The Moscow Metro is widely touted as one of the must-see attractions on any Moscow bucket list. Which seems odd for a public transport system but then you have probably heard about the fabulously beautiful stations.
And the station design is indeed a draw. We’ll get to that. Scroll down if you just want to admire the pictures of the best stations on the Moscow Metro.
But the Moscow Metro is more than just a stunning public space. There are all sorts of wild claims on the Internet about its efficiency and punctuality. Of course, when you actually use the network for any length of time you will discover that…
…amazingly they are almost certainly all true.
Even at 11pm at night, if the countdown clock at the end of the platform showing when the previous train left goes above 2.5 minutes, Muscovites start getting restless. At rush hour you can rely on the trains being closer to 90 seconds apart. And although there are sometimes planned closures at the weekends, it very VERY rarely stops running unexpectedly. In fact, the one thing you can never use as an excuse for being late is that you had a transport crisis involving the Moscow Metro. Far too easy to check up on. It will have been headlines news.
Muscovites tend to claim to have been stuck in a lift instead.
So given that people who are not used to regularly driving around London say that Moscow is the Worst Place Evah to tool around on the roads, this subway train system ought to be your go to method of getting about on a visit to the capital of Russia. We’ll deal with how to use the Moscow Metro first, therefore, and get to the history and which stations you should visit for their sheer visual appeal later.
Tips for using the Moscow Metro
Metro stations are easy to spot because of the big red M that marks their entrances. The system is laid out in a very straightforward way, with number of straight (ish) lines running into and out of the centre, bisecting the brown circle line. In any case, you can download the official Moscow Metro app to help you navigate.
However, to keep you on your toes in the face of this simplicity, connecting stations frequently do not have the same name; although Biblioteka Imani Lenina, Borovitskaya, Arbatskaya and Alexandrovsky Sad are four different platforms belonging to four different lines, they are all basically one (large) station. Keep an eye on this.
Arbatskaya (dark blue line) is the pretty one though.
Moscow Metro tickets
The Moscow Metro has a flat rate fare, so you pay the same amount if you go two stops on the outskirts as if you go all the way across the city. You can get tickets from machines, which have an English language option, or you can go to the manned (or, more usually, womaned) counters, called a kassa. You probably shouldn’t assume English language support here, but there has been a drive to recruit more English-speaking cashiers, and stations which are English-enabled have a sticker that says ‘we speak English’ in the window.
A single ticket costs 55 roubles, and a two journey one, 110 roubles. You can also buy a 90 minute ticket which allows you to use as many forms of underground or overland public transport as you like within the 90 minute time period. This costs 65 roubles.
If you buy a ticket for multiple metro rides of 20 or more, then it will cost about 33 roubles per journey. You will only need one ticket for your group as you can just keep using it to open the barriers until it runs out.
There is also a plastic reusable card, called the Troika, which you can either load up with money or one of the monthly unlimited passes (should you be in town for a while), which you can then use on all public transport in the city. The Troika, however, can only be used to let one person through the barriers as there is a block on its being used again for 20 minutes, so you would need one for everyone in your party. They cost 50 roubles to acquire, although you can get special ones for tourists from tourist information booths attached to some of the central Moscow Metro stations, which you just hand back at the end of your stay.
These information stands also sell Moscow Metro themed souvenirs. And, recently, started giving out all sorts of advice and help for your stay in Moscow. Worth a stop then.
How to get on a train on the Moscow Metro
Once you get onto one of the platforms, which are generally open plan with tracks on both sides, you will be looking at the signs dangling from the ceiling to tell you where to get on your train from, as these list the stations served by each route. On the back walls there is also a long list of the stations available from where you are. These also indicate where you can change to other lines and the stations served from there.
Other signs to look out for are the ones which tell you where you can transfer to another line, which will be colour coded to help you work it out, and also the ones that say ‘Выход в Город’, or ‘exit to the town’ followed by some of the most interesting places you can find at each exit. Which are often quite far apart from each other so it always helps, if following somebody’s directions, to find out if you should be going out the exit from the front of the train or the rear, depending on which direction you are coming from, into the centre or out of it.
This is because most of the signs are still in Cyrillic, so may not be wildly helpful to you. Although look out for the flagstone signs set into the floor, which are in English and Russian, and the bilingual Moscow Metro maps on the information posts, usually in the centre of the platform, as well as on the trains themselves. These information posts also allow you to press a button and ask for help from a live interlocutor, both with getting about or more serious problems.
Announcements on the trains themselves are now also in English as well as in Russian, and even if you do not catch the name of the station coming up next, you can always tell if you have got on the train going in the wrong direction as those going towards the centre have a man’s voice, and those leaving the centre have a woman’s voice.
Except on the circle lines, in which case it’s a man’s voice for clockwise and a woman’s for anticlockwise
The English version refers to the lines by number, whereas the Russian one says the lengthy full name of each line, which consists of two of the stations at either ends of the line. We are using colours, to, err, cut down on the confusion. Um.
Etiquette on the Moscow Metro
Once on the carriage you can sit down if there are free spaces and no pensioners who need the seat. Do NOT attempt to sit if there are pensioners who need the seat, or kids, or anyone else who looks like they might want it more than you if you are under the age of 50. Especially if you are a man. Russians take the etiquette of giving up seats quite seriously. This may well not be a problem as a lot of people use the Moscow Metro, and getting a seat often isn’t possible anyway.
Other areas where Russians practice strict Moscow Metro etiquette are NOT standing on the platform right in front of the doors while waiting to get on. You stand just to one side and let the people getting off get off first. Failure to do so will probably result in injury as nobody is expecting you to be in such a stupid place and passengers will pour off the carriage briskly as soon as the doors open.
In order to facilitate this, if you are standing in front of the doors inside the carriage, you may well be asked something. It will sound something like ‘vii oohoditeh sledushaya?’ and means ‘Are you getting off at the next stop?’ If the answer is no, the idea is to jiggle around with your neighbours on the carriage until those getting off are nearest the door.
Best to move down inside the carriage when you get on then, if you are going more than a few stops. Luckily this is made easier by the fact that Metro carriages are much wider than most European ones, so there will actually be some room down the central aisles.
Entertainment on the Moscow Metro
If you have a long journey, consider logging onto the free WiFi, which you can do by finding the WiFi provider marked MT_FREE. You will need to supply your mobile number so that the service can send you an access code, but you only need to do this once. This is standard practice for all free WiFi providers in Moscow. There will be ads. Frequently for Durex. Clearly riding the Moscow Metro gets you in the mood.
If you don’t want to enjoy that experience, then an increasing number of trains have TV screens which show Moscow related news about Moscow specific exhibitions, shows, events, and other places to visit, as well as community initiatives implemented by the Mayor of Moscow, and the weather forecast. FIFA World Cup matches too.
You can also look out for some of the specially decorated trains. There are retro ones, celebrating past versions of the wagons. Or carriages commemorating different historical, cultural and sporting events, or high days, holidays, or other important aspects of Russian life.
Other entertainment is provided between platforms by the Metro Music programme and consists of organised busking throughout the day at dedicated spots. You can look it all up and see who will be playing as you walk past. Every now and again they shift all the designated areas around so that a) you don’t get too fed up of being serenaded on your regular commute and b) you don’t miss out being serenaded on your regular commute.
Moscow Metro history
Along with the general user-friendliness of the system being built rather later than, say, the London underground and to a more unified plan, the other attraction of the Moscow Metro is the striking beauty of many of the stations. This came about not by accident, but is an integral part of the history of the underground train network.
They started off with the red line in the 30s, and for this they dug up great tracts of the city, bulldozing everything in the Moscow Metro’s path. This was a bit much even for the Soviets, despite not really being known for worrying about making people feel uncomfortable. And so they got in some engineers from abroad, invested a whole lot of money in machinery, and started to tunnel deep underground. This was a big deal in a country reeling from the aftermath of the revolution and civil war, and is one of the reasons why the stations which were built in the next wave of construction were turned into People’s Palaces – the whole project was a showcase for the might, determination, glory, and other impressive sounding positive adjectives of the USSR.
They also then arrested all the foreign engineers, who happened to be British ones from the London Underground, and deported them shortly afterwards. Not a high point in Anglo-Soviet relations.
But on the upside, disruption on the surface was minimised and sustainable network growth established. They are still extending the lines today. Since 2010, 61 new stations have been completed, with up to 20 more expected later in 2018 alone. This massive project, which in part is designed to connect the outer suburbs of an expanding Moscow to the centre, is expected to last until 2025. At this point there will be double the kilometres of track as compared to when they started, and a whole extra Large Circle Line, to add to the other new one, the overland Central Circle Line, they opened in 2016.
The most beautiful stations of the Moscow Metro
The first station from the underground drilling phase, Mayakovskaya on the darker green line, is considered one of the most elegant. Art deco styling for the columns, and be sure to look up at the mosaics in the ceiling.
Another well decorated line from the early days is the dark blue line, going out east. Electrozovodskaya, dedicated to factory workers, is worth a look for the marble reliefs and the ceiling lights.
This line conveniently takes you to Vernissage souvenir market, where you will get off at Partisanskaya, celebrating the guerrillas who fought against the invading army in World War Two.
Which is one of the other major themes of station design, after glorifying the revolution through the means of public transport.
Work did not stop on the Moscow Metro just because the country was involved in a war which would claim 27 million of its citizens’ lives, although it did slow down a bit. Thus the mosaics for Novokusnetskaya on the dark green line (one of the nearest stations for the Tretyakov art gallery) were completed by an artist actually trapped in the siege of Leningrad (now St Petersburg), who managed to get his works of art out, but not himself. He later died of starvation, along with large numbers of the rest of the population of that city.
So as some of the major construction was done relatively soon after the end of this war, when the victorious struggle for survival and the sacrifices to achieve it were still uppermost in people’s minds, it is not surprising that many of the stations are memorials to this period.
If you only have a limited amount of time to navigate the network, then your best bet is just to go right round the brown circle line, whose stations are all very worth seeing.
Probably the most stunning is Komsomolskaya, which connects to the red line. This is because here is where a number of long distance railway lines terminate, and so would be one of the first stations visitors from outside Moscow would see.
Another particularly notable stop is Novoslobodskaya (connected to the grey line), with its stained glass, a craft not much in evidence in Russia generally speaking.
The brown circle line will also allow you to admire the other decorating theme, that of celebrating some of the different ethnic and national identities which made up the Soviet Union.
As well as the generally superior lifestyle everybody was leading.
Stations built after Stalin’s death under Khrushchev are much plainer, a trend mirrored in the construction of apartment buildings above, as the emphasis shifted from housing people in style, so simply getting people housed at all. But marble, solid wooden benches, and beaten metal, with the odd painted detailing still exist.
You can, however, see a resurgence in impressive design features at the new stations. As well as central ones such as Trubnaya or Dostoyevskaya on the light green line, you might want to take a trip down to the bottom of the red line to stations like Troparevo, Rumyantsevo or Salaryevo, or along the yellow line.
This end of the red line also has the only Moscow Metro station on a bridge, Vorobyovy Gory, which coincidentally also has the best view over the FIFA World Cup stadium, Lujniki.
Plus, if you keep going along the dark blue line, you will get to Park Pobedi, which has the longest escalator in the world!
The final station you cannot miss, however, is Ploshchad Revolutsii on the dark blue line, which conveniently is the one nearest Red Square. This is because it has a whole bunch of bronze sculptures of Soviet super heroes.
Befitting super heroes, they have super powers. You will note that a number of the sculptures are rubbed shiny in places. This is because it is good luck to rub (some of) them. You can get help with exams, money issues, children, your job, quitting smoking, first dates and travel, depending on which statue you rub and which Internet site you believe.
The most famous is the border guard and his dog. You may be suspicious, watching the many many tourists pose with a hand on his nose, that all of this is just something only visitors believe in (so it is lucky there are actually four versions of each statue, meaning queues do not form). But in fact you only have to wait a few seconds more to see a passing Russian casually reach out a hand too as they walk briskly by.
Moscow Metro tour
It is perfectly possible to find tours of the Moscow Metro, from various tour companies as well as the organisation which runs Metro itself, in partnership with the Museum of Moscow. If you want to do a self guided Moscow Metro tour, then it might be better to go early on a Sunday, when your main competition for the best selfie spot (clearly marked out on the floor for you in key stations – I am not even joking) will be the other tour groups, rather than somewhat irked commuters.
Still, one of the delights of the Moscow Metro is not the big show stopper stations, but coming across all the pleasing little finishing touches, the stylised ventilation grills, the imposing doorways, the many and varied light fittings, and other assorted details, and the best way to do that is just to use it as much as possible to get to as many places in Moscow as you can.
To help you do that, here is a great big guide to everything a visitor to Moscow might want to see. And another one about the best places to eat affordable Russian food.
This is the website for the Metro.
This is the part of the Moscow city government page which gives updates on Moscow Metro development related news (in English).
Information about the Museum of Moscow tour (in English).
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