Instead of signing up for a Moscow Metro tour, buy a metro ticket and explore the grandeur of the Moscow underground independently. Plan your own route and take your time admiring the architecture and artworks without being tied to a tour group.
Recently I did just that, discovering the underground hallways and platforms, ornate chandeliers, statues celebrating war heroes and mosaics depicting Soviet life. Here I share with you my experience, so that you can easily discover the Moscow Metro on you own.
Knowing some background to the Moscow Metro before you set off exploring will enhance your experience.
First a Brief History of the Moscow Metro
Construction of the Moscow Metro began in late in 1931, and continues today. The early architecture and station designs reflect the slogan used to promote the project: “Building a Palace for the People”.
The Second World War (called the Great Patriotic War in Russia) saw stations used as bomb shelters with people taking shelter on platforms and in tunnels during air raids.
In 1941, with the Nazi’s nearing Moscow, an order was given to destroy the Metro through flooding and bombing. This order was rescinded and Metro construction continued during the war. Stations built at that time, display commemorative plaques “Built in the days of the Great Patriotic War.”
The Brown Circle Line, completed in 1954, consists of twelve stations, each with its own unique design including sculptures, lighting and murals which reflect Stalin’s Empire Style.
During the Cold War, station design moved away from the individual style seen previously with new stations taking the form of more standard designs. These stations, often described as having an industrial look, are similar in appearance with columns lining the platforms, the only differences being the colour of the marble and walls.
Construction continued through the 1980s, but at a slower pace. Today the metro extends to outlying districts of Moscow and the Moscow Central Circle enables passengers to avoid the city centre. More stations and tracks continue to be built.
Did You Know?
When Stalin put his coffee mug down on the provisional plans for the metro it left a circular coffee coloured stain (or so the story goes). Now, the Brown Circle Line (Line 5) follows the path outlined by the stain, because nobody dared question Stalin and his ‘suggested’ route.
Forty-four of the over 230 stations are included in the Register of Cultural Heritage Sites. Of these, Belorusskaya, Kievskaya and Komsomolskaya are mentioned below.
During the Khrushchev era, (1953 to 1964) political reforms to overcome the “cult of personality” also known as de-Stalinisation of the Soviet Union occurred. Images of Stalin (of which there were many throughout the Metro) were removed and/or replaced with more acceptable images in many metro stations.
Explore the Moscow Metro Independently
Arm yourself with a map of the Moscow Metro, a limited knowledge of the Cyrillic script (helpful but not essential – the names of each station mentioned below are also written in Cyrillic) and a Metro Pass, and set out to discover the Moscow Metro for yourself.
With 232 stations along 15 lines, it is useful having a vague plan. Perhaps start off with the Brown Circle Line until you feel comfortable with the Metro, and then branch out.
Tips for a self-guided ‘tour’ of the Moscow Metro
Exploring the Moscow Metro independently is inexpensive and easy; all you need is a ticket. Choose between a Day Pass and a single ticket.
Buying Tickets for the Moscow Metro
- A single metro ticket (55 Roubles), allows you to ride the metro, changing lines and trains, until you leave the Metro. When you leave the metro system for above ground sightseeing, you will need to purchase a new ticket if you want to ride the metro again
- A no limit day pass (230 Roubles) enables you to come and go on the metro all day (Stations open at 5:30am and close at 1:00am)
- Three-day passes are also available at 438 Roubles
- All prices correct September 2019
All You Need to Know to Use the Moscow Metro Independently
- The Moscow Metro is clean and safe.
- The Metro lines (1-15) are often referred to by their different colours, with the Brown Circle Line (Line 5) passing through many of the more interesting and beautiful stations.
- Signs inside the station are often in both Cyrillic and Latin letters making it easy to get around.
- The Metro is busy with access to the platforms by long, fast escalators. Keep right – except where signs direct commuters to keep left.
- Having descended the long escalators, do you turn left or right for your train?
- Find the names of stations at each end of the line you are taking on your Metro Map
- Determine where on the line your next stop is in relation to where you are and the end station in that direction
- Check the indicator boards to see which platform has a train going to that end point.
- There’s no need to worry about ‘missing’ a train. Trains arrive every two to three minutes. A digital display at the end of the platform counts the seconds down to when the next train is arriving.
- As long as you know where you want to alight, next stop announcements in both Russian and English, and line routes inside carriages mean you are unlikely to miss your stop.
- Floor markings of the line numbers within coloured circles make navigation through the stations easy when transferring to another line exiting the station.
- There is free Wi-Fi available on trains and USB charge points near the doors of some trains.
- Travelling the Moscow Metro comes with a warning against pick pockets – one carriage displayed a sticker with a graphic warning to keep watch on your belongings.
The Brown Circle Line (Line 5)
If the only stations you see are a selection from the Brown Circle Line you will get a good overview of the opulence in stations built during the Stalin era. Remember to look up so as not to miss the chandeliers and ceiling features.
The following stations, listed for travel in a clockwise direction, are on or can be accessed from the Brown Circle Line.
Russian: Ки́евская – Line 5 (Transfer here to/from Line 3 and Line 4)
Kiyevskaya station celebrates the 300th anniversary of Russian-Ukrainian unity. Opened in 1954, it was the final station built on the circle line. Eighteen mosaic panels, surrounded by elaborate gold trimming depict the history of Ukraine and Russia relations.
Before Joseph Stalin and his methods were denounced, it is said that a plaster relief of both Lenin and Stalin stood where today you will find a mosaic portrait of Lenin looking down on commuters from the end of the platform.
Russian: Белору́сская – Line 5 (Transfer to/from Line 2)
The images in Belorusskaya Station, which opened in 1938, refer to the history and culture of Belarus. As in Kiyevskaya Station, here an image of Stalin has been removed and replaced. Look above you for the mosaic where three women sew a hammer and sickle and ears of wheat. In an earlier version, the women were embroidering a silhouette of Stalin.
Russian: Новослобо́дская – Line 5
Decorated quite differently from the two previous stations, Novoslobodskaya displays thirty-two stained glass panels, set into the pylons and lit from behind. They were apparently made from glass meant for a cathedral in Riga.
The end mosaic entitled “Peace Throughout the World” today includes flying doves. You guessed it – they replaced an image of Stalin.
Russian: Проспе́кт Ми́ра – Line 5 (Transfer here to/from Line 6)
Called Botanichesky Sad (Ботанический Сад) for the nearby Botanical Garden, this station changed its name in 1966. Floral elements and features showing the development of Soviet Agriculture make up the ceramic bas- relief frieze.
Striking cylindrical chandeliers hang from the vaulted ceiling.
Russian: Комсомо́льская – Line 5 (Transfer here to/from Line 1)
The yellow ceiling and baroque style friezes in Komsomoloskaya Station (see photo as beginning of post) are possibly the most photographed images of the Moscow Metro. Eight large ceiling mosaics represent past Russian military leaders from 1242 to 1945.
At least two and probably three of the mosaics that relate to events in 1945 have been altered to remove the images of Stalin and other commanders whose legacy became questionable.
Russian: Тага́нская – Line 5 (Transfer here to/from Line 7)
Here, triangular panels decorate the pylons with traditional Russian motives set in a pale blue background surrounding portraits of Red Army and Navy servicemen. Look closely for the images of ships, horsemen and floral details.
Russian: Павелецкая – Line 5 (Transfer here to/from Line 2)
If you haven’t already noticed images of the hammer and sickle on your tour of the Moscow Metro, you’ll find them in abundance in Paveletskaya.
At the end of the platform, a man (holding a hammer) and woman (holding a sickle) together support the state emblem of the USSR. This detailed mosaic apparently replaced the original image which was of Stalin in bronze relief.
In February 2004, a terrorist attack left 40 passengers dead, on a train travelling from Avtozavodskaya to Paveletskaya.
Interesting Moscow Metro Stations on Lines 2, 3, 6 and 10
Russian: Маяковская – Line 2
In this metro station, one of the oldest in Moscow, remember to look up. Othewise, you’ll miss the 34 aviation themed ceiling mosaics depicting the “24 hour Soviet Sky”.
Opened in 1938, Mayakovskaya served as an air raid shelter in World War ll. Stalin gave a speech here to party members and normal citizens in 1941.
Russian: Арба́тская – Line 3 transfer here to/from Line 4
Designed with a baroque-style, Arbatskaya features arched ceilings and bronze chandeliers. Near one of the escalators (close to the exit to Ulitsa Vozdvizhenka), look for a large empty white frame on a white wall. A mosaic portrait of Stalin could once be seen here.
Russian: Пло́щадь Револю́ции – Line 3
Differing from other stations, Ploshchad Revolyutsii features 76 bronze sculptures, eighteen replicated four times and two replicated twice.
Stand and watch as people alight from the train, and almost automatically rub the nose of one of the dogs, or the rooster, the barrel of a pistol or the female student’s shoe.
Some believe that stroking the dog will help them pass an exam, while touching the gun will make their day go well. If the story that rubbing the rooster brings bad luck is true, well, many people must have brought bad luck upon themselves, so shiny are the rooster’s feathers.
Russian: Бабушкинская – Line 6
Named after Mikhail Babushkin, a polar aviator, many visitors to Moscow do not see this station in an outer suburb of Moscow.
You are unlikely to visit this station unless like me you are on the lookout for street art.
If you are interested, in 2007 Dutch and Russian artists painted 13 Khrushchev- era buildings on Izumrudnaya Street, in the Babushkinskaya district, a reasonable walk from the metro station.
Russian: Сре́тенский бульва́р – Line 10
Construction of this station, which started in the late 1980s stopped regularly due to lack of funds (a theme which seems to run through the construction of many of the Moscow Metro Stations). Sretensky Bulvar finally opened in 2007.
The modern design of this station contrasts strongly with that of stations of the Stalin era. Metallic artworks with the theme of the Boulevard Ring (a ring road around Moscow) decorate the station.
Russian: Тру́бная – Line 10
I discovered Trubnaya on the hunt for street art, this time by the Australian Artist, Fintan Magee.
While the artwork was no longer there, the illuminated coloured glass works depicting Russian Cities decorating Trubnaya Station more than made up for it.
Russian: Достоевская – Line 10
Obviously, this station is dedicated to the Russian novelist and philosopher, Fyodor Dostoevsky. Scenes from Crime and Punishment and other works feature in this station, some depicting violence and suicide. These murals proved controversial with fears that the images would promote suicide in troubled commuters.
My memory of this station however, is much more pleasant. Walking towards the exit, the beautiful sounds of a solo sax player drifted through the tunnel towards me.
Final Thoughts on the Moscow Metro
Even if you only see a few stations, you really must visit the Moscow Metro when in that city. Explore the grandeur of stations on the Brown Circle Line, travel further afield to less well-known stations and most importantly, don’t forget to look up.