Opening in 1863, London has the world’s oldest underground railway but it also has, in austerely beautiful Westminster, one of Europe’s most futuristic-looking stations.
The first metro might have been uncomfortable and unhealthy (toxic steam often entered the train cars due to poor ventilation) but it soon became clear that few cities of any size should be without one.
By the mid-1920s, Paris, Madrid, Berlin and Milan had their own subterranean networks — with cleaner, electric-powered trains and often also beating London’s Tube in the aesthetic appeal of their stations.
Moscow joined the party in 1935 and now boasts one of the busiest metro systems in the world — carrying more than 6.5 million passengers a day.
1. Toledo, Naples, Italy
Opened in 2012, Toledo station defies its depth — at 50 meters, one of the deepest in Naples — with a design based around themes of light and water.
A work called “Light Panels” by Robert Wilson illuminates the station corridor furthest underground.
This stunning station has competition: it’s part of the city’s network of so-called Metro Art Stations.
2. Westfriedhof, Munich, Germany
Inaugurated in 1998 to little fanfare, this otherwise ordinary looking station took on new life just three years later.
In 2001, Westfriedhof’s platform was aesthetically enhanced by 11 enormous, domed lighting fixtures that continuously bathe the surroundings in haunting shades of blue, yellow and red.
3. Komsomolskaya (Koltsevaya Line), Moscow
Komsomolskaya station’s baroque-style decor, historical mosaics and chandeliered ceilings resemble a grand ballroom.
Opened in 1952 to alleviate the congestion of one of Moscow’s busiest transport hubs, it was Stalin’s infamous 1941 wartime speech that inspired the opulence of the mosaics.
4. Palais Royal — Musée du Louvre, Paris
In a city as beautiful as Paris, this unconventional station entrance at Place Colette still stands out.
Completed in 2000 (the centennial year of the Paris metro), Jean-Michel Othoniel’s “Kiosque des noctambules” (“Kiosk of the night owls”) intertwines dazzling colored beads to form two protective cupolas.
A meeker design would be overshadowed by the close proximity of the Louvre Museum and surrounding classic architecture.
In this case, however, it adds a touch of cheeky hipness.
5. “Fosteritos,” Bilbao, Spain
Less than 20 years old, Bilbao’s metro is the third-largest in Spain.
The curved-glass entrances of many of the stations — affectionately nicknamed “Fosteritos” (“Little Fosters”) after their creator, Lord Foster — are considered prime examples of the city’s modern, up-to-the-minute style.
The transparent structures admit plenty of daytime light and at night are lit up.