They say that cities never sleep; that they stay awake for 24 hours a day, every day, brimming with life, activity and energy. And that’s exactly why city-break-addicts like you and me love them. But many of the world’s most famous cities have another side to them; a side that lies dormant, abandoned and asleep deep underground – their lost subway stations.
Hidden beneath the earth, these disused railway stations, or ghost stations, have become popular sites for urban explorers as tributes to bygone eras or unfinished urban developments. Here are 10 lost subway stops to think about exploring on your next city break.
credit: Duncan WJ Palmer
There are over 50 abandoned underground stations on the Tube (see all of them on a map here) and for many years London Transport Museum has been offering tours of Aldwych station, the crimson-tiled entrance to which can still be clearly seen on the Strand, one of London’s busiest streets. A trip down, and under, memory lane shows off features rarely seen on the Tube these days including Aldwych’s wonderfully preserved original lobby, wooden-panelled lifts and a vintage train. Keep an eye on London Transport Museum’s website to get tickets for the next tour.
City Hall, New York City
It’s a little ironic that one of Manhattan‘s most beautiful subway stops is one that lies unused by commuters every day. Built in 1904 as a showcase station for the rest of the Manhattan Main Line, at the time the grandeur of City Hall station was compared with that of Central Station. However, despite its charm the station closed in 1945 and the only way you can still see its elegant tiled arches and original glass skylights for yourself is by staying on Line 6 after its Brooklyn Bridge stop, when it travels through City Hall station before turning around. Worth the detour!
Estación de Chamberí, Madrid
credit: Michel Bricteux
Found between the stops of Bilbao and Iglesia but disused since 1966, Estación de Chamberí was closed because it couldn’t be lengthened to accommodate Madrid‘s newer and longer trains, a common ‘cause of death’ for many ghost stations. After lying forgotten for many decades, in 2008 it was made possible to walk down the steps to Estación de Chamberí once more after it opened as a museum showing how Metro travel used to look in Madrid. Look for the posters from the early 1900s which show how Madrid phone numbers used to have only four digits!
Lower Bay, Toronto
Lying under busy Bay station in downtown Toronto is Lower Bay, one of the most short-lived stations in underground railway history. Opened in February 1966 with the name Bay Yorkville, it was closed in September of the same year as part of a failed experiment to create three separate routes from two pieces of track. Due to it still being in relatively good condition, the platform is often used as a set for films and TV shows, with movies like Bulletproof and Johnny Mnemonic being filmed there. TTC has opened the gates to LowerBay to the public on a number of occasions in recent years, including Toronto’s Nuit Blanche event, so keep an eye on their website to find out when you can access LowerBay station.
Spring Garden, Philadelphia
It’s only possible to see Spring Garden by travelling on one of the SEPTA trains that pass through the tunnels between Fairmount and Chinatown in downtown Philadelphia. Even a passing glance is worth it as this abandoned station has become a mecca for graffiti and street art, offering an unexpected burst of colour and urban art. The magic of this station, which was closed off from public access 20 years ago, is that the tags and art on the walls change so regularly it’s like an ever-changing street art gallery, and even plays host to specially-made art installations.
Porte Molitor and Saint-Martin, Paris
In the last few months Paris have begun to publicly discuss ways it can breathe new life into many of its abandoned Metro stations, meaning long locked-up stations like Arsenal, Croix Rouge and Haxo will rise from the dead and be converted into restaurants, swimming pools and even underground gardens. One fantôme station that is unlikely to get a makeover is Porte Molitor which is actively used by the network to store trains and carriages and to also offer the public rare access to an old disused station. Be sure to also keep your eyes and ears open to find out if any events are taking place at Saint-Martin station, a popular spot for cutting-edge art exhibits.
Rapid Transit Subway, Cincinnati
Self-proclaimed as the most famous abandoned subway system in the world, Cincinnati doesn’t just have a handful of ghost stations for visitors to explore, but a whole underground subway tunnel. Explored on foot as part of a “Walk and Talk” tour and you can discover over five blocks of the city’s Rapid Transit Subway. Built in the early 1900s the system was somewhat doomed from the start with lots of stop-start attempts to give Cincinnati an underground railway. Sadly due to escalating costs the project was completely abandoned by the late 1920s and 16 miles of underground tunnels were left abandoned having never transported a single paying customer.
credit: Ville Miettinen
In the north-western suburbs of Helsinki lies the unassuming suburb of Munkkivuori, a mostly residential area that was to be home to the city’s first underground railway station. However, it never saw a single train arrive at its platforms due to a change of plans. You’ll need to use your imagination and observation skills to identify this station, because compared to the others on this list it isn’t particularly ghostly. In fact it’s disguised as a small but busy 1960s style shopping centre, though signs of the station’s lobby features are easily identifiable and a section of the train tunnel remains underground.
Lerchenfelder Strasse, Vienna
In the heart of Vienna’s beautiful old town is Lerchenfelder Strasse, an underground station that trains haven’t stopped at since 2003. The main reason for its closure was its close proximity to Volkstheater and Rathaus, thus making it redundant. The only way you can catch a glimpse of this ghost station is by taking the U2 line between these two stations. Up above the ground, the street of the same name is one of Vienna’s best shopping streets.
Gaojin and Fushouling Stations, Beijing
If you find yourself in Beijing, and you’d like to escape the hustle and bustle of the country’s ever-populous Capital, take Line 1 out to its most westerly stop, Pingguoyuan Station. Here you’ll notice that the station number is 103, which is weird considering it’s the beginning of the line. This is because stations number 101 and 102 are now no longer in use and the overground stations of Gaojing Sation and Fushouling Sation are now ghost stations believed to be used for training new drivers, but most often they lie spookily empty and silent.
Did I miss an underground station stop you’ve seen or heard about?
“I never knew the charm of spring, I never met it face to face, I never knew my heart could sing, never missed a warm embrace, till April in Paris.”
So famously sang Ella Fitzgerald in Count Basie’s April in Paris, and I’m not about to argue. Paris is one of the most special places to visit once cold, grey winter has fallen behind for another year, and while you can find those ‘charms of spring’ throughout the city, there are a number of places you should seek out if you want to over-indulge in springtime scenes full of bursting flower buds and aromatic blossoms. The following is for those without hayfever, by the way.
Obvious and often teeming with tourists, the Trocadéro Gardens that lead you to the foot of the Eiffel Tower are also home to a collection of cherry blossom trees which’ll be covered in pink flowers come April. Ignore the crowds and admire the pastel shades or walk around to spot flower beds full of tulips too. If you have a camera and the ground is dry, you can have a go at perfectly framing the EiffelTower with blossom.
Le Jardin du Luxembourg
Le Jardin du Luxembourg, or Luxembourg Gardens, is another place to find flowers in bloom as springtime stirs up some colour in Paris’s second largest public park. Many of the flower beds will give Amsterdam a run for its money with unusual tulips sitting pretty around statues and tree-lined avenues offering perfect views of the grandiose Luxembourg House, home of the French Senate. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that it’s warm enough for you to sit awhile on one of the garden benches and enjoy the quiet beauty.
The Gardens of Musée Albert-Kahn
image from parigirando
To the west of the city, in Boulogne-Billancourt, and on the banks of the Seine is the Musée Albert-Kahn, a place dedicated to the life of the French banker and philanthropist. In 1909 he launched an ambitious project whereby photographers would travel the world photographing – in colour – people and their lives in over 50 countries. To honour Kahn’s international research, the gardens of Musée Albert-Kahn are inspired by the world’s many different climates and landscapes, including a Japanese garden with exquisite Japanese cherry blossoms.
Bois de Boulogne
If the River Seine is the lifeline of Paris then perhaps Bois de Boulogne is the city’s life-giver, so full of plants and trees and green things. Paris’s largest park is therefore one of the best places to see the joys of spring coming to life in April. With several landscaped gardens within its boundaries, including the famous English garden and the Jardins des Serres d’Auteuil, a greenhouse botanical garden, if you don’t find spring in bloom in Bois de Boulogne you’ve probably got sidetracked by Pré-Catelan, the amusement park found there.
On the border of the famous 17th Arrondissement lies the oval Parc Monceau, an open space of grasslands and gardens popular with local families who live in the area. This is thanks to the park being home to children’s play areas as well as a collection of interesting sculptures inspired by architecture from around the world. In between spotting the spring flowers you can set your kids the task of finding the Egyptian pyramid, a Dutch windmill and curling row of Greek style pillars.
Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris
There’s a small park next to Notre Dame called Place Jean XXIII, where you can sit under a blossoming cherry tree and watch the water of the Seine flow by. The perfect place for lots of people-watching opportunities, you may also see other flowers bravely emerging in their beds around you. A quick stop here before or after – or instead of – inside the Cathedral is definitely worth doing in springtime.
La Coulée Verte
Paris’s elevated garden has been bringing smiles to Parisian’s faces for over 20 years and springtime is one of the most popular seasons for exploring the gardens lining this old railway line, which actually inspired New York City’s Highline. La Coulée Verte is also known as ‘le promenade plantée’, which literally means ‘the planted stroll’, suggesting that you should do your best to walk its 4.7km length in full, an act that will be rewarded in April with cherry blossom and blooming perennials in bright colours.
Parc des Buttes Chaumont
Out to the east of Paris in the 19th Arrondissement is Parc des Buttes Chaumont, an elaborately landscaped open space that has many winding walkways snaking through cherry blossom trees and flower beds that will just be starting to show their true colours in April. The park’s most famous landmark is the Temple Sybille which watches over a lake from a cliff face, and the gently sloping grass hills give you a lovely view point of this and the fragrant springtime flowers.
Now you have eights spots to find the joys of spring in Paris, all you need to do is find a place to stay close to one or more of them. Why not have a quick look at Paris apartments available in April.
My favourite things about Paris? Pistachio Macarons, Musée D’Orsay, flea markets, cycling at night, stationery and small, specialist shops.
Yep, the French tradition of ‘a shop for everything and everything in its shop’ can be a might irritating at times – try buying painkillers in a supermarket. But I find myself more than a little prepared to overlook the odd inconvenience if the flipside is cheese shops, chocolatiers, milliners, shops that sell drawing paper by weight, violin shops, button shops and, best of all by several long miles, booksellers.
What’s he up to? What’s he dropped this time… Nothing? Then why is he bending down? Why is he… Wait! What’s that he’s pulling out of his pocket? And why is he… Oh my goodness! Is he really doing what I think he’s doing?
Now, isn’t that what you want your partner to think as you get down on bended knee? You want some shock don’t you? Especially as you’re planning on doing it around Valentine’s Day, Mr. Obvious. So, yes, shock is what you want.
And awe… Awe will go a long way and get you plenty of brownie points. Shock and Awe. So, how are you going to go about making this proposal the most awesome thing that ever happens to your significant other?
You do that by choosing one of these not-too-obvious, but-still-ridiculously-romantic places to propose that I’ve helpfully handpicked for you.
Giardino degli Aranci, Rome
Put the Roma into romance by proposing in this little known and even less visited corner of Rome, the garden of orange trees – also known as Parco Savello. High up on Aventine Hill, Giardino degli Aranci promises some of the best views of Rome and you can distract her by showing her the very special view found at the ‘Keyhole to Rome’ in the gates to the Priory of the Knights of Malta.
If the one you love wants a fairytale proposal as well as a fairytale wedding, then you’d do well to whisk them away to Sintra, near Lisbon in Portugal. A small town famous for its abundance of theatrical castles and palaces, you can take your pick of views and romantic backdrops.
Bridge of Love, Helsinki
credit: Tina Maria
Of course, there’s Pont des Arcs in Paris and the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, but one of the least known, and yet most romantic, bridges covered in love locks is the Bridge of Love in Helsinki. This small and modern bridge connects Meritullintori to Katajanokka, a regenerated waterfront area home to the Uspenski Cathedral, lots of bars and restaurants and many examples of art nouveau architecture. Don’t forget your padlock (or the ring!).
Leeds Castle, Leeds
Leeds Castle is England’s answer to the Taj Mahal…albeit a monosyllabic one by comparison. Originally built as a Norman fortress, two centuries later Leeds Castle was presented as a gift to Anne of Bohemia by her soon-to-be husband King Richard II, often regarded as one of history’s most romantic monarchs. Anne went on to spend a whole winter at LeedsCastle preparing for their nuptials – let’s hope your bride doesn’t take that long to get ready!
Hotel de Ville, Paris
Scene of arguably photography’s most famous kiss, L’Hotel de Ville in Paris is the place to propose if you’re heading to Paris for V-day but still want to surprise the one you love with a less obvious location (unlike the Eiffel Tower or in front of Rodin’s kiss statue). Just ignore the fact that the kiss as photographed by Robert Doisneau was staged. Yours will be 100% original and authentic.
LOVE Sculpture, Montreal
The original LOVE design by Robert Indiana was created in the 1960’s for a Christmas card design and can now be seen at Indianapolis’ Museum of Art. I’m not too confident of Indianapolis’ qualifications as a romantic city, but I know very well how quaint and cute Montreal is, which is why it’s the perfect city to find a LOVE sculpture worth proposing in front of. Despite several cities now having their own LOVE statues, this one is definitely more of a surprise, found outside Lhotel on Rue Saint Jacques, just a few steps away from Montreal’s romantic old town.
Jo’s Hot Coffee, Austin, Texas
Another unassuming North American location, but one that admittedly has been photographed a lot thanks to the simple graffiti-ed message you’ll find there “I love you so much”. But the story behind the street art on the corner of South Congress Avenue is a really romantic one. Written as a spontaneous love note by Austin musician Amy Cook for her partner, Liz Lambert (who happens to be one of the owner’s of Jo’s Hot Coffee), the original was sadly removed a year after its creation in 2011, but together the couple painstakingly restored the original message so everyone could keep sharing the love.
In what has to be one of the most romantic films to not feature a single sex scene, few can forget that poignant scene from Lost in Translation when Bill Murray and Scarlett Johanssen say goodbye to each other in the busy shopping district of Nishi-Shinjuku, a.k.a. the last place your lover will expect you to propose. And as for what he whispers into her ear when they share their tender embrace? Well, that’s entirely up to you.
St Pancras Station, London
No matter how late you’re running for your train most find time to stop and gaze at the bronze statue of a couple kissing in St Pancras station’s international terminal. Known as the Meeting Place, this 30ft statue was actually modelled on the artist and his wife (aww!). If you’re catching the Eurostar to or from London this could be a very unexpected but utterly romantic place to propose.
So, there you go, and I’ve done all the hard work for you. Now you’ve just got to book some flights, find yourself a swanky apartment to stay in, buy the ring, hide it somewhere it’s not going to be found, maybe arrange some flowers and some chocolates, keep your cool and of course, don’t overlook a celebratory dinner for afterwards. Oh, and don’t forget the Champagne… See? Easy!
This post by Ryan Levitt, seasoned city explorer and PR Director for HouseTrip.
The first time I went to Paris, I was ten years old and my family went to the City of Lights on a two-day weekend that involved a rocky ferry trip across the Channel, a stay in a B&B on the Rue du Temple that had obviously seen better days and a trip through the Louvre that was so quick that the Mona Lisa barely cracked a smile before I was whisked off to my next destination.
Fast forward two (OK, really three) decades and I now have the pleasure in saying that Paris is a second home. OK, not literally, but it often feels that way.
In my role as PR Director for HouseTrip, business hops to Paris are a frequent need. And while the locals might laugh at my funny French (I am Canadian, after all), I still adore their passions, affectations, foibles and quirks. I love exploring this most romantic of towns and uncovering things along the way.
So without further ado, consider my top five list of Parisian locales – some obvious and some less so. It is not intended as a guide to secret finds, merely a guide to my secret finds. And what is secret to me might be blindly obvious to you. But this is my list… So my list, my rules. Allez avec moi!
CHEZ PRUNE, 36 Rue Beaurepaire, 10e
Ask any hipster where to go in the achingly fashionable tenth and chances are they will point you here. The food isn’t amazing (think warmed, over-veggie lasagna) and the interiors have certainly seen better days, but that’s simply part of its charm, n’est ce pas? Once a no-go area of down and outs, the Canal St Martin received an injection of interest after it made a stunning appearance in the film Amelie. This body of water saw Amelie’s stones skip on the surface after she flicked them from atop the famous bridge that straddles its banks. For many Parisians, the film shone this starlet back into their affections like an old lover rediscovered after a decade-long parting. Chez Prune opened to capitalize on this newfound interest in the district and is now the spot for models to hover over drinks and pick at salads, bad boys to pretend they are the new Belmondo and everyone to pout magnificently. Order something suitably unique and sit down for the evening. This is all about the long haul and not the short sip.
SHAKESPEARE & CO, 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, 5e
I know this one really isn’t secret at all, but Paris’ most famous English-language bookstore is too often glossed over by the guides. A good friend of mine once worked at this store and regaled me with salacious stories about the hippie founder and his coterie of young ex- and current female lovers. Still clinging to its 60s roots, aimless bibliophiles can still negotiate the opportunity to spend the night inside in return for a day filing the stacks or filling order forms. Those benches you see stacked high with weighty tomes? Well, someone’s head was on it in the wee hours reading Hemingway and Fitzgerald by the light of the interior incandescents. If all you want is a quick purchase of a Parisian souvenir book, it makes for an easy stop situated, as it is, near Notre Dame. But if you want tales of intellectual fervor – and maybe a romance or two, befriend the team who work here and listen to the tales they tell.
RUE DES ROSIERS, 3e
Paris is dead on Sundays. The streets are empty. The shops are shut. This can be a blessing or a curse depending on your travel preferences. As for me, I like a little buzz and the Rue des Rosiers is where you can find it on a traditionally slow Sunday afternoon. This is the heart of the Jewish community – home to deli, bagels, falafel and, of course, a synagogue or two. But I come here mainly for the meat – smoked meat. Chez Marianne, Sacha Finkelstahjn, L’as du Felafel – it’s all good. Just look for the long queues and follow the scent of heaven. The best part of the day is swapping stories and making new friends with the other food lovers around you. After all, it’s not just about the sandwiches. (OK, it’s mostly about the sandwiches, but the experience is great too).
LE BON MARCHÉ, 24 Rue de Sèvres, 7e
Everyone knows the grand department stores of Galeries Lafayette and Printemps. But my favourite salute to copious consumption is found on the Left Bank in Paris’ oldest department store, Le Bon Marché. Now owned by the Louis Vuitton group, this shop lays claim to being the oldest department store in the world. The building was built, in part, by Gustave Eiffel and even has a novel by Emile Zola – Au Bonheur des Dames – that uses the shop as its setting. I love it because it combines Left Bank uniqueness with Right Bank class and sophistication. You get far fewer tourists out to make a purchase of a branded bag or souvenir mug here. This might brand me a snob, but I am far from being at that class level – I just like to pretend it once in a while.
PARC DES BUTTES-CHAUMONT, 19e
I’ve given you places to shop and sup. Now, it’s time for a locale to get away from it all. While there are other parks with more famous names (I’m looking at you the Bois de Boulogne, Tuileries and Luxembourg), but this park has them beat. Because it is a little out of the way, first-time visitors to Paris tend to avoid it. But, they are missing out on something rather special. Opened in time for the 1867 Universal Exhibition, the Buttes-Chaumont is the most rustic of Paris’ greenspaces. You won’t find manicured lawns, or ordered symmetrical pathways like you do in other French parks. Instead, it’s a place of meandering paths, waterfalls and faux-rustic strolls complete with a temple. Bring a book and a baguette and you’ll be set for the afternoon.