For me, I love getting to know a city’s mass transportation system, trains in particular. Figuring out the routes is like a puzzle I crave to solve within the first 24 hours of arriving in a new city. They are often the best and cheapest mode of transportation, and the same holds true for Moscow’s metro.
Now, be warned that all of the signs in each metro station are in Russian. There isn’t a word of English to be found so it’s best to write down station names in Russian Cyrillic so you’ll be able to read the signs. When you’re on the trains, listen to the locals or the announcer to hear how station names are pronounced so if you need to ask someone, they’ll know what you’re looking for. Always have a map on you as well so if you get lost, you’ll be able to correct yourself.
Also, it’s important to know that the last train in each station leaves at 1am, and the metro shuts down for the night around 1:30am. After that, your best bet would be to walk, if you’re somewhere in the city center, or take a taxi.
The Pros & Cons of the Metro
The Moscow Metro is one of the most efficient underground train systems I’ve ever come across, and the routes are quite extensive. A train passes through the station every 30-40 seconds (maximum 2min wait), and they are fairly clean compared to the likes of the NYC subway. Not to mention that many of the stations are so ornately decorated, they are an attraction in itself. In fact, many tour companies host a 1.5 to 2 hour tour of various metro stations taking you around to get acclimated, to get a history lesson, and wander around in awe of how beautiful the architecture is.
The downsides of the metro, as many locals may tell you, are that there aren’t toilets in any of the stations, it’s noisy, and always crowded. There are about 15-20 million people living in & around Moscow, and they travel frequently throughout the day. That said, always be aware of your belongings, and every time you step off the train, make sure you have everything.
Buying a ticket
All the train stations have machines you can use to buy a one-way or round trip ticket, and there is a counter where you can buy tickets for 5, 10, 20+ trips. Here is where learning the numbers in Russian comes in handy, or you can just use your fingers & hands to express how many trips you want. As of July 2012, it is 28 roubles for 1 trip and 56 roubles for 2 trips (cash only). For a complete list of costs, click here.
Once you’ve got your ticket, scan it as you walk through to the escalators, and it will tell you how many trips you have left on your card. If you don’t have any trips left, the gate will close in front of you, and you won’t be allowed to enter. I will tell you that it looks very easy to cross through the gates without scanning your card, but there are security cameras as well as policemen on guard so as a foreigner, don’t even try it. Once you’re through, take the escalator downstairs to the trains, and it’s important to stand on the right hand side and let people pass on the left.
After you’ve found the train you need to take, let people off the arriving train before getting on board, and if you’re sitting down, be sure to offer your seat to any elderly folks who may be riding with you. It is common courtesy.
How to find your train
As you’ve noticed from the map above, all the lines are color coded with numbers. In the stations where there aren’t any transfers to other lines, it is fairly easy to find your way. It gets a bit tricky when you stop at a station with transfers to 3-4 other lines. One thing I learned is that if you’re traveling out of the city center, the automated announcer on the train will be a woman’s voice, and if you’re traveling into the city center, it will be a man’s voice.
Again, compare your map to the signs in the station so you know which train to board, and on your map, simply count the number of stops to your destination so you know when to get off. If it helps, take pictures of the different signs so you can study them when you get back to your hotel. Once you ride around for a few days, you’ll get the hang of it and won’t need to consult your map as much. If you need to transfer, follow the signs in the station to the line you need by finding the corresponding color or number. Transferring lines will require you to either go up a staircase or down an escalator. If you get confused and end up taking a really long escalator, you’ll want to turn around because you will have headed towards the station exit.
Remember, if you need help, just go up to someone and point to the station you need on a map, and even if the people don’t speak English, you’ll know where to go by their hand gestures. Don’t be intimidated by the metro. Just accept that you’re bound to get lost and spend a day or two riding around so you can get a feel for the routes and different areas. It’s a great way to practice reading the Russian alphabet.