Subways are typically primed for efficient and convenient transportation, but Stockholm's is an outlet for creative expression. Billed as the world’s longest art exhibit, 90 of the 100 stops have been adorned with sculptures, mosaics, paintings, installations, engravings and reliefs. Work began in the 1950s and since then, more than 150 individuals have contributed to the 68-mile masterpiece.
The space in which the art is contained is just as visually appealing as the displays themselves. Rather than sterile, manmade concrete, the rough bedrock walls were left untouched. Their organic curves add a beautiful contrast to the metallic rail lines and shiny escalators. Until you can make it to Stockholm yourself, enjoy a visual tour of our favorite stops along the city's three main lines.
T-Centralen (Blue Line)
As the most trafficked metro station in Stockholm, the vines and flowers that snake their way up the whitewashed walls of T-Centralen are seen by more than 300,000 commuters a day. The massive blue murals are accompanied by similarly styled silhouettes of engineers, welders, carpenters and other laborers. Finnish artist Per Olaf Ultvedt included them in order to commemorate the workers responsible for the metro's construction.
Kungsträdgården (Blue Line)
This stop is often referred to as the Alice in Wonderland station and the name couldn’t be more appropriate. Alice’s unexpected journey through a bewildering array of scenery is reflected in the odd assortment of characters pulled together by Swedish artist Ulrik Samuelson in the 1970s and 1980s. The ceiling is covered with a patchwork of colorful paintings, the floors are checkered black and white and the walls are lined with crazy lights, water installations and ancient sculptures found at an archaeological dig site.
Solna Centrum (Blue Line)
There are no volcanoes in Stockholm but you may as well be inside one when you step off the platform at Solna Centrum. Massive black pillars rest on the floor while a ceiling of what looks like fiery magma presses down. Eventually, the repressive black and red pattern gives way to a kilometer long forest. A number of related illustrations reflect the artists’ interest in rural depopulation and the destruction of the environment.
Tensta (Blue Line)
Stockholm may be the most populous city in the Nordic region, but that doesn’t stop the wildlife from creeping into the subway. A gigantic elephant, a bloated walrus, a group of prickly plants and a rock ledge full of 3D birds outfit the rugged pillars at this station.
Despite the more compelling storylines and graphics in today’s video games, we can’t help but look back on the rudimentary classics with a certain fondness. Artists Lars Arrhenius and Huck Hultgren saw the smooth, square tiles of the subway station as an opportunity to recreate elements from our favorite pixelated world: Pac-Man. The yellow protagonist munches his way through a series of dots, while the infamous red ghost haunts the hallway. After a walk through Thorildsplan, you may feel as though you should be zipping alongside Mario and Luigi in a go kart instead of traveling by train.
Stadion (Red Line)
The multi-hued rainbow rings are a reference to the Olympic games that were hosted here in 1912. The theme is entirely appropriate as the city’s Olympic Stadium resides right above ground.
Östermalmstorg (Red Line)
A series of charcoal drawings permanently sandblasted into the walls at Östermalmstorg reflect artist Siri Derkert’s passion for women’s rights and world peace. Important female figures like Virginia Woolf and mathematician Hypatia figure in prominently, as well as snatches of music transcribed from the French revolutionary song La Marseillaise.
Alby (Red Line)
Alby Station provides a bit of greenery in an underground world otherwise dominated by rock. The colorful floral designs are accompanied by prints inspired by local petroglyphs and ancient stone carvings.
About the Exhibit
A journey through Stockholm’s metro station is also a journey through time as art emulates the decades. In the 1970s, artists were expected to communicate a strong, meaningful message about women’s rights, the environment or world peace. The 1980s brought about a style that emphasized post-modernism and individualism. More modern times have focused on revitalizing the forgotten, outlying stations.
Plaques set up at each station provide specific information about the piece and craftsmen who contributed. Guided tours are available year-round in Swedish and in English during the summer. Storstockholms Lokaltrafik, which runs all of Stockholm's local, land-based transport, provides all the information about schedules, tickets and tours on their website.