When commuters walk into the white stucco building with its red terra cotta-tiled roof, two four-story towers, courtyard and balconies, it can be hard to believe they are in a Bronx subway station.
Yes, the East 180th Street station, near the New York Botanical Garden, was designed to look like an Italian villa.
It’s one of many stops in the system that are destinations in and of themselves — attractions worth visiting for everything from a glass oculus with a 53-foot diameter, a column-free platform, impeccable views of New York Harbor and some of the best art work around.
These are some stations worth visiting whether you’ve got a train to catch or not:
The Fulton Center
The new Fulton Center opened in November 2014, meant to unify five different subway stations with nine lines into one complex.
The main draw is a glass oculus, with a 53-foot diameter, atop an atrium. The station is built in a steel and glass shell, has almost one thousand aluminum panels to capture daylight throughout the year and reflect sunlight deep into the station. The French Gothic-style Corbin Building on John Street was also restored.
About 300,000 riders on weekdays use the new stop -- and many take pictures, posting them on social media sites like Instagram.
"It's a destination," said Sandra Bloodworth, who is the director of MTA Arts & Design. "They come a lot to just experience the oculus."
The MTA also launched its Digital Arts Program on 52 screens when the new Fulton Center opened.
"It's a different experience than mosaics, title," Bloodworth said of the digital art installations. "It's meant to capture a moment."
The current display, an animation called "The Blowing Bowler," features a man chasing after a bowler hat in the subway while cars from different decades roll past.(Credit: MTA)
34th Street-Hudson Yards
The stainless-steel tiled station on the Far West Side became the first new stop on the MTA's map in 26 years when it opened in September, extending the No. 7 train by a mile and a half.
The previous new stops were three that opened in 1989, such as the Roosevelt Island and Lexington Avenue-63rd Street stations.
The Hudson Yards stop includes a wide-open platform, free of any columns, and climate control that keeps temperatures in the seventies year-round. The stop also has the highest and longest escalators in the subway system -- not for passengers who are of the faint of heart, giving a dizzying feeling when they descend the 125 feet down to the station platform.
The funk-inspired artwork by Xenobia Bailey gives subway riders a sense of the cosmos, with almost 3,000 square feet of starburst-rich mosaic tile art.
Originally designed in crochet, it includes rays of color bands and mandala-like circles for riders to take in. "Their eyes are traveling left to right, looking at this gigantic, colorful, interesting mosaic that has a cosmic feel to it," said Bloodworth. (Credit: Rob Wilson)
The Red Hook stop is the highest subway station in the world, built at almost 9 stories tall and nearly 88 feet so that boats with tall masts sailing through the Gowanus Canal can clear the stop.
"Smith-9th Street is very unique," said transit enthusiast Max Diamond. "It's the highest station in the system, and offers some amazing views of the New York City skyline."
Visitors can see the Statue of Liberty, as well as vistas of the Manhattan and Brooklyn downtowns.
The stop also has a 14-foot blue mosaic of a nautical map by a Red Hook artist, illustrating the neighborhood's history. The work at the station by Alyson Shotz includes 26 windows with silver reflective ink in the glass, each with a different historical nautical map from the 1700s to the 1900s of the local waterfront.
"She has these prismatic maps, that reflect this waterfront history," said Bloodworth. "She really uses the windows to bring light in."(Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang)
Most New Yorkers don't want to go near the packed Times Square subway station, but it's worth visiting for tourists if they want to get a good glimpse of what rush-hour is like in New York City. The complex has eleven different lines and is used by 65.9 million people a year. Station performers also seem to be at a higher notch there than other stops, with four performance locations that are organized by MTA Arts & Design. Annual auditions are held each year at Grand Central's Vanderbilt Hall. (Credit: Linda Rosier)
East 180th Street
This stop near the Bronx Zoo and New York Botanical Gardens looks more like an Italian villa than a subway station, with a red terra cotta-tiled roof, a pair of four-story towers and an elegant clock. It has a plaque with the head of Mercury, a Roman god of transportation. There are also references to the Bronx Zoo, with mosaic and glass artwork that includes an elk and elephant at the entrance, and a peacock and lizard near the exit. (Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang)
Old City Hall
The former City Hall station, decommissioned in 1945, includes wrought iron skylights, tile-arched ceiling, stained glass and brass chandeliers. It was also home to the first subway station in New York City in 1904. Riders can catch a glimpse if they stay on the No. 6 train as it turns around, or take a full tour with the New York Transit Museum.
"The City Hall station was the heart of the city, the seat of the station, the dock, in 1904," said Bloodworth. She noted that there was a conscious decision made to include high-quality amenities to attract people to use the subway, and that art was included from the beginning "with an eye to its beauty, as well as to its efficiency" in the transit system.
"City Hall station is by far the most beautiful station in the subway," said Diamond. "It's elegant, arched terra-cotta tile harkens back to the turn of the 20th-century, when the city was willing to build in a way that was big and impressive."(Credit: Scout Tufankjian)
The East Village's Astor Place, like the old City Hall stop, is one of the first 28 subway stations. It includes ceramic plaques of beavers to honor John Jacob Astor, who created a fur trading empire before he began smuggling opium and bought a stretch of Manhattan that includes what is now Astor Place as well as part of Lafayette Street.. The station also features porcelain panels in colorful geometric patterns by graphic designer Milton Glaser, who created the I ♥ New York logo. (Credit: Nalea J. Ko)
34th Street-Herald Square
The station has an audio installation on platforms that plays musical sounds from the rainforest if you wave your hand in front of a green rectangle, as well as from instruments like flutes. It sends the unusual noises to the corresponding box on the opposite platform. The artist Christopher Janney designed it as a way for strangers in New York City to do the unthinkable and interact with each other using the curious instrument, installed in 1996. (Credit: Nalea J. Ko)
This elevated station has gorgeous views of northern Brooklyn and Manhattan, which include the nearby St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church, the former Williamsburgh Savings Bank and the Williamsburg Bridge. The station also features eight abstract, stained glass panels by Ellsworth Ausby that evoke space travels. "His work is very special, it's about color," said Bloodworth. "His desire was to evoke the cosmos. Very abstract ideas, but quite lovely. He was tying space with the idea of travel." (Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang)
190th Street A Train
The 190th Street A train station is built into a hill in Washington Heights. "190th Street is an engineering marvel," said Diamond. "Burrowed deep beneath the hills of Washington Heights, it is 140 feet below the ground above." When riders emerge from the hill, they can step into Fort Tryon Park and get a moment of relief from their hectic commute. (Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang)
When the MTA re-opened the stop's east mezzanine in 2012, it included a playful light installation of neon honeycombs by artist Leo Villareal. Called "Hive," the geometric shapes are in part inspired by mathematician John Conway. "The main thing is it really resonates with the activity of the station, the people waiting on the platform, this ever-changing lighting artwork," said Bloodworth.
The installation, located in the transfer passageway to the uptown No. 6, also has gotten accolades for helping riders find their way in a creative way. "It becomes an image, an icon that they recognize," she added.
There is also an older sculpture, made of stainless steel and glass, near a station column, and mezzanine wall tiles depicting indigenous people from New York's history that used Broadway and Lafayette as a trading route. Campfire-like pillars also have lights that brighten when trains approach, and then dim when they leave the station.(Credit: James Ewing)