As author Erol Ozan said, “You can’t understand a city without using its public transportation system.”
We completely agree, so we’ve compiled a list of the world’s most unique and exciting methods of intra-city transport. From efficient subway systems to speedy trains or ancient trams, any of these options should get you excited to explore the city you find yourself in.
The London Tube
Visitors to London may be impressed by the metro system’s efficiency, but rarely do they realize its history. The London Underground dates back to the 19th century and was the first underground railway in the world. Wooden carriages were hauled through the paved tunnels via steam locomotives, until electric railways caught on at the beginning of the 1900s. The Tube — as it is affectionately called by Londoners — has acted as a bomb shelter during the Zeppelin air raids of 1915, transport for five million commuters each day, and a symbol of the city.
Vietnamese Motorbike Taxis
When in Vietnam, do as the locals do and take a motorbike taxi, also referred to as a xe-ôm (pronounced “zay-ohm”). If you have quite a few bags, a regular taxi might be your best bet, but if you’re zipping around the country’s cities, xe-ôm are a quick and easy alternative. Make sure to negotiate the price before you hop on the bike — fares typically start at 15,000 Vietnamese Dong (less than $1 USD) for a quick trip, but you’re free to bargain for a lower price. Once you decide on a price, hop on and hold on tight!
New York City’s Subway
New York City’s subway isn’t exactly known for efficiency or cleanliness (it does shuttle over 4 million people each day), but it is well-known for its colorful commuters and chatty conductors. One of the most extensive public transport systems in the world, the New York City metro can be dizzying for visitors, but you’ll find that your fellow commuters are generally helpful and willing to guide you through the multi-colored subway routes.
Lisbon delights visitors with sunny yellow tram cars that creep through its hilly, cobbled streets. Facets of Lisbon since 1901, the trams occupy a beloved place in the city’s history and are the best way to experience the capital’s charm. Purchase your ticket before you get on the tram, but don’t get too comfy — you may be asked to alight to help move a car that’s gotten stuck on the rails!
Songthaews in Thailand
Visitors to Thailand can’t help but notice the red trucks with open backs that patrol the streets of the Kingdom’s major cities, waiting to shuttle passengers from destination to destination. In Chiang Mai, rides start at 20 THB ($0.60 USD), but be sure to negotiate the price before you get on board (you may need the help of a local if you’re not fluent in Thai). You’ll find that it’s an easy — and breezy — way to navigate the streets of the city. It’s also, by far, the cheapest way to get around Thailand’s major cities.
Germany’s U-Bahn metro began operating in 1902, and its tunnels grew to extend to over 10 lines and 94.3 miles (151.7 km). Over the course of a single year, the U-Bahn trains will run over 82 million miles (132 million km), providing passage to over 400 million commuters in Berlin. In addition to its efficiency, the U-Bahn has a series of multi-hued stations that make for quite the colorful commute.
San Francisco Trams
The trams of San Francisco are both the world’s last manually operated cable cars and an icon of the industrious Californian city. Many of the seven million annual passengers are tourists, though the lines are still utilized by a number of commuters. Visitors to the city will find that the cable cars offer a dizzying trip up and down San Francisco’s famed hills, and the conductors deliver spades of charm while retelling urban legends.
Bullet train in Japan
Japan’s network of high-speed trains covers over 1,700 miles (2,700 km) of track and reaches speeds of 150 to 200 mph (240 to 320 km/h). Those traveling from Tokyo to Osaka can cover the 247 miles (397 kilometers) in a mere two and a half hours. These ‘bullet trains’ carry over 150 million passengers each year and were constructed in the 1950s, after the initial plans were delayed by the events of WWII. The Shinkansen trains are not only speedy, but they’re efficient — the average delay of these trains is less than a single minute!
The architects who planned Paris’ metro system must have sympathized with non-walkers — each station in the system is only 1,650 feet (503 meters) apart! As the second busiest metro system in all of Europe, the Paris metro runs over 600,000 miles a day. Opened in 1900, the tunnels were used during WWII as a home-base for the French Resistance group while they planned counter-attacks on the German troops that had taken up residence in Paris. The Paris metro is always a musical place, too — each year, 100 musicians are chosen to perform in the city’s winding metro tunnels.
Double-decker buses in London
No transportation is more iconic than London’s bright red, double-decker buses. Beginning in the 1800s, commuters in London began using omnibuses, which evolved to include an open-air deck on the top level. Citing London’s characteristically rainy weather, engineers closed the top deck, creating a covered second floor that still provided commuters with an unparalleled view of the capital city.