Where In The World Is The Best Subway Music?

By Brendan van Son,

It was Chicago that made me stop and miss a train. It was a man sitting on a golden stool with a guitar case beside him that made me forget I had somewhere to be. Playing an old blues song, I let a couple trains go past before I shook free, tossed some money in the case, and caught a train. Far too often think of these musicians as a step above beggars. But really, there is some gold out there and these cities are among the best.


“Big lights will inspire you, let’s hear it for New York”


New York City Subway Musicians
Photo by Zohar Manor-Abel 

Hands down the subway music capital of the world. The New York City subway system is one of the busiest in the world, and with it comes some seriously talented musicians. Of course, while you might not be nearly as attentive with your iPod in your ears, a musician standing on the platform of a popular subway stop in New York actually plays to more ears in a day than most big concert performances do in a packed stadium.

Subway Musicians in New York City
Photo by Seema Krishnakumar

In fact, some of New York‘s subway musicians have become so popular that they are recognized by name within the city. For example, Colin Huggings, who plays the bucket drums, guitar,upright and even a baby grand piano, has become a YouTube sensation. Others, like Heath & Jed have actually released multiple albums but continue to play in subways.


“And you say Chi city, Chi city, Chi city”


Chicago subway music
Photo by Deeper End of the Pool

For me, nothing will beat Chicago when it comes to subway music. Not only are there some seriously talented people in the underground systems of the city, but there’s something about the ambiance of the area and the acoustics to the tubes that make it special. There exists a certain soulfulness that only the bricks of an old subway station can provide. From a family playing plastic buckets, to an old gentleman with a guitar and a microphone, there is something for your ears at each stop.

Chicago subway musicians
Photo by Joseph Mietus 

In fact, in Chicago, like many places around the world, there is actually a lot of competition for places to play in the subways. In the city, they have designated performance areas and artists must be registered and be given a permit to perform in the subway areas. I guess that’s part of the reason why the quality of the talent is so high in this city.


“Aux Champs-Elysées, Au soleil, sous la pluie, à midi ou à minuit”


Paris metro musicians
Photo by Mohammadali F

It might seem a bit cliché to put Paris into this list, but it is a well earned position. No matter where you go in Paris, there is music around you, and the metro lines are no different. Sometimes the music is great, and other times it’s so bad you almost want to get off a stop or few too soon. Regardless though, you’ll have a hard time escaping the music whether it’s around Notre Dame or La Defense.

Paris street musicians
Photo by Marko Kudjerski 

Accordion players perform from car to car in the metro, and even if you’re not a fan of the sound, there’s no doubting that it adds to the atmosphere of the city. For many people, myself included, no trip to Paris is complete until those familiar accordion chords start to play.

Which cities do you think have the best underground music?