Maze Hill, Troon, Grands Boulevards, Hufelandstraße, and Telefonplan. These terms probably mean absolutely nothing to you, but when we were in Europe, they meant home.
Whether you consider yourself a traveler or a tourist, it is always important to familiarize yourself with a city’s metro. A better understanding of these systems would ultimately save you time and avoid confusion or squabbles. In many major metropolitan areas, a sophisticated public transit system is already in place. Taking the metro to get from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ is both efficient and inexpensive (dependent on how often you use it, of course).
We relied heavily on the metro systems of London, Paris, Berlin, Stockholm, and, to a lesser extent, Brussels when we visited Europe. There was always a station conveniently located near our residences and at our desired destination(s). At the end of the day, we even began feeling like locals because we had our routes and station names practically memorized!
If you’re planning a visit to any of the aforementioned cities, here are some interesting facts and helpful tips to know before you travel:
5. Brussels Metro (Brussels, Belgium)
Don’t let the plain, white ticket stub fool you. The Brussels rapid transit system is anything but boring. Officially opened in 1967 and with seven lines that meander under and around Brussels, its metro is the quickest way to make your way about town. There are four lines dedicated to its subway, and three convertible open-air tram lines. When boarding this metro at a less frequented station, it might be a challenge to learn the map. The one we found on the wall at Troon was strictly in Dutch and French; however, once you get the hang of this system, it should be a breeze! To simplify things, all metro lines are numbered rather than named which makes memorization theoretically easier.
Click to view a map of the Brussels Metro.
4. Berlin U-Bahn & S-Bahn (Berlin, Germany)
The U-Bahn and S-Bahn (in service since 1902 and 1924 respectively) are two separately owned metros that operate in Berlin but share a unified fare system. What’s convenient about these metros are that they operate on an honour system, meaning there are no turnstiles or ticket takers. Passengers may purchase tickets from a touchscreen machine and manually validate them using the ticket punch located nearby. Costs of tickets are in Euros and vary by zone. Access to the light rail is located at the larger transport hubs such as Alexanderplatz. It is interesting to note that following the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, travel restrictions were imposed by the East Berlin government that prevented West Berlin lines to stop at East Berlin stations. One exception was Friedrichstraße (now a major shopping street and Checkpoint Charlie) which remained open and used as a transfer point to a West Berlin S-Bahn line and border crossing into East Berlin.
Click to view a map of the U-Bahn & S-Bahn.
3. London Underground (London, England)
Nicknamed “the Tube”, the London Underground is among the world’s busiest and oldest metro systems (operating since 1863). What makes the tube so intriguing? It’s been featured in several movies, it’s notable catchphrase is “Mind the Gap”, and it literally sheltered Londoners during air raids in the First and Second World War. The Tube is usually on time, but in the event of a delay, service announcements provide passengers with complete details explaining why. At one point, we overheard that someone had jumped the platform along the Metropolitan Line. (Yikes!) Locals that ride the train are also very helpful to visitors. During rush hour, a gentleman kindly helped Vivian carry her luggage up a flight of stairs before continuing on his way to work. We felt slightly guilty because a simple “thank you” was not sufficient enough for his troubles!
Click to view a map of the London Underground.
2. Paris Métro (Paris, France)
There’s something alluring about the Paris Métro. It could be the romanticized French station names, or the musicians that woo passengers with live vocals, guitar and accordion while they commute. Either or, this metro (built in 1900) is among our favourites. Although the cars have endured a lot of wear and tear, and the stations could use a bit of a tidy, each line is numbered, not named for convenience, and the LED marquee posted at every station is always spot-on at predicting the arrival of the next train. Tickets can be purchased from a booth or machine (the former is less of a hassle), but are very small and easy to lose. A couple of our Métro memories include running into “The Guardian of Grands Boulevards” (a homeless man that always sat or slept in the same spot at our station), and picking out which trains ran on rails as opposed to rubberized wheels.
Click to view a map of the Paris Métro.
1. Stockholm Metro (Stockholm, Sweden)
I can list many reasons why we love the Stockholm Metro. Yes, it’s always nice to commute with polite transit users aboard a clean and efficient train; however, it’s even better when the metro system itself goes above and beyond the norm. In Stockholm, there are several stations that have been tunneled through rock and stone. Rather than installing walls or apply crown molding on the ceilings, artists have taken the liberty to create the world’s largest art exhibit since 1950. Some stations might share a similar resemblance to a cave or a mine shaft, but around every corner is something worth snapping a picture of. If you need proof, check out these photos. Furthermore, Stockholm’s Metro tickets are all computerized. Don’t be deceived by the paper ticket stub in your hand because embedded inside is a chip!
Click to view a map of the Stockholm Metro.
Travel Tip & Hacks:
- Complimentary maps of these city’s metro systems are usually available at the information booths. All one must do is ask!
- If you have trouble finding a map (or a map in English), pop into any notable hotels and the concierge would be more than happy to provide you with one.
- Foreigners are always a target for theft so be careful of your belongings – especially in Paris where it’s notorious for pickpockets.
- Always expect the unexpected. These are public systems after all and delays will inevitably occur!