The fact of the matter is that most people writing those articles simply haven’t had the privilege of using the metro systems that actually rank among the world’s best, and as a result, simply don’t know what they are talking about. I’m sorry to put it that way, but anyone who thinks that New York’s subway system is a top-5 metro system in the world must have never left the United States.
The United States notoriously has some of the worst public transportation systems in the whole world. Unfortunately, you will not see a single American city on this list! Still, after having lived all around the world and having visited a load of countries, I think I have a pretty good grasp on what the best metro systems in the world are.
This list is not just about connectivity – New York might make the cut if it is just about sheer size – but rather this list will include the best overall metro systems in the world, where the stations don’t smell like urine, the cars are clean, women are safe to ride alone, and you can get wherever you want to go easily without waiting for too many transfers.
Full disclaimer, I have not been to every city in the world. But I am a public transportation fiend, and this is what I have gathered.
1. Shanghai, China
I had half a mind to put the next city in the top spot on this list, as it is truly the nicest metro system I have ever used. However, nothing competes with Shanghai’s whole package, if you ask me. Shanghai’s metro system is one of the most expansive in the world, with just under 400 (!!!) stations on a network of nearly 500 miles of track.
I lived in Shanghai and worked a two hour-long drive outside of the center of the city…and the metro system got me there in just over an hour. The city has 19 metro lines, which can get you absolutely anywhere that you want to go without the need for much of a walk, and the trains are immaculately clean and perfectly efficient.
Shanghai has full on luxury markets, malls, and foodcourts in its metro stations.
Asia truly has a totally different standard for public transportation than the United States and Europe, and the West could definitely learn something from them here. There are also full on markets and malls in the stations – like, you don’t need to leave the metro system to go shopping. You can hop off the train, grab a bubble tea, and get back on without paying any extra.
Best of all, money: the furthest possible ride is about $1.50. You pay 8 times more than that just to get from Jamaica Station to JFK airport in New York, which is about 2 miles!
The Shanghai metro costs less than $1.50 per ride.
The only detractor to Shanghai’s metro is that during rush hour, the trains are absolute sardine cans. I hated life during rush hour, as I literally did not even have room to breathe. When you felt like there was no more space on the train, another 5 sweaty guys (Shanghai is very hot in the summer) would come diving into the train just before the doors closed.
During rush hour, it sucks. But any other time of the day, you feel like you’re in a dream or a utopia.
2. Sao Paulo, Brazil
I love metro systems. I love public transportation. There was not a single place on earth that made me feel this way more than Sao Paulo, Brazil.
This city (which by the way is one of my favorite cities on Earth) has the cleanest, nicest, most impressive metro system that I have ever used. The trains are frequent and on time, the entire city (which is one of the biggest in the world) is easily connected by the system’s six lines, and the cost to ride is quite affordable at under $1 per ride.
There is air conditioning in every car, and the metro connects directly to the airports. The stations have convenience stores. On top of that, there are women- and children-only cars.
Truly, in all my travels, there is nowhere better to ride a subway. And yet, somehow, this city never gets included in lists of the best metro systems in the world!
The São Paulo metro costs less than $1 per ride.
3. Hong Kong
Hong Kong’s metro system is widely regarded as the best in the world. It’s smaller size is what kept it out of the top spot on this list, though, as I just couldn’t quite call it better than Sao Paulo or Shanghai. Still, trains are fast, extremely well connected, clean, and affordable. While it is a smaller system than most on this list, its rides for about $1 and its extreme reliability and cleanliness are enough to ear it a spot. Take one ride on the Hong Kong subway, and you’ll wonder how New York can possibly be so disgusting. Literally. On top of that, the stations are nice and filled with amenities that put the entire United States to shame!
The Hong Kong metro costs less than $1 per ride.
4. Tokyo, Japan
Have you picked up on the trend? Asia has remarkable public transportation. Tokyo, again among the world’s biggest cities, is yet another impressive example of what a metro should look like.
Covering over 140 stops and carrying billions of passengers each year, Tokyo is a high-use system that carries the load very effectively. The system is clean, efficient, and affordable…three things that every metro system in the United States is not!
The main drawback to Tokyo, like Shanghai, is that during rush hour this thing is a madhouse. It is so crazy, actually, that there are attendants whose job is to actually push people onto the train to pack the cars as full as possible.
I mean, when you are operating in the biggest city in the world, I guess it makes sense. But wow. If they could somehow manage to provide a little more personal space on these trains, Tokyo’s metro system would be heaven on Earth.
5. London, England
The Tube is not that nice in terms of quality, but it’s very well connected and recently got air conditioning. If you were to ask me to pick one of either London or New York to include on this list, I wouldn’t even have to think about it. London easily has the better metro system!
The network is very expansive. It can take you virtually anywhere in London, which is really saying something as it’s a massive city. The trains run pretty frequently, too, meaning you’re never stuck on the platform for too long.
Where London loses points, though, is its (lack of) cleanliness and its high prices. While the Tube is cheap by London standards, things in the U.K. tend to be exorbitantly expensive. The Tube falls right in line with that. You could ride three laps around Shanghai for the price of one Tube ride across London. Literally.
The cars are also a bit drab and dirty and could use a facelift and a pressure-washing. Still, this is a nice system. With a facelift and some price cuts, the Tube would easily fit among the best systems in the world.
That rounds out my list of the 5 best metro systems in the world! Do you think that there is a city that I missed? Tell me about it…I love to hear from locals or other travelers who might know better than I do! Drop a comment below!!