A walk around Stockholm’s incredible underground art gallery

It’s fair to say I got some strange looks when I told my family and friends that I spent an afternoon riding around Stockholm’s underground system when I only had a handful of days in the country. And sure, doing that in pretty much any other country would be weird. But Stockholm, home to the world’s longest art gallery – the underground system –  was one place I would probably return to for this gallery alone.

There are 100 stations across Stockholm’s vast underground train system and 90 of these have been individually decorated by artists from around the world. Featuring incredible paintings, sculptures and light-works, this is one art gallery you could cover in a day.

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Some stations have been fashioned to look like real caves, while others focus on issues like women’s rights, deforestation and inclusivity. It’s impossible to travel around all of the stations (unless you’re prepared to say goodbye to daylight for a good few days) but there are suggested routes all over the internet detailing which stations you should stop off at.

A great map I used when planning my route is Expedia’s interactive walk-around of the stations. It provides information and background on each of the artists and is a cool website to check out if you can’t visit in person.

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There are three main lines on the Metro system – red, green and blue. Off the top of my head I can’t remember how much I paid for a ticket, but it was no more than £5 for a ticket to cover all stations. However, the beauty of only traveling underground means you don’t need to swipe in and out at each station (or whatever the Swedish equivalent is to the Oyster card system in London!)  so technically speaking, any ticket will allow you to venture around.

Just bear in mind that ticket inspectors do exist and, although I didn’t come across any of them, I imagine they probably wouldn’t be too happy if you didn’t have a valid ticket. Just a thought.

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Predictably, one of my favourite stations was Stadion Station – entirely filled with rainbows in a tribute to Stockholm’s hosting of the Olympic Games in 1912. Not only are the walls and ceilings of the station painted in rainbow hues, but the escalators up to the exit also glow with the same shades. A perfect Instagram opportunity that you definitely won’t get anywhere else in the world.

Solna Centrum was also pretty cool – bright red and green to represent rural depopulation and deforestation. It was created to look just like a cave and the huge, arching walls definitely give it that feeling. It’s almost echo-y.

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One of  the platforms along Tensta station displays the word “brotherhood” in 18 different languages. It’s supposed to symbolise multiculturalism and inclusiveness. Many of the signs are painted in different colours with no clear pattern between them.

The white, cave-style walls are the perfect backdrop to the colourful signs and really make you appreciate their motive even more.

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The entirety of the underground system covers an impressive 110km of track – all the more impressive if you consider the amount of water in and around Stockholm’s centre.

Another fun fact about the rainbow station – Östermalms IP (the local area) serves as the main festival area for the Stockholm Pride festival each year. The nearest station very coincidentally happens to be Stadion – filled with all of the colours of pride! It was something of a controversial subject when it was created in 1973 – especially because of the caved nature of the station.

Some thought it would encourage thoughts of negativity and the idea of ‘bad things’ happening in a dark cave, so the rainbows serve to show that, actually, Stadion is the exact opposite.

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Helga Henschen, her brother Lars and Arne Sedell spent more than a year painting and decorating Tensta station in 1975. The idea for the theme is a truly lovely one: Helga wanted everyone who visited Stockholm (and the station) to feel at home and welcomed, no matter where they came from.

Various pieces of art dotted around the station are called “A rose for the immigrants”, “Solidarity”, “Kinship”, and words written and painted on the walls are those of the residents who live in the area. Tensta has always had a big, multicultural background, which makes the artwork in this station all the more heartwarming.

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Tekniska Högskolan was a station hard to properly capture. It’s right next to the Royal Institute of Technology and so its theme follows the four elements. There are hanging artworks and features all around the walls and ceiling of the station, but because of how busy it was at the time I struggled to capture good images of them.

But the walls are also pretty cool. Another cave themed station, the surroundings at Tekniska Högskolan are painted light blues, greys and off-whites, making the whole place seem slightly other-worldly.

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I’m so glad I took the time to explore Stockholm’s underground art gallery. Had it not been a horrible, rainy day then there’s a chance I would have kept my sight-seeing above ground, but this is such a unique idea for showing art that it’s definitely worth a visit.

Even if you haven’t got long to spend in the city, use the Metro system to get between A and B so you can see the different styles of art on your journeys, even if not for an actual event of seeing the sights.

Have you visited Stockholm’s underground art gallery? Which was your favourite station? Let me know in the comments!

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