Lifestyle This is what it's like to ride North Korea's marble-clad subway

  • Published:

Far below North Korea's secretive capital, a bustling subway system connects the city's workers.

People leave a subway station visited by foreign reporters, in central Pyongyang, North Korea April 14, 2017. play

People leave a subway station visited by foreign reporters, in central Pyongyang, North Korea April 14, 2017.

(REUTERS / Damir Sagolj)
24/7 Live - Subscribe to the Pulse Newsletter!

Far below North Korea's secretive capital, a bustling subway system connects the city's workers.

Comprising of 16 stops constructed predominantly in the 1970s, the Pyongyang Metro sees hundreds of thousands of workers fill its halls and escalators every day.

The transport setting is bizarre. Dimly lit halls contrast lustrously polished statues of former leaders, while cast-off German trains juxtapose vibrant murals depicting scenes of revolutionary triumph.

Only around 5,000 Western tourists visit North Korea every year, which makes imagery of daily life in Pyongyang rare — especially when photography is limited.

The Metro offers a unique reflection of North Korean society as a whole, scroll down to take a glimpse into a Pyongyang commute.

Welcome to the Pyongyang Metro. A ticket to travel will set you back a paltry 5 won, which, at the time of writing, is £0.004.

Welcome to the Pyongyang Metro. A ticket to travel will set you back a paltry 5 won, which, at the time of writing, is £0.004. play

Welcome to the Pyongyang Metro. A ticket to travel will set you back a paltry 5 won, which, at the time of writing, is £0.004.

(REUTERS / Damir Sagolj)

Sources: North Korea Confidential, FXExchangeRate.com.



Here is where the MTR will take you. It is currently formed of two lines — the Chollima Line and the Hyŏksin Line. Stations are not named after places, but revolutionary phraseology, such as Kaeson, meaning 'Triumph.'

Here is where the MTR will take you. It is currently formed of two lines — the Chollima Line and the Hyŏksin Line. Stations are not named after places, but revolutionary phraseology, such as Kaeson, meaning 'Triumph.' play

Here is where the MTR will take you. It is currently formed of two lines — the Chollima Line and the Hyŏksin Line. Stations are not named after places, but revolutionary phraseology, such as Kaeson, meaning 'Triumph.'

(Wikimedia Commons)

Source: Earth Nutshell.



The Pyongyang Metro is 110 metres underground, making it one of the deepest subway systems in the world. It's so deep that stations double up as bomb shelters — hallways are protected by thick steel blast doors.

The Pyongyang Metro is 110 metres underground, making it one of the deepest subway systems in the world. It's so deep that stations double up as bomb shelters — hallways are protected by thick steel blast doors. play

The Pyongyang Metro is 110 metres underground, making it one of the deepest subway systems in the world. It's so deep that stations double up as bomb shelters — hallways are protected by thick steel blast doors.

(REUTERS / Damir Sagolj)

Source: Business Insider.



The total descent takes almost 4 minutes, while revolutionary anthems boom from overhead antique speakers.

The total descent takes almost 4 minutes, while revolutionary anthems boom from overhead antique speakers. play

The total descent takes almost 4 minutes, while revolutionary anthems boom from overhead antique speakers.

(REUTERS / Damir Sagolj)

Source: Business Insider.



The interiors of the subway stations are often opulent, boasting marble pillars, chandeliers, and paintings of Kim Jong-il.

The interiors of the subway stations are often opulent, boasting marble pillars, chandeliers, and paintings of Kim Jong-il. play

The interiors of the subway stations are often opulent, boasting marble pillars, chandeliers, and paintings of Kim Jong-il.

(REUTERS / Damir Sagolj)

Source: CNN.



The trains themselves are ex-German cars, purchased in the late 1990s. It's hard to tell the carriages' past as they have been carefully painted over, though, some German graffiti in the carriage interiors lets the secret slip.

The trains themselves are ex-German cars, purchased in the late 1990s. It's hard to tell the carriages' past as they have been carefully painted over, though, some German graffiti in the carriage interiors lets the secret slip. play

The trains themselves are ex-German cars, purchased in the late 1990s. It's hard to tell the carriages' past as they have been carefully painted over, though, some German graffiti in the carriage interiors lets the secret slip.

(REUTERS / Damir Sagolj)

Sources: Earth Nutshell, WIRED.



Trains come and go often — every 2 minutes during rush hour.

Trains come and go often — every 2 minutes during rush hour. play

Trains come and go often — every 2 minutes during rush hour.

(REUTERS / Damir Sagolj)

Source: Earth Nutshell.



At the bottom of the escalators, adverts are replaced by state-controlled newspapers. Travellers can stop and peruse the daily news.

At the bottom of the escalators, adverts are replaced by state-controlled newspapers. Travellers can stop and peruse the daily news. play

At the bottom of the escalators, adverts are replaced by state-controlled newspapers. Travellers can stop and peruse the daily news.

(REUTERS / Damir Sagolj)


Tourists are accompanied by guides on their Metro journeys and are only allowed to travel to certain stations.

Tourists are accompanied by guides on their Metro journeys and are only allowed to travel to certain stations. play

Tourists are accompanied by guides on their Metro journeys and are only allowed to travel to certain stations.

(REUTERS / Damir Sagolj)


Each carriage contains portraits of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il, framed thicker at the top to give the impression that the former leaders are looking over the commuters.

Each carriage contains portraits of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il, framed thicker at the top to give the impression that the former leaders are looking over the commuters. play

Each carriage contains portraits of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il, framed thicker at the top to give the impression that the former leaders are looking over the commuters.

(REUTERS / Damir Sagolj)

Source: Business Insider.



Metro trains also have the ability to play announcements or music over the speakers.

Metro trains also have the ability to play announcements or music over the speakers. play

Metro trains also have the ability to play announcements or music over the speakers.

(REUTERS / Damir Sagolj)

One tourist found himself listening to Rossini's "il barbiere di siviglia" between two stops.



The grandeur of Pyongyang's subway stations is allegedly designed to 'bring affluence and luxury to the lives of even the lower working class,' according to one traveller that used the system.

The grandeur of Pyongyang's subway stations is allegedly designed to 'bring affluence and luxury to the lives of even the lower working class,' according to one traveller that used the system. play

The grandeur of Pyongyang's subway stations is allegedly designed to 'bring affluence and luxury to the lives of even the lower working class,' according to one traveller that used the system.

(REUTERS / Damir Sagolj)

Source: Earth Nutshell.



Australian visitor, Elliot Davies told National Geographic: "Every single station pretty much covers all of what they really want the people in North Korea to listen to."

Australian visitor, Elliot Davies told National Geographic: "Every single station pretty much covers all of what they really want the people in North Korea to listen to." play

Australian visitor, Elliot Davies told National Geographic: "Every single station pretty much covers all of what they really want the people in North Korea to listen to."

(REUTERS / Damir Sagolj)

Source: National Geographic.



"The whole journey in North Korea is political, where they want you to come out the other side and be like, ‘You know what? North Korea's not that bad!"

"The whole journey in North Korea is political, where they want you to come out the other side and be like, ‘You know what? North Korea's not that bad!" play

"The whole journey in North Korea is political, where they want you to come out the other side and be like, ‘You know what? North Korea's not that bad!"

(REUTERS / Damir Sagolj)

Source: National Geographic.



Peace out, Pyongyang.

Peace out, Pyongyang. play

Peace out, Pyongyang.

(REUTERS / Damir Sagolj)