muenchner Freiheit Station (Munich, Germany)
Originally opened to the public in October 1971, this subway station was extensively renovated by lighting designer Ingo Maurer from 2008 to 2009. Despite the fact that most of the station’s major structure was left intact, the station now evokes a very modern, sci-fi feel with lighting panels installed in the walls, columns, and ceiling tiles. Pops of colour emerge intermittently amid the station’s main colour scheme of light grey and porcelain white. Muenchner Freiheit subway station serves as a major junction between the U-Bahn U3 and U6.
Museum Station (Toronto, Canada)
Museum Station originally opened in 1963 and was named for Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum (the ROM). Extensively remodelled in April 2008, the new design incorporates popular exhibits from the ROM and takes on a more minimalist and streamlined look. The station’s structural columns were modelled after the ancient Egyptian deity Osiris, Toltec warriors, Doric columns found in Greece’s mighty Parthenon, and First Nations house posts. Steel, aluminum, and polished subway tiles replaced the somewhat tired-looking décor of the 1960s, allowing a truly modern look to bring the city's underground to life.
Olaias Station (Lisbon, Portugal)
Stepping into Lisbon’s Olaias Station is like stepping into a kaleidoscope of colour! It was recently voted ninth on British newspaper The Telegraph’s list of the 22 most beautiful subway stations in Europe. Designed by architect Tomas Taveira and opened in May 1998, this station is part of Lisbon’s busy red subway line. Steel and aluminum escalators carry transit users down into the station’s depths, bypassing spaces filled with coloured glass panels and intricately decorated structural columns. The station’s multi-coloured floor tiles are haphazardly placed but still look like they line up perfectly. Veins of colour run from the floors and walls all the way up to the ceilings. In the evenings, the station lights dim and bathe pedestrians in a calming, soft yellow glow.
Stadion Station (Stockholm, Sweden)
Feel like stepping into a rainbow? Then your best bet is to pay Stadion Station a visit. Opened in 1973, this cavernous underground hub serves the busy Stockholm metro red line. Colourful ceilings, stone walls and glossy grey tiles lead transit users down to the station’s platforms, which are drenched in bright white light courtesy of modern track lighting fixtures. The tunnel walls pulse with colour, making pedestrians feel as if they’re floating above the clouds and into a rainbow. The real question is whether they'll find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow — but chances are they already have.
Photo: Mikel Ortega
Toledo Station (Naples, Italy)
Opened in September 2012, Toledo subway station is one of Europe’s newest metro stops. It's also one of the deepest, at 50 metres below street level. Designed by Spanish firm Oscar Tusquets Blanca, this station was modelled after water and light. Just below street level, transit users immerse themselves in what almost seems to be an art museum. Intricate tile mosaics adorn the walls, blue-tinted skylights and spotlights cover the ceiling, and reflective steel-covered staircases lead passengers to the terminal’s turnstiles. Visitors are then taken down into the station’s depths via glass-framed steel escalators that are bathed in a bluish glow. As you descend to the bottom level, you'll feel as if you’re diving deeper and deeper into a Mediterranean sea, surrounded by aquatic-themed walls and glass panels. This subway station earned the distinction of being one of the only Metro Art stations in Europe.
Photo: Andrea Resmini
Zoloti Vorota Station (Kiev, Ukraine)
Never before or since has a subway station seemed as cavernous and medieval at the same time! Zotoli Vorota's arched ceilings are hung with giant, steel-rimmed chandeliers that evoke a medieval banquet. Intricate tile mosaics adorn each archway, and dark grey slate tiles cover the floors. Giant circular columns stand throughout the station, supporting the thick tunnel walls. A cool, crisp breeze fills the inside of Zoloti Vorota thanks to all the marble used in its construction, and echoes of footfalls, conversation, and laughter fill the air. Zoloti Vorota Station opened in December 1989, and it remains one of the most popular (and busiest) subway stations on the Kiev Metro line.
For many city dwellers and tourists, using public transit is a real eye-opener. Let’s be honest — when you enter the depths of a subway tunnel, the last thing you’re expecting is to be blown away by architecture and design. Have you visited any impressive subway stations lately? Do you know of any that we didn't include on our list? Please tell us about them in the comment section below!