September 28, 2022

What good is North Korea’s subway system?

Opulent, palatial subway system has few stops, but at least it doubles as a bomb shelter

Foreign tourists who come to the North Korean capital have followed more or less the same route for decades. They are shown the same landmarks and have been expected to admire the same sights since the 1980s. One such point of interest is the Pyongyang subway.

For many Westerners, the idea that the subway of a major city is the object of particular interest to visiting tourists is rather bizarre. After all, few if any visitors to New York descend a few meters below the surface to admire the authentic, 1920s interior of some subway stations – though I am sure there are a few connoisseurs out there. Indeed, in Western cities, the subway is merely a fast, reliable and reasonably cheap way to get around, but this is not the case in North Korea. As with many other institutions and systems, the basic economic functions of the Pyongyang subway have been lessened in order to increase its ideological and military value.