As sustainability-minded travelers are prioritizing eco-friendly travel destinations, having the ability to take public transportation during a trip can be a big selling point. Not only is taking public transit while traveling a great way to cut back on car emissions, but it is also far more affordable, and faster (sometimes), and it can be a fun, unique way to get to know a destination. Here are four cities with excellent public transportation.
It’s no surprise that the Big Apple tops the list as it has, by far, the best public transportation system in the USA. Not only does the MTA system run 24/7 (something few cities can boast), but the train network is extensive, and a league of buses helps fill in further-out corners of the five boroughs that the trains don’t reach. A single ride costs less than $3, and frequent riders can save even more money by purchasing a weekly or monthly MetroCard). Considering that
What I love best about the New York City subway is that it is a true slice of New York. Everyone – and I mean everyone – rides the train, from stockbrokers and politicians to cooks, cleaners, and content creators. Riding the train is the best way to experience the diversity of the city, as you’ll hear nearly every language in the world spoken, and you’ll probably also be entertained by some pretty preposterous performances. While locals sometimes tire of metro magicians, singers, dancers, and acrobats, their shows are usually a real treat for visitors. To get out of the city, there’s also the Long Island Rail Road that can easily whisk you away to Long Island, the MetroNorth that spreads around upstate NY and Connecticut, and Amtrak to get you everywhere else.
Scotland’s ScotRail system makes it easy to get around all over the country (and to England), as it seamlessly connects large cities such as Glasgow and Edinburgh to Highland areas such as Fort William and Inverness, stopping in tiny towns and villages along the way. Trains are clean, quick, and easy to use, and they travel through some of the most fantastic scenery. In general, Scotland is an easy country to navigate by public transit, but Edinburgh stands out in particular simply due to the sheer number of different public transit options. Edinburgh has set an ambitious goal of net zero emissions by 2030, which includes the decarbonization of its extensive public transport system.
In addition to ScotRail’s several stations throughout Edinburgh, you’ll also find loads of buses that are clean, convenient, and run all over town and to airports (you can even catch a bus from Edinburgh Airport to central Glasgow, which is what I did). The brand new Edinburgh Trams, which was completed in June 2023, offers a pleasant way to get from central Edinburgh out to the airport, the Ocean Terminal, and the traveler hotspot neighborhood of Leith. A month after it opened, I took the tram from the city center out to explore Leith and again to the airport, and in both cases, the ride took about as long as a cab would have, yet it was a fraction of the price and it gave me a new way to see the city.
Latin America’s largest city is home to nearly 23 million people spread across 16 municipalities and 300 neighborhoods. To accommodate this steadily growing population, Mexico City continuously improves and expands its public transportation while also placing an increasing number of restrictions on cars to encourage people to take public transit. The result? A dizzying array of options, including a sprawling Metro train network, aboveground light rail, Metrobus (known as bus rapid transit, or BRT), regular buses, minibusses, and loads of interstate buses that can quickly and easily get you to Tepoztlan, Cuernavaca, Oaxaca and beyond.
system. While minibusses might be a bit confusing for first-time visitors, the proper Metro trains Metrobus buses are very straightforward, with clear signage and maps.
There isn’t a metro network anywhere else in the world quite like the labyrinth of the Tokyo transit system. Not only is the Tokyo subway system sprawling (and said to serve the most riders in the world), but it’s also shockingly clean, efficient, well-maintained, and timely – something that can’t be said about most other networks. You won’t be able to ride every route 24/7 (so be sure to check schedules if you plan to be out late), but the Tokyo public transportation system is, by far, the best way to get around. It’s fast, far more affordable than cabs, and it goes just about everywhere, including all the popular attractions.
Tokyo has two separate train systems, the Tokyo Metro and the Toei Subways, but they are interlinked very well, and the only time you have to worry about the two separate systems is when you buy an individual ticket. To skip the confusion, buy a subway pass or prepaid card, which can be used on either system. Prepaid cards like the Welcome Suica and Pasmo Passport are sold at the airport and a handful of metro stops, rail stations, and other locations. Not only can the cards be used to pay for the train, but you can also use them to pay for goods and services all over Japan, and they are much faster and easier than dealing with individual tickets. Ready to be amazed? Check out this Tokyo Combined Subway and Train map.
We didn’t have enough space to really dig into every city offering great public transportation around the world, but some other top spots to keep in mind are London, Stockholm, Barcelona, Berlin, Montreal, Mumbai, Shanghai, Taipei, Chicago, and Copenhagen. Some cities’ public transportation networks also include unique and iconic ways to get around, such as continent-crossing ferries in Istanbul and Lisbon’s famous tram network.
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