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You might think of city subways as dingy, noisy places – simply a way to get where you’re going.
Not so in Stockholm.
There, the subway is a destination of its own, one you don’t want to miss.
At 110 kilometres, the Stockholm subway system is said to be the world’s longest art exhibit. It started in the 1950s and now, over 90 of the 100 clean and airy subway stations have been decorated with paintings, sculptures, and installations by more than 150 artists.
And you can get a good taste of it for the price of one subway ticket. (43 Swedish Krona or about $5.30 U.S.)
Tips to See Stockholm’s Subway Art
The easiest way to tour Stockholm’s subway art is to use the metro for transportation while visiting the city. A single ticket is good for 75 minutes, but you can also buy tickets that are good for 24 or 72 hours, or for 30 days.
On my brief stay in Stockholm prior to a fabulous Baltic Sea cruise with Windstar Cruises, I took a ride on the blue line to get a look at the amazing art in a few of the stations.
The blue line is a good place to start. A number of the stations on this line are definitely worth the trip, as is the Central Station, T-Centralen, where it all started. This was the first metro station to be built in Stockholm, and where the idea of creating an underground showcase for art began. Since this is the busiest station in the city, the artist added blue vines and flowers on the bedrock walls and ceilings to provide a calm ambiance for commuters.
Be sure to walk the length of each station to see all of the different paintings and installations.
If you start at T-Centralen, take a quick jog down to the start (or end) of the line at Kungsträdgården station. Located in the Norrmalm district of Stockholm, this station has been decorated in predominantly green colours to resemble the park in the area above ground. It also looks like an archaeological excavation, with the relics from an old palace.
From Kungsträdgården, take the blue line 11 past T-Centralen with a stop at mysterious caves of Rådhuset (Court House) and on to Solna Centrum Station.
Subway art as a political statement
Solna Centrum is one of the more dramatic stations. With its fiery sky, it looks to me like the escalator is a road to hell (top photo). I didn’t take that escalator.
Designed in 1975 at the peak of Sweden’s industrial era, the different scenes displayed on the walls cover several serious issues of the day such as rural depopulation, deforestation and the environmental movement. The centrepiece is a 1000-metre long forest which runs along the base of the station’s walls.
The red, green and city lines
If you have the time, continue on to the other lines. Visit Stockholm recommends the Tekniska Högskolan and the Stadion stations on the red line. On the green line, it suggests that you visit the Hötorget, Thorildsplan and Bagarmossen stations.
Two new stations on the Citybanan commuter line are also worth a peek. You’ll find art and installations by 14 artists at the Odenplan and Stockholm City stations. This is “Life Line”, inspired by the heartbeats of a child in the Odenplan station.
The Citybanan line is located directly below T-Centralen.
In the summer, (June 1 – August 31st), the subway system offers guided one-hour tours to share stories about the artists who created the work.
If you go on your own, you can also find more information in this Expedia guide to Stockholm’s “beautiful commute”.
Either way, this fascinating art exhibit will change the way you think of a subway.