Top 10 underground cities

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In cities large and small around the world, there’s a whole other world lying beneath the streets. Shaped by history, weather and geography, these underground cities are fascinating foundations and reflections of life above. While many of these subterranean worlds have long since become obsolete, others are fully functional urban spaces. If you’re intrigued by what lies under your feet, check out our picks for the top 10 underground cities around the world.

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RESO, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Top 10 underground cities
Shoppers underground in Montreal (Image: Karl Baron)
Top 10 underground cities
Tunnels of Montreal’s underground city (image: GPS)

More than a quarter of a million people use Montreal’s underground city, known as the RESO network, a day. This sprawling network of shops, restaurants, hotels, galleries, metro stops and many other services runs underneath the streets of the city.

This mega underground shopping centre makes it easy for locals and visitors to cover a lot of ground of Montreal without being outside – a huge benefit in the wintertime.

Montreal’s RESO consists of 32km of tunnels spread out over 12 square km of the downtown area. There are more than 120 exterior access points, so if you’re downtown, you’re likely never far from a way into the MESO.

PATH, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Top 10 underground cities
Sign for Toronto’s PATH network (Image: Steve Harris)

Like Montreal, Toronto has a vast network of underground tunnels beneath the city streets. Known as PATH, this underground walkway covers 30km of shops and services making it the largest underground shopping complex according to the “Guinness Book of World Records”.

More than 50 office buildings are connected through PATH as well as six subway stations, 20 parking garages, eight hotels and approximately 1,200 shops and services.

PATH is a convenient way for pedestrians to quickly get around without worrying about cars, and it serves as a welcome refuge from the biting cold in winter.

Wieliczka Salt Mine, Krakow, Poland

Top 10 underground cities
Salt mine (Image: Nigel’s Europe & beyond used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license)
Top 10 underground cities
Salt mines (Image: Harald Groven used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license)

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Krakow only stopped mining operations in 2007 after more than 700 years in production.

Each year the mine is visited by more than one million tourists from around the world making it a huge draw in Poland.

Over the centuries, the mine was transformed from a series of dark caves into something beautiful. There are carvings, chapels, statues and monuments all carved out of salt.

There are about 300km of tunnels over nine levels, with the first three levels open to the public. Here guided tours that last about two hours, take visitors through the accessible parts of the mine in small groups. One of the best parts for many is seeing the Chapel of St Kinga, which took 30 years to build and every aspect of which is made of salt.

Shanghai Tunnels, Portland, Oregon, United States

Portland, Oregon (Image: pdx107)
Portland, Oregon (Image: pdx107)

Portland has its own underground city known as the Shanghai Tunnels (or Portland Underground). This network consists of tunnel passages linking Portland’s Old Town (Chinatown) to the central downtown area.

These tunnels were made up of a series of bar and hotel basements linked together and to the Willamette River docks. These tunnels were used for both legal and illegal activities.

Today, visitors can take a walking tour of part of the Portland Underground to get a sense of the intricate links and networks.

Underground Atlanta, Atlanta, Georgia, United States

Top 10 underground cities
Sign for Underground Atlanta (Image: Thomas Moeller)

Underground Atlanta opened in 1969 and is known as the “city beneath the streets”. This underground network is a shopping and entertainment area in the Five Points neighbourhood of downtown Atlanta.

The complex covers six city blocks and 12 acres of shopping, dining and entertainment. In addition to shopping and dining, visitors to Underground Atlanta can try a scavenger hunt wherein clues are collected that lead to different historic landmarks.

Guided walking tours are also available that last 50 minutes and highlight 11 historic sites in the Underground. Those who prefer to explore solo can opt for a self-guided history tour by picking up a brochure at the information booth.

Dixia Cheng, Beijing, China

Dixia Cheng entrance (Image: Dingruogu used under a Creative Common Attribution-ShareAlike license)
Dixia Cheng entrance (Image: Dingruogu used under a Creative Common Attribution-ShareAlike license)

Beijing’s underground city (Dixia Cheng) was built in the 1970s and was meant to serve as a shelter during invasions, bombings and nuclear attacks. The lengthy network of tunnels, often referred to as the “underground Great Wall”, was dug by citizens and is said to stretch across more than 85 square km.

While the tunnels were opened to the public in 2000 they closed again in 2008 for renovations and it’s not known when they will reopen. At the time of their completion, the tunnels had almost 100 hidden entrances and were supposed to be able to hold nearly half of the population.

It’s also said the tunnels were built complete with schools and other services for citizens should they need to seek refuge there.

Setenil de las Bodegas, Spain

Top 10 underground cities
Setenil de las Bodegas (Image: manuelfloresv)
Top 10 underground cities
Setenil de las Bodegas (Image: José Luis Sánchez Mesa)

Unlike some of the other places on this list, Setenil de las Bodegas, a small town in Spain with a population of around 3,000, isn’t necessarily underground – but it is under something. It’s built under a massive rock face. The town’s various buildings are nestled into and under the rocks making for a uniquely cavernous atmosphere.

Pilsen, Czech Republic 

Cellar (Image: markjhealey used under a Creative Common Attribution-ShareAlike license)
Cellar (Image: markjhealey used under a Creative Common Attribution-ShareAlike license)

Plzeň, in the Czech Republic, is home to Pilsen Historical Underground, a unique attraction below the city streets that’s well worth going underground for.

Once you make your way down, there are 20km of corridors, cellars and wells that once acted as food storage and, some say, as an escape route in case the city was ever attacked. Another legend posits that there’s treasure buried in the walls of the cellars found in the underground.

Derinkuyu, Cappadocia, Turkey

Top 10 underground cities 1
Chamber in Derinkuyu (Image: Martijn.Munneke)

The Cappadocia region of Turkey is known to be home to many underground cities, but the deepest is Derinkuyu. There are 18 stories that descend 85 metres and it’s said that the city could have held more than 20,000 people.

The subterranean network of tunnels and rooms consists of separated living quarters, wells, storage areas, stables, chapels, communal areas and much more. The city was opened to the public in 1965, but only a small portion can be accessed.

Tunnels of Moose Jaw, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada

Top 10 underground cities
Sign for the Tunnels of Moose Jaw (Image: DebMacFadden)

The sleepy city of Moose Jaw is home to a series of tunnels that have two separate stories. The tunnels were once used as a means of transporting prohibition-era booze to the U.S. and through Canada.

There are even rumours of an Al Capone connection to all the bootlegging, although that’s never been proven. The other story to the tunnels involves early Chinese immigrants who were forced underground to escape negative treatment. There are two tours you can take that deal with both aspects of the tunnel’s history.

Featured image: GPS

Top 10 underground cities was last modified: June 26th, 2019 by Jessica Padykula
Author: Jessica Padykula (16 posts)

Jessica Padykula is a Toronto-based writer and editor who regularly covers travel and lifestyle trends. When she’s not writing or researching a story she can be found planning trips to places near and far in a never-ending quest to travel the world.