Rapid transit has been improving commutes since the late 1800s when the first steam railways were built. The underground Tünel in Istanbul, built in 1875, is one of the earliest known subways. The London Underground (“The Tube”) is quite possibly the most well-known rapid transit system in the world, as well as the second largest. It opened in 1890 under the name City & South London Railway, the first electric system of its kind which today spans 250 miles and includes 270 stations.

Tünel Station in Istanbul

Elsewhere in Europe, the turn of the 20th century saw the opening of both the Paris Metro and the Berlin U-Bahn in 1900 and 1902. These subway systems became more popular throughout other European cities in later years. By the 1960s Norway’s capital of Oslo, Marseille, France, Lisbon, Portugal, and many other cities featured convenient rapid transit systems of their own.

For people looking for a viable alternative to being stuck in a car in horrid traffic, subways have definitely eased some stress. While they are expensive to maintain, they conserve space in the city and typically contribute to environmental damage at a lesser rate compared to road transit. Of course, there are downsides since some systems lack air conditioning and the hidden nature of a subway can encourage muggings.

For travelers, subways have provided a quick, cheap and easy way to navigate cities that were previously unmanageable on foot. While the subway has revolutionized how urban life is lived, cheap airlines have taken over the skies which makes overland travel a thing of the past.

If you’ve never taken a train across Europe, you’re sorely missing out as a plane doesn’t offer the experience of eye-level landscapes, small towns and crazy eastern European conductors making soup in the car next to you (yes this happened to me going from Turkey to Bulgaria!) So on your next trip, try checking  for European rail holidays and don’t pass up the opportunity to see everything in between point A and point B.Whether trying to get from a popular museum to a café across town in a big city, or sitting back and daydreaming at a rail window seat, checking out European subway and railway systems is definitely a good idea while in travel mode. Make the journey part of your adventure, not just your destination!