One of the deepest subway systems in the world.
The Pyongyang Metro
Up until relatively recently, foreigners were only permitted to ride to certain stations on the Pyongyang Metro. This created the widely held belief that the rest of the Pyongyang subway system wasn't for everyday use or was just for show.
Well, you can now ride the full Pyongyang Metro — and trust us, it definitely is very real, and probably a lot more beautiful than any metro you’ve ridden before!
Pyongyang Metro Overview
The Pyongyang Metro is entirely underground and has a total of 16 public stations. It is one of the deepest subway systems in the world. Many stations are very grand and magnificent, similar in style and design to the Moscow Metro in Russia. It is so deep that it remains a constant, pleasant temperature throughout the year at 18 °C (64 °F) — warm in winter and cool in summer.
Many metro systems around the world have station names related to a particular location. The Pyongyang Metro, however, bases its names on North Korean revolutionary themes, such as “Reunification" or "War Comrade". Each station has artwork — mosaics, bronze work, and/or decorative lighting — related the theme of the station made by the Mansudae Art Studio, the unit responsible for the majority of North Korea's public art.
It is estimated that 300,000 to 700,000 Koreans ride per day, and like most other subway systems in the world, ridership peaks at rush hour.
The Pyongyang Metro symbol is "지", which is read as "ji". This literally means "ground". It is the first syllable in “ji-ha-chol” ( 지하철 | 地下鐵). This is the Korean word for “subway” or “metro”. “Ji” = ground, “ha” = under, “chol” = iron.
See below for a short video entitled 'What's the Pyongyang Metro really like?'
Pyongyang Metro Trains
The majority of Pyongyang Metro trains are of German design, and contrary to popular belief, were the former cars used in West Germany, not East Germany.
Inside the Pyongyang Metro, the carriages are very plain and there are no maps or advertising signs on the old carriages. There are two portraits of the President Kim Il Sung and Leader Kim Jong Il above the doors between Pyongyang Metro carriages. New metro carriages have an electronic maps which display the progress of the car and the famous locations associated with each stop.
New completely Korean-made trains are currently being trialled on the Pyongyang metro since 2016. There is currently only one new train carriage to circle the lines. The new trains are very modern and feature TV displays and shiny spacious, plastic seating. The main colour theme is bright red.
If you’re in the right place at the right time, you can have a ride on it too!
Riding the Pyongyang Metro
The Pyongyang Metro operates every few minutes, and in rush hour a train can come up to every two minutes. There are paper tickets, which look like a small blue piece of paper with “지" printed on them.
There are also metro cards available for the local Koreans to purchase which almost every frequent rider now has.
Pyongyang Metro History
There is a Pyongyang Metro Museum (지하철도박물관 | 地下鐵道博物館) dedicated to the history and construction of the city's subway system.
Chollima Line construction begins.
When the Pyongyang Metro was originally constructed in the 1970s, Chinese design rolling stock carriages were used. This was later sold back to China and used on the Beijing Subway.
Chollima Line construction completed.
Hyoksin Line construction completed.
After 1997 until present, the Pyongyang Metro has used German rolling stock. These are from the Berlin U-Bahn from West Berlin. Since being purchased by North Korea, they were renovated and given a red and cream coat.
The Pyongyang Metro opens six stops to tourists.
The Pyongyang Metro is fully open to tourists.
The first Korean-made new train was first tested and Marshall Kim Jong Un had a ride on the train. The new train is still in operation today on a trial period.
*Some metro cars have graffiti etched into the glass windows. This graffiti came with the cars when purchased from Germany.
*The Pyongyang metro is the cheapest in the world for locals to ride, making it accessible to the entire population. It costs just 5 Korean Won. This equals approximately 0.05 USD. Some schools give out metro tickets to students as part of a small stipend or scholarship.
*When visiting the Puhung Station at the start of the Chollima Line, you can sometimes observe people crossing from an arriving care to a departing car. Foreign visitors have often taken this as evidence that the subway is "not real" and those in the station are "actors" traveling around in circles. In reality, these are people, often the elderly, traveling a station or two to the end of the line in order to grab a seat for the full commute home. We use the trick all the time in Beijing!
*There is some local lore associated with the mosaics of Kaeson Station at the Arch of Triumph. In the mosaic below and, in fact, across the whole station, only one character is portrayed with two ears. What is special about this man? Is it a portrait of one of the artists?
* One of the best times to visit is during busy peak time, since you will be able to be there for the daily commute to or from work. However, do bear in mind that it will be busy and you should stay with your group as much as possible.
* It is also possible to do a full metro tour and get off at all of the stops while on a custom independent tour to North Korea. There is an extra charge for the tour, which takes two to three hours.
Location and Access
You can enjoy a ride on the Pyongyang Metro on some of our trips to North Korea, or pay a visit on an independent tour with an itinerary designed just for you, and ride all of the stops!
What else can you see in North Korea? Download Koryo Tours' free 75-page guide to the country for a full list. Check back regularly to the Koryo Tours Blog for in-depth descriptions of locations, places, and culture in North Korea.
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