If you travel the world using public transit, there will likely come a time when a subway station will stop you in your tracks. In cities from Stockholm to Moscow, the practical subway station is often elevated into an elaborate work of art.
In the United States, subways remain a utilitarian affair for the most part, focused on moving thousands of people without much fanfare. Unlike historic central train stations found in many of our big cities—like Union Station in Washington, D.C. or Grand Central Terminal in New York City—smaller metro stations are often rather drab.
The exceptions, however, are notable. Below, we’ve uncovered the most beautiful and fascinating metro or subway stations around the United States. With rich history, unique architecture, and cultural references steeped in their specific locales, these are eight stations well worth a visit.
Know of one we missed? Tell us in the comments—we’ll update this list in the future.
Pershing Square Station in Los Angeles
This heavy-rail subway station near Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles features striking neon artwork. The design was created by artist Stephen Antonakos to commemorate the 1924 installation of the first neon sign in the country, which occurred around the corner from Pershing Square.
Installed in 1993, Antonakos used 12 neon sculptures suspended from the station’s high ceilings to imitate the bright colors and lively atmosphere of city living. The ’90s neon has found new life in the digital age: The striking sculptures look especially captivating with the right Instagram filter.
Glen Park BART Station in San Francisco
Some may contest the inclusion of the Brustalist Glen Park BART station on this list—it certainly caused a ruckus when we included Boston’s Brutalist city hall in our beautiful city hall roundup. But Curbed SF calls this station “the Bay Area’s most stunning transit station, period.”
Designed by Corlett + Spackman and Ernest Born, the boxy exterior is bold and jarring, making you stop and stare from the street. Inside, however, the open and airy interiors use heavy shadows to their advantage, showing off Carrera marble, rough concrete, and a stunning inverted skylight. Read more about this mid-1970s concrete beauty, over here.
Hollywood and Vine station in Los Angeles
Located on the Red Line in Los Angeles, the Hollywood and Vine station is a funky blend of only-in-California elements that border more on kitsch than traditional beauty. Designed by local artist Gilbert Lujan, the ceilings are covered with empty film reels, support pillars are decorated to look like palm trees, and the stair handrails feature musical notes for the song, “Hooray for Hollywood.”
Passengers follow a “yellow brick road” in the form of colored tiles, while 240 hand-glazed art tiles descend from street level to the subway platform. Two original film projects from the 1930s, donated by Paramount Pictures, are also on exhibit. It’s a fun, cheery take on the local culture.
Broadway Station (N/W) in New York City
A bit of color brightens up any day, which is why we’re so charmed by “Outlook,” a newly installed permanent artwork by Diane Carr at the Broadway station in Astoria, Queens. The laminated glass work was hand painted and airbrushed in an array of deep blues, greens, and purples with splashes of magenta, orange, and browns.
Carr was inspired by the native flora in the area, especially the woodlands, ponds, swamps, meadows, and conifer forests that once grew in the location. But she also looked to the vibrant surroundings of the current neighborhood, seeking to show a colorful, saturated piece of art that is sure to liven up any commute.
Old City Hall Station in New York City
It’s a disappointment that one of New York City’s prettiest subway stops is no longer in use; the old City Hall subway stop has been closed since 1945 and is only accessed on tours led by the New York Transit Museum.
Still, the station’s tile work by Rafael Guastavino earns it a spot on this list. According to Curbed NY, if you exit the current Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall station can still get a peek at the Spanish master’s handiwork: The open plaza near the entrance to the Manhattan Municipal Building is covered by an atrium that features an undulating Guastavino ceiling.
Want even more gorgeous subway tiling in the city that never sleeps? We’ve got you covered.
O’Hare Blue Line Station in Chicago
The Chicago Transit Authority’s Blue Line is the most convenient and cost effective way to get to O’Hare airport from Chicago’s Loop. In many ways, the O’Hare Blue Line station looks like any other, with dull floor tiles, cement ceiling, and a three-track, two-island platform.
But the station, which was built in 1984, also features undulating sidewalls of glass blocks, backlit in different colors. The design firm Murphy/Jahn won two architectural awards for the station: the AIA National Honor Award in 1987 and the NEA Presidential Design Award in 1988. And in late 2004, the Chicago Transit Authority brightened the multi-covered glass block walls to make them shine more than ever.
Vermont/Sunset station in Los Angeles
This busy Los Angeles station exits onto the iconic Griffith Park Observatory, so it makes sense that artist Michael Davis was inspired by space and 1950s science fiction. The station floor and walls are inlaid with granite patterns of celestial orbits for an otherworldly feel.
Look closely, however, and you’ll also see that the metal-etched spheres contain medical symbols and microscopic images of life forms, a reference to the neighborhood’s surrounding hospitals. And for the truly meditative passengers, head to the mezzanine deck to gaze upon a chart that maps your placement in the universe. This is a metro station for the stars.
Metro Center Station in Washington D.C.
The Metro Center Station in Washington, D.C., may not be flashy or lit up in colorful patterns, but it’s one of the most beautiful stations in the country. Designed by noted Chicago architect Harry Weese in the late 1960s, the first leg of the Metro’s red line didn’t open up until 1976—more than six years after construction had started.
In order to perfect his design, Weese toured the world’s mass transit systems and concluded that the station needed to be grand and fit in with the capital’s monumental civic architecture. The station features vaulted cathedral ceilings covered in concrete coffered blocks, all diffusely lit by recessed lighting below the station platforms. Impressive when it first opened, Weese’s design has also stood the test of time; in 2014 it won the 25 Year Award for architecture from the American Institute of Architects.