World’s Best Subway Systems

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Traveling around a new city can be a nightmare, but having a reliable (and clean) mode of transportation makes all the difference. You’re probably well accustomed to the ins and outs of at least one transit system, but these 20 across the globe make up the best of the best. With features like heated seats, WiFi access, and custom-designed, art-filled stations, these subway systems will make traveling around a new city a surprisingly enjoyable experience.

By Annie Bruce

The New Fulton Center by Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin CC BY 2.0

New York City

Though New Yorkers may complain about the subway, the New York City transit system is in fact one of the best in the world, thanks to its wide reach and the fact that it runs 24 hours a day—barring extreme weather, that is. Part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the largest transportation network in North America, the subway opened in October 1904 and provides easy access to Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens. It's so expansive that if all of NYC’s subway tracks were laid out end-to-end, they would stretch from New York City to Chicago. Featuring 21 routes, approximately 1.7 billion people use the subway’s 468 stations each year, making it the most-used system in the U.S. Always making improvements, the MTA opened the new Fulton Center transit hub late last year; the staion features a massive skylight to brighten up the commute.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s New York City Travel Guide

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London

Known coloquially as the Tube, the London Underground is the oldest underground railway in the world, dating back to 1863. The first electric line debuted in 1905, and today the Tube travels an average of 20.5 miles per hour through 270 stations. With plans in the works to update the system to stay ahead of the curve, Transport for London hopes to add 250 trains to select system lines, create air-cooled carriages, and increase accessibility and reliability to carry trains through the 2060s. A number of notable names have taken historic trips on the Tube: Queen Elizabeth II became the first member of the British royal family to ride the system when she sat on the Victoria Line after it opened in 1969, and Mark Twain was one of the first passengers to ride the Central Line when it opened in 1900.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s London Travel Guide

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Paris

The Paris Metro is one of the densest subway systems in the world, with just over 132 miles of tracks running through 245 stations within the 40 square miles that make up Paris. Dating back to July 1900, the system is known for its notable Art Nouveau-styled entrances, designed by Hector Guimard, though only a few remain in existence today. The Greater Paris Metro project is in the works to upgrade the entire subway network, which more than 1.5 billion people use each year, by 2040.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Paris Travel Guide

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Moscow

The Moscow Metro provides transportation to more than 2.4 billion people each year (9 million on a daily basis), making it the busiest European system. It’s also one of the most beautiful, featuring marble and bronze designs, stained-glass windows, and chandeliers. The Aquarelle Train, which was added to the system in 2007, even features framed artwork inside and an elaborate design on the outer shell. Additional stations and trains are frequently added to the system to continue to update the metro system and ease transportation, with plans to add 90 miles of lines by 2020.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Moscow Travel Guide

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Stockholm

Also known as the world’s longest art exhibit (running more than 68 miles), this Swedish metro system features sculptures, paintings, installations, and unique, elaborate designs from more than 150 artists at most of the stations throughout Stockholm. Some highlights of Stockholm’s Tunnelbana, which dates back to the 1950s, are the Kungsträdärden station, designed to resemble an archaeological dig, and the Östermalmstorg station, which celebrates women’s rights.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Stockholm Travel Guide

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Hong Kong

With free WiFi available in all of its stations, in addition to its reputation for being clean, cheap, and reliable, Hong Kong's Mass Transit Railway is the envy of many across the globe. With a 99.9 percent on-time rate, more than 1.5 billion people take advantage of the system each year and praise it as the gold standard of subway systems. Made up of 10 lines and 87 stations, the rail system first opened in 1979. When visiting, you can purchase a refillable Octopus card, which is used on the subway and other forms of public transit (with discounts on the normal fare), in addition to select grocery stores, Starbucks, and fast food restaurants.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Hong Kong Travel Guide

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Beijing

With more than 3.2 billion passengers each year, the Beijing Subway is the second-busiest in the world. The subway is continuing to adjust to keep up with the city's growing population: In December 2014, Beijing opened 37 miles of new tracks, in addition to the 235 miles added between 2007 and 2014, leading to a reach of 327 miles total—making Beijing the second-longest system in the world. And it’s only getting bigger, with plans to continue expanding over the next two years.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Beijing Travel Guide

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Tokyo

Since opening in 1927, Tokyo’s Metro has grown into the busiest one in the world, with more than 3.3 billion using the rails each year and more than 8.7 million every day. While the result is crowded cars (with official “pushers” who work to fit everyone safely onto the train), the system operates smoothly, with trains that move quickly and arrive on time and lines and arrows on the ground telling people waiting where to stand. The 102 metro lines span 200 miles.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Tokyo Travel Guide

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Seoul

Featuring a number of luxury amenities, such as heated seats, TV screens with announcements and news, and plenty of legroom, the Seoul Subway has many fans across the globe. With reasonably priced fares, more than 2.5 billion people use the city’s subway transit every year. While you’re traveling, be sure to enjoy the view between the Hapjeong and Dangsan stops on Line 2, where the train travels above ground with a great view of the National Assembly. The Gyeongbokgung Station on Line 3 features artifacts from various Korean dynasties and displays from the Seoul Metro Art Center.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Seoul Travel Guide

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Buenos Aires

Also known as the Subte, the Buenos Aires Underground first opened its doors in 1913, making it the oldest subway system in South America. If you travel on Line A, you can still board one of the historic train cars. Now the Subte has 83 stations and six train lines, with more than 252 million riding the system each year. The efficient system allows unlimited transfers between lines, a new feature that began in June 2014.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Buenos Aires Travel Guide

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Athens

When construction on the Athens Metro began in 1992, builders also took part in the largest archaeological excavation of a modern city, which led to the discovery and preservation of more than 50,000 artifacts from the classical Greek, Byzantine, and Roman periods. Today, these items are on display in metro stations throughout Greece. The Athens Metro system, which has reduced traffic and smog in the area since its establishment, is made up of three rail lines and 65 stations, with more still in the works today. The trains travel up to 60 miles per hour beneath the historic city, meaning you're guarenteed to get to your destination with plenty of time to spare.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Athens Travel Guide

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Budapest

When construction began in 1896, Budapest became the first city in Europe to build a Metro system. Today, the Budapest Metro contains 52 stations and four train lines. The Szent Gellért tér and Fővám tér stations were rewarded for their impressive design at the Architizer A+ Awards, which recognize the best architecture across the world. These two stations are part of the newly added fourth line, which incorporates Budapest trivia into the station designs.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Budapest Travel Guide

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Copenhagen

Named the world’s best metro in 2008 and 2010, this driverless system runs 24 hours a day around Copenhagen. Newly developed with advanced technology, the Copenhagen Metro opened in 2002 and has since grown to 22 stations (with nine underground and 13 above ground). The system’s two lines take visitors from the Copenhagen Airport and Vestamager to the heart of the city and the outer suburbs, with plans to add more stations with a circular line in 2019. The efficient system holds trains that travel an average speed of 25 miles per hour.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Copenhagen Travel Guide

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Berlin

With its distinctive yellow trains, the Berlin U-Bahn stands out from the rest. Dating back to 1902, the U-Bahn is one of the oldest systems in Europe and, today, is made up of 143 stations that span 90 miles. Berlin has an entire museum dedicated to preserving the metro system's history, so visitors can travel to the U-Bahn-Museum, located at a former signal tower at the Olympiastadion, for a blast from the past.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Berlin Travel Guide

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Madrid

The sixth-longest subway system in the world, the Madrid Metro spans more than 182 miles. More than 1.5 billion people ride this system in Spain each year, but the more impressive statistics come from the metro stations themselves, which are so large they can hold sizeable public gatherings. In 2011, a three-day fitness festival for women that drew more than 2,600 visitors was held in the Nuevos Ministerios station. And the Opera Station contains a 200-square-foot archaeological museum. The system also holds the record for most escalators in metro stations, with 1,656 in total.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Madrid Travel Guide

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Taipei

With an impressive 94 percent customer satisfaction rate, the Taipei Metro system is clearly doing something right. With clean stations and punctual trains, the system also boasts easy-to-use ticket machines and reliable TV screens with projected arrival times (for connecting trains as well). The Taipei system transports more than 1.1 million people every day to 69 stations throughout the city.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Taipei Travel Guide

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Guangzhou

The Guangzhou Metro system has expanded rapidly over the last couple of years. With its first line opening in 1997, the city invested more than $11 billion to improve the system in time for the 2010 Asian Games. Now, the metro holds eight lines and 144 stations. The system also boasts a 48-minute express trip to Hong Kong.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Guangzhou Travel Guide

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Singapore

More than 600 million people ride the Singapore Mass Rapid Transit, which has won MetroRail Awards for being energy-efficient and technologically innovative, each year. With gorgeous views, the Singapore MRT is known for its clean and reliable transportation. Aside from taxis, it’s also the quickest way to get around the city.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Singapore Travel Guide

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Sao Paulo

Although it only has close to 50 miles of tracks, the Sao Paulo Metro transports more than 4.6 million riders every day. After opening its doors in September 1972, the metro has become one of the largest in South America, transporting people both underground and above ground in this Brazilian city. Art displays, featuring the work of Marcelo Nitsche, Renina Katz, and more, are integrated throughout about 37 of the stations.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Sao Paulo Travel Guide

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Dubai

While it’s still a work-in-progress (the first ten stations opened in 2009), the Dubai Metro system is already known across the world for its driverless features and unique station designa. Each station in the system is created to look like one of the four elements (water, earth, air, and fire). Unlike most other cities, the Dubai trains have class-designated metro system, with a Gold Class (featuring leather seats and armrests), a Silver Class, and a Women and Children Class. The Dubai Metro system has already become the world’s longest automated transit system.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Dubai Travel Guide

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