The dummy’s guide on how to use the Moscow metro
Part of being in Moscow is knowing how to use the Moscow metro, one of the biggest and most efficient in the world.
I strongly recommend coming to Moscow with a healthy bankroll to enjoy the city and not run out of cash halfway through a wild party night. In that case you should rely on taxis, which are a more convenient way of traveling, especially at night.
However, during the day or to start the night it is completely fine to take the metro. I would actually recommend it, since some of the metro stations are sights worth seeing and probably much different to whatever you've seen so far.
If you do not speak Russian though, you have a good chance of not knowing where the hell you should go and how to find your way around the Moscow metro.
That's why I put together this guide, which will cover all the aspects that a (non-Russian speaking) tourist needs to know to safely get from A to B using the Moscow metro.
In this guide you will find out:
- What the mandatory maps and apps for the Moscow metro are
- What kind of tickets there are, how much they cost and where to buy them
- How to board the trains and the one mistake you must not make when you're inside
- The most beautiful stations to visit for touristic purposes
- General tips regarding the Moscow metro
Credit to Irena who wrote a terrific guide on the Moscow metro that I adapted. Thanks!
Mandatory maps and apps for the Moscow metro
In case you speak Russian you should have much less problems finding your way, hence my focus on English in this guide. You definitely want to download the Yandex metro app. You can use it in English and it's a foolproof way to find out how to get from A to B (web version here). You don't even need an internet connection to use it. Alternatively, you can download an version of the Moscow metro map here (small English names of the stations in grey).
Moscow metro ticket prices and where to buy tickets
Once you enter a metro station, you’ll go and have to buy a ticket.
The best tickets for tourists are those that are calculated by rides. For example:
- 1 ride: 55 Rubles
- 2 rides: 110 Rubles
- 20 rides: 720 Rubles
- 40 rides: 1440 Rubles
- 60 rides: 1700 Rubles
As you can see, the more rides you have, the cheaper a single one becomes. You can share a ticket between several people, so if you're in a group you just buy a multi-ride ticket and hand it over to the next person.
You are probably already on to the fact how dirt cheap taking the metro in Moscow is. There's no shenanigans like zones, so once you're past the turnstyles you can ride the metro all the damn day until you exit at a station (exit, not change!).
With that in mind, it is probably surprising how comparably few freaks and homeless people there are on the Moscow metro, even in winter.
There's also no ticket controls on the metro because it is rather hard to sneak past the guards at the turnstyles. And who would want to freeride anyway at these prices?
You can get a ticket at one of the vending machines or at the booths. Elena recommends to use your fingers to indicate the amount of rides you need, so that is probably good advice.
With the advent of the World Cup 2018 in Russia, Moscow metro has started hiring English-speaking staff for information stands at central stations. I've heard conflicting info on how much English they actually speak but it's probably better than nothing.
How to board the train (and avoid this one mistake!)
Armed with a ticket you’ll take a long escalator deep into the ground. Make sure you stay on the right side. The left side is for people like me that are frantically running down the stairs. People will tell you to move it pretty harshly if you don’t do that.
Once you’re in the station, you’ll probably be impressed by how big and clean everything is. The Moscow metro is one of the most pompous in the world. Frankly, it’s a class above those dirty and smelly stations that you’ll find in Western metropolitan cities (probably a different story in Asia). You’ll also notice that the metro in Moscow is as goddamn loud as standing in the first row of a Tiesto concert.
Unfortunately there is no rule of thumb on which side your train is running from. You will have to decipher the cyrillic signs on each platform to find out.
During rush hour the trains are pretty packed. There’s a new one coming every one to two minutes, so don’t bother with running after it. As a part of the preparations for the World Cup, the announcements on the train are nowadays also in English.
If you happen to be on one of the older trains, which is most of them, it’s still going to be as loud as in a Moscow nightclub. Good luck with trying to have a conversation. Fun fact: towards the center the announcer is a man, out of the center a woman.
One thing that you have to pay attention to
In Moscow people shuffle towards the door to get ready for the exit as soon as the train left the station. So if you’re planning to get off only in a couple of station, you better go stand somewhere in the back. Same goes for when you want to exit, don’t jump up from your seat when the doors are already opening. This obviously all applies to peak hours.
Here’s a funny story. When I was in New York City this year I applied this very principle. Next thing you know, I’m getting told off for how rude I am to try to find my way to the door midway through travelling. Different countries, different customs I guess.
If you want to change, just follow the color coded signs and arrows to the adjacent station. Look at the floor for Exit signs in English.
Beautiful stations in the Moscow metro
Once you live in Moscow, you become oblivious to the fact how clean, orderly and maginificent the stations are. I remembered that when I entered the New York subway at JFK and had to wait about 10 minutes for the train. Irena from Russiau put together a great map of stations that are worth visiting for tourists. Check it out:
My top 3 Moscow metro stations that I would recommend are Mayakovskaya, Ploshad Revolutsii and Komsomolskaya.
General tips for the Moscow metro
Last but not least, a few general tips off the top of my head.
- There are metal detectors at the entry of pretty much every station. It’s not like at the airport but if you have a backpack with you, security will politely ask you to X-ray it. Moscow became big on this after it got hit by terror attacks.
- Similarly, there are also always a couple of police officers at the main stations and even at remote ones. If you’re not a man or a woman that could pass for a local, police will stop you to check your documents. Racial profiling is a thing in Moscow. Best to not bitch about it and just be aware and prepared.
- The metro works till 1am and from 5am. In reality this means that around 1am and shortly after you will still be able to board a train in the center. But you better not gamble too hard on when the last one runs (never really understood that). In the morning, the first trains leave the stations at 5am. De facto you’ll get a train in the center 15-20mins later. In terms of partying I recommend to always cab it in the morning, if only to avoid other people, ha.
- As I mentioned, the metro is safe and the amount of freaks, beggars and drunkards is quite low in comparison to what I’ve seen in other cities. Never have I felt threatened or any of the sorts. Pickpockets probably exist but if you take general precautions, you will be fine. I’ve also never seen a fight or anything of the sorts.
- In terms of reliability the Moscow metro is second to none. I’ve never encountered unannounced closures of stations or breakdowns of trains or any of the sorts. Trains run non-stop in short intervals.