Even if you’ve explored international cities like Montréal, Paris and Beijing before, you may have never seen them like this. Underneath many huge metropolises lie huge underground cities — some are used to escape harsh winters, some serve as recreation centers and others are long abandoned. Here, The Culture Trip culls together a list of the the most amazing underground cities around the world.
Montréal’s Underground City
Referred to as RÉSO or La Ville Souterraine, Montréal‘s huge underground city has everything you could want: stores, apartment buildings, hotels, banks, offices, schools, a theatre and arena, and several modes of transport, including both trains and buses. With 120 separate entrances, there are plenty of ways to get in during Montréal’s frigid winters, helping inhabitants stay warm when conditions might be dangerous. Though Montréal’s underground city is touted as a huge tourist destination, it is just a piece of everyday life for Montréal’s citizens, serving as a spot to live their lives and get across the city while staying out of the cold.
Montreal’s Underground City, 800 Rue de la Gauchetière O, Montréal, QC, Canada, +1 514 864 3838
Holder of the Guinness World Record for the ‘largest underground shopping complex,’ Toronto’s PATH system is an enormous underground system spanning 19 miles (30 kilometers) of the city. While it serves more as a connecting walkway between different areas of Toronto and less as a full ‘underground city,’ it remains the easiest way to escape the cold Canadian winter.
Toronto PATH, Toronto, ON, Canada
Matmata is located in southern Tunisia and is a small city made up of buildings called ‘troglodyte’ – meaning ‘cave-dweller’ structures – where over 2,000 inhabitants live full time. The buildings are created by digging a pit and forming artificial cave walls to make a living space. Though these structures were only rediscovered in 1967, it has already taken on a decent amount of fame — the Hotel Sidi Driss, located directly in Matmata, was used in Star Wars: A New Hope as Luke Skywalker’s childhood home on Tattooine (with another featured spot in one of the Star Wars prequels, Attack Of The Clones).
Matmata, Matmatat-Al-Qadimal, Tunisia
In 1969, former Chinese leader Mao Zedong, ordered that tunnels and bunkers be built under Beijing in case the city was bombed, which led to 19 miles (30 kilometers) of space underneath the city. While the space holds basic living amenities like homes, schools, entertainment venues and even frivolities like a roller-skating rink, the space was primarily built as a defense space, and the rumor was that each home even included a trap door so that residents could get to the center of the space safely in case of an attack. Though the space was never officially used and is now mostly a tourist attraction, there were residents illegally living underneath Beijing as recently as 2014, due to rising rent costs in the city proper.
Beijing Underground City, China
Paris has many, many different famous attractions, not least among them the Paris Catacombs, which house the remains of around six million past Parisians. Thanks to overflowing graveyards, the catacombs were built in the late 1700s to contain the dead, and some sections remain open to the public as a tourist attraction, though many are still private and closed, even though resourceful Parisians have found handfuls of secret entrances into the underground. Going in without a guide can be treacherous, however — it is very easy to get lost in the winding, massive tunnel system, and rumors abound that people have died trying to find their way out. Contraband concerts have also taken place in the catacombs, and it was officially used during World War II by both the Axis and the Allies.
Paris Catacombs, 1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, 75014 Paris, France, +33 1 43 22 47 63
Bunkers Of Berlin
Ruins, History Museum
Bunkers Of Berlin
Underneath the bustling city of Berlin, one can find safety bunkers from 1945’s series of air raids, and thanks to an organization called Berliner Unterwelten, you can still tour them today. Berliner Unterwelten, which means ‘Berlin Underground,’ has mapped out the tunnels and twists of this safe haven so that people can understand its full scale and safely navigate it long past its original, intended use. The walls are marked with arrows that were meant to guide residents to safety, and many of the chambers were outfitted with steel doors that would keep gas out. Though the bunkers are scattered throughout the city, the highest concentration of them is right by the Brandenburg Gate.
Berliner Unterwelten e.V., Brunnenstraße 105, Berlin, Germany, +49 30 49910517
City Of The Gods, Giza Plateau
Though the Pyramids of Giza are, of course, a site within themselves, visitors may not know that there is a secret, and wholly abandoned city hiding underneath the ancient structures. Made up of chambers and tunnels, researchers didn’t begin researching the space until 1978, and upon finding it, they began mapping out how the city comes together in order to discover what its purpose was, naming it the ‘City of the Gods.’ Though some still believe it may not exist, researchers continue to inch towards a more complete discovery of this ancient, massive city and why it was built.
The Great Pyramid Of Giza, Al Haram, Nazlet El-Semman, Al Haram, Giza Governorate, Egypt
Coober Pedy, Australia
Coober Pedy, a small, underground city in Australia that houses around 1,600 residents, also serves an important mining purpose, as it is known as the ‘opal capital of the world.’ The dugouts and mines coexist with homes, shops, restaurants and other features, as the space is twofold — apart from the opal mines, the homes were built to escape the severe heat that affects Southern Australia and to hide from the dingoes that roam the immediate area. Despite its working reputation, the town is a cozy and friendly place to live beyond the mines and even contains a church and a graveyard for its residents.
Coober Pedy SA, Australia
Though Cappadocia is notorious for its underground cities, the biggest and most famous is Derinkuyu. Made up of seven underground levels, this city once housed upwards of thousands of residents (its capacity is said to be 20,000 people) and contained an entire civilization, including shops, markets, schools, and even primitive wineries. Derinkuyu has been open to the public since 1969 but only about half is available as a tourist attraction.
Derinkuyu, Bayramlı, 50700 Derinkuyu/Nevşehir, Turkey, +90 384 381 3194
Built in the 1950s for the English government to escape to in case of a nuclear war, Burlington (which is the city’s code name) was designed to hold up to 4,000 government employees – but apparently, not their families. However, Burlington’s sheer scale was massive — constructed in a stone quarry, it spanned 60 miles (95 kilometers) and housed hospitals, a water treatment plant, a train station, a pub, and even a BBC station where the Prime Minister could broadcast in case of a nuclear blast. It even continued to function until 1991, when the Cold War officially came to an end.
Burlington, Corham, Wiltshire, England
Wieliczka Salt Mine, Krakow
Archaeological site, Cemetery, Church
Wieliczka Salt Mine, Krakow
Wieliczka Salt Mine is the longest-running salt mine in all of recorded history as it began salt production upon its completion in the 13th century and continued up until 2007. This humongous space, which spans 186 miles (300 kilometers), is open to the public so they can see where salt was produced for hundreds and hundreds of years, but perhaps the most impressive feature of this mine is the collection of religious relics. The space contains cathedrals, statues and chapels, making for a gorgeous religious site underneath the busy city of Krakow.
Wieliczka Salt Mine, Daniłowicza 10, Wieliczka, Poland, +48 12 278 73 02
Canary Wharf, London
Located in London’s classy Financial District, Canary Wharf‘s shopping district is entirely below ground and contains a huge selection of stores as well as housing a popular, busy subway station. It connects to three different stations via its shopping malls, which include Canada, Cabot, and Jubilee Place — indeed, you can also get to Jubilee Park quite easily from here. With over 200 restaurants, cafés and stores, you’ll have plenty of options from which to choose.
Canary Wharf, London, UK
Chicago’s Pedway is more of a tunnel system than an underground city, per se, but it does keep the city of Chicago connected, as it runs between skyscrapers and hosts different stores, cafés and features while keeping Chicago residents out of the freezing cold. Spanning over 40 blocks in the downtown area of Chicago, the space even houses a few residential buildings and connects to some hotels as well, though the majority of the connections are between commercially owned or government owned real estate.
Chicago Pedway System, Chicago, IL, USA
Empire State Plaza, Albany
Though the main purpose of Empire State Plaza in Albany, New York‘s capital city, is to house government buildings for the state which are fully above ground, there is also an ‘underground city’ concourse full of shops, recreation, and restaurants so that government employees can head below ground to play once they’re done with their workday. In addition to plenty of spots to visit, shop at, and dine in, the concourse also holds many precious and original works of art from famous artists like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Alexander Calder.
Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY, USA