One of the best ways to explore a city is via mass transportation. It's an easy and inexpensive way to get around. Above-ground transportation like buses, trams and ferries offers close-up views of local neighborhoods. Subways, trains and light rail let you pass by the traffic jams that often plague the world's big cities, and get you where you're going quickly, leaving you more of that coveted leisure time.
The cities on this list were chosen for their extensive public transportation networks or because they have at least one state-of-the-art or especially convenient transportation mode. Each city on the list also offers special passes for tourists and "smart cards" (electronic cards you pass over a sensor for entry or exit) that include discounts for airport transportation, multiple rides and savings at popular destinations.
A word of caution: Tourists traveling on mass-transit systems, particularly late at night, can be targets for criminals. Do your research, plan and find out about safety issues and what to look out for. Familiarize yourself as much as you can with schedules, routes and transfer options before beginning your trip so the memories you bring home are only good ones.
Begin your tour of Toronto on a GO Transit interregional bus from Lester B. Pearson International Airport [source: GO Transit] heading downtown to Yorkdale or York Mills subway station, where you can easily transfer to other destinations. With three lines and 69 stations, Toronto's subway system serves most areas of the city. To help you get around town, Toronto's Transportation Commission (TTC) publishes a free ride guide about the city's mass transit, featuring information about the city's major attractions, including its popular Harbour Front area and the CN Tower, and how to reach them by subway, bus, ferry and street car [source: Toronto Transit Commission].
Single tokens and tickets can be purchased at subway stations and at some convenience stores, but one of Toronto's best deals is the all-day unlimited pass. It allows you 24 hours of unlimited mass transit rides. Special weekend and holiday passes are also available, as are packs of discounted tokens and a 30-day Metropass -- a prepaid card offering a month of unlimited rides on public transportation.
It's a quick ride train ride to central Rome's Termini station (Rome's main transit hub) from Fiumicino Airport . From Termini, transfer to a bus or Rome's subway system, the Metro. Schedules and system construction are sometimes unpredictable, but Rome's mass transportation is still the cheapest way to explore. It doesn't cover much territory, but the Metro is faster than buses, which are often delayed by city traffic. Also, many metro stations are close to major tourist destinations like the Spanish Steps and the Vatican.
Buses, while sometimes crowded and undependable, are a great way to take in the city, if you're not in a hurry [source: Rome.info]. Bus tours which allow tourists to get on and off the bus to explore a variety of tourist destinations are popular [source: Viator]. It's not hard to find your way; most newsstands sell transit maps. Tickets are available at tobacco stands and vending machines at Metro stations, and at some bus stops. Rome's Travel Pass saves money and is good for bus and Metro travel. Trains to other parts of the country pass through or originate from Termini, allowing easy trips to other regions of Italy from Rome [source: Italian Rail].
Paris is an easy city to navigate by public transportation, with several modes of transportation to choose from. The Metro, its subway, is the fastest way to travel, offering access to most popular tourist spots like the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. The Reseau Express Regional (RER) offers rail service to the suburbs of Paris, Versailles, Disneyland Paris and the airports. Tour buses allow you to get on and off at various popular sites, and are a great way to see the city.
You'll find tickets and passes for all forms of transportation available at tobacco stands, Metro station ticket windows and vending machines. Paris offers a number of economical options to save on transit fares including a Visit Paris Pass; a Carnet, a pack of 10 tickets on any mass-transit option at a reduced price versus single ticket; and a Mobilis, a one day bus and metro pass, economical if you're visiting many places via mass transit in one day. Maps are free at Metro stations and many hotels.
Hong Kong's Mass Transit Railway is the fastest way to get around. The red line, most popular with tourists, runs from Central Hong Kong Island along Nathan Road, which features shopping, restaurants and hotels.
Hong Kong boasts the most double-decker buses in the world. Trams show off breathtaking views of Northern Hong Kong's most popular attractions, including Victoria Peak. Star Ferry serves Victoria Harbour's piers, offering beautiful night views from the water.
Purchase the Octopus card, which is a prepaid smart card that allows you to pass through turnstiles and gates by waving the card over a sensor at all MTR stations and some ferry piers to save on fares. The card's Chinese name literally translates as "eight-access pass," and it allows you to ride on any Hong Kong transportation mode [source: Ko]. The Airport Express Travel Pass is another great option allowing unlimited mass-transit travel, plus a trip to and from the airport.
After arriving at Narita International Airport, stop at the Japan National Tourist Organization Information Center to pick up free maps, brochures and other tourist information on Tokyo. Begin your mass transit journey on Narita Limited Express, running directly from the airport to Central Tokyo Station in less than 60 minutes [source: Keisei Electric Railway].
Once downtown, ride one of Tokyo's two subway lines, Tokyo Metro or Toei. Ferries are a slower, but popular and inexpensive way to travel the islands of Tokyo. There are private cars available, but for a real local experience, join the majority of travelers in the large economy-class room, where everyone sleeps on the carpeted floor on long trips [sources: Hanyu Ferry, Meimon Taiyo Ferry]. The Japan Railway Pass, the Suica (Super Urban Intelligent Card) and PASMO (short for PASsnet MOre) are economical ways to travel Tokyo's mass transit and can be used on railways, buses, ferries and some bullet trains.
Although there's no direct train from Seoul's Incheon International Airport, buses make the 90-minute trip downtown. Use a bus pass instead of cash and you'll get discounts over single fares and for buses that visit most popular tourist spots [source: Seoul Stop Over Buses].
In 2004, Seoul revamped its public bus system to make it less confusing. Now the city uses four different types of public buses in a simplified route system [source: Korea Tourism Organization]. The Seoul Metropolitan Subway, however, is one of the largest in the world, and is an easy way to navigate the city.
Purchase a T-money card at subway stations, kiosks and convenience stores to save money over single fares on buses and subways. The Seoul City Pass is another good option, offering users the flexibility of taking up to 20 bus or subway rides in a 24 hour period. If visiting areas outside of Seoul, such as Busan and Gwangju, consider the high-speed bullet train, Korea Train Express.
The trip from Sheremetyevo International Airport to Moscow's city center takes 25 minutes by municipal bus [source: Fodor's]. Buses, trolleys and trams offer other mass transit options in Moscow, but compared to the celebrated Metro, Moscow's subway, their irregular service and often unclear stops make them less desirable, especially if you're rushing. The Metro serves 3.2 billion riders each year and trains run an average of every 50 seconds during peak times [sources: InfoPlease, Fodor's].
The Metro itself can be something of a tourist destination. Known for its collection of art pieces, many stations feature sculptures, mosaics, and stained glass pieces that depict the life of the Soviet people. The Metro is an easy way to see Moscow and popular destinations such as Red Square and the Kremlin. Pocket maps are available at newspaper kiosks, some Metro station vendors and in major hotels. A monthly pass, good for transport on most mass transit, is available at all stations [source: Fodor's]. Areas outside Moscow, such as St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Riga and Tallinn, are easily accessible by train [source: Express to Russia].
You can catch public transportation from each of London's five airports, but your mass-transit journey can even begin before your flight lands with an online purchase of an Oyster card or one of the city's Travel Cards -- electronic smart cards that allow you to pass through turnstiles and gates by waving the card over a sensor. They can be delivered to your home before you leave for your trip, and are offered at a wide range of price levels and discounts. The cards can be used to travel on London's vast mass transit system that includes buses, subways, trams, trains and boats [source: London Mass Transit].
The Tube, London's subway, is the fastest and most efficient way to travel around the city, and offers connections to the Eurostar to Paris as well as trains to other destinations [source: Rail Europe]. You can also take the Docklands Light Railway or DLR, which offers views of the River Thames. If you prefer buses to get a scenic (albeit slower) tour, you can take advantage of London's famous fleet of double-decker buses. The city also has River Bus service that stops at 10 city piers.
New York City
New York's mass transit system offers a fast, inexpensive way to see the city. Transportation from the area's three major airports is available via bus, subway and trains. The New York City subway, one of the largest in the world, is the quickest, cheapest way to travel. You can use it to get to most popular tourist destinations including Central Park, the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge. While slower than the trains, the city's extensive bus network offers a scenic alternative.
Prepaid MetroCards can be purchased at manned station booths and vending machines in subway stations. Multiple ride cards are available for discounted rates. Riders can transfer at Pennsylvania and Grand Central stations for any number of trains to surrounding areas [source: Metropolitan Transit Authority]. Private ferry service also offers riders easy access to destinations along Manhattan's East and Hudson Rivers, offering spectacular views of the city's famous skyline.
The home of the 2000 Summer Olympics, Sydney boasts an elaborate mass-transit system. Ride from Sydney Airport via Airport Link to the central Circular Quay station where you are a short walk from numerous hotels and tourist destinations, including the Sydney Opera House. Sydney Pass offers three-, five- and seven-day passes including return transportation to the airport from CityRail stations, harbour sight-seeing cruises, tour bus service, and unlimited city bus, ferry and inner city train services. You'll find the passes at Airport Link, CityRail stations, transit shops, Sydney Ferries ticket offices, kiosks and vending machines, and at selected travel agents [source: Sydney Pass].
Sydney's Light Rail offers frequent service from city center to Darling Harbour, where you'll find restaurants, museums and the Sydney Aquarium, among other tourist spots. Sydney also operates a large bus network, a monorail that runs along a loop through Sydney's central business district, and a fast ferry network with sites all along Sydney Harbour.
For more on mass transit, world travel and other related topics, take a look at the links on the next page.
Las Vegas alternatives abound for the adventurous traveler. Learn about 10 Las Vegas alternatives that combine gambling with some local flavor.
More Great Links
- Begley, Laura. "Montauk: The Hamptons Without Crowds" Travel+Leisure. September 2008. (Oct. 19, 2011) http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/montauk-hamptons-without-crowds/
- City of Sydney. "Public Transport." May 4, 2011. (Oct. 19, 2011) http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/AboutSydney/ParkingAndTransport/PublicTransport.asp
- Fodor's. "Fodor's London 2011." New York: Fodor's. Aug. 24, 2010.
- Fodor's. "Fodor's Moscow and St. Petersburg, 8th Edition." New York: Fodor's. July 1, 2008.
- Fodor's. "Fodor's Tokyo, 2nd Edition." New York: Fodor's. May 1, 2007.
- Fodor's. "Fodor's Toronto 2010: with Niagara Falls & the Niagara Wine Region Publisher." New York: Fodor's. Feb. 2, 2010.
- Frommer, Pauline; Bain, Keith, et al. Pauline Frommer's Italy, 2nd ed. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley. 2008.
- Frommer's. "Frommer's Hong Kong." New York: Wiley. Feb. 24, 2009.
- GO Transit. (Oct. 19, 2011) http://www.gotransit.com/publicroot/en/default.aspx
- Hanku Ferry. 2007. (Oct. 19, 2011) http://www.han9f.co.jp/en/index.html
- Hong Kong's Mass Transit Railway. (Oct. 19, 2011) http://www.mtr.com.hk
- Iida, Mai. "Joint IC fare card for Tokyo trains, buses demonstrated before debut." Kyodo News International, Tokyo. Feb. 18, 2007. (Oct. 19, 2011) http://www.redorbit.com/news/business/846273/joint_ic_fare_card_for_tokyo_trains_buses_demonstrated_before/index.html
- Italian Rail. (Oct. 19, 2011) http://www.italianrail.com/italy_railway_rome.html
- iVenture Card International. 2011. (Oct. 19, 2011) http://www.seesydneycard.com/
- Jin Lee, Cecilia Hae. "Frommer's South Korea, 2nd edition." New York: Wiley. May 24, 2010.
- Kageyama, Yuri. "Japan commuters find 'smart' way to keep moving." Telegraph Herald (Dubuque, IA). March 2, 2003.
- Keisei Electric Railway. 2010. (Oct. 17, 2011) http://www.keisei.co.jp/keisei/tetudou/skyliner/us/
- Ko, Kenrick. Manager, Media Relations, Corporate Communications, Octopus Cards Limited. Personal Interview.
- Korea Smart Card Co. "T- Money." 2009. (Oct. 19, 2011) http://www.t-money.co.kr
- Korea Tourism Organization. "Public Transportation: Subway." (Oct. 19, 2011) http://asiaenglish.visitkorea.or.kr/ena/TR/TR_EN_5_1_4.jsp
- Korea Tourism Organization. "Travel Highlights: New Bus System of Seoul." Aug. 17, 2006. (Oct. 20, 2011) http://asiaenglish.visitkorea.or.kr/ena/SI/SI_EN_3_6.jsp?cid=309429
- Lurie, Theodora. "Romans embrace long-awaited subway." The Globe and Mail (Canada). March 5, 1980. p. 12.
- Metro Transport Monorail & Light Rail, Sydney, Australia. 2011. (Oct. 19, 2011) http://www.metromonorail.com.au
- Moscow Metro. (Oct. 18, 2011) http://engl.mosmetro.ru/
- Moscow Train. (Oct. 19, 2011) http://www.expresstorussia.com/russian_train_tickets.html
- New South Wales Government. "Transport: Sydney Buses." Aug. 26, 2011. (Oct. 19, 2011) http://www.sydneybuses.info
- New South Wales Government. "Transport: Sydney Ferries." 2010. (Oct. 19, 2011) http://www.sydneyferries.info
- New South Wales Government. TransportInfo. 2011. (Oct. 19, 2011) http://www.131500.info/
- New York Ferries. (Oct. 19, 2011) http://www.nywaterway.com
- The New York Times. "London's Oyster Cards Now Available On Line." In Transit. Nov. 30, 2009. (Oct. 19, 2011) http://intransit.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/30/londons-oyster-cards-now-available-online/
- Paris Mass Transit. Paris Metro: Metro, Bus, Airport Transportation. (Oct. 19, 2011) http://www.parismetro.com
- Pucher, John; Park, Hyungyong; Han Kim, Mook; and Song, Jumin. "Public Transport Reforms in Seoul." March 2005. (Oct. 19, 2011) http://policy.rutgers.edu/faculty/pucher/PTI_English.pdf
- Rail Europe. (Oct. 19, 2011) http://www.raileurope.com
- Rome Transportation. (Oct. 19, 2011) http://www.rome.info/transportation/
- Viator. Rome Hop On Hop Off Double Decker Bus Tours. (Oct. 19, 2011) http://www.viator.com/tours/Rome/Rome-Hop-on-Hop-off-Double-Decker-Bus-Tour/d511-3523ROMOPEN
- Seoul Stop Over. (Oct. 19, 2011) http://www.seoulstopover.com/program/citytour.asp?code=W
- Steves, Rick; Smith, Steve; and Openshaw, Gene. Rick Steves' Paris 2010. Berkeley, Calif.: Avalon Travel Publishing. 2009.
- Toronto Transit Commission. "System Quick Facts." 2010. (Oct. 19, 2011) http://www3.ttc.ca/About_the_TTC/Operating_Statistics/2009.jsp
- Transport for London.(Oct. 19, 2011) http://www.tfl.gov.uk
- Transport for London. "Getting Around." (Oct. 19, 2011) http://www.tfl.gov.uk/gettingaround/default.aspx
- Watts, Peter. "London Underground's History." Time Out London. April 17, 2007. (Oct. 19, 2011) http://www.timeout.com/london/big-smoke/features/2814/London_Underground-s_history.html