The Milan Metro’s Colorful Handrails


Getting around in an unfamiliar city can be tough to get used to, especially when you don’t speak the language. If a city has a subway system, it’s likely that it’s the most efficient and most inexpensive mode of transportation – but when you’re underground you can get disoriented even more easily, so some tourists avoid the subway in favor of slower buses just so they can keep their bearings.

One of the things I noticed about Milan during my visit in November was that the folks who take care of public transportation in the city (they go by the name Azienda Trasporti Milanesi, which shortens to the acronym ATM, which causes all kinds of confusion for tourists thinking they’ve finally found the bank machine) was that the three Metro lines are not just assigned different colors on maps, these colors are fully embraced by the Metro system. Each line has a number, as well, but as long as you’re not color blind there are not-so-subtle clues to help you make sure you’re getting on the right train.

Milan has Line 1, Line 2 and Line 3 (line is “linea” in Italian), which correspond to the colors red, green and yellow respectively. Any city map that includes the Metro lines will show them in these colors. But that’s not all. Once you’re underground and searching for the right line (especially in stations with more than one line connecting to and from it), you’ll be able to find the line you want by following the correct color of the handrails. Nearly every* staircase/passageway leading to or from Metro Line 1, for instance, will have handrails which are painted red. Nearly every staircase/passageway leading to or from Metro Line 3 will have yellow handrails. Some Metro stations also have entire corridors where the walls are painted the color of that line as well, but that isn’t true everywhere.

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I loved this color coordination when I noticed it, and I continue to think it’s bloody genius. Of course, this alone doesn’t help you navigate the Milan Metro without any hiccups, but it’s a giant step in the right direction. Stay tuned, because I’m going to write a post about using the Milan Metro soon. I’m a big fan of metro systems wherever they are, and Milan’s is excellent. It’s not as extensive as the Paris Metro (still my favorite anywhere), but it will probably get you everywhere you want to go – and the city’s intricate network of trams and buses will fill in any gaps.

Be sure to read about how to use the Milan Metro, too.

* A friend here in Milan pointed out that this system isn’t flawless, and some of the green lines seem to have orange-colored railings. In other words, it’s not a good idea to use the color of the handrails as your only guide to which way to go on the Metro, but if you’re just looking for one last dose of confirmation that you’ve made the right choice, it’s a good idea to see if there are any colorful clues to help you out.

Photo by: EHC Global